On love: letting go, looking forward

The past year or so has been one of the more challenging periods in my life, and I’ve had a few now. A torn ACL and meniscus from football (aka. “soccer”) led to knee surgery last October, and then the pandemic hit at a key point in my recovery: no gym, no physio to recover.

The pandemic compounded feelings I was already struggling with following heartbreak from a painful breakup last summer; it was a loving goodbye but not a relationship I cared to end – not by a long shot. Feelings of grief, disorientation in life, loneliness, loss, and my own negative internal self-talk were compounded by the pandemic, and culminated in periods of mild depression over the past few months.

Living and working at home alone remotely is not easy for me sometimes.

It has involved hard lessons and measures to adapt and be well. I feel privileged that this is the extent of my difficult year, but it has been pretty hard nevertheless.

It’s only now, over a year after the breakup and over six months into the pandemic, that I’m slowly starting to feel that I’ve got a handle on this “new normal.” And progress is not linear. I will have lapses and bad days, unquestionably. As for my knee, long way to go in the recovery as well.

But by far, the most painful thing through all this was the sense of loss from the breakup. I still cannot look at photos of my ex because it hurts too much. I have, however, made enormous progress on healing and growing through heartache.

Letting go
Killing hope of rekindling the relationship is an important step for moving on. It’s not simply the act of letting go of thoughts of a person, but also dreams of a life together – a family. I selected the home that I live in now with hopes of a child together in the guest room. It’s hard not to look at that empty room any other way, sometimes.

One of the many painful lessons of the breakup was that these were mostly “my” dreams rather than “our dreams.” We did not build a “sound relationship house” together, as John and Julie Gottman put it. I take my share of responsibility for that. Lesson learned.

So you let go of the person, of the dream of a future together. That’s not easy! It’s slow, painful and non-linear. I still haven’t done this, but at least it hurts less to think about. I feel better about it all, finally. I beat myself up for a good year, and still do. I carry lots of regret.

I’m learning that the more that you let go of the past and feel optimistic about the future, the better you feel. It’s perfectly sensible maxim but simple lessons are often learned the hard way in matters of love. They bristle slowly to realization.

Johnny Lee Hooker sang it on the dock so beautifully with Van Morrison: “those days are gone. So many people still tryin’ to live on in the past, but those days are gone, so far. Don’t look back, and live on in the future.” I’m more inclined than they are for a frothy dose of the past, but the message is true and simple. Live on in, and for, the future.

What to keep, what to gain? The bike crash

In loss, you get to keep some lovely stuff as well, and you gain things too.

I get to keep some of the best memories of my life: long canoe trips on quiet rivers, her absolute beauty and her phenomenal character, our adventures in rapids, lazy mornings in our tent with a misty sunrise, hiking in the fall, the smell of pine needles on Hunt Lake trail, her hair getting caught in burrs and her shoe stuck in the mud during a long hike in Riding Mountain, all of our silly jokes and songs (which I miss so much), dancing at weddings, late morning cuddles as a breeze makes her thin window curtain dance in the sunlight. I could go on and on. I want to.

I get to keep all of these precious things. I carry them with me through this lovely life we’re given. It’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, the saying goes.

And I gain things too. I call them “growing pains,” and the learning curve of loss in love is agonizingly steep. I walk alongside Sisyphus often, and grow stronger for it.

I’ve read and written more about love, relationships and how to make them work over the past year than I have in the past 36 years of my life.

I’ve written on the breakup, the relationship, what I did well and the numerous things that I could have done differently. I’ve read excellent literature by relationship therapists, scholars, and I’ve shared precious conversations with dear friends and loved ones. I did so perhaps more than is healthy, but such is the nature of growing pains. These things have to run their course.

Grief of this kind does not come often, and it’s a blessing of sorts. I’m grateful for the experience, awful as it is.

When you’ve smashed your head without a helmet and skidded along the ground after passing too recklessly through an intersection, the scars and experience remind you to be more prudent. A sensible person would never repeat the same mistake. I’ll certainly be more careful next time.

It’s through living the awful depths and jagged shards of heartbreak that we can better cherish the fragile heights of love.

I hope the next relationship goes right, and that my next partner and I build a healthy relationship for life. That’s my hope and intention. It requires work. Lots of hard work. And love.

I’d not have learned so many key lessons and gone through this growth without some painful scars that may not be visible but are nevertheless forever present.

Pain is an efficient, unforgiving teacher. But it also fatigues, and loosens its grip in time.

Looking forward

Regaining my bearings in life and love has not been easy, and I’m generally my own worst enemy. But I’m trying to feel excited about love again, which is a privilege and joy.

Online dating during the pandemic is an odd experience, but not without its pleasantries. There are fascinating people out there with similar values, wonderful hobbies and interests, unique quirks and character. If the conditions are right, it only takes one match to build a cozy fire.

More importantly, I look forward to re-establishing my values and purpose in life. The existentialist in me says there is no purpose to life, and I generally believe that to be true, but that’s hardly a compelling way to live.

We’re here for a short while, so let’s share love, have fun, share some realistic but ambitious pursuits and hopefully make some positive difference in the world for future generations.

There’s no shortage of work to be done, no shortage of rivers to paddle, trails to hike, people to meet. Life and love are beautiful gifts. Cherish them.

hic Rhodus, hic salta! And wear your helmet.

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