Always isn't always your whole life. And that's okay.
“You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And y’know what? So was I.”
- The 9th Doctor
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Love, man. It really changes you.
There you are, walking your life path, making plans and trying your best and probably forgetting to floss. And then, from out of nowhere, Love. You keep making plans and trying your best and maybe flossing a few times a week, but suddenly everything is different. You’re different. Your plans are different. Trying your best looks different.
Falling in love* is always an inflection point. There was you before this love, and now there is you who has known this love. Start with the whirlwind madness of falling in love, drunk on the potency of first moments and pheromones. Then, we get comfortable in the security that it’s real, it’s love, and you are in it together. You know each other intimately. You’re each other’s person. You still get flutters of that first rush, but love becomes a security blanket. A part of your life path. A known thing.
Maybe that’s why we want it to last forever.
Because if it doesn’t, then who are we then? If love “ends” (more on that in a moment), then what happens next? Another inflection point, another jumbled mess of trying to find your path and figuring out what you want to try now. We seek stability. Nothing wrong with that. Of course we want the HEA (happily ever after). Of course we want to know that we’ve chosen well. We’ve found The One. If that’s over, then everything we thought we knew gets called into question. Am I a fool? Am I even capable of real love? Am I ever going to get it right?
Answers: Probably not. Yes, of course. You already did.
Failure and two people parting ways are not synonyms. Even when it’s an ugly parting, it doesn’t mean you failed. Even when the relationship is fraught, it doesn’t mean you were a fool. What matters is a) what you learned from it, and b) how you choose to handle your heart afterward. Without pain, we wouldn’t know joy. None of that means you got it wrong. It means you were a human, and you loved, and you (hopefully) learned from it.
Now, about love ending.
I’m of the mind that love can have an expiration date. Certainly you can no longer be in love with someone. But that doesn’t negate the experience of loving them. That you do not love them now doesn’t mean the love you shared wasn’t real. It doesn’t mean that the relationship was a lie. You loved them, in that time. That lives as a point in your life. There is a version of you that loves them. It’s just not the current version of you.
What happens to your ability to move on if you admit that’s true?
I’ve been in love. I’ve been in love that felt like it would last forever. I’ve been in love that never had a chance of working out. I’ve been in love that hurt. That healed.
No matter how many times it happens, though, falling in love always blindsides me. Every one of the big loves of my life came along when I least expected it. Indeed, it’s fair to say they all came along when I wasn’t looking to fall in love. Depending on the circumstance, that was delightful or disastrous.
Somewhere in between loves, I fell in love with myself. On a beach in Scotland, all alone, I met myself and made peace with all the parts of me. I had stood on a beach long before that, wondering if I’d ever find a partner to love me. But that day, I understood. I had given love to many friends, family, and students over the years. I had given so much love to my husband. But not until that moment had I fallen in love with me. I realized that all the love I had experienced, and all the love I would in the future, would all end happily. Because no matter how painful the change might be, I could rely on myself. I was okay with myself.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t hurt plenty after that moment. Since then, I have experienced elation and heartbreak more potent than I ever had before. Maybe the experience of falling for me elevated my heart. Maybe it allowed me to open it even more to the madness of love. Or maybe by flipping the table on life, I let in new energy and new lessons.
One big lesson is the idea of “always.” Of what it means for love to last forever. I don’t need an always promise anymore. I know that “always” means, It will always be true that we shared love. That’s enough. That’s everything. All we ever have is this moment.
Love can change. Love can end. And love can last a lifetime. Sometimes love is 60 years of marriage and “till death do us part.” Sometimes love ends and is reborn into a new bond–still love, but not the same. Some loves leave behind scorched earth and scars on hearts.
They are all love. They all deserve to be honored.
I didn’t send this message on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t want the pressure of publishing just because it was February 14. Flowers and gifts should be something you do for your lover just because you want to, not because you have to. In the same way, I want to share this rumination on love with you–I didn’t have to.
To all the loves of my life, thank you for being exactly who you are. Thank you for love that was real, even if only for a short time. Thank you for teaching me about myself. I hope the Doctor’s quote above resonates.
*I’m focused on romantic love in this newsletter, but profound change is true of all love. (Check out For the Love of Dog as an example.)
Does it have to be “forever” to be real love?
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