We humans have a need to know and understand. We even describe deepening relationships as getting to know one another better and better. After decades of being together, we may even take pride and comfort in knowing what the other person would say before they even say it. Intimacy in a relationship is often thought of in terms of knowing one another fully. To love someone is to know in your heart everything about them, and still feel fully committed to them. These ideals, at first glance, can seem quite beautiful. The reality, however, is that such notions fall short of the true beauty of a relationship.
The exquisite truth is that we will always remain an unfathomable mystery to one another. When someone makes a statement, we may feel we understand what they are saying. When we make a statement, we may believe the listener fully understands our meaning. In reality, most of the underlying intent, meaning, and feeling of what we say and do remains a mystery to everyone, including ourselves.
This mystery is the real beauty of relationships. To think we fully grasp, understand, or fathom another’s nature compromises our ability to appreciate the wonder, magnificence, and unbounded beauty of another. Yet we humans have a need to believe we know and understand others. This holds true, not only in our deepest and most intimate relationships, but also in our classification, categorization, and evaluation of almost everyone we have met or even heard about. The psychological term for this tendency is called “projection.” We are inclined to project the finite upon the infinite, the fathomable upon the unfathomable, the graspable upon the ungraspable. It gives us comfort to believe we know and understand others. We are quick to project what we believe onto everyone.
Our interactions with others become something far more wonderful and elegant when we understand that we all remain an exquisite, unfathomable mystery to one another. The knowable is merely one facet of the diamond that another person truly is. The intended meaning behind one’s words is never fully understood. When someone speaks, it ceases to be what was said, and immediately becomes what the listener heard.
There is a simple word for what it means to hold this understanding in our hearts: “respect.” To respect another is to honor the fact that the vast majority of who and what they are remains a profound and unfathomable mystery. To do otherwise is to disrespect and sell short the magnificence of life. We long to know and understand our loved ones. But to fully appreciate them is to embrace their mystery. We may talk, commune, and interact, all in the quest to come to know one another. While this is beautiful and wonderful, it is like reaching for the unreachable stars that eternally reside so far above our heads.
To love, then, is to celebrate, to enjoy, to thrive, in the unfathomable nature of our cherished one. If that were to ever go away, the relationship would become a hollow shell of what it could have been and what it rightly should be. Our inability to know is the essence of our longing to understand. Our desire to fully fathom the unfathomable nature of our loved one feeds and perpetuates the relationship. It keeps it alive. To be truly comfortable in our lifelong companionships is to rest in the adoration, not just of what is known, but even more so, in what remains unknown and even unknowable.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Dr. Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a 'bridge' between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Michael Mamas writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.