“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama
Things I did for love:
I rode the subway alone, late at night, to a guy’s house because I thought he might have another woman there (he did). I stalked a guy after he broke up with me and left letters on his windshield. I tried to convince a man that even though he wasn’t in love with me, we could have an “arrangement” in which we just spent our lives together without sex.
You get the idea.
I don’t do stuff like that anymore, partly because I’ve been married for nearly two decades. The thing is, though, I wouldn’t do it even if I was single again.
We are encouraged by books, movies, TV shows and magazines to believe that we can “catch” someone, and “keep” them. We eat that stuff up. We wouldn’t have such strong feelings if it wasn’t true love, right? So, we turn ourselves inside out trying to keep those good feelings coming. We read what they read, listen to their music and create a psychological girdle to suck in and hide the parts of ourselves that don’t fit.
And when our gut tells us that it’s not right, that it’s not going to happen, we cling. We grasp. We try harder. We hang on and we get progressively more panicky and hysterical as we see the beloved hand slip from our own.
We all fall in love and we all have our soft, pink hearts broken. We all mourn with sad songs, days under the covers and a sense that all the color has gone from the world.
You can, however, skip the part where you hang on for dear life, humiliate yourself and scorch the earth around the relationship.
You can let go when it’s time.
If you don’t allow a relationship to change or end organically, you are doing two great forms of unkindness. You are hurting the other person. You are making that person feel guilty about their honest feelings, which are just as important as your own. Even if she cheated on you. Even if he said, “I love you.” and then said, “I don’t.”
Even if you could line up twenty friends to testify that your beloved is, in fact, Lucifer and Ted Bundy, combined. They are human beings and are entitled to your compassion even when they are not doing what you want them to do.
You don’t have to stop loving them. You just have to let them go. I’m not telling you it’s easy; I’m telling you that you cannot nag, beg, stalk or guilt based on love. If its effect is to create suffering, it’s not loving.
The other unkindness is to yourself. I am telling you, because I’m older than you are and I’ve been there and I love you, that every time you try to hold on to something past its expiration date, you are diminishing yourself. You are training yourself to believe that you have only one chance at this love thing, that it is the only possible source of happiness and that you are incomplete without it.
So here’s the advice part: When you fall in love, love wildly, freely, no-holds-barred with your whole being. Take chances, be open, say, “I love you.” first.
Write poems, hold hands, try Ethiopian food, knit sweaters, be brave.
When it’s real, when it’s right, soak it up and live large. Check in with yourself to be sure it still feels right. Trust yourself. Keep hanging out with your friends and your family. If you eat meat and she’s a vegan, eat meat when you feel like it. If you love Metallica and he likes Drake, bang your head when you want to.
Be flexible, be interested, but be yourself.
If you get that shaky, sickening feeling that things are changing, let them change. If it’s ending, it’s ending. Everything does. Everything. It’s sad and it’s so terribly hard and it’s so tempting to fight to hang on to something that felt so good—but it will hurt you.
If you feel like there’s a problem, be brave and ask. How can this be your forever person if you are too scared to ask a question? If there is a problem, stay open and talk about it. Maybe you can fix it and maybe you can’t.
Sometimes, what looks like an end is just the beginning of something deeper and stronger—and you’ll never know unless you can allow the pain of change.
If it’s the end, well, you know. It’s the end. You will feel like a huge, gaping wound and that you want to die and sit in the dark and cry until you can drag yourself to the couch to watch Cops and snuffle.
You will sleep with his t-shirt. You will have no appetite or you will eat Cheetos and ice cream. You will have the most powerful urges to call, to text, to write a long e-mail explaining how hurt you are, how wrong it is, how they promised and how you are broken—if you explain it right they will get it and come back to you.
But, don’t. Ride it out. Remember that the pain of hanging on is infinitely worse than the pain of letting go. I’m telling you that because it’s true and I know it’s true as surely as I know I’m breathing.
And, maybe someday, things will change again and that person will be back around. And, maybe they won’t. Maybe there will be somebody new, and it will last a long time. Or it won’t.
But, if you can learn to let go when it’s time, to endure change and loss and endings and understand that they are universal and inevitable, you will suffer so much less and feel so much better about your own strong, beautiful, badass self.
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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard / Ed: Cat Beekmans