Once part of a couple, the boundaries separating two people are often blurred. The difficult, even beautiful balance between freedom and companionship, necessary for a fully loving relationship, needs to overcome a contradiction that often torments us: people long for both intimacy and individuality, independence and company. Giving space to the person we most want to be close to is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things to be achieved from inner work, one of the secrets to preserving and reinventing a loving relationship. In a letter addressed to the cadet and young poet, Franz Xaver Kapus, Rainer Maria Rilke offered some of his wisest advice for navigating that line between nearness and distance, something capable of saving love from self-destruction.

If ever there was a writer who knew how to put the secrets of human feeling into words, it was Rilke. The volume, Letters to a Young Poet, collects six years of Rilke’s correspondence with Kapus in one of the 20th-century’s most dazzling compilations of discreet human wisdom (containing, for isntance, powerful recommendations for evolving from sadness.

On the importance of loneliness and its preponderant role in human relationships, Rilke wrote to his young apprentice:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

Rilke also insisted on the importance of any couple’s deep complicity:

It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!

The metaphor of the guardian of solitude, as though it were a castle or a treasure, brilliant as it is, allows us to see Rilke’s attitude towards individuality and the respect for it necessary within the couple. This ability to preserve the other’s loneliness, Rilke tells us, is always a choice.

For Rilke, respect for the other’s loneliness is a principle applicable to any kind of human relationship, not just to the romantic. Every kind of company should be thought of as a solitary neighborhood, an act of sharing the space near to two entities, but such that they are never confused. When one abandons oneself for a relationship, one disconnects from oneself. If two people abandon themselves to be together, then there is no “ground beneath them” and the relationship is a perpetual falling. Whenever this happens, the relationship between the two people who once desired only good for each other becomes imperious and intolerant, governed by impatience —something that inevitably brings about its end.

On the other hand, when a relationship is based on life’s true nature —transformation— only   then can it be successful.

Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another.

Throughout the correspondence between Rilke and Kapus, there’s invaluable information which, like jewels made of words, speak to us with lucidity on the depths of the feeling of love. In the extracts above lies a description of one of the most difficult things that a couple can aspire to, the fine art of achieving a relationship in which there is a balance between freedom and unconditionality:

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation

 

 

 

Image: Boston Public Library

Once part of a couple, the boundaries separating two people are often blurred. The difficult, even beautiful balance between freedom and companionship, necessary for a fully loving relationship, needs to overcome a contradiction that often torments us: people long for both intimacy and individuality, independence and company. Giving space to the person we most want to be close to is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things to be achieved from inner work, one of the secrets to preserving and reinventing a loving relationship. In a letter addressed to the cadet and young poet, Franz Xaver Kapus, Rainer Maria Rilke offered some of his wisest advice for navigating that line between nearness and distance, something capable of saving love from self-destruction.

If ever there was a writer who knew how to put the secrets of human feeling into words, it was Rilke. The volume, Letters to a Young Poet, collects six years of Rilke’s correspondence with Kapus in one of the 20th-century’s most dazzling compilations of discreet human wisdom (containing, for isntance, powerful recommendations for evolving from sadness.

On the importance of loneliness and its preponderant role in human relationships, Rilke wrote to his young apprentice:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

Rilke also insisted on the importance of any couple’s deep complicity:

It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!

The metaphor of the guardian of solitude, as though it were a castle or a treasure, brilliant as it is, allows us to see Rilke’s attitude towards individuality and the respect for it necessary within the couple. This ability to preserve the other’s loneliness, Rilke tells us, is always a choice.

For Rilke, respect for the other’s loneliness is a principle applicable to any kind of human relationship, not just to the romantic. Every kind of company should be thought of as a solitary neighborhood, an act of sharing the space near to two entities, but such that they are never confused. When one abandons oneself for a relationship, one disconnects from oneself. If two people abandon themselves to be together, then there is no “ground beneath them” and the relationship is a perpetual falling. Whenever this happens, the relationship between the two people who once desired only good for each other becomes imperious and intolerant, governed by impatience —something that inevitably brings about its end.

On the other hand, when a relationship is based on life’s true nature —transformation— only   then can it be successful.

Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another.

Throughout the correspondence between Rilke and Kapus, there’s invaluable information which, like jewels made of words, speak to us with lucidity on the depths of the feeling of love. In the extracts above lies a description of one of the most difficult things that a couple can aspire to, the fine art of achieving a relationship in which there is a balance between freedom and unconditionality:

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation

 

 

 

Image: Boston Public Library