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Love can endure if people work through lost relationships

A reader responds to my Feb. 14 column in View: lvrj.com/view/love-may-sneak-upon-us-but-it-must-be-nurtured-to-grow-139270018.html.

I’ve long wondered when a relationship ends, where does the love go? You say arrange your life until it erodes, atrophies and dies. I disagree. Time passes, but when someone has changed you, shown you how pretty the world is, checked an item or some three off your bucket list, then I say with certainty, love endures. — N.W., Las Vegas

I’m not sure we disagree. We might have the same issue between us as the reader I was responding to in the column to which you are responding.

I’m holding tight to a distinction between love and the experience of being “in love.” Being in love is an open gestalt. It’s very powerful. It changes us. It exposes us. That’s what it’s for. No argument from me.

But when a relationship definitively ends, especially when that decision is unilateral for one partner and heartbreaking and undesired by the other partner, well, the latter partner has a big problem on his/her hands. Open, endlessly gaping gestalts aren’t good for human beings. They become paralyzing and damaging. This is especially true for the gestalt of being in love when that love is not returned. I’m not being dramatic when I say it can literally make you crazy or at least feel crazy.

Self-respect, not to mention any chance of returning to real vitality and productivity, demands that you close the gestalt, aka “fall out of love.” And falling out of love is not something we can merely decide as an intellectual process, any more than falling in love was a mere act of will. There’s no button to push or medicine to drink or step-by-step handbook.

People ask me all the time how to fall out of love. And I always say the same two things: 1) sit quietly with your grief. Make friends with your broken heart. Breathe your sadness in, and breathe it out. The only way to heal grief is to grieve, and 2) nurture the separateness. Stop calling. The partner who left you is the last person on earth with whom you should process and discuss the relationship, its victories or its failings. Don’t kid yourself that you can turn on a dime and become “friends.” Trying to buddy up with someone who doesn’t love you yet you still love is an invitation to protracted pain and confusion.

This is what I meant by “arranging your life in such a way.” We arrange our lives to minimize contact for a while. In some cases, a long while. In extreme cases, we permanently sever all ties and all contact. This last choice is, of course, impossible if the two of you made babies together.

We arrange our lives by guarding and nurturing separateness. If we are vigilant to do this, then the open gestalt of being in love starves to death. It erodes and atrophies. The gestalt will eventually close for want of light and sustenance. And it’s necessary if ever again we desire to open our hearts to the possibility of a new, better, healthier relationship.

Now, to your point. I agree. While the experience of being “in love” must of necessity be extinguished, the miracle of love often does and should endure. After the pain has ebbed, when we again are standing squarely and confidently in selfhood, we can value love, appreciate and be grateful for it, give thanks for the gifts our once-partner contributed. We can even “always love” our former mate. We can wish them well, and mean it. We can want the best for them. And we can give ourselves credit for having been a part of something that was meaningful, beautiful and life-changing, even if it couldn’t/didn’t go the distance.

Indeed, true love endures. It’s just that, in most cases, people need to close the gestalt and get through their hurt, bitterness, disappointment and anger before what endures can be apprehended as the honored friend it is and not the cruel enemy it appears to be right after we’ve been dumped by the love of our life.

True love endures. That’s a good thing. But true love is different from “carrying a torch” for the rest of your life. At the end of the day, we have to grow a self-respect sufficient not to want someone who doesn’t want us.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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