How do you know you know a person? Usually we can tell when we really know someone, or when we don't know them--or at least, we've felt the rude smack of realization that this person we thought we had figured out is in fact someone else entirely. Then in other relationships, we keep trying to know the person but a vague sense pervades that some vital component of their person is hidden to you. This may be somewhat intentional on their part--if they have something to hide, or they don't trust you enough to open themselves to you. Or it may keep happening in a relationship no matter how hard both of you try to reveal self and understand other: somehow, the two of you are different in such a way that there are parts of each (sometimes substantial parts) that can't be communicated to the other. Who knows why. It may be variations in how you each perceive the world, or stage in life, or in values or thought processes or even just taste or style. Whatever it is, it's there. Similar differences may have no bearing on other relationships, but somehow it matters to these.
That makes me wonder even more about the relationships that do work. The ones that don't tend to stick in our craw and we try to figure them out. The relationships that work best offer us a place of respite and comfort, a place where we can take communion for granted, in the very best sense. They become those rare and treasured spaces in life where we know this is how life is supposed to be. Trying to figure out why they work might jinx them.
I think though, really, we're just as clueless about why those work as about why others don't. It's like asking a happily married person how they knew their spouse was "The One" (assuming they believe in soul mates). They almost always give the highly unsatisfying answer, "you just know" or "it just works." Thanks guys, really helpful, thinks the single friend. That does nothing to help me know whether the way my girlfriend and I relate "works."
Currently being a person who dispenses such an answer, I'm sorry. But that's all I've got. Yeah, shared values and goals are important, bringing out the best in each other, and similar backgrounds can be helpful. But I didn't even know some of what the best of me was until I was dating my husband. Some of my values evolved through or simultaneous with my initial friendship with him. You never really know yourself or another person completely, so how do you even know why exactly you relate the way you do?
A friend once advised me, back when I was a single lass trying to make a final decision about a relationship I wanted but couldn't seem to get functioning smoothly. She told me, "You know the relationship will work when in the midst of problems, you know you will crawl through anything to get that person back." She said that not discounting the above-mentioned factors, as well as things like maturity and just liking each other (which often falls surprisingly low on people's list of priorities). But she wanted to highlight that almost irresistible love which flows naturally in good relationships and must flow most strongly in a marriage.
Two things to say about that idea. One, in pondering that idea I came to discover the limits of my love for that particular gent--in certain situations, I knew I would do the crawling if I had to, but not because I wanted to. The natural limits of the love I had for him reflected the limits of our relationship. Later, when I dated my husband, I discovered within myself an unlimited love that reflected the "it just works" nature of our relationship. Don't ask me to explain why, cuz I have no idea. But that's how it worked.
Two, while my friend gave that advice as a description of a relationship "just working", it can also be read as a prescription for how to keep moving forward in any relationship, regardless of its natural functionality. That's really what love is, in its essence--sacrifice of self for another. Being willing to crawl even when you don't want to, being willing to sacrifice both your petty demands and your real rights, being willing to wrap your efforts as a free gift to another person--that is love. That is the divine life in your everyday experience. "To love another person is to see the face of God," as they sing in Les Miserables. And the best part is that divine love is always an option for us. Whether or not a relationship clicks is irrelevant. Everyone I know can be loved, and with the grace of God I can be the one loving.