If you would have asked me a few months back what being in a relationship had taught me, you would have probably gotten a response that went something like this: relationships are hard, love is a choice, and it’s all a hell of a lot of work. Totally worth it, but hard.
And yet, as I’ve continued to press on in the journey of learning and loving and learning to love, it seems I may have failed to consider a rather significant aspect of love prior to jumping in. And now, as I sit here reflecting among the ashes I can see how critical it is to know what exactly it is you believe about love on its own terms, outside the context of another person. When you care about someone it’s really easy to conform your ideas of love to fit another so that it might be more accommodating or convenient. Invested emotions pave the way for compromise: modify a little here, bend a little there, and before you know it you wake up one day realizing you’re in the middle of something you never really signed up for. All love is not equal, and it’s not unlikely that the other party may very well uphold a fundamentally different perspective on the matter. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just important to understand. It seems significant to be able to answer objectively what love is and what it is not for yourself before you can fight for it with another person.
What can it look like?
What should it look like?
What is your longing for the way it will take shape in your life and in the lives of those around you?
And at the end of the day, what are your non-negotiables?
Relationships are full of compromise and meeting half way, this is all well and good… but know what you’re willing to bend on, and what you are not. If I could do anything differently, this would be it. To have this concept nailed down and certain in my own heart beforehand.
I can’t tell you on how many occasions I have watched others’ floundering relationships and thought to myself, You’re just doing it wrong. If you only served more, practiced more grace, was more affirming, prayed harder for him, focused more on your own role and shortcomings rather than being so quick to displace blame, then surely it would all work out… But I was naively overlooking one fundamentally critical component to this argument: the other person. You can bend over backward six ways to Sunday, and give and give and give, but you cannot for the life of you control the response of the other person. You cannot make someone love you back.
I’ve never believed love was easy. I’ve never been disillusioned by romantic comedies and fairy-tale endings. Hollywood loves to make us feel inadequate, and while it can look alluring, I had two real parents. I had a front-row seat to dysfunctional. I knew the difference between reality and fantasy, and I simply knew better. And yet, dysfunction aside, I also had a front row seat to dedicated. And so when the going gets tough (and it’s bound to in the merging of two lives) I’ve always held to the conviction that it’s all well worth it in the end. Love will ultimately prevail. But is this really true? From where I sit now, not having anticipated just how challenging it can actually be, I find myself questioning some of the most basic elements I’ve always believed about it. It’s a rude awakening to realize that sometimes love, in-and-of-itself, no matter how devoted or strong, isn’t always enough. And furthermore, just because love takes work doesn’t intrinsically require that it’s always hard. At some point you have to be able to distinguish between the two and identify what it is that you’re actually fighting for, and then mutually agree that it is in fact something desirable and worth the fighting for. And then, if you are unable to reach this conclusion, sometimes the kindest thing you can do is let go.
But I’ve never been someone who just throws in the towel, so it’s exceptionally difficult to look into the face of a relationship you’ve poured so much of your heart into and accept defeat. It’s even more difficult when you look into the face of that other person, the person who seems to have held your heart in such a flippant manner, albeit unwittingly so, and still acknowledge that hate is not even in your vocabulary. That in fact love is still all your heart knows for him. Even bitterness can’t grow there. To know that even as you walk away, you are walking away from a good man, one whom you deeply respect and have invested so much into because it is the most loving thing to do.
And so we cut our losses. And we unravel all that has been woven, detangling, releasing. Because we must. Because it’s the most loving in the most painful way.
They say that love finds you when you least expect it. When you’re not looking or trying. It will sneak up behind you and blind-side you and you will be powerless to stop it. And so it did, and so I was.
In more cliché terms, it is also said that if you love something, you’ve got to let it go. And so I shall.
People say you should live life without regrets. I don’t know that I really agree with this statement, it sounds more to me like a license to live without intentionality or thoughtfulness. I know I can’t personally reflect over the entirety of my life and honestly say that I regret nothing. There are certainly memories and moments I look back on with a pang of regret. But I will say this, choosing to love has never been among them. Not then and not now.