August 10, 2021

What is Love that Doesn’t Last Forever? LOVE!

Will you trust that I’m doing it the best way I know how to do it?

Fair readers, I am single at the moment. I’ve surrendered to the notion that I’m using the Internet as my diary, so now you know, even if you aren’t all that interested.

This is a post about love. Romantic love. That said, I imagine anything you pick up from what follows applies equally well to a whole host of relationships or commitments, including perhaps to your career, your current employer, or your job. So, if you’re reading this at your “desk” during “work hours,” you’re good.

What you may not know about me is that I’ve had an extraordinary, love-packed life as a serial monogamist with most of my relationships lasting a few years. It’s not a conscious plan that I’m implementing. It doesn’t seem intentional, but obviously, at some level, I have been committed to this pattern.

Today on one of those 20-minute, top-of-funnel first dates generated by the vibrant online dating marketplace, the fellow asked how long I’d been single. “A few months,” I said. “My last relationship lasted 3.5 years, and we broke up recently. He is a terrific man.”

“I’m sorry that didn’t work out,” my innocent and well-meaning interlocutor responded.

It’s at this exact moment when, if you happen to be on one of these first meetings with me, it’s wise to notice the change in my general visage and take your leave. I took out my phone to take some notes and thanked him for giving me my next blog. I shared that I didn’t think the fact that a deep and intimate relationship ending ahead of death rendered said relationship something that didn’t “work out.”

“What do you mean?” I pushed. “It worked out great. We had fantastic times and tons of learning and exploration and FUN together. And then we parted ways with a lot of authenticity.”

These last few days have given me twenty different ways of standing for this point. Love that doesn’t last forever... is still love. We ought not fault ourselves or our family and friends for making choices (or being subjected to the choices of others) that conflict with sustaining a lifelong romantic relationship.

Right after this moment with this man, I asked him how long he had been married. “Twenty-four years,” he said, “and we were happy for about 12 of those.”

If you are STILL having one of these first meetings with me at THIS point, you should RUN. I’m an ex-prosecutor, and it is in moments like this when I metaphorically start packing up my briefcase at counsel’s table, look up at the metaphorical judge, and shrug knowingly. It’s not good.

If you do online dating in your 50’s for more than one week, you will hear this refrain 75 times. People are (or apparently were) staying in relationships that are no longer “working” and then judging others of us for having a short relationship that didn’t work. Yes, I know there are kids. Yes, finances and social lives are entangled. Yes, I do all of the things that I want to do to find a path when a relationship is going south ahead of just giving up. But how can these be our choices: to be unhappy or to be socially stigmatized as a failure at love?

Hey. Let’s cut it out.

Here is my view. You do you. Choose as you do. I’m going to try to not judge your relationship as “better” because it is longer. I’m going to look for other signals that matter more to me (how much you laugh together, how your voice and body seem when you talk about your partner, how well you fight), and then I’m just going to trust that you’re doing exactly what you want to do.

Will you trust that I’m doing it the best way I know how to do it? Will you trust that when I’m falling for someone, it actually matters to me, even if that feeling lasts two weeks, two years, or until some as-yet-unknown date when death may part me from whomever that happens to be? Will you be my ally, delighting in my delight, looking away from the kinds of issues that permeate any real relationship, being happy when I’m happy even if I’m slightly less available to you, raising a red flag when you see something truly alarming?

Can we all agree that we are not going to feel shy about the pure bliss that is FALLING? Let’s not recoil from the swooning, the appreciation of the silly delight that goes on in our bodies and hearts during these early moments of a relationship. Can we let go of making rules (explicitly or implicitly) about when to use the word “love,” as if it carries some potency that means we can’t say it until we’re sure something has the possibility of being enduring?

Hell, I fall in love with a seasonal flavor of GT’s Kombucha. It is, by definition, fleeting (the kombucha flavor, not the feeling), and it still matters to me (just ask the guy stocking the endcap at the Pearl Street Whole Foods). Of course it’s sad when a sustaining connection wanes. But sadness equals not failure.

You can choose how you want to react to my spikes in interest in someone new, but what I’d most like is for you to do what my friend Leah does: invite me to go ALL THE WAY with the feeling that’s there right in that moment. That takes about three minutes. Then do what my friend Nancy routinely does: remind me that THIS IS THE THING. This feeling. It’s perfect without any sense of what it might mean or what might come after it.

I love whom and what and when I love. I do it freely. The only time I get in trouble is when I internalize some perceived social judgments that are no longer serving me.

Just like the kids say, love is love.

Mwah. I (probably) love you.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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