A friend recently told me that a woman had broken his heart. He is a divorced man, middle-aged, a grown-up. He met this woman the old-fashioned way, through a mutual acquaintance and not through an Internet dating site. She was nearly but not quite divorced. They had both suffered through long, loveless marriages.
He told me the story in a meticulous, measured fashion, careful not to leave out any details. He told me the story in a chronological fashion. It seemed to me that he had memorized every detail of their relationship, every word she had ever uttered.
Before he began his story, I asked how long they had been together.
He said, five weeks.
I felt doubtful that a brief relationship could generate such heartache, such devastation. And yet, as he spoke, I realized that he was indeed devastated. He had attached himself to this woman with a fierce ardor born of many years without passion. I listened to him quietly until the pattern of his story revealed itself. I listened patiently until I understood what had happened.
I understood because she was me ten years ago and I was him four years ago. And after twenty years of therapy it is easy to recognize patterns of behavior in people.
My friend wanted reassurance that his love would see his value, come back to him, that they would be together again.
And because I had been, at various points in my life, both him and her, I gently told him he should not wait. He should move on. The odds are not good that she will ever want someone who treats her as well as he treated her. She was used to someone less kind, more hands off. His kindness smothered her, terrified her. Love itself caused her to run. Unless she received therapy, she would not change. He doubted she would.
I told him what I tell my daughters. Don’t fall in love with someone’s potential. Fall in love with the person you see before you day after day. But don’t expect change. It is easy to fall for the one you think they can be.
I told him that his mistake was in falling too quickly, in not really knowing her before he gave her his heart. The signs were all there in the facts of her life. He chose to ignore them. After two and a half hours during which he benefitted from my twenty years of psychotherapy, albeit in a highly condensed form, he thanked me profusely. He said I helped him.
Speaking with my friend about his loss made me think about how love can enter your life suddenly and without warning. But it doesn’t mean that you’re ready for it. Timing is everything in life.
I felt sad for him, jealous, and a little superior. I felt sad that he was hurting, jealous of the intensity of what he experienced, and superior because I am years past those emotions through oodles of therapy and painful hard work.
But it begs the question: Is love worth it? Is it worth the potential heartache, jealousy, anguish? I would answer that with a resounding…maybe? If everything is a matter of timing and luck, plus navigating your own past as well as the emotional baggage that most people carry with them, it does seem a wonder that couples over forty-five ever get together.
And yet, the amazing thing is that it can and does happen. So I guess the answer is yes, love is worth it, when you’re lucky. But the process is never painless.