Stay­ing in love: the hard part

Love is not for the faint of heart; at least not the kind that’s got any stay­ing power.

Living Now - - Love - By John Ptacek

Ihad the jew­eller en­grave the round gold pen­dant with the words ‘Love, John’. A thin cross-hatched border fram­ing the words made them bulge with sig­nif­i­cance. I was 16. When I gave it to my 15-year-old girl­friend and she hung it around her neck, we felt as if we had en­tered a sa­cred space. We had fi­nally lib­er­ated the word that had been caught in our throats for months, and now that it had es­caped our lips we couldn’t stop say­ing it. Love. We were in love. We were com­pletely, un­con­trol­lably, deliri­ously in love. The charm of a first love is its drool­ing in­no­cence. Ex­posed to feel­ings we didn’t know we had, we hardly know what to do with our­selves. We walk around with scram­bled brains, blush­ing and gig­gling and say­ing stupid things. First loves are pow­ered by feel­ings alone, spared from the te­dious prac­ti­cal­ity of com­mon sense – and what fun it is. Life is no longer dim with uncer­tainty. It’s coated in choco­late!

That is, un­til a ca­sual word or a ges­ture sud­denly cap­sizes our love boats. Just as the feel­ing of love was new, so is the ache we feel at love’s pass­ing. We are dis­il­lu­sioned, but not for long. Soon we will set sail to re­cap­ture that bliss­ful feel­ing.

Some­where along the line we learn that love in­volves more than just feel­ings. We un­der­stand that for love to en­dure, a whole spec­trum of hu­man needs must be ad­dressed, not just our yearn­ing hearts. Or do we?

My ex­pe­ri­ence as a vol­un­teer ad­vice giver for the El­der Wis­dom Cir­cle web­site sug­gests that many of us never make this leap in logic. We are grown adults mak­ing puppy love. Ad­vice seek­ers ac­cess­ing the the web­site tap into the ac­quired wis­dom of se­niors to help them nav­i­gate through life’s hard mo­ments. They are pri­mar­ily young, how­ever seek­ers of all ages turn to us for guid­ance. Bro­ken re­la­tion­ships dom­i­nate the sub­ject lines of let­ters that stuff the mail­box each day. Com­monly asked ques­tions in­clude: “How can I re­claim the early ex­cite­ment of my re­la­tion­ship?” “How can I win back my ex?” Each be­lies a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of what grown up love re­quires of us. For ev­ery anx­ious let­ter writer seek­ing our coun­sel, one can only imag­ine the num­ber of other peo­ple in the world who are as des­per­ate for love, as they are un­equipped to ac­com­mo­date it.

I am hardly an ex­pert on love, but I have suc­cess­fully com­pleted its ob­sta­cle course. You might even say I learned a few things along the way. Like most peo­ple, I was schooled in the ways of love by pas­sively ob­serv­ing adult be­hav­iour as I grew up, and by ab­sorb­ing the con­ven­tional wis­dom about love emerg­ing from TV shows,

song lyrics, self-help books, and the oc­ca­sional mind-bend­ing dive into me­ta­physics. The best teacher, how­ever, was my own ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially painful ex­pe­ri­ence. Pain pried my eyes open to the truths found hid­den in the depths of re­la­tion­ship de­spair, the same truths sought by so many bro­ken­hearted let­ter writ­ers. It is easy for me to iden­tify with their an­guish. Some­times I feel like I’m talk­ing to my for­mer self when I cor­re­spond with them.

How does one re­gain the magic of courtship? The an­swer, of course, is that you don’t. Love – the feel­ing and love, the state of mind – are as dif­fer­ent as yel­low and blue. They can com­ple­ment each other, but they ex­ist in their own spheres. Love, the feel­ing, is a half tank of gas that will leave you stranded when you least ex­pect it. Love, the state of mind, is the field of aware­ness in which we per­ceive and re­spond to the needs of our part­ners. It is built to last. Be­cause it is not al­ways en­joy­able, we are re­luc­tant to call it love. It re­quires that we give as much as we get. Mak­ing it through tough times to­gether is how love deep­ens. For­get the old magic. This is the new magic dis­il­lu­sioned lovers should be turn­ing their at­ten­tion to.

How can I win back my ex? The na­ture of love is that two peo­ple come to­gether will­ingly, so when seek­ers ask for strate­gies to win back their old lovers, I tell them that this only hap­pens in ro­mance nov­els and silly movies. I also point out that the other per­son was never theirs in the first place. We are not each other’s pos­ses­sions. I can al­most feel them scowl as I write the words. Some­times re­spon­dents write back, but not of­ten on this topic.

Then there is the clus­ter of let­ter writ­ers who put up with bad be­hav­iour from their part­ners, over and over again. I sug­gest that this is not love. It’s tor­ture. I field a fair amount of let­ters from long­time friends who puzzle over whether it makes sense to tran­si­tion into lovers, as if it were a math­e­mat­i­cal rather than a chem­i­cal equa­tion, as if an in­ti­mate friend­ship were some­how of lesser im­por­tance.

My street logic is no match for pro­fes­sional coun­selling, but then it’s not sup­posed to be. I’m more the chin­scratch­ing un­cle that vis­i­tors to the site never had.

One thing I am sure of is that fall­ing in love is easy. Any fool can do it. It’s stay­ing in love that’s the hard part. Love costs ev­ery­thing, more than arm­fuls of flow­ers, more than bushels of hugs and kisses. It’s one thing to ad­mit the truth of this stand­ing ra­di­antly on an al­tar, and quite an­other to ad­mit it when stand­ing be­hind a slammed bed­room door with tears stream­ing down your cheeks. Love is not for the faint of heart, at least not the kind that’s got any stay­ing power. So be­fore we go on record and de­clare our love on a sliver of metal, we must con­sider that we have not reached the fin­ish line. We have only taken a first step. Un­less we are pre­pared to run a marathon, a box of choco­lates might be a bet­ter idea. n

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