LAST NIGHT IN THE PUB….
Brian was really very upset about me ending the relationship. For a while, I thought he was going to transform into a bunny-boiler. But my suggestion that he get some counselling seemed to shock him into ceasing the 3am text messages, in which he bewailed the fact that I had not given the relationship a chance.
I knew we might have different views on the subject of love when I asked him to qualify `unconditional’ – my usual barrage of `but what if’s’ resulted in Brian re-qualifying his answers to such an extent that he defined no less than three different versions of `unconditional love’. Personally, I believe that there is only one kind.
When my kids’ father left us over 3 years ago, and was in a state of depression and numb confusion, I remember telling him that the children still love him, and will always love him. Nothing he does – infidelity, dishonesty, self-destructive incompetence – was of any concern to three young children under 8 years of age. I wanted him to hang on tight to that realisation because I knew it was the only thing that might reduce some of the effects of his guilt, and encourage him to make his role as father the bedrock of his emotional rehabilitation.
It’s one thing to have your partner leave you, but to disappear and leave behind his children held far greater terror for me. A cruelty to the children that I would feel responsible for, and had to do everything I could to prevent. Our children’s unconditional love at this time was both a source of deep pain, knowing we had failed them, and also the only distant light of hope in a strange, dark new world.
It was not the only time that I had to face the fact that the man I had fallen in love with, was not truly in love with me. A recent year long relationship had ceased – the first since my children’s father had left – and before going out with Brian I was cheesed off and angry that my previous boyfriend could be so foolish not to appreciate how lucky he was to have my love on offer. I was uncomfortable with the fact that yet another man could be offered so much – all that I had to give – and yet turn it down.
So I had a pretty good idea of what Brian would be going through when I made a complete hash of breaking up our two month-old relationship, because I knew that something was `missing’ in the relationship and didn’t believe I would ever find that missing thing, whatever that thing was.
I made things even worse by telling him that I knew all about how he felt and gave seasoned advice on how he would avoid unnecessary pain by staying away from me, giving himself time to grieve for the relationship before starting a new relationship as friends, maybe even going out with someone else. I’m surprised I didn’t get a smack in the mouth.
So what is Brian doing that is so different to how I reacted when I snatched back my heart and went into a woeful sulk? It was the three pints of Guinness I drank last night with my previous boyfriend that made it all come clear. Having given up on trying to continue the friendship we had and `moving on’ – or sleeping with someone else, which often comes to the same thing – we can now manage small doses of each other and for my part, there is great relief in that we have become almost like strangers. Now we can start again being mates and, so long as I do not peer too long into his eyes lest I fall in, I can even manage to get mildly drunk and know that I will still go home alone. A major achievement, I can tell you.
I used to think that if you love someone then you will accept anything – even the fact that they do not see you as their sole mate. And you offer them yourself as second best, and pretend that you can deal with it because you love them. But what kind of a gift of love is that? “Ok, I love you SO much that I will take up space in your life meant for the woman of your dreams (who according to you is not me) and sleep in your bed, drive away loneliness and make sure you have someone on your arm so you are not the only one of your mates without a girlfriend, and all the while I shall be ruining the opportunity for you to go and find what you truly do want in a sole mate, and discover that special love. I shall effectively sabotage your future life just because you have been misguided enough not to realise that the person you seek should be ME…..”
These days, that all sounds to me like neediness, selfishness even. It certainly doesn’t sound much like love.
My interpretation of unconditional love is the letting go thing. You know – if you really love them, you let them go. Well, like most of these old sayings, it’s true. It’s also very liberating, to know that you can go on loving someone forever even when they are not the person who will become your life partner. But the one person I cannot explain this to, is Brian. He’s still too lost in his own emotions and anger at not being allowed to give what he wants to give. But if he really does feel what he says he feels, hopefully he’ll learn to let go and allow love to fill our future friendship, and not use it as a weapon of guilt.
The only reason I feel optimistic that he will not end up stalking me but will finally understand what `unconditional’ really means, is because, like me, he has children. It’s one of the most important lessons they teach you. I still have a long way to go to be quite as good at it as my kids are, but I reckon I should get plenty of practice over the next few years.