Jeremy told me that he loves me but he's not IN love with me. I knew where this was going and sure enough, I was right. The next thing he said was 'I want us to be friends, good friends.' The LAST thing I want to be now is his friend. I don't ever want to see him again.
Ellen was upset. Actually, she was outraged, and hurt, and confused, and brokenhearted. And if you've ever been in Ellen's shoes, you probably know how she felt. And if you've ever been in Jeremy's shoes, you know what he felt, and perhaps had just as much difficulty articulating it as he did.
"I love you but I'm not IN love with you." We have heard from so many people who were on either the sending or the receiving side of this message that we began to get curious about what was going on with them when they spoke those words. Some of the things that we heard them say about what they really meant but felt that they couldn't say were:
- I'm not enjoying our relationship any more and I don't really want to continue being in it.
- I don't think that we're a good fit.
- I think you're a nice person, but I'm holding out for someone with whom there will be no fading effect and things will be easy, fun and hot with us all the time.
- I'm beginning to notice that we have "issues," and I don't like where this is going.
- I want to get out before it gets too difficult to leave.
- I've met someone new, and I think that I'm falling in love with her/him.
- I'm having feelings that are uncomfortable and disturbing to me, and I think that you're causing them.
- You don't make me feel the way you used to.
- I want to slow/cool/wind down our relationship.
- I want out.
Not every relationship is meant to last forever, and more often than not, each partner may feel differently in regard to whether or not it's time to call it quits. But how do you know when it's really over and when the discomfort that you feel is an indicator that there's work to be done before you can upgrade your relationship to the next level? Knowing the difference between these two is crucial, but not necessarily obvious.
The impulse to get out can be strong when things (inevitably) get difficult in a relationship. There is an understandable tendency to rationalize this decision by telling ourselves that it's just not working anymore, rather than looking at some of the deeper causes for feelings of boredom, resentment or discomfort. The problem with leaving too soon is that that the love that you wanted to experience may be available on the other side of the next challenge, or the one after that.
"Love" is often another term for "infatuation," which literally means, "to be in a state of unreasonable and short-lived passion." The word "fatuous" means "deluded and self-deceiving." We are, when we are in a state of infatuation, quite literally "out of our minds" and our brains are drenched in hormones and chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin that produce irresistible sensations, feelings and urges. Fortunately, the experience of infatuation is temporary. The question has to do with how we deal with the inevitable let-down when that loving feeling is lost. One way is to look for someone else with whom you can recreate this experience. Some people are so in love with the feeling of falling in love (another term for infatuation) that they become serial lovers, sometimes in the hopes of finding that person with whom there will be no fading effect. (Not likely.) Some just decide that they are not the settling-down type. Then there is that small group that knows that infatuation is impermanent and that something even better than that awaits those who are willing to explore and investigate the deeper reaches of relationship: that which lies beyond sensory pleasure.
Unfortunately, there is no generic answer to the question "How do you know when to hang in there and when to cut your losses?" It is, however, a pretty safe bet that if you don't feel that you've given things your very best shot, then it's worth hanging in there a bit longer and making that extra effort. Athletes experience what they refer to as a "second wind," which often occurs after the point at which they feel that they are on the edge of depletion. Being in relationship, as many of us know from our own experience, is not unlike being an endurance athlete or a marathon runner. It may require the willingness to hang in there and go past the point where you feel like quitting and giving up in order to find the hidden strength or energy needed to finish the race.
Of course, there can be a time when it may be necessary to call it quits. When you've given your best, kept your focus on doing your own work and learned the lessons that your relationships has provided you, it could be time to consider the alternative. To do so at this point is not a matter of quitting, but rather letting go and grieving the loss.
If we engage with others consciously and responsibly, then each relationship provides us with greater insights and wisdom that contribute to the compassion and love that we have to bring to all of our future relationships. The gifts on this path are abundant and amazing. They include: courage, commitment, imagination and compassion, and oh yes, patience -- lots of it -- because it doesn't happen overnight. And you get to benefit from them regardless of the outcome of your relationship. It's a pretty good deal.