On Choosing Love, Even When It Hurts
by Laura Taylor
I’ve been heartbroken I think twice in my life. Sure, I’ve been disappointed and disillusioned - but I’m talking the nauseating, grey-sludge morning, splitting apart feeling. It’s a theme we aren’t afraid of exploring on here, whether its a letter to your ex, a thank u next, or an analysis of everything Alain de Botton has graced this world with, we are always looking for ways to put language around the waves and emotional quicksand that is having your heart broken.
As millenials, we have grown up with the will-they-won’t-they of Ross and Rachel, Chuck and Blair, Lorelai and Luke, heck Rory and Logan if we are going down this Gilmore Girls train - we are suckers for it. The push-pull, unbalanced dynamic of ‘beatitude and fatal nausea’, tumultuously bumping into each other, each needing something from the other but not able to disclose what, never quite able to let go or dive in. And why wouldn’t we be! It’s addictive, especially at the beginning, all stolen glances, palms across skin and the intoxicating feeling it’s all about to start.
“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who don't allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them), but those who know how to carefully to administer varied doses of hope and despair.” - Alain de Botton, Essays in Love
But unfortunately, a lot of the time the dance can burn up in the nervous energy of two people trying to work out whether they can share a space, as de Botton writes, “a long, gloomy western tradition argues that love is, in its essence, an unreciprocated, Marxist emotion and that desire can only thrive on the impossibility mutuality. According to this view, love is simply a direction and burns itself out with the attainment of its goal, the possession (in bed or otherwise) of the loved one. To listen to this view, lovers cannot do anything save oscillate between the twin poles of yearning for someone and longing to be rid of them”. Bleak. It’s no secret that love in all its forms has the capacity to both wound and shape us; you can see why people opt out. And we are seeing the impact, at least in western society, as people are becoming increasingly isolated. Millennials are experiencing what is being described as a loneliness epidemic, sexual intimacy is declining at a record rate and family support networks can be a loaded space -especially when a lot of the time our hang-ups and blind-spots are tied up in early, painful experiences of familial love.
So all this begs the question - why bother to love when it hurts? How do we pick ourselves up after being floored by soul-crushing rejection? No matter how many books we read or freaking Myers-Briggs compatibility tests we run, there will always be a risk. Love is, in its essence, paradoxical; de Botton continues, “the incompatibility of love; it juggles the need for wisdom with its likely impotence, juggles the idiocy of infatuation with its inevitability. Love teaches the analytic mind a certain humility that however hard it struggles, analysis can never be anything but flawed.”
I learned this the hard way a while ago, dating someone who was sweet, steady and told me I was the most incredible girl he had met. And I couldn’t bring myself to meet him there. When he would step close, I would move further away, negating that anything that didn’t have my nerves on edge and stomach constantly flipping simply wasn’t ‘real’ enough, so I ended things in a flurry, and ran: “as adults we find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong, but because they are a little too right, in the sense of seeming excessively balanced, mature, understanding, reliable. We chase after other more exciting others not in the belief life with them will be harmonious but that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”
At the heart of it, he made me realise how hesitant I was to open myself up again to the prospect, and also pitfalls, of love. How it would mean being really seen - and ultimately really open to being hurt - and I wasn't sure I was ready for that. But as I processed this and tried to understand my behaviour, I regretted ending it so abruptly. Self-sabotaging and missing out on something that could have been great, taught me that the bravest of us are those who are able to face the fear in those feelings, stick their necks out and lean into this love thing.
I was talking to someone last week who was experiencing a big shift in her life, and with it the delicate tension that is letting it be a gentle graduation, not a violent divorce. She was fighting hard the desire to give in to bitterness and throw the baby out with the bathwater, which would mean losing all the good things about the chapter she was closing. And I think it’s similar in love. When your core fear is being grated on daily, when your heart is out there, exposed in the open, it is very, very hard to not give in to the land-slide of batshit crazy emotions that threaten to sabotage the entire thing at any minute. The pain of previous rejection, and the risk that comes hand in hand with loving another can turn us inwards, but self-help books and silent retreats will only get you so far. And ironically, in relationship as we deepen our knowledge of the other and watch them grow, we flourish ourselves. In spaces of love - in all its forms - I discovered I love going surfing, and really being near any ocean makes my heart lift. That I adore bringing people together (especially around a meal), that I’m incredibly attracted to creativity, that shared music taste feels like a spiritual connection, and I’d love nothing more than to spend a day reading side by side for hours. But self-discovery aside, the privilege of being trusted with the heart and hurts of someone else’s story is worth the risk of heartache, IMO.
I recently wrote a piece discussing the importance of diverse community, and in it summed up my fears and thoughts around love:
It’s not easy, opening yourself up to love another really hurts. That’s the risk of asking to be known. It’s admitting that you care, and that it would cost you something to lose this person. It is fighting through awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes outright humiliating conversations when letting go would honestly just be easier. It is a self-giving, sacrificial, deeply vulnerable gift. But I’m convinced it is at the same time a work of art and the most natural thing we could ever do. It is the calling and desire of our heart and to mourn the loss of it, does not mean it was never there, or won’t be again.
Header image via Tumblr.