Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. – Thomas Merton, Love and Living
I grew up with a very naive view of life and relationships. My parents had the best intentions and they were both upstanding people with good values. However, I will also admit that they over-imparted their philosophies on their children, to a fault. Morality was so deeply embedded in our upbringing that it often gave little room for anything else; there was seldom a gray area. While most of their convictions were well-intentioned and steered me in a positive direction, they lacked empathy when it came to humanistic relationships, most specifically love.
I was often taught to see the world in black and white. Perhaps the most damaging of these however, was the belief that we were all destined to meet our soulmate. Though I neither refute nor accept the idea, the way this belief was delivered to me had me convinced for the majority of my life that love was clear-cut and predetermined.
I grew up fully believing that the love of my life would one day materialize in front of me and I would just know. It would be straight forward, easy and guaranteed. This ideology distorted my perception since I was a child, and ultimately set me up for failure when it came to relationships and men in general.
For the better part of my teenage years into adulthood, I often found myself infatuated with different men and each time, I was convinced that the butterflies meant that we were destined to be together, that it was love, that if he could only just see… This manifested itself over and over again until my late twenties, despite each failed unrequited attempt. The heartbreaks were unbearable, because why didn’t things work out if I felt so much “love” for someone? I truly believed that just because I felt these intense feelings, it must have been mutual, they must have been the one meant for me.
These past heartbreaks gradually showed me what I wished my parents would have told me: love is not just a thing. Love is an action that exists between two people, not just one. It is not love if it is one-sided, and love is not butterflies and daydreams. Love is not forced or guaranteed, but a privilege. It is not handed to us on a silver platter, it requires work and attention; it ebbs and flows. It is living and breathing, and it feeds off of how we treat our partner. The little things we do and say to each other, the respect we hold for one another, the choices that we make daily to continue investing in the relationship–these are the sustenance love needs to survive and thrive.
Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. – Fred Rogers
We get old and get use to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. -Johnny Cash
There is a blurry line between being emotionally cautious, and acting unscrupulously. People can easily use one to justify the other, to validate decisions that disguise self-serving intent. I see this wavering separation in the public desensitization of terrorism, and catastrophe which I too am guilty of. An abundance of trauma, pain, and loss easily leads to apathy.
I suspect that the greatest lesson life tries to teach me is to learn how to protect my heart, to stop feeling deeply, to hide my cards, to sympathize less, to put my well-being before others’. I know this because whenever I let my guard down, things come crashing into a heap at my feet, over, and over, and over again. I suspect that life wants to push me towards the side of indifference, and to understand that when you wear your heart on your sleeve, it will catch on fire each and every time. And I will burn so many times that I will become indifferent to the pain, whether in feeling it or inflicting it.
But to this, I say never. The capacity to love, and love in spite of our fears and anxieties has become more rare in this day and age. Love inspires us to be better people, to be selfless, patient, forgiving and understanding.
Why would I ever want to become numb to that?
There is a protocol that exists when we experience a break up, apparently. First, we cry and it’s socially acceptable to do so. Then, we’re supposed to look within ourselves for happiness. We are obligated to “find ourselves” again, and find joy in being alone. If we can’t be alone, then we must be broken, so we’ll need to take this time to rediscover and fix ourselves–we have to “love ourselves before we can truly love others.” We are told to sweep our memories under the rug, because he obviously wasn’t Mr. Right if things have gone so horribly wrong. We are supposed to think about all the negatives instead of idealizing and obsessing over the positive aspects of the relationship. Stop clinging onto the memories, because they obviously weren’t that great if it ended in heartbreak right? We are told to channel our energy into doing the things we love, and find inner peace in being single. And then we are told that it will be difficult, but we need to stop crying, because it is no longer okay or healthy to wallow so long. When “we are ready,” we should start dating again and keep our hearts open.
Let me be blatantly honest: this is a bunch of shit. Yes, perhaps this applies to some women. These types of articles are about empowering yourself to climb out of the rubble; to learn from mistakes and mend broken hearts, to vilify him so we can feel better about no longer being together. Yes, perhaps if you came out of a relationship where you fought all the time, where you treated each other like crap, lacked respect and understanding or were overtly codependent.
But it is entirely possible that we already knew ourselves when we entered the relationship. What if we were already strong, independent women before him, we were already content being single…but we wanted more. What if we wanted what everyone inevitably wants out of life–to share it with someone? What if we had already learned much of life’s hard lessons, already experienced the feeling of loss over and over again, yet still managed to keep our hearts open? What if the relationship was not toxic or abusive? What if the positive aspects of the relationship outweighed the negative? What if the happiest moments of your life were a result of the relationship? What if the relationship made you a better person?
How do we then overcome the feeling of grief? We know our inner strength, we know our own worth, we know about letting go, we know we should occupy ourselves with hobbies and surround ourselves with friends and family. We know it’s a part of life. We know all that. This is for the women who love themselves, who know what it means to be with and without. This is for the women who are smart enough to know they should move on, but also understand that there was a profound value and significance to the relationship.
This is to say that it’s okay. When you have a firm grasp of yourself, you know your limits and capabilities. You know more than the repetitive insert-a-number step guides to getting over him, because you know yourself. The real comfort is in knowing what you felt was real, despite any other circumstances. You were true to yourself, and to him. You loved deeply and with intention. You loved him when he drove a rusted Ford Contour, when he spent his food stamps to buy groceries to make you a romantic dinner on one of your first dates, when he opted for a kiss on the forehead after your first meeting. You loved him when he set aside his discomfort to spend time with your family, when he offered to pay for half of your new laptop (but you declined), when he planned a Marvel movie marathon, and bought two-player video games just so you could play together.
That love is real, un-replaceable and unforgettable. Getting over this break-up is not so much about finding myself as it is about taking comfort in knowing that I loved him wholeheartedly, purely and without malice, or ill-intention. It’s in knowing that I don’t seek vengeance, or retaliation, that I loved him in a way that was sincere and true to who I was. This is the real way to accept what you cannot accept–to face it head on.