I just had tea with a friend of mine. She’s really sad. She and her boyfriend have been dating for 6 long years; she wants him to ask her to marry. He hasn’t made that move.
Six years is a long, long time to date. It’s pretty safe to say that if he hasn’t proposed after 6 years, the odds are overwhelming that she’s not the one he wants to marry. There was nothing I could say to console her. My friend is trapped in the suffering of craving. There’s something she wants that she isn’t getting. She’s clinging to an illusion. She’s feeling the pain of attachment.
For many years before I married, I gravitated toward the idea of continuing Buddhist studies and meditation practice with the intent of becoming an ordained monk. The choice to marry, of course, put that intent aside. Now, as a Buddhist layperson and a wife, I’m on a path of authentic learning that includes being in a covenant with my husband. I’d say that marriage is a practice much like meditation practice; a way of life, much like studying the Dhamma. And my marriage has deepened my understanding of Buddhism’s Second Noble Truth – that of craving and desire.
I love being married; being in a loyal and loving relationship with a beautiful man like my husband comes with many rewards. But Buddhists know that happiness doesn’t come from another person. Happiness never comes from coveting, desiring, or even getting. If we covet in marriage, we suffer. If we desire, and don’t get that which we desire, we suffer. And once we get what we desired and coveted, we find that it leaves us empty, wanting more.
Yet, many, many people grasp at others in the hope of being made whole. I have had friends – women – who wanted nothing more than to marry. Others wanted nothing more than to be in ‘committed’ relationships (whatever that means). And I’ve had a few women friends over the years who had long-term boyfriends – in some cases, they dated the same man for years – but the man didn’t ask her to marry him.
So they dated for a long, long time, as if they were kids in high school. And in all of these cases, time revealed why their boyfriends never asked the women to marry them: the men, without (of course) telling their partners, wanted to be free to move on to a new woman someday, if that opportunity arose. They wanted to leave the door open to that possibility. And move on they all did. Which is perfectly within their rights.
Rights or not, these woman were all devastated when their long-term dating relationships ended, their boyfriends moved on, and they found themselves without partners again. They felt betrayed. They were very, very angry.
But the only betrayal happening was the betrayal of themselves. They had been fooled by the illusion that they are half people. Half people need partners to feel whole. They were not strong within themselves. If you look at addiction research, you’ll find the behaviors associated with drug and alcohol abuse are found in abundance in people who cling to others. This is a mistake many people, especially women, make. Making the wrong connection.
When your happiness is based on anything external to yourself, any object, any person, the only happiness it can bring you is rooted in addition. The result? It can never satisfy you. You’re not suffering because your long-term boyfriend won’t ask you to marry him; you’re suffering because you want him to ask you to marry him. This is needless suffering.
Likewise, if you’re single, and are searching constantly for a partner, ask yourself why you’re searching so earnestly. Are you a half person? Are you craving what others have? Does your happiness depend on getting something? Does addiction hold you captive?
The Dhamma teaches us right thought and wrong thought in our relationships. A great, brief article on the subject can be found here:
Marriage has been the greatest blessing of my life. And yet, I know that my husband is not ‘mine’, this marriage is not ‘mine’, our home is not ‘mine’, our money is not ‘mine’ – nothing at all is mine. I am here, I am within it, I enjoy the pleasures of marriage, and I feel great happiness. But even 'I' is an illusion. I also understand the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence. Some or all of it can be gone in a heartbeat. One day, it will all be gone - myself included.
No clinging. The Buddha taught that this is the one and only path to true happiness.