1969. David Gates of Bread writes the song “It Don’t Matter to Me,” released as a single in 1970. I’m 13. And my reaction is immediate, strident, anxious, fearful and hostile.
At 13, I deeply believed the message of the song was delusional and dishonest. It threatened the very fabric of meaning.
“It don’t matter to me
If you really feel that
You need some time to be free
Time to go out searching for yourself
Hoping to find
Time … to go to find”
You have got to be kidding! It absolutely matters to me! I am entitled to feel hurt and slighted and diminished if you don’t choose me, if you don’t cherish me the way I cherish you, if your commitment to this relationship is not like mine, more variable than mine, less constant.
“If I’m not the one for you.
“It don’t matter to me
If you take up with
Someone who’s better than me
‘Cause your happiness is all I want
For you to find
Peace … your peace of mind”
OK, that tears it. Doesn’t matter to me? I’d be devastated. Your happiness is not all I want … unless your happiness makes me happy!
Yikes. Did I really say that?
2008. There’s this relationship in my life. Been there a long while, actually. I am profoundly connected to this relationship. And I will always be. Married, at least in the sense of physics, as in “the marriage of metals.” If you place a sheet of copper and a sheet of silver side by side, and supply the right combination of heat and pressure, the metals will “marry.” Each retains its complete, separate identity, but they are permanently connected. On a molecular level.
This relationship included a “marriage.” No sense pretending or fighting that. If I sever all ties and contacts with this relationship, it won’t alter one whit the way I’m connected to it.
But my ideas, hopes and dreams for the relationship didn’t come true. And, while anything might and could still happen, the odds are now greatly stacked against my hopes for this relationship ever coming true.
Yes, Good Reader, I’m being deliberately cryptic. Is he talking about his father? His mother? A sibling? His ex-wife? Other love interest? A friend? His spirituality? A vocation? Speculate all you want, but I’m not telling. It would just distract you from my point.
Here’s my point: I’m rethinking Gates’ song. He was right. Selfless love is possible. I can say and mean I value your deepest happiness more than I value realizing my hopes and desires for this relationship. And I am strong enough to fight for the former, even if I am personally devastated by the outcome of the latter.
Selfless love is not only possible, but freeing. Makes you very “small” and very expansive at the same time. At once less important, but more powerful.
It hurts, yes, but what’s being crucified is my ego, and that’s always a good thing.
OK. I’m going for it. I like the idea of loving selflessly in this relationship. I’m going to surrender, to let this relationship break my heart, but then stay, and keep loving. I’m actually excited about it. I want to see what I become in doing it.
“And it don’t matter to me
If your searching brings you back together with me
‘Cause there’ll always be
An empty room waiting for you
An open heart waiting for you
Time is on my side …”
Ooo. David, that selfless love stuff was divinely inspired. But I still can’t go with you in those last few lines.
See, I can, it turns out, wish for your happiness while accepting the pain that your happiness doesn’t include me as I long to be included. And I will.
But … if your searching brings you back together with me, there might or might not be an empty room and open heart waiting for you.
Time is on my side. But one of the things time is most likely to do is fill the empty room. Open my heart to something or someone whose deepest happiness dances in harmony with my deepest happiness.
So, go. Be happy. Seek. Learn and grow. Searching for self is a good thing. But the risk is palpable.
If and when you find that self, and if that newfound self decides I’m the bomb, and if that strong, solid self’s deepest happiness is cherishing me … well, I guess we’ll look into the room and look into my heart and see if “empty” and “open” and “waiting” still describe me.
Because a truly selfless love can only flow authentically from self-respect.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.