If love is the ultimate purpose of the universe, then we should finally invest in learning love. Yes, that’s right, learning! It’s certainly the case that we are all born with hearts that have full potential for love. But we were also born with ten skilful fingers without necessarily being virtuoso pianists. On the contrary: our capacity to love is not merely not fostered at school and during our education, it is systematically trained out of us, and that starts in the kindergarten. My story is just an example.
Kindergarten was a nightmare, pure and simple. I was suddenly among strangers, far away from my own toys, from everything familiar, and everything smelt so strange. Panic! Something inside me switched into survival mode, and hid deep inside – until I was allowed to go home again.
School meant sitting still. Charging about, throwing things around, shouting and every other human impulse was punished with a clip round the ear or having to stand in the corner. But then I discovered what they wanted from me and what I could do to feel better: perform! And so I learned not only to live up to people’s expectations, but to exceed them. No one in the whole school could read and write as well as me. I knew the answers to arithmetic questions before they had even been fully asked, and I had no problem shovelling whole extracts from books into my short-term memory and then reeling them off to order. Once, when I told my neighbour the answer in a maths test, I was quickly caught and given the lowest mark. And my classmate didn’t deem my attempt to have been a gesture of friendship either, but of arrogance. “Mutual help is not worth it,” was the message I was left with. “Look after yourself, and then you will get through.”
Who invented these schools, which mould children into little soldiers for the machinery that sustains our meritocratic society?
During puberty, I broke ranks. I went from being a child prodigy to a problem learner and chronic classroom disruptor – initially by means of imaginative pranks, then by acting deaf or mute and staring into space, and finally by playing truant. What we were supposed to learn was agonisingly boring, from the periodic table to the sequence of kings. A completely different kind of life was crying out inside me. I preferred to be one of the bad guys, the ones our parents warned us about. I smoked, I went on demonstrations without understanding what they were about, snogged with guys I didn’t know, did everything my parents thought was bad – and everything, as I know today, just to find closeness and a sense of belonging.
I was a gifted child, but then, when it came to matters of the heart, I was devoid of talent. I gave boys a roasting who got too close to me, intimidated them with my coolness, which was just aimed at drowning out the inner cry: just love me! Someone just put your arm around me! For a long time, no one was able to break down my fortress of insecurity and reticence. Talking to other girls didn’t help much; relentless competition was the order of the day: being better, slimmer, more beautiful, more mysterious. If another girl fancied the same boy as me, then I withdrew. Being cool was the great discovery. Finally free of pain.
Why did no one tell us or show us in those days that neither being a high achiever nor being super cool gets us very far with love? That, on the contrary, it’s about making contact, about openness, about being interested in the other person, about showing ourselves precisely in those areas where we are vulnerable? We could have spared ourselves so much!
In my case, the first release came when I founded the student newspaper at the age of 16. Finally we had found a channel for our excess energy, and the teamwork meant that genuine, honest cooperation, big challenges, success, solidarity and then – at last! – love came into my life. We learned to deal with our rage professionally.
Couldn’t we also become such professionals in matters of love? People who become economists, mechanics or musicians don’t leave their careers to chance. They spend years learning, trying things out and studying. They make mistakes and are corrected, undertake further training even once their training is complete, network with others, seek information about ongoing developments in their field, specialise, and perhaps even become a master in their subject. Basically, learning never stops.
Only people who want to love think that they have to be able to do so straight away. The only difficult bit seems to be the search for the right partner. Once we have them, we’re blessed. We’ve done it. Now is the time for all those expectations to be fulfilled that have accumulated over the course of our lives. We float around in seventh heaven and see each of our loved one’s faults through rose-tinted glasses. We may even find them sweet. After all, we’re in love, what could go wrong? There’s also no doubt that they love us. Or is there?
Once the other one’s faults become clearer, we don’t dare to say anything initially. Smiling, looks, hints, … until we can’t take it anymore!
Suddenly all the accumulated rage bursts out, and it’s usually about trivialities. There’s many a man who is astonished as his darling turns into a dragon, into a fury, when all he did was to forget to wipe his feet. Most lovers have never learned to talk about the things that are really important to them. When they finally do, it usually sounds reproachful. “Why didn’t he know by himself how much this day means to me and that I really needed him now?”
Of course – because I didn’t tell him! In reality, the honeymoon is over, the projection has lost its shine, and the real work of partnership begins. But, at that point, most people opt for separation, and head off in search of a new partner, true to the motto: it’ll all be different with the next man. Which it never is.
My training ground for love is life in a community with people from many age groups, with different preferences, and different ways of living and loving. While most people only experience closeness behind closed doors, in private, in our case, we all get something from each other. You can also intervene and give support if a couple fall out. And you learn a huge amount from each other.
For example, it’s a true gift to learn that most people have similar experiences in love. That even the most beautiful woman still secretly fears that she is not beautiful enough. And that, for that reason, our friendships between women go permanently hand in hand with subliminal competition, and it’s well worth overcoming this. That we can gradually put our faith in trust instead of merciless jealousy. That we should no longer expect our partner to mind-read our every wish or fulfil every secret longing – but can ourselves contribute to continuously celebrating love anew. To know when we need a little distance, and when greater closeness is important. That being loyal does not mean shutting other people out, but always discovering something new in one’s partner. That love is a social work of art.
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