Ah! The joys inherent in loving another human being! Our hearts leap as we step into the welcoming space of another, one who returns that affection in kind. The bliss, the obsessive thoughts, the racing heart, the warm feelings—all packaged under the term “falling in love.” In some ways it’s unfortunate that the term falling is used to describe that tumultuous, giddy feeling that describes a growing attraction to someone else. Usually falling implies something that we instinctually fear.
And there’s some truth in that, since there’s always an element of risk in opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to someone we deeply care for. After all, we could lose that person and it would require us to readjust our lives to accommodate the new reality without them.
But let’s not go there yet. We’ll get there. It’s more fun to first relish the exquisite sensations when you’re in love or when you’re remembering those experiences of love. Particular your first love.
I remember that experience clearly. Her name was Linda and she was such a strikingly beautiful woman that my shyness would overcome me whenever I was near her. When I was a senior, I was envious that my friend Roger, who was non-athletic and quite average looking, took her to the prom. The image of her walking in to the dance by his side is still glued to my brain. She was particularly stunning that night. A goddess who had deemed us mere mortals worthy of her presence
Throughout my teenage school career I was an athlete, a “jock,” and by the time I was a senior in high school I had gained some popularity and notoriety due to my being a football player (American football) and on the student council. I first noticed Linda at one of our football games, as she was one of the song girls that danced at our football games. I was immediately attracted to her, but she seemed rather disinterested. Since I thought I was somewhat of a big deal at the time, I couldn’t understand why she would ignore me, even though I was reticent to ever approach her.
So nothing ever came to fruition with her. I went on to college and figured I had missed my chance with her. A couple weeks into the first semester I got a call from one of the teachers inviting me to be the head coach of the “powder puff” team. This was a girl’s football team that was to play a rival school for just one game. I asked a couple other friends to assist me, and we started regular practice with a group of about sixteen girls.
Linda was one of them.
Throughout the practices, I made it a point not to pay special attention to her and kept my feelings contained, though I was absolutely thrilled that she’d joined the team. Major crush happening here. It was that falling in love that I mentioned.
Game day came, played at the rival school’s home field. Quite a few fans from our school showed up. The game went on for some time, neither team scoring. With only minutes left I sent in a trick play called a reverse, one where the football was going to end up in Linda’s hands. Time was running out, the ball was put into play and the trick play worked like a charm. Here came Linda running down the sidelines, the other team in pursuit, our fans wildly cheering, “GO! GO! GO!”
She scored the games only touchdown. We won.
Hugs all around. I congratulated and thanked the team, and while everyone was milling around, I ended up near Linda. The giddiness of the moment prompted me to say to her, “We’ll have to go out and celebrate!”
She said yes. I was thrilled. Controlled and contained but thrilled. We went out to dinner and soon after became lovers and continued to see each other for the next three years, delighting in the discoveries that first love brings.
Okay, in one sense love can never truly be lost. But when you and a partner break up, no matter the cause or who instigates it, if does feel that way, doesn’t it? At least for a while.
And it felt that way with Linda as the relationship gradually dissolved. I went away to college, and though we attempted to maintain it, it became increasingly challenging to do so. I finally one day had the talk with her. For me it was sad; for her it was devastating. Yet I knew that our paths had come to a point of divergence, which she eventually acknowledged. She went on to eventually marry a good man about a year later, and last time I saw her many years ago she seemed quite happy.
Certainly one of the most painful phrases that a lover can hear is some form of: “I’m breaking up with you.” Such finality to it. Whether you’re married, living together, or partnered in some way, it hurts, particularly if you’re not expecting it.
I heard a phrase just like that about a year ago when my wife announced that she wanted to separate and file for divorce. The words hit like a slap across the face. I was taken completely by surprise, as none of the challenges that we’d been facing seemed insurmountable. Yet over the ensuing weeks she was clear that she didn’t want to reconcile, even though I made my best efforts to convince her otherwise.
I was crazed with grief, anger, and hurt. There were occasions when I’d stop whatever I was doing and curl up on the floor sobbing. One of the first things I did was to reach out to some of my closest men friends.
I called Kevin and Gary, and although each of them had plans, they cancelled them to take a walk with me on the beach. It was a great comfort to know that they were there for me, as were a handful of others, both men and women. One friend, Alan, when he heard the news, would call every day without fail to check in with me. I’m blessed and eternally grateful for having such great friends, particularly during this earliest phase.
Over the next couple of weeks I simply indulged myself and took the time to grieve as it surfaced, gradually feeling periods of relief here and there. Then one day Alan suggested I do an Internet search on something like, “How to win your wife back.” Thought it was silly when he suggested it, but later decided to do so. What I found was surprisingly helpful.
The first site had a checklist of all the things you could be doing wrong. Hmm. I fit just about every one of these! This site and others mainly suggested to get on with your life and not be so accessible. It was profoundly helpful and prompted me to do just that.
After several conversations over the next few weeks it became plainly evident that in spite of my efforts—sending flowers, cards, offering to see a counselor together—that she wanted to carry on with the separation and divorce. At one point she clearly indicated she had no desire to reconcile, and upon hearing that I became resolved to do what I had to do. Our lives and our work had been so intertwined that once it was clear what was happening, I actually looked forward to the autonomy that this separation provided.
Now with the insight that often comes in retrospect, I see the inherent wisdom of going our separate ways. Spirit is calling me to move more deeply into and with even greater commitment to my mission, and the autonomy provided by this transition allows that freedom to do so. Now that things are settling out, I can appreciate the opportunities that are unfolding. And I will always love my soon to be former wife and be grateful for our time on Earth together and the gifts that she provided. I trust that she’ll eventually feel the same way.
When faced with a break up, what are the most important ingredients? Number one is support, support, support! Studies have shown this to be critical in this kind of transition as well as in facing a catastrophic illness.
In this transition my friends were my lifeline. Though there were times when I felt as if I were at the bottom of a very deep pit, I could look around me and see ropes that were held by some of my closest friends and allies. I figure I must be doing something right in my life to have drawn such remarkable people into my circle.
The other ingredient is a spiritual practice. Prayers work, both from the person who’s going through a loss as well as others who pray on this person’s behalf. I called on my spiritual allies regularly.
A third ingredient, as was suggested in my early Internet search, is to get on with your life. I relatively soon realized that I still had a life, and if anything, what seemed like an important mission to accomplish. It was simply the next chapter in my work. At the point of separation I had just begun to emerge into my own path with a backlog of published works, a radio show, and increasing interest in what I was doing.
Lastly, gratitude. Simple, but an important one to remember. After the craziness of the first month or so, I would focus on all the people and things in my life for which I was grateful. I’d make lists from time to time to remind me.
Life goes on. Both the darkness and the light. It’s important to take into account both aspects and not fear the darkness, but instead seek to first enjoy the uncertainty and then find a path out of it.