I received so many notes after blogging about '5 Reasons to Stay With The Person You Love' that I thought it would be useful to consider the reverse--when should we celebrate letting go?
Last weekend, I went to my favorite place on earth: Big Sur, California (pop: 1,049) -- a beautiful town on the Monterey Peninsula. In anticipation, I pulled out my books by Henry Miller, a writer closely associated with the area. As I flipped through the pages, I came across a saying from Miller's lover, the author Anais Nin, that I had handwritten into the margin. Nin wrote:
Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of withering, of tarnishing.
Running my fingers over these words, I started thinking of some of the people I spoke with while working on The Divorce Party, who decided it was better to let it go. These are 5 reasons that they shared with me on why -- reasons to which I return when someone close to me is struggling with a break-up.
Ty, a man I spoke with in Cleveland, was devastated when his first relationship after his divorce ended badly. He wanted to marry his new partner. But after closer inspection of their relationship -- she was only recently separated herself, they had conflicting ideas about marriage and family, they had different values -- he acknowledged that what he liked best about their relationship was that it provided distraction and comfort during a mutually difficult time. "We have passion, but, when I'm honest with myself, I don't know what we have in common on the other side of all of our drama," Ty said.
In Ty's candor, he has hit on something that is important to remember: some relationships are meant to be seasonal. They get us through a tricky period, they make us feel alive again. But that doesn't necessarily translate into two people being compatible for longer commitment. A psychologist, who I spoke with after Ty, said it eloquently:
Feeling love or passion is not enough to sustain a long-term relationship. Liking your partner is just as important. Ask yourself: do you enjoy spending time together? If you do, find a way through the inevitable problems. If you don't, ask yourself if your relationship has served its purpose.
A couple in New Mexico, Cassie and Jason, met and married in three months. It was a whirlwind. Sadly, after the dust settled, Cassie realized that her husband liked the whirlwind more than being married. "As much as I bend myself into a pretzel to make him happy," Cassie said, "he criticizes me and makes me feel like I'm failing him."
It is human to feel that it's your fault when a relationship goes awry, especially if you have a partner who is more interested in finger-pointing than getting to the crux of what is ailing the two of you. But there is a difference between working hard on a relationship and working too hard. If someone is constantly meeting your efforts with endless negativity, it may be time to consider changing the conversation.
When I spoke with a book club in New Jersey last year, we ended up discussing what makes relationships work. We came to an image of two people on either side of a long rope, holding their ends up. The key is that both people don't drop the rope at the same time -- that if the rope stays raised, even on one side, the relationship stays safe. I like this image because it suggests the mutual care-taking inherent to a good relationship. Which led to one of the book club members confessing the flipside: "My first marriage was over when I realized I was the only one holding up that rope. I never got a chance to rest, to reboot. It became too much."
No one can be the only one to hold the rope, not all of the time. We all -- at the end of the day -- need someone to help. If we find ourselves moving on from someone who wasn't, that -- in the end of a new day -- can be a big relief.
A woman I spoke with in Oregon took me on a tour of her home. It was her dream home, and she proudly explained that she wakes up there with the feeling that she's exactly where she's supposed to be. But she only found this peacefulness on the other side of a devastating heartbreak. "I fought like cats and dogs to stay with someone who was wrong for me," she said. "Thankfully, I lost that fight and ended up in the right life."
This reminds me of something crucial: we're not always wise witnesses to our own lives. Sometimes, in spite of tightly clinging to an idea of how we want our life to be, the universe has a plan for us that is braver and better than the one we had for ourselves. The good news is, when we stay open to it, the universe often finds a way to deliver us there.
I was surprised when a male book club member in California announced proudly that Sleepless In Seattle was his favorite movie. He loved the sentiment expressed by the radio host who brings the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan characters together. She said: people who truly loved once are far more likely to love again.
I stand by this sentiment, and believe in its truth. The kindness and goodness and joy -- the ability to love -- that you give to a partner lives inside you. If the person sitting across the table from you can't accept those gifts, be excited. As hard as it may feel, be excited to give the best pieces of yourself to someone who is able to accept them. As the man in California wisely said: "Happy endings don't always come in the form that we hope for. But, for those of us who believe in them, and work for them, they do come."
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