Sunday, February 9, 2014

Just Don't Say It

Valentine’s Day. Here it comes. It’s one of those holidays that’s fraught with issues and pitfalls and romance landmines. Do you give a card? Chocolates? Jewelry? Are you expected to go out on a date? To set up something more intimate? Do you choose to avoid the pressured situation altogether? It’s a bit stressful, though hopefully it’s the kind of stress that ultimately leads to smiles and laughter and that little extra touch of sweetness between a couple.

No matter how challenging this day is for people with partners, or for those who have been single for a while, the day is particularly challenging for people who have recently gone through a breakup. When you’re newly single, no matter how happy you are for your friends who are happily paired up and no matter how pragmatic of a person you are, visions of romantic bliss scrape at the surface of your heart like sandpaper on a fresh wound. Then along comes Valentine’s Day, and the world shrieks at you, for weeks leading up to the day, about how glorious it is to be at the heights of romantic bliss. And you’re reminded that not only are you not part of that glory but that you had some vague hint of that recently… but now you do not.

I have a close friend going through that right now (if you’re reading this, my girl, you know who you are). She’s realistic and kind about the situation on the outside, but I know that her feelings are a jumble of dagger-like pain on the inside. And I hurt for her.

The thing is, though, while the break-up itself is rough, it didn’t have to be as painful as it is. You see, only several weeks ago this man told her he was in love with her. He told her he was in love with her, and then a few weeks later he ended things with her.

How does this make things worse, you might ask?

First of all, if you’ve ever been in love with someone but “it” hasn’t been said yet, you know how that anticipation feels. That nervous wonder and worry. Does he feel the same way I do? Is her heart in the same place mine is? Am I alone in feeling like this? And then he or she says it, either first or in response to you finally revealing your heart. And in that moment you feel elated, but even better, after that moment some of that stress and worry melt away knowing you’re “in it” together.

When you tell someone you love them – not your parents or kids or friends, but a romantic partner – you’re not simply telling them how you feel.  You’re also letting them know that you’ll look out for them, that you’re going to take care of their heart. You’re saying that you want to be in it together. It’s not a promise that everything will work out or that you’ll end up together in eternal bliss, but let’s be real, there are implications in those words that you want to try.

So let’s now put ourselves in my friend’s place many weeks ago, when this man she adored told her he loved her. Let’s feel what she felt, a lovely mix of joy and the comfort of no longer wondering and the sense that they were going to seriously give this thing a go. For a couple of weeks, that was hers. And then, after a matter of a few weeks – not months, but weeks – he broke up with her, and her heart broke. But it broke far more painfully than if he had never said, “I love you.”

Do people often end relationships after “I love you”? Of course they do. OF COURSE they do. Teenagers do it all the time. And so do many grown-ups. Long term relationships, short term relationships… it happens. But the thing is that at my age (somewhere north of 35 years) and at this man’s age (more north even than I), we should know better than to throw this line around so lightly that only a few weeks would be the difference between “I love you” and the end. We should know by now to be very cautious about bringing out these powerful words in the heat of the moment or in the rush of an emotional conversation or in the swell of intimacy. We should know the power of such a statement. They’re words, but they’re so much more. They have power, and they hold promise. And after that declaration is made, the end of a relationship is always more painful.

At our seasoned age, for that break-up to occur so soon after that first “I love you” is just bizarre. It smacks of foreknowledge of an impending end or of uncertainty, and because of that it smacks of irresponsibility.

So all of this being said, here is my request to you, dear reader.  If you find yourself in a relationship and your feelings have grown strong and you think you might be ready to declare your love to your partner, take a moment and think about it. Think about whether you’re ready to give things a go, for real, and make sure you’re not just at a point where you need to release your joy into the ether with the declaration of three powerful words. Because you may feel a sense of calm after letting it all out, but you will have changed things for your partner, irrevocably. So if you have your doubts, even if you feel a sense of elation and closeness when you think about your partner, please, I beg you… just don’t say it. Just… don’t.

For today, my focus is my beloved friend. She smiles and laughs, as she always does through everything, and my heart hurts as I listen to her talk and hear those undertones in her cheery voice that bely the pain underneath.

And as I listen to her, I thank goodness that she never gave me this man’s address. Because my Irish wants to come out and show him exactly how I feel about his recent “I love you.”

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