Many years ago, I was in a serious relationship and living with the man I thought I would marry. he had given up everything to be with me, moving from the US to the UK, leaving his job and even selling his car (he loved that car).  He arrived at the airport with a few personal items and carrying a promise: we would be together.  Forever, I thought.

This was not to be. And it was the greatest lesson in love I ever learned. 

After a year of living together and enjoying life together I noticed he was becoming irritable.  He complained about city life.  He felt like a foreigner. I jumped into action with everything I knew to show him the best sides of my city, my life and myself.

I thought, despite these little concerns, that we would marry and be together always.  I was deeply in love and as I looked at it from the bright side, it seemed we could live anywhere and do anything we wanted to. We'd work it out...

About 14 months after we moved in together, he sat me down one day in the living room. It was spring and grey skies were lifting. I had noticed that his mood had not.  He seemed to spend his days in the house now, smoking more often.  He had more complaints when I arrived home in the evenings -- some about me, but mostly about life.

As I sat on the floor he began, "I want to go home."

I guess I had felt something coming.  Recently our discussions about the future and marriage had got very sticky. I felt I was pushing him. A bad feeling was growing in me. Something was wrong. In my usual haughtiness, I assumed something was wrong with Him.  

"Back to San Diego?" I inquired.


Well, that seemed a reasonable thing.  He had lived there for years and we met there. My mother lived there.  It sounded like a good plan for us, but somehow I knew he wasn't talking about our plan.

"...I am leaving in July on my ticket and I don't want to plan to come back."

As each word landed I felt the ground rumbling under the pounding hooves of large oncoming herd of buffalo.

Now being an American in the UK has challenges.  allows you only so much time in any one sojourn so the sand in the hourglass is always dribbling. You cannot work and you have to leave regularly in order to renew your visa.  You can also only renew a tourist visa a limited number of times. If he were to come back after his current ticket was used, we knew it would be the last time and we were aware of the dangers of marrying under pressured circumstances. (Small detail: he hadn't asked). We could both live in the States, however, so we had talked about moving. My head was swirling.  Maybe that's what he was talking about...

He was looking at the floor.  This was something more.

I asked questions. Did he want me to come with him? Would I come later? Would we try living there for a while? Live in both places?

His answers were sad and clear. He could go live with a friend who had a room. I probably wouldn't like that place.  Also, he didn't want to have any more possessions. Only the minimum needed to live.  He would live a life "off the grid."

"Does this plan include me?" I asked, anxiously.

"If you can live that way," he replied still looking down.

A life "off grid" he explained would involve living only with recycled and found items, buying nothing new. He would get furniture or anyting else he needed off the street.  But he didn't expect to need that. Sleeping rough in his room would be fine. A computer and a few hangers would hold his life. Enough consumer items have been made to fill a planet already, he would have no part of encouraging "them" to make more.

My head was exploding in two directions. First, I felt accused of being some kind of reckless consumer. I felt frivolous in my choices, the amount of clothes I owned, my spending on food and entertainment.  I felt as if a great finger of shame was pointing at me. As if that wasn't bad enough, I was starting to feel sick.  My stomach had sunk to the floor. Tears were burning my eyes. He had planned this. He had already thought it through. ohmygod.  For some time!  He knew exactly what he was doing and how much he would budget. It was all worked out. I was not being consulted. I was being informed.

He was leaving me.

In the months that followed I did little else but cry and cry some more. I was hurt, betrayed and I felt pitiful. "The one I love who I thought loved me, is leaving me."  I begged to understand how I could fit in to this plan.  Could the plan be modified. What about this? What about that?  I got angry the more I realized I couldn't fit in.  I yo-yo'd between grief and fury. I settled for despair.

The one thing I did not do, was act like someone who loved him.

It tooks months to see beyond the pain to the lesson I would eventually find.  OH, the pain! I was sliced and diced. I could hardly eat. I was sleepwalking at work and when I wasn't actually sleeping I was crying. I woke up crying, I showered crying, I sat on the toilet crying.

As July approached and my once-lover, not-future-husband packed to leave, I had found some self-help books and leaned on friends to help me get through this major life event.  But my suffering was intense and at Heathrow airport his parting words flattened me. What I longed to hear, "I can't leave you, let's figure this out somehow," fluttered through my hopeful heart as we shared a coffee and watched the clock in silence.   Then we stood up, walked to the gate, he hugged me, ticket and passport in hand, he whispered, "I made a mistake.  I wish I had made love to you one last time."

And then he disappeared into the security check and the crowd beyond.

Zombified, I walked to the car. Called a friend. Pretended like I felt OK and drove home blind with tears.

Some while later I found myself transferred to the US with my job and living in San Diego. Briefly my lover and I reconnected and I had a revelation that showed me everything I had been unable to see.

My revelation was this: I loved him, but I actually didn't know what love was.

You see, when I arrived in San Diego I began to notice a happy man living exactly as he wanted to. He was enjoying the life he had made "off grid." It was everything he had hoped for and more.  He had a great life. For him.

The terrible truth dawned on me:  that day of his revelation in my living room, I didn't want him to have a great life; I wanted him to want me.

THAT was all I cared about.

This is not love. 

To love someone is to want what they want for themselves. To love someone is to want them to have their happiness. Even above you.  

I realized that if I had truly loved him I might have sat on my floor that day full of curiosity about the life he was planning and interested in his happiness and his joy. But No. I was thinking "What about ME?" and "How can you leave ME!" and "Oh, my God, there goes MY life down the toilet!" Selfish Elese. I didn't give a shit what he wanted.  I didn't care.

Thinking what I did seems perfectly normal and completely understandable when you get a shock. The problem came when I mistook it for love. I even thought my bad feeling came from the fact I loved him.

It did not.

Love loves that the other person loves what they love and leaves them free.

There are still many, many ways every day that I forget this lesson of mine.  I still am fully capable of trying to shape the lives of others for my own selfish reasons, whether it is my family or my friends.  And of course, it remains a challenge in any relationship too. I'm a human so life has it's variety.  I continue to fail to be happy for other people's choices and to judge them.  I continue to fail to leave people to their own devices, to bless them, to honor them and to continue on my way without still feeling some tug to intervene.

When I am at my most clear, I see that the intervention needed is for me, not for them.

But my personal folklore about Love has shifted.  Most of the ways we all talk about love and what it looks like are simply sentimental and untrue. A piercing look into our love relationships may well show us, not the faults of the others, but the dark places in ourselves. We can refuse to step into these places at our peril. The danger being that we continue to experience love as nothing more than a form of pleasurable self-interest that comes with a sting in the tail the moment we don't get what we want.  

I learned a hard but beautiful lesson and sometimes I need to remind myself of it.
Bruce de Marsico said in this article To Love is To Be Happy, "you only fail to love if you get unhappy."

I know that I can
  • be happy with another person's choices -- though I don't have to share them
  • be happy with their predilections and habits -- though I don't have to indulge in them
  • be happy with their lives as they see fit to lead them -- even when that does not involve living with me
Love has only one face and very simply, we know it by a feeling of love and happiness.  To know that face we must stop trying to choose happiness for others and choose it for ourselves.  Only then will we finally meet the other person as who they are and perhaps we will find they are as flawed and as lovable as we are.

My postscript. 8 years on...

Now and again I run into my ex and I see clearly we wouldn't have worked out as a couple. We've very different lives. Now I can appreciate him and that he gifted me this lesson.

Thank goodness for him.  Thank goodness he had the strength to remain steady in his conviction instead of submitting to my misguided and misdirected will.  What a mess of a compromise we would have made!  Each trying to love one another at the cost of our happiness.  I love that he is happy. I love to spot him from time to time riding his bike, smiling from the saddle of his free and unencumbered day.  His life is not for me. And it is perfect for him.  
I Love that. 


07/24/2012 16:51

Well Done!

08/06/2012 22:57

Most of the ways we all talk about Love and what it looks like are simply sentimental and untrue?

I don't know about you all but I will never look at the way I feel and or talk about what I know is Love is to be dismissed as simply sentimental and untrue. I truly hope I never become so jaded as to believe that is true.

09/06/2012 11:58

Dear Elese,
Thank you for writing this. I've learnt this lesson for myself over the last couple of months and I'm now in the process of finding out whether my partner does want to be with me. It's lovely to have this lesson written down in such a clear and gentle manner! We know it is love when it feels like love... beautiful. Thank you very much, and do keep writing! M

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