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The Limits of Love

February 14, 2012

As I was carrying my groceries from the car to the front door today, I was thinking about the kindness of strangers. It always amazes me how kind complete strangers can be. There are a lot of douche bags in the world, but there’s also an awful lot of kindness to be found in the most unexpected places.

I was dating this guy a while back who didn’t want to put any labels on our relationship; he didn’t want to call me his girlfriend even though that’s exactly what I was. We didn’t see other people, but we called our relationship “open.”

About a year into this “open relationship” where we had only dated each other, he announced to me one morning that he had met someone and wanted to ask her out. I was pretty devastated, but what could I say? I had gone along with our “understanding,” I couldn’t really get mad at him for being a “dick” when I had been oh so ever understanding all this time.

I didn’t get mad, I did however tell him that I wasn’t happy with this new development and that I couldn’t continue seeing him. The whole conversation took place over the phone, but I had to leave because I had a scheduled appointment for a massage. As soon as I was alone in that little room with my masseuse I burst into tears. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her my boyfriend had just broken up with me, because that’s what it was. Even though I had said the words “I don’t want to see you again,” he was the one that was leaving.

My masseuse asked me if I wanted to reschedule, but I was there and I needed some comfort. I told her I wanted to stay as long as it didn’t bother her if I cried during the whole process, because that’s exactly what I did. I cried into the massage table while she soothed my aching muscles for the better part of an hour.

I had never met this person before, although I frequented that particular salon on a regular basis to get my hair cut, and even though the situation was probably awkward for her, I felt relief. I didn’t feel awkward. The pain was so raw, I would have cried in front of anyone and I would have felt fine about it. It felt good to completely fall apart in front of a stranger and to have that stranger comfort me with her presence, her silent understanding, and the touch of her hands.

When the appointment was over, she gave me some Aveda sample bottles; shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer. Everyone there was so nice and so understanding that it broke my heart all over again, but it also felt good. It was incredible to me how strangers could be so nice to me, while the person who was supposed to love me wasn’t. It really makes you think when strangers offer more support and love than the person you’re with.

A huge bell should have rung in my head at that moment, but it didn’t. I stayed in contact with the guy “who wanted to date other people.” The funny thing is, the girl he was interested in dating turned out to be married. He laughed about it when I asked him if he had gone out with her. He laughed.

We continued seeing each other after that. He never dated anyone else while we were together, but he always had one foot out the door. Eventually, it all fell apart. I might have said the words “I don’t want to see you anymore,” but as soon as he agreed that it was for the best, I felt like I had been dumped. It was like receiving a kick to the gut. How could he so calmly agree when it felt like I was breaking into a million little pieces?

Still, even though we weren’t seeing each other anymore, I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go of him. I couldn’t let go of my sadness. Eventually, my broken heart started to define me. We talked and talked and talked, and I cried and cried and cried. I bargained and tried to convince him that he was wrong. I tried so fucking hard. I was a mess. It seems ridiculous to me now.

But I wonder, I wonder about the limits of love. I wonder why love isn’t always enough. So many people break-up after six months, when they hit their first rough patch, and I always think to myself that they left too soon. That if you love someone, somehow that should be enough. And although there’s definitely something to be said about trying to work through the hard time, the people who leave when they realize that their needs are never going to be met; the people who leave when they’re not being treated in a way that they deserve are really fucking brave.

Some people stay in bad relationships, because they can’t let go of that love and some people stay in okay relationships with people they don’t really love, because they don’t want to be alone. Some people won’t give love a chance and leave without even trying and some people leave, because they know that staying will compromise their self-love.

It’s unbelievable to me now just how willing I was to compromise myself to stay in that relationship. I could never do that again. Even though the whole thing hurt like a bitch and there were times when I sincerely wished I could be lobotomized just so I could forget the whole thing, in a way I’m happy I went through it all, because I learned a few things along the way. I learned what it is I truly want in a relationship. I learned how I deserve to be treated, and how to ask for the things I need. I learned to never ever ever let anyone treat me the way that he did.

Knowing all that, I still can’t help but feel like some people give up too easily. I wonder, where’s the limit? How do you know it’s time to leave? How do you know you’ve given it your best shot? How do you stop on giving and giving and giving? How do you know…?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2012 2:02 pm

    { Si je commence à me perdre moi-même… Que je ne Me vois plus : C’est là où est ma limite. Les yeux de mon Cœur ce sont ouverts. Si je ne me retrouve pas (…) Je mourrai intérieurement. }

    Tu as prise la meilleure décision pour toi !

  2. February 14, 2012 2:07 pm

    Most romantic relationships fail. Sometimes people love each other and grow apart. Other times, more often for me at least, they are fooling themselves and trying to fill a gap with someone who just doesn’t fit. Love is so appealing that even an imperfect fit seems a lot better than nothing.
    I think it is a mistake to not pick up on it when a guy is ambivalent about you or the relationship or both. It is a mistake to agree to an open relationship when that is not what you want. That said, I am currently in a relationship that’s “open”, in theory at least, and I’m not sure how I would feel if both or one of us chose to use that freedom. For now, I’m quite happy with monogamy and I think it’s better for us to just date each other. But I love him so much that I never want to lose him, and the idea of never having sex with another person is rather terrifying, too.
    Don Draper in the show “Mad Men” said something like, “people always tell you who they are, but we rarely want to hear it”. Looking back on bad relationships of the past, it would have been clear to me they were doomed if I had been honest with myself. Instead I accommodated bad or incompatible behavior and ignored the warning signs. A while ago you had a post called “How do you want to be treated?”, and I thought it was very wise and had good guidelines. Since then, the list has come to my mind sometimes while in bad dating situations. I think there are things you can compromise on, and things you shouldn’t, and dating is not just a process of “looking for the right one” but learning the difference and learning what makes you feel genuinely good. And importantly, believing that it is possible to get what you need.

  3. February 14, 2012 2:11 pm

    I guess I’d also say that, if someone makes you feel bad on a regular/frequent basis, and especially if you are not able to communicate about it openly and try to fix it, that is a big warning sign.

  4. Gillian Colbert permalink
    February 15, 2012 10:15 am

    I think the balance is when you’re own life becomes diminished in the pursuit of the relationship, that’s the tipping point. If you aren’t thriving, it’s time to step back.

  5. February 15, 2012 12:38 pm

    Nicely put, Gillian.

  6. February 15, 2012 2:50 pm

    It’s definitely a mistake to not pick-up on the fact that a guy is ambivalent about a relationship, but in my case, I knew he was ambivalent about being in a relationship. I knew he didn’t want to be in a relationship, that he had been really hurt before and was afraid to love again. The thing is that I knew he really loved me, just like I really loved him, so I hung in there…waiting…for his “issues” to resolve themselves. Unfortunately, the resolved themselves all over my broken heart.

    It’s hard to say when it’s the right time to leave and when you should stay, another couple in the same situation might have worked it out. I’m sure there are couples out there who started off with one partner afraid to commit, afraid of being hurt, etc, but now there living happily ever after.

    You all brought up some great points though, Gillian put it extremely well when she said: “I think the balance is when you’re own life becomes diminished in the pursuit of the relationship, that’s the tipping point. If you aren’t thriving, it’s time to step back.” That is something we should all remember in the midst of it all.

    When I wrote all this yesterday, I wasn’t feeling sad, I just had to give some back story to my point, which was that now, today, I realize that I never want to compromise myself like that again. And knowing that makes me feel good.

  7. February 15, 2012 11:56 pm

    I haven’t read your follow up yet nor have I read the comments above, but my gut reaction is that it’s obvious this guy was trying to protect himself. He wanted a relationship but he didn’t want to get hurt so he found a way to be in a relationship while keeping his distance. It’s the relationship equivalent of going for a dive with a raincoat on.

    What astounds me is that so many people do this, and in the process they thwart the very effectiveness of their effort or even the likelihood that they will have any success. If you’re going to get wet, might as well get wet all the way. But they don’t because of prior painful experiences, and once it becomes learned behavior, they’re too well-trained for their own good and it’s a real challenge to unlearn the pain to let actual love come in.

    The other thing that struck me is that 1) you cried that much over him, when clearly he had a foot out, it seems like you should have seen it. Of course hindsight is 20-20, but still, I’m always surprised how much people fool themselves into thinking this isn’t so bad when in fact it is. And 2) you went back to this dude after he caused you that much pain! It would really have been preferable that you stood up for yourself and say something along the lines of “You know what? I don’t need you.” But maybe you were as lost—or as hurt—as he was in trying to define what you wanted.

    It scares me to see that people lose their sense of self and the sense of what they truly need the more relationships they get into because the pain of breaking up or the slow torture of living a lie has robbed them of that innate talent we are all blessed with at birth.

  8. February 16, 2012 3:50 pm

    Fruit Taster, I completely agree with your first two paragraphes, you’re pretty much spot on there. As for the rest, I would add… of course it was obvious that he had one foot in and one foot out, as you put it, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt any less. I had let all my defenses down and quite naively, I thought that love was enough.

    Oh man, would it ever have been preferable had I stood up for myself, I often think about the exact moment when I should have done that. I was definitely “lost” and “hurt” and incapable of grasping the reality of the situation and how much I was damaging myself by not standing up for what I really wanted.

    I’ve thought about this in more than one situation (after the fact)… sometimes I feel that my desire to be sooooo understanding and sooooo non-judgmental leads me to not really speak up in terms of “hey, this isn’t okay.” Oh, I’ll speak up loud and clear for other people on a variety of subjects, especially if I feel they are being discriminated against or treated unfairly, but then I forget to do it for myself. I think that becomes easier to do once you’ve defined clearly what you expect in terms of respect for yourself and what you want in any given relationship.

    And finally… “It scares me to see that people lose their sense of self and the sense of what they truly need the more relationships they get into because the pain of breaking up or the slow torture of living a lie has robbed them of that innate talent we are all blessed with at birth.”… Scares me too. I’m just happy I learned a few things in the process. Like what I truly need, want, and deserve.

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