Breaking up: When do you stop loving someone?

BlogHer Original Post

We were drinking coffee and eating pie, post- matinee performance of Madame Butterfly, when the man I am seeing leaned over the table and said, “Let me ask you something—When you broke up with your ex-husband, did you stop loving him? Did you tell yourself you had to stop loving him?”

I must have looked pretty startled, because he put his fork down and said, “ I mean, I’ve been thinking about this because of Madame Butterfly—it strikes me that Butterfly loved Pinkerton for years after he left her—but could that have not only been love, but her own ego?”

Since both of us have lived through break-ups and (traumatic) loss of love, we had a pretty good conversation about this question, interesting enough that it’s turned into the basis for my Blogher column this week. Here’s the question that I think is interesting—“When you breakup with someone—especially when they break up with you—do you stop loving them?”

This question seems especially relevant right now.

We’re lurching into the thick of the holiday season, the time of year that will culminate in the large rise in breakups right around early January when daters and spouses alike decide “Nope, I am never again going through a holiday with that person.” It’s the time of year when both online dating service subscriptions and enrollment in diet program surge. It’s a season when those who have someone and are happy feel grateful, and those in conflict or on the edge fight to get through the day.

I was one of those post-holiday breakups, and, in my case, when my ex and I split, I can’t say I stopped loving him right away, or that I even put much effort into trying not to. I was more devastated by the idea I’d lost my life partner, and even more devastated by my need to face the fact most of that life partner stuff had been living in my head, in this place called Fantasy land, and that, in truth, we hadn’t been very good partners to one another for a while. So whether I needed to stop loving him or not wasn’t the issue—it was more “Oh, hell, what do I do now—and with the rest of my life, no less.”

Talking with A about this, I wanted to say that on some level, I still *love* my ex in that I know why I fell in love with him in the first place, appreciate all the good things we had together, and know he has a special place in my heart. On the other hand, I also see that, like an old car, we let our relationship wear out and run down, and that the person I am now—a person I am very happy being—is not the person I would have become had we stayed together—And I recognized back then, even as I was a mess, that letting go of loving him in any active or primary way had to be critical to that movement.

After I shared all this with A, his next question was “So was there a moment you knew you weren’t in love with him any longer?”

—And I thought that was a reasonable question, too. Did I realize I no longer loved him when I started dating again? When I could see how I’d moved on with my life? When I felt love for someone else?

For me, that moment never happened.

It was more that over time, I changed, and as I changed, what I felt for him and the life we had together fell away, I made it fall away, until it was clear I could never have become the person I am right now if I had stayed with him. In other words, I think the love I did feel for him just became less and less relevant. Now, three years later, I remember how much I loved him, but I also remember how I lied to myself about how things were, and how much in denial I was about what we both really felt, how out of touch I had to have become with who he was (and how can you love someone you do not know?)

What I told A, as we sat together talking about lost loves and break-ups, was that it was finally just time that had made me whole, experience that had shown me the way I loved the Ex wasn’t the only way things could be.

Three years past our break-up, I feel like I am just finally beginning to get an understanding of what I want, and therefore the first new inklings of what it might feel like to again, truly, deeply love.

Maybe I could say that I never stopped loving the Ex, but that love changed, becoming both a marker for what we once had, and a milestone for my own deep feelings.

—And yet, I so much have the sense of having moved on, of moving beyond.

I feel far away in many ways from the person I was three years ago, far away from the husband I loved, so much into appreciating the ways in which my emotional life has expanded that the only way possible seems to go forward, into a world where love is new, but not unknown.


Blogs and blog posts dealing with love, divorce, break-ups

Divorced jenny
When people ask me why I left my ex-husband, I want to tell them that he left me. He left me in Malibu. And it’s wonderful that he left me there. That’s where I still love him. That’s where he and I are still together, still pure, where our love is innocent and carefree, unconcerned, unrestricted, untouched. We are perfect in that perfect time, and nothing that we have done or said can taint the memories of my first true love. They are as they should be, as they are supposed to be -- beautiful, young, and eternal.”

Lucky Once
"We had fun together. I was madly, deeply, intensely in love with him and just… happy. I know he’s gone and I don’t miss him. However, I’m also not ready to try and overcome the things that were ours once upon a time. I have to build new memories. I danced before I met him and I’ll dance again, and I’ll love it."

Daniel Haight, It feels like starting over, from Indie Bloggers.
"Driving to work was the worst time – he wanted to call her up. There wasn’t anything else to say, he just wanted to hear her voice – to feel her knowing he was at the other end of the line. It felt like emotional chicken; he wanted her to know he wasn’t afraid. Let her take everything I’ve got…I’ve still got me…it’ll be better this time – my life is a do-over."

An Amber colored life
I don’t want to talk to you. This is what I say to myself every time you call, every time someone else mentions your name, every time my mind wanders to you when I am lying in bed, awake and restless. I don’t want to talk to you. This is what I am trying to telepathically tell you from across the small space and bodies between us. I don’t want to talk to you. You hang back, your head half turned to your buddy, half cocked to me. I keep my back taunt as I sit in a stool with my back to the bar, facing you but intent on giving my bar stool neighbor my full attention. Everything everyone else wants to talk about is so uninteresting.”


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