We think true love is forever love. We don’t always realize that sometimes it lasts only a season. Or if it does, we somehow question it’s legitimacy, as if a brief love doesn’t- or shouldn’t- matter. Yet, it does.
We’re left, in the end, trying to find our way back from an us to a me. To ourselves as individuals. It’s a strange process because in our hearts we still have that attachment, that longing to share our lives with that other person in some small way. To have the connection, to tell our stories. We’re left trying to figure out who we are now, after the dust settles on a relationship that didn’t last as long as we thought it would.
It’s particularly difficult when we gave up so much of ourselves in the relationship. We have to find our way back, and yet we can never entirely go back to who we were before. We’ve learned something, I hope, from the experience. We are changed by it. We learn to build on who we were with who we are now.
Not all of us know who we are. Perhaps we went from one relationship to the next, losing a little of ourselves each time. Maybe alone isn’t something we’ve ever been or cared to be. But it’s important that we have enough knowledge of ourselves to be able to maintain a separate identity within a healthy relationship. Because I can guarantee that there is no healthy relationship without that sense of self.
So we find ourselves, or simply begin the process of rediscovery. We ask ourselves what we enjoy doing, how we like to shape our day, and what we want out of our lives. We begin to define our lives by our own values and not by a shared value system or an idea of what we think our lives should look like according to someone else. We begin to prioritize and to decide what aspects of our lives we’re doing because we think we should, not because we’re passionate about them. Slowly, we come into ourselves. We learn that there is a beauty in being alone and independent, a spectacular freedom to choose the structure of our days and the lives we lead.
This isn’t to say that we’ll always be alone, or even should be. It’s simply necessary to discover ourselves. Not only will it make us happier individuals, it will also help us obtain and maintain healthy relationships in the future. It gives us more confidence and a sense of peace to know that we’re acting in accordance with who we are as individuals.
Then there’s the part of reconciling who we were as a couple, now two separate individuals going two separate ways. This, for me, is the most difficult part. If, as I said before, the love isn’t invalid for being only a season, then it’s also important that we don’t discount the good experiences when things end badly. They matter, too. They aren’t the whole story, but it seems wrong that so often we try to erase the good with the bad, throwing it all out as if we can’t keep any of it if we’re to move on. We search for ways to reconcile who we were together and the positive memories with who we need to be now to move on. We play it backwards and forwards and search for peace.
In a recent relationship, the end seemed to sour all of the beauty along the way. It took months to reach back into my memories to pluck out the ones I wanted, and needed, to keep. While some things held a great deal of darkness in the relationship, I can still remember fondly the time he stopped to pick my favorite flowers from the side of the road or when he stopped by during my work hours to bring me my favorite cup of coffee. I can remember being taken care of after surgery and not feel the sharp stab or grief or anger at other not-so-nice times in the relationship.
It’s important that we separate those good memories, not so that we paint the relationship in a better light than it was- but so that we see it as a whole. It’s easy to pretend it was all bad. But that makes it so much easier to feel shame and guilt that we were in those relationships at all. It also complicates the healing when we can’t admit that there were times that were good. In order to forgive and let go, it’s important that we see the relationship holistically and then put it to rest.
Closure is an inside job, and we have to give ourselves the peace we’re seeking. We start to take apart the idea of who we were as a couple. We begin to unravel those strands. We find the ones that belong to us, and we hold tight to them. We remember our lives before those loves, and we start from there. We take what we’ve learned, and we use it to make us stronger and smarter for the next time we’re tempted to throw all of me away for us. We build new lives, but we don’t throw away all the memories that have brought us here.
It’s a funny world. We can love someone deeply and yet walk away because it’s not what we need. We can find reservoirs of strength and courage in the experience, but it doesn’t stop the flow of love. If anything, it teaches us that love alone isn’t, and shouldn’t, be enough. It teaches us that we can love again. That we will love again. And whether it’s forever love or just for a season, it matters.