We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it. – Rilke
I think the hardest thing love asks of us is to let go of the one we love most in the world, in the service of the happiness and well-being of both. We don’t like to hear that, we want to hear that love conquers all hardships. That’s what we’re told from the minute we’re born. “All you need is love” and all that. But most of us, eventually, realize that this isn’t true. All you need is the right time, the right place, the right circumstances, the right person, and then, yes, love might bloom. But if those other things aren’t in place, you can have all the love in the world and it still won’t work out. Because life intervenes.
As another relationship ends, I find myself reacting differently than I have with other breakups. In most other ones, I found myself talking about it incessantly, usually using bitterness or anger to hide my grief and sadness. This time, I don’t want to talk about it. At first I thought it was because I didn’t really want it to be true, and not talking about it was a form of denial. But then I realized, that though this might be true in part, that by not talking about it, I’m also attempting to preserve the sacredness of this moment in the lives of myself and my love. By not talking about it, I’m trying to keep it private and away from prying, judging eyes. Well, except for this blog post.
In this tender, sad, yet strangely beautiful time, I don’t want the imprecations that I’ll “soon find somebody else”, or exclamations of “he did what to you?” or tender reassurances of “It’s OK, honey, time will heal the pain.” I know those may be true, and that they’re offered with sincere care, but they don’t help me right now. I’m still deeply in love, whether or not it makes sense logically. Telling me I’ll get over it soon enough s like telling a new widow that she should start dating again three weeks after her husband dies. I need time to grieve, to digest the meaning of it all, and to become acquainted with the person I am now.
Every relationship changes us, romantic or otherwise. How can they not? As I struggle with feelings of anger and disappointment at myself for having put up with certain things, and miss and wish for the good things we had, I have to realize that there is no such thing as wasted time. Whatever happens in a relationship, the time was never wasted if we can learn from what happened and grow into ourselves. This is our purpose, I believe. To live, love, and grow.
In our culture, the information we get about love is almost purely pragmatic. Magazines publish articles on “Red Flag to Watch For” and “What Not To Do on a First Date” and “26 Sex Tips Sure to Make Him Fall For You”. But the emotional part is strangely absent. There’s no acknowledgment of the complexities of love – the way it mixes longing with need with selflessness with ambivalence with hope with disappointment with confusion with elation with not knowing what to do but wanting more than anything to do it right, and then wondering if you can’t seem to do it right, if it’s better just to leave, but clinging to the idea that love will , somehow, watch out for us. And then when it’s over (or should be), books like “He’s Just Not That Into You” sternly admonish women to “get over it already” and go out there and find Mr. Right. Dating books abound, relationship books expand to cover shelves and shelves of bookstore space, but in none of them have I found the emotional resonance, the heart truth that I have experienced in actual relationships.
This stuff is hard. And complicated. This is why we act in romantic relationships in ways we would never act with friends or family. Love makes us meet ourselves, the bad and the good. Love is the closest and best way to learn about ourselves that I have found. Heartbreaking, heart-expanding, heart-humbling, love is a bird not to be held tightly. It’s sacred, this way we find one another, the way two hearts can meet and resonate with one another for the time they have with each other, and how they break and quiver with sorrow when they can no longer be together in that old way. To tell me to move on, get over it, is to not understand this deep sacredness.
If we are truly present with our hearts, we will never “get over” any relationship. They change us. We will never be the same. And that’s not necessarily tragic, if the way we let them change us is to let them allow us to grow into the people we were always meant to be, to learn love’s lessons not in a bitter, punitive way (“Well, I’ll never do that again!”) but in a truly present, compassionate way. To understand our mistakes and the mistakes of our lovers as things we did because we wanted to be loved and to love, and to perhaps learn that those ways don’t work so well, but not to punish ourselves (or our ex-lovers) for not being perfect, the way we would never punish a child for not being able to play the violin like a virtuoso.
I watch my emotions with interest. The way they change and shift, sometimes within minutes. There’s the disappointment, the pure missing, the anger towards both of us, the crushing grief, the compassion, the loneliness, especially at night and in the morning and weekends. There’s confusion and sadness and even some hope for a someday future with my love. There’s the realization, the learning, the understanding, that hits me in the gut at the strangest times. Then there’s a deep sense of pure love, in all of its complexity, that I can sometimes find and settle into the way one settles into a comfy old chair, content with what’s happening no matter what.
Every day is a new adventure for me now, as it probably always should have been. But all I can do is try to be present with it, try to learn from it, and try not to judge myself and my love for our mistakes. And understand that the love we shared is not gone, only changed.