"We need in love to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily -- we do not need to learn it." -- Rainer Maria Rilke
My parents' marriage ended when my mother told my father she didn't love him anymore and that she was not sure she ever did. Years later, after all of the ugliness of the divorce was done, something at my father's core was never the same again. His belief in love was soured and distilled into an experience of abandonment that morphed to fit every ending that followed. Over the years of my loveology practice, I have heard many versions of this traumatic end-of-love story and have witnessed the wreckage of families and lives left in its wake. I know how the residual shame turns to suffering and sticks in us as an abandoned child long after the end of love. These stories have always left me wondering where does the love go? How does love end up disappearing from a heart so completely that you can't be sure it ever existed at all? Is it really possible to lose your capacity to feel the love you have lived and shared?
I know that love is an action verb that weakens when we take it for granted and we don't nourish it with our time and attention. I have seen love erode with unkind words, even those uttered in the form of a sarcastic joke. I have witnessed love wither in proportion to the breaking of promises and lack of truth in words. We know that love is fragile and is ultimately breakable, and when it breaks, everyone is in on it. Both people let go of love's hold and the proclamation of love's end is understood and mutually recognized. In fact, it often comes as a relief with the permission to finally let go. Releasing relationships that are done is painful for what is lost, but honest endings do not provoke shame.
The proclamation of love ended has less to do with the state of the relationship, than the person leaving. These breaks catch us off guard and shatter our faith in our ability to trust our reality and how we relate. When we endure personal failures, it is easy to feel cut off from ourselves and to lose our ability to love ourselves. Rather than tending to our inner brokenness, we blame the relationships closest to us. Our internal abandonment spreads like a contagion to everyone we have loved. We deny the good around us as a way to balance the awful weight inside of us. When our internal connections shred, we are unable to remember how to love.
Lacking emotional intelligence is the norm in our culture, and it is common behavior to hold our relationships hostage to our internal dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Tragically, it is too easy to buy into rejection and accept the blame. The shock of being told we are not loved, makes us believe we are not loveable, too flawed to be worthy of love. We get too lost in our pain to see the story for what it is, a projection of a broken spirit and an inability to feel our own heart. We don't have the insight to decipher our own abandonment from that of our loved one, and we lack the language to call things by their true name.
Lucky for us, author Laura Munson, a new friend I had the privilege to interview, had the courage to face this end-of-love story in her own life and named it accurately and compassionately, "This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness." After years of writing rejections and the loss of her father, taught her how to not rely on outer circumstances for her happiness. When her husband proclaimed his disaffection for her, she had the guts to let go of the storyline. This allowed her to understand her husband's pronouncement for the real inner pain that it was.
Letting each other go through our own dark nights of the soul without taking on the storylines that we use to protect and defend ourselves is the height of courage in love. We simultaneously have to embrace the groundlessness that comes with surrendering to not knowing the outcome, while holding onto our own internal center of trusting our capacity to love and be loved. It is odd that we are more willing to hang onto a storyline, even one that we don't want, than give ourselves over to the freedom and possibilities that can only happen moment by moment.
This practice of surrendering our idea of controlling the outcome in life as in love is both terrifying and exhilarating because it is a true portal of gratitude. It is a practice that works by simply letting life be what it is, which is the only place where we are open enough to forgive, to let go, and to receive the goodness right in front of us.
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