If you've successfully survived puberty you probably have a long list of lessons you've learned about love and relationships. You have an idea of what love looks like, how long it lasts, who finds it, who deserves it, why you lose it, and what's a fair exchange in order to have it.
All of our opinions about love and marriage are based on our own experiences with love, loss, and loneliness. They are not necessarily very wise or true ideas but they feel about as real and true as our own breath.
I've had one Major Adult Heartbreak in my life, and it involved: (1) me, about 6 years younger and more naive than I am now; (2) a funny, gentle, “old soul” who I'll refer to as "D"; (3) a year of rainbows and happy sighs with D; (4) some talk about marriage and (5) a little brunette in D's grad school class who he ended up liking more than me.
After my relationship with D was pulled out from under me, I was left completely winded and traumatized. I had the following Big Bad Love Lessons etched into my heart:
- Love can leave you at any moment, even when you've tried your best
- No one can be trusted.
- You can't even trust your own feelings – just look where they got you.
- People change their minds about you and there's nothing you can do about it.
- There is always the chance that your partner will find someone "better" than you...and act on it. Because good people cheat, too.
- Your partner can say one thing but be feeling something completely different. You cannot force people to be honest with you.
- Love does not "conquer all". There is no such thing as "soul mates". Sorry John Lennon, but love is NOT all you need. Nice girls DO finish last. And being in a relationship is just a disaster waiting to happen because people are bound to disappoint you. So why bother?
- Loving someone won't make them love you back.
- No matter how much you care for a person, they may never care half as much about you.
But the Big Bad Love Lessons are the ones that cling to me and keep me down. They keep my heart in a cage. They were the ice cubes under my cold feet. They were the baggage I carried when I met my husband Brian over 5 years ago.
So I've come up with a theory. My theory is that for those of us who have been through hell and back (which is pretty much everyone with a heartbeat), you marry the person who gives you hope that those scary and nasty Big Bad Love Lessons you've picked up from your Big Bad Ex aren't necessarily true. Your partner/ spouse is your little mustard seed of faith, your shimmering silver lining.
I've mentioned in a previous post that the first word that comes to mind when I think of Brian is reliable. I know – it's not a very endearing or interesting adjective. And for a fun-loving goofball animator, it definitely doesn't do his sense of humor or creativity any justice. But when I met him at age 25, I was steps away from the edge of an emotional cliff, and the one thing I needed in my life was to know that:
While everything changes and comes to an end, some people can be counted on most of the time. And when you think about it, that's all you can ask for. These people are the most reliable when they're great communicators- that way when they're having trouble being reliable, they're brave enough to admit it and ask for help.
Lucky for me these people do exist in human male heterosexual form. It's hardly a romantic idea, but this is precisely what I needed to keep me from giving up hope on love. And this is what Brian, along with many other things, has to offer.
I know that our marriage and love will evolve over time. I know that on some days we will want to jump ship, abort mission, and be free from each another. Those feelings are part of life. But thankfully the one thing we do really well is effectively communicate our asses off. We talk about big feelings, scary feelings, and shameful feelings. And while I can't rely on Brian to always find me attractive, or always like me, or always want to put up with my baggage, or never ever mess up and cheat on me, I can at least count on him to always be in communication with me. I can count on him to stick around and put up a good fight instead of automatically running away into the arms of someone to whom he doesn't owe any honesty or bravery. Fighting the good fight in the name of your marriage is what it means to be an *emotionally reliable* spouse.
Had I not met D my priority would not have been to find someone emotionally reliable; I would have been focusing more on being with a smart, sensitive, cultured, and hilarious playwright, like D, who may not be emotionally reliable but at least he was impressive as hell and perfect on paper.
But after having loved and lost, I now want good old meat-and-potatoes Brian. He might not be perfect on paper, but he is my house made of brick. He is my safe haven. He is the family I've chosen for myself -- the imperfect, messy, fun, and always-there-waiting-for-me-no-matter-how-far-I-roam house on a hill.
So back to my theory. What Big Bad Love Lessons did YOU learn from your ex? And how does your current partner or spouse bury those darn things in the ground? How has your criteria for a husband or wife been influenced by the Major Adult Heartache of your life?
Image by Starry Eyed Kid