08/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Dream of Love

Breaking up isn't hard to do: It's hell on earth, at least at the outset. You sit there surveying the rubble of promises broken, the empty bed, the romance discarded with yesterday's news -- licking your wounds like a grief struck beast -- till one day you realize that you've been dreaming -- that love itself doesn't end at all. The story changes but love doesn't alter, and the truth of this comes as a great revelation.

This happened to me two weeks ago. The marriage made in heaven went up in flames. One day, I was the luckiest guy on earth; the next, I was S.O.L., chopped liver, the last one to know we were history. I was alone all the sudden after five years of unfettered devotion, with the wedding barely paid off and the mortgage looming. I grieved; I howled; I berated myself for believing in happily ever after. Then I saw that I'd been dreaming.

I realized that nothing had changed but the story -- the myth I'd constructed around our future -- the saga of our couple hood. I had been a die-hard romantic, an addict of intimacy, since boyhood. I'd carried the torch of True Love like a cross, aspired to be The Lover more than anything else. Every time a relationship tanked, I died a little, struggling not to lose my lifelong faith in the heart's great power to bridge isolation and prompt holy union. I believed, like most people, that romantic unions depended on vows, parameters, passions; and that, as negotiated agreements, relationships were broken or made in the details. I believed that the story made the love, and that someday I'd find the right narrative, the perfect myth to share with someone whose plot converged with mine.

Then I discovered that this was absurd. In love, I'd mistaken the form for the content. My relationship was over, that was true, but the love itself remained the same, unscathed and unconditional. This didn't make the pain go away, but the knowledge helped me see through my own drama. If I truly believed in the power of love, as human redemption and raison d'etre; if I genuinely wanted to be open hearted, to transcend my own selfishness, and see intimacy as a spiritual property, first and foremost, how could I believe this same force to be fragile enough to die when a lover changed the agenda? "Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds," Shakespeare warned us,so why was I being so alterable? I had swallowed the Kool Aid of cult romance ("She loves me, she loves me not...") and forgotten the plant had deeper roots which weather could not blow away.

Knowing this put my heart at ease. I saw that there were not final disconnects; I could love every person I'd ever been burned by, whether or not they loved me back. I could preserve these bonds without their agreement, regardless of how our stories had changed, and not lose an ounce of my faith in love to transcend its container, like mercury. I could be faithful to what had mattered between us, whether or not they shared this faith, and continue to hold them close to me whilst oceans and continents kept us apart. There was power in this -- and wisdom, too -- even a hint of sweet revenge, waking up from the dream of love.