There are two questions each person must ask themself. The first is “Where am I going?” The second: “Who will go with me?”
The late Howard Thurman, philosopher, theologian, and educator, told his friend, author Sam Keen, who was struggling with a divorce after seventeen years of marriage, that there are two questions each person must ask themself.
The first is “Where am I going?” The second: “Who will go with me?”
“If you ever get these questions in the wrong order,” he cautioned, “you are in trouble.”
Yet, we look around us and find that much of human dating experience in our culture is exactly in that kind of trouble. People are looking for someone to go on a journey they have little idea they’re on.
As we boomers moved into our dating years, our goal was to find someone – sometimes anyone — to accompany us in life. We knew, in that general and idealistic way teens and twenty-somethings think they understand, what the general expectations of our life were – get an education, a job, and a family, and live out the image of an ideal life that an increasingly consumer-oriented society was setting before us.
We probably were typical believers in that way of doing things. So we didn’t examine carefully what we had expected this to mean. We just believed “love” would get us through.
Statistically, about half of us saw those intentions fall apart. That’s to be expected if we pursued that second question before we had answered the first.
Some of the rest of us have hung in there and are relatively happy or at least settled. We might have given up asking the first question of ourselves, telling ourselves it’s too idealistic or that the answers would result in us shirking our cultural, economic, or domestic responsibilities.
There would be a certain sadness if that meant that we have given up on romance, joy, and excitement in our relationships, married or not, now that we’ve passed our fiftieth birthdays. Maybe we’re afraid that the only way we could travel on the journey we feel inwardly called to take, would be to sacrifice what we have now.
We might be afraid to talk now to our partner in life about our dreams and passions for life that would be keys to the journey still ahead. Maybe we’d even be more afraid if our partner sat down and told us about their dreams and the aspirations of their souls. It might bring up all those fears of abandonment.
But what an intimate experience it would be for two people to do that very thing, and to express their fears together. How emotionally close would that bring two people to hear each other’s answers to that first question!
Wouldn’t admitting, risking, and facing openly any fears together increase the bond of partnership? One hesitates to think about what unspoken contract of silence is, sadly, really holding a relationship together where two partners can’t face each other’s answers to question one.
For those of us not in such a marriage or partnership, but looking for the partner on our journey, there’s always plenty of time to think about what used to be called our “calling” in life. That’s the word behind “vocation,” as opposed to occupation or job.
It’s an immeasurable gift to ourselves to take the time to look at our life as a journey and see where we’d like to point our face ahead. What do we feel called to do? Where do we feel called to go next in this life?
And it’s a journey, not a tour. Journeys are full of twists and turns, of being surprised by what we find when we come around a bend. Tours are planned trips where someone else has told us what we should see as we travel.
Journeys aren’t neat, packaged deals. So, as the Buddhists might say, we’ve got to be ready to embrace the change that life inevitably brings.
Has our half a century of experience brought us to that mid-life crisis or, as I prefer, mid-life evaluation, where we know now where our journey is headed? We do, after all, have many miles yet to go.
Are we ready to seek an answer to the second question with someone else who knows it’s a journey too? Is it someone who will go with us because our journeys have intersected, someone who will encourage us on our journey?
Or do we still want to answer the second question first and settle again for someone who might keep us from feeling alone even if, as a result, we’ll never know where we could have traveled? Even if it would always then remain a never-attempted dream?
These are key questions to answer if we want relationships that feed our souls and bring us joy.