My twenties gifted me with a particularly hard lesson about love. What it is, and what it isn’t. I married young and when my husband of just three years had an affair outside of our marriage, my world temporarily fell apart. Looking back I realise at the age of twenty five I didn’t really have the life experience or wisdom to deal with the rejection and deceit particularly well.
For months after I discovered the truth, I found myself wallowing in self pity, anger and humiliation. It hurt and it hurt deeply. I viewed marriage as life long commitment, when my ex had asked me to marry him, I naively saw it as a guarantee of his love, forever.
Fast forward twenty odd years, and the growth those years have brought me, I now have a deeper understanding and respect for love.
During the immediate months after discovering my now ex-husbands unfaithfulness I found myself talking endlessly to my friends about the injustice of it all, and the suffering I was experiencing. It was all consuming and in truth, exhausting. Although my friends were supportive, and said what I thought were all the right things at the time, ‘I didn’t deserve it’, ‘how could he be so selfish’ etc, etc, what I didn’t realise was every conversation that placed me as the ‘victim’ in the whole situation, actually just re-enforced my sense of self-pity and my lack of self-worth. In hindsight, what I really needed was those close to me to gently guide me through my suffering with positive conversations, looking towards my future, rather than dwelling on what an arsehole my ex was (or wasn’t). The constant negative tone of conversations, kept me trapped in a negative mindset.
As the months went on I started listening to teachings from various spiritual mentors, I wasn’t coping with rejection well, and although I knew I no longer wanted to be in a marriage with someone I didn’t trust, I still struggled with processing and moving on from the whole event. I felt my life was in limbo, this wasn’t how I had planned it. True love was meant to be never ending, no matter what, right?
And there we have it. The biggest mistake that we as human beings often make.
We often believe when someone loves us, that means we then own that love. We view it like a possession that we can keep forever. When in truth someone else’s love isn’t ours to own, it isn’t something we can lock in a cupboard so it never escapes.
Although at the time I was deeply hurt by my ex-husbands actions I also knew I didn’t want to be someone who forever wallowed in their own self pity. I was wise enough to know that would prove to be nothing but self-sabbotage. My Buddhist teachings have taught me that true love is centred around freedom. Love that involves clinging, lust, confusion, neediness, fear, or grasping to self would, in Buddhist terms, be seen as expressions of attachment and limitation. It isn’t love if the person we love doesn’t feel free. I started looking more honestly at the relationship myself and my ex had experienced, and on reflection I knew deep down I had never really trusted him. So there had indeed been feelings of insecurity and neediness within the dynamic of our marriage. I’m not condoning the affair, true love is of course based on trust. We should all still set healthy boundaries within our loving relationships. But what I did start to acknowledge is was the fact elements of the relationship had lacked a sense of balance and freedom.
I also started to look more deeply at how I perceived love. I began to realise that Love is not some form of contract and therefore there are no garantee’s that love will last forever. ‘In love and death we don’t decide‘ – a line from one of my favourite singer songwriters, and how true it is. We cannot force ourselves to feel deep and devoted love, and just so, we shouldn’t expect others to do the same for us. Nothing is permanent, and this can sometimes include feelings of love. Life changes, we grow, we experience and some of us, at some point, may find ourselves feeling very differently to how we once did. That isn’t wrong. That is life. At the very least we owe it to ourselves and to others to be truthful about how we feel. If someone simply falls out of love with us, we shouldn’t be punishing them or ourselves, instead we should focus our energy on being gentle and kind to ourselves and others.
Many years ago I had a friend who’s marriage had also broken down. His wife had left him, not because anyone else was involved, they had simply married at a very young age and grown apart. Once their children had grown up into adults, she had possessed the courage and conviction to be honest with him about how she felt, and although she knew it would cause him pain, she needed to move on in order to find her own happiness. She of course had every right to. Four years on from her leaving I met with my friend to catch up. It saddened me greatly to hear that despite the length of time that had passed he was still harbouring deep feelings of bitterness and resentment towards his ex wife. So much so, he was not only continuing to blame her for his current state of unhappiness, but he was also projecting his hurt onto their children. Demanding they weren’t to see her and making them feel incredibly guilty about wanting to continue to have any kind of relationship with her, their mother. Although I could understand where his motivation to behave this way was coming from (his suffering), he just couldn’t see that his demands were in fact incredibly self-centred and driven by his ego (the need to control).
My friend was still continuing to cling onto feelings of injustice and a sense of ownership of his ex-wife’s love. In his mind she wasn’t allowed to fall out of love with him, and she certainly wasn’t allowed to find happiness with someone else. She had made a promise and therefore needed to abide by his rules, and now because she had in fact left him, he believed she was totally responsible for his unhappiness and his life as a whole. As I sat across the table from him, it reminded me of how I had once felt all those years ago. I could see his wife hadn’t really done anything wrong, other than she had possessed the courage to be honest about her feelings. And yet he was still blinded by his pain, pain akin to a wounded child, unable to view the situation out-side of the victim status he had created for himself and desperately still clung onto.
Staying in this mind set is not only unhealthy but it’s incredibly self destructive. Only we are in control of our own happiness, no-one else, and to blame others, years on, for continued feelings of sadness and lack of self-worth, is incredibly foolish on our behalf.
One of my spiritual mentors once told me, when a relationship breaks down it’s usually because one person in that relationship simply realises that the relationship isn’t right before the other person does. I think there is actually some truth in that.
When we begin to explore our relationship with love with more open-heartedness, we are able to honour it for the wonderful thing it is. We are able to see it with the respect it deserves. Love is a gift, one we should give without expecting anything in return. Love isn’t a type of currency that we can exchange for something else.
True love gifts us with the freedom that enables us to shine and grow. True love comes without demands or expectations. If we can only love within the boundaries of certain rules, ones that enable us to meet the expectations of what we think love should be, that isn’t actually love, it’s attachment.
When we experience deep love at any point within our life time, we should be thankful and humbled by the experience. And even if that same love fades over time, or people still love us, but in a different way, it’s an experience that we should still cherish and honour with the deepest sense of compassion and joy that it deserves.