It was the writer Isabel Allende who said it to me some time ago, but I couldn’t fully appreciate it at the time. I did write it down in my book ‘Wise Women’ and often thought about it, but only in recent years have I understood the deep truth of it.
In her study, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco, she said, “I can do half my best in my marriage, he has to do the rest. If he doesn’t, then I can’t do it seventy percent. It doesn’t work that way. You take care of your part and surrender the rest.’
You can only do your half
You can only take care of your half of a relationship. In the long run, you can’t afford more than that, otherwise things will get out of balance and you’ll be pulling and dragging. ‘I love you so much, I have enough love for both of us’ is a deadly plan. Besides, you can’t take less than half and expect the other to keep filling up the rest, because then the other person will get tired and disappointed.
Imagine a love affair as a walkway over water between you and the other. It is a connection of planks and rope that you have to venture on your way to the other. You’re not sure if the other person is walking towards you, but you brave it every day. In your backpack is your trust, your love, your understanding and your attention and you walk from the bank to the middle of the walkway to meet him.
If he is there, you have contact and love can be exchanged. It may be that the other person is not there for a day, or even longer, for whatever reason. Each time you will keep coming, until the other stands on his bank too long and you become more and more despondent. Then you will have to give up. Surely, someday, someone else will come to you.
Make sure your backpack is filled
No one should have to convince his or her loved one to come to the center of the walkway. No one should have to drag her or his loved one along. No one should have to wait endlessly for the other to appear.
You are responsible for your half of the walkway. You make sure your backpack is filled. You are not responsible for half and the backpack of the other.
Hand over the rest
I remember Isabel Allende putting her hand on my arm as she said goodbye, her bracelets jingling. Lights appeared in her eyes, but her tone was motherly. “Take care of your half and hand over the rest.”
I nodded, but would do the exact opposite in the two relationships to follow. By now I know: you can’t ‘save’ anyone. You cannot teach anyone to love you. And how wonderful it is to undertake the journey every day and see that person standing.