This question is in my head a lot at the moment. I’m struggling to decide if my ex just wasn’t the one, or if we both put walls up and didn’t try hard enough to push through them, (I know I certainly did).
One month after the breakup, I know where I went wrong, I just wouldn’t “let him in.” He tried to help me with this, but I was way too careful about protecting myself. Now that I’ve got nothing left to lose I realize that I should have trusted him and opened up. Maybe things would be different. He was also careful to guard himself, though, but in a different way. There was clearly a lack of communication. I think he was more aware of this than me, at the time anyway.
When I last spoke to my ex just after the breakup I said, “I know I didn’t try hard enough but I was scared.” He replied, “You shouldn’t have to try.” Do you agree?
Does true love just happen? Should it be easy and effortless, or do you still have to work through some issues? And if you do, how do you know if the relationship’s one to work on, or one to walk away from?
-Deep in Thought
Dear Deep in Thought,
Good questions! And given your introspective, what-do-I-need-to-learn-from-this-breakup way of thinking I’d say you’re definitely on track to experiencing the “true love” you seek. All I hope to do now is help you separate fact from fiction so you can recognize that quality relationship when it’s in front of you. Does true love just happen? Should the relationship be easy and effortless? And if relationships do require work, how do you know which one to work on, and which one to walk away from?
To begin with, I feel your pain. In “The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols” I mention the many “you’re cute and all, but not worth the trouble” wolves – (that’s guys for all you newcomers) – that came in and out of my life. They’re there for a fun ride, but can’t handle the speed bumps that inevitably occur during the “intimacy freak-out” stage – (that’s when you start to get close, become uncomfortable when more vulnerability and trust is required, and then do something dramatic to create a bit of distance between the two of you in an effort to feel safe and secure again). “It should be easy,” is usually one of the last things those guys say when everything’s over; and, left feeling like damaged goods from childhood wounds and past relationships, you wonder, “Should it?”
Well, to answer your first question, is true love effortless? YES. Are relationships? NO. Now stick with me while I go deep for a second. (Tee hee, “that’s what he said.” Okay, serious face.) “True love,” to be clear, is a force, or energy, or whatever you want to call it, that naturally exists in the universe. You don’t have to do anything to gain access to it just as you don’t have to do anything for the sun to rise in the morning. It’s your birthright. You did nothing to deserve it. It’s just there. Enjoy. One day you’re born, and boom, you can feel love for whatever, and whomever, (including yourself), whenever you’re open to it. If you’re like most of us you may have developed beliefs about yourself and your fellow human beings that often block your ability to perceive love, but it’s still there. And the second you let your guard down, forget your hindering story of unworthiness, and accidentally look your pet, child, or dying parent in the eye, bam! You feel it.
However, when it comes to love relationships, well that’s another story. Consistently staying open to love and directing it, (through loving actions), towards someone with their own unique set of needs, expectations, and desires requires not only work, but a lot of it. While you can love anybody, in order to have a mutually loving relationship with someone – involving things like sight, sound, and touch – you both need to come to understand each other in an out, learn what makes the other tick, and develop a game plan on healing whatever wounds you both bring to the table that block the flow of love between the two of you. So yeah, work, or as you put it “effort,” is involved. As well as time, understanding, compassion, patience, pain, dedication, some trials by fire, trust, vulnerability…
If you’re wondering how much work, well, the amount of effort involved is directly correlated to how prepared and experienced each person is in the process of cultivating love. The more experience both people have at loving themselves and others before they enter the relationship the smoother things will be. (And as “practice makes progress” most past and – gulp – current relationships serve as that experience.) But no pain, no gain. So no matter how good at “loving” either party is coming in, if anyone is to grow from their current state and experience the deeper love your specific union offers, both people can expect to encounter some “growing pains” as conflicting beliefs or habits are exposed and shed.
And now for your other brilliant question, “How do you know if you’re in a relationship that’s worth working on, or one you should walk away from?” Well, you stay when what’s being asked of you is something that will allow you to experience love in a deeper way, and you go when there’s no more room for growth.
If staying means that you have the opportunity to practice letting go of a behavior and/or belief that has previously prevented you from experiencing intimacy and love in a safe environment, unpack your bags, put on some tea, and get to talkin’. Conversely, it’s time to go when staying feels like stagnation or regression. When the solution to whatever issue you two are having won’t help you to experience love in a deeper and fuller way, go. Even if it just feels like something’s off. Go. Deep down you know what’s good for you. And since there will always be another opportunity to grow in love you risk nothing when trusting yourself. Your gut will never steer you wrong.
Lastly, on the journey to your amazing love affair, it’s important to remember that “Everything that has left you couldn’t stay, and everything that has stayed couldn’t leave you.” You’ve lost nothing and no one necessary to fulfill your purpose and live the life of your dreams. You’ve only gained things, like clarity. Stay open to love. And stay committed to loving yourself. When you do that you’ll attract someone who will also love you, and he will stick. No amount of trouble you give him will be able to drive him away – (trust me, I know). He’ll be well-equipped for it. Winston Churchill said, “I like a man who grins when he fights,” and it is that man, NOT the one who says, “it’s supposed to be easy,” who will stick it out with you, fight past you guys’ demons with you, and help co-create a loving relationship with you. So chin up, girl. True love is on its way.
Note: As this column is designed to be a judgement-free zone, only those who have been, (or know someone who has been), in a similar situation are invited to comment; especially if the question is unorthodox or hard for one to relate to. And for even more relevant insight, those seeking answers are always encouraged to go within.