Madeleine’s two questions

But over the years two questions of mine have evolved which make sense to me.

I ask the boy or girl how work is going: Are you functioning at a better level than usual? Do you find that you are getting more work done in less time? If you are, then I think that you can trust this love. If you find that you can’t work well, that you’re functioning under par, then I think something may be wrong.

A lovely example of this is Josephine: the spring she and Alan were engaged, when she was eighteen and a sophomore at Smith, they found out that they could not possibly be apart more than two weeks at a time; either Alan would go up to Northampton, or Josephine would come down to New York. She knew that she would be getting married ten days after the close of college. And her grades went steadily up.

The other question I ask my “children” is: what about your relations with the rest of the world? It’s all right in the very beginning for you to be the only two people in the world, but after that your ability to love should become greater and greater. If you find that you love lots more people than you ever did before, then I think that you can trust this love. If you find that you need to be exclusive, that you don’t like being around other people, then I think that something may be wrong.

This doesn’t mean that two people who love each other don’t need time alone. Two people in the first glory of new love must have great waves of time in which to discover each other. But there is a kind of exclusiveness in some loves, an kind of inturning, which augurs trouble to come. -Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Madeleine says that when people come to her with relationship questions, she responds with these two questions of her own. I remember reading it for the first time, thinking how wise it was, and it has stayed with me. When I read it last week, I thought again about it, about how I have some regrets about some of our decisions, but that I think our instincts were right, that we knew we needed people, no matter how things worked out.

And I’ve been thinking lately about the choices that different people make, how I am sure I hurt people in the process of figuring out the balance of my relationship with Mike and my relationships with others, even though I tried my best to let my friends know that I needed them. And how I have been hurt when friends have chosen to drop me for a guy. Of course the balance between protecting a relationship and being overly insular is not always easy to determine. Sometimes I don’t mean to be so insular . . . I just forget to plan things. Mike is often better about keeping us in circulation than I am.

I think the first part is very wise, too – if a relationship is constantly a distraction, if it keeps you from being on task, it’s probably not the most healthy thing. When I read this book for the first time, just before I got married, I was proud to report that in the semester before our wedding, I got all A’s. hehe.

Anyway, that’s just a few thoughts on this chilly afternoon.

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