Every once in a while, I’ll run across a question for Advice Column Thursday, and then realize that it’s too important a question to wait until the next week. I received an e-mail that I will not attribute at all to protect anonymity, but the question was, “if you’ve lost the love of your life, and you both know it, how do you go about fixing it?” I decided I could make this into a much bigger piece than an advice column, because life is so rich that there is no one way to decide that one person is an embodiment of it… until you do.
And then there are those loves of your life that are ripped away even when you do your best to take care of them. In relationships, this means getting dumped or maybe, the person dies. There is no one way to lose love. We can even talk about things about your own body that slip away. You meant to take care of your hands, because you’re an excellent carpenter. Then you went to work at a restaurant and used a deli slicer to take an inch off your professional bird-flipper.
It can all be expressed as the same problem, and can be expressed as the same solution. It just takes a little bit of extrapolation. So let’s not talk about romance exclusively. For the purposes of this article, “love of your life” can be anything from music to manhole covers.
In this manner, I have lost the love of my life a lot, and each time, I thought I was going to die. Each time, my heart felt like it was beating outside my chest in fear. I don’t have her anymore. I don’t have him anymore. I don’t have it anymore.
It is gone.
There are a lot of steps to healing something like this, but let’s just take first things first. Let’s start with you.
How much of a mess are you right now?
Level with me. Let’s triage this. (I used to be a basic medical assistant and I am a mental patient myself. It’s what I know.)
- What happens when you wake up? Are you able to get out of bed? Once you are out of bed, do you get ready for the day, or do you spend the day in your pajamas?
- How much sleep are you getting? Average is normal. WAY TOO LITTLE or WAY TOO MUCH is what you’re looking for in terms of symptoms. No, you are not Garfield.
- How much are you drinking? Be honest with me. No, really, I am one of the least judgmental people on earth, and this is clinically important. HOW MUCH ARE YOU DRINKING?
Just looking at those three things alone should be enough to wake up your weird shitometer. Those triage points are not really there for me. I don’t really know you, but you do. You can take a look at these three things and I’m pretty sure it will give you a clear enough picture to know whether you need professional help. If that wisdom comes to you, let it sit.
Don’t fight it, don’t cajole it, don’t do anything to it. Just hear it. Invite the idea to come sit a little closer so that you can think all the way around it. Let the idea sit until it’s comfortable. It’s not the answer, it’s an option. You might choose poorly this time around, but the next time you’re in this situation, going to get help will reappear and you will all of the sudden be more interested in it. Don’t be threatened. Be real. You’ve just lost the love of your life. Save your own.
Take care of yourself first, because what person seeing what a mess you are is going to run back and say, “Oh, God! I was completely mistaken! What was I thinking?” If it were me, though, I’d cocoon in my dirty house with all the windows drawn like a modern-day Auden poem writ large (STOP ALL THE CLOCKS, BITCHES). If you’re like me, you need a few days of “dumped girl” to get it out of your system. Allow yourself to nurse you. Allow yourself to go out and buy those things that make you feel at home in your own skin. For me, these are things like almond soap with little shards of almond for pumice. Stash Tea in Double Bergamot. Ginger snaps. Rogue blue cheese. Apples.
Treat yourself with kindness, and just think.
This is the part that most people skip. They skip that time “in the desert” that they need to get their heads in the right gear. Maybe it’s not intentional, but it seems to me that as soon as a relationship starts to circle the drain, people get uncomfortable with living in grey area and will actually throw someone out of their lives before they’ll admit it. Better to go on the defensive because they can’t hurt you if you hurt them first, can they? What you miss is that relationships are born and reborn in the spaces inbetween.
It requires an ability for which few people have patience: living in the inbetweeen. Living in the inbetween is so hard because you have to be comfortable with what you don’t know. You have to be comfortable with being able to carry huge questions in your head, and sometimes, you have to carry them like a burden for a very long time before there’s any resolution at all.
When people have to carry burdens without knowing where they’re going or what’s in the bag, they intentionally try to make a snap decision that will resolve the cognitive dissonance. That’s why you don’t really mean that you never want to see someone again. It means that it will be a while before you can even think of engaging with that person.
In short, don’t snap.
Hold the cognitive dissonance in your mind long enough to map it. If you need help with this, use a drawing program like Visio or Freemind. What drawing software will do is allow you to see your thoughts on paper as how they appear in your brain. You can spend as much time as you want grouping and regrouping your ideas until they come out in a rational order (this is also invaluable for work brainstorming, btw).
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go back to the love of your life and tell him/her/it that you’ve got it all worked out now. YOU USED SOFTWARE! No, the software is just a tool, as are you.
Once you’ve looked at these drafts, you’re in a better position to know yourself, and that’s the point. You cannot give anything to anyone else if you’re pouring from an empty cup. Plus, this guy that dumped you? Do you *really* want to go back to him after you see all his shit in black ink glory?
If so, then you need to proceed with caution, but I understand why you’re doing it. Stay strong, sister. I’m not going to lie. The chances that your babe/dude will respond the way you thought they would in the car is almost big, fat zero. This is why you’ve spent so long caring for yourself. You haven’t even attempted to come here unless you were ok with any outcome, right? RIGHT?
Here is a piece of advice, free from me to you. Do not go wait on her front porch.
No, it’s not.
It is NOT A GOOD IDEA. What are you going to do when you show up with flowers and you’re sitting there like a jackass when she pulls up in the driveway driving her “physical therapist’s car?”
I write letters. This is a large part of why. I want to tell my true love what the possibilities of our relationship might be, and let him/her SAY YES TO THE PROPOSITION. It’s a more genuine connection than springing something on your love and expecting an immediate answer. I understand. You’re panicked about your life, so they should be, too.
There is nothing better than the confidence of that “yes.” WAIT FOR IT.
When you get it, read “Getting the Love You Want,” by Harville Hendrix. It helped me to vocalize what I wanted in relationships, and is one of the few self-help books I still have.
He advocates that if you want to get back together, act as if. Eventually, the muscles will retrieve the memories from your brain and tell you why. For instance, in the beginning, your muscles will just think, “I’m getting her a coat.” After a few weeks of doing this every day, “it’s going to be cold out. My love will need a coat.” Caring about someone when you don’t actually reboots your brain into caring about them. It’s a very simplistic analysis of Dr. Hendrix’ work, but I hope that I was able to make it as clear as banana. I don’t like mud.
I will close with one last thing. I lost a great love of my entire life within the last few years. I have no idea what she’s doing, where she is, anything. But I spend my days caring about her so if I see her again, the anger and embarrassment won’t eat me alive.
If your love is a memory, maybe you should do that, too.