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Love, the most profoundly confronting tour of the human condition that we endure. In an attempt to find solace on the subject I usually consult my library, where some of my closest friends live. Authors both dead and alive that have afforded me endless shortcuts. Flicking through the pages of one of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, I came across this quote, “love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.”

A simple concept when distilled into few words, such is the beauty of a poem. A concept that I feel very attracted to in regard to my own solitude. A solitude that for so long I have been defending at the frontline of companionship. Romantic relationships urge us to be vulnerable, armour-less, and yet simultaneously we hope to protect the very aspect of ourselves that attracted our partner in the first place; and so it becomes a dance, of both surrender and self-preservation.

The most seductive impulse in love is to possess the other and be possessed. In doing so we hope to take possession of all the blissful feelings they inspire in us, feelings fuelled by oxytocin and other love-induced chemicals that permeate the body during the fiery beginnings of romance. This is all well and good, every Disney film we ever watched affirms such behaviour, but the heart is not built for prisoners and anyone who has tried loving in this way knows that it’s counter-intuitive to the very essence of love.

New York based Psychologist and Godmother of erotic intelligence, Esther Perel, uses the metaphor of a ‘secret garden’ to explain a place where you can cultivate your own solitude and in doing so learn to cultivate an environment where both love and solitude can live and grow together.

It’s not easy to love like this. But it’s a love born of necessity. The necessity to preserve the very essence that made you fall in love in the first place. Perel encourages lovers to cultivate mutual secret gardens, in which the other may visit, but never possess a key to. She suggests that in remaining two separate things, unbeknown and forever mysterious and desirable to one another, love and passion can be sustained.

I have been devoted to my own solitude, but never have I been devoted to protecting another’s solitude until now. To protect another’s solitude is to pry open the most luminescent shell, full of glassy wet pearls, to hold them in one’s palm and then watch as they slip through one’s fingers, returned to the ocean from which they came. A small loss really, in the greater scheme of long-lasting curiosity and desire. A small victory really, in the pursuit of growing a bed of one’s own pearls, where two solitudes can lay arm in arm.

Words & Photography  Shannon May Powell