Love and Not Love: From the Archives

It is possible to love someone wholly and completely with all your heart while simultaneously knowing wholly and completely with all your heart that you cannot find lasting happiness with them.  It can be due to any number of factors: time, compatibility, geography, values, priorities.  It feels a bit like nausea, or like a heady blend of euphoria and despair.  It simultaneously feels as if you have more space in your chest than you’ve ever known possible, like your chest is the envelope to a hot air balloon taking you airborne and also the sky its rising in, and like someone has piled potato sacks of damp earth atop your body and you can’t fully inhale.  The realization feels like absolute freedom coupled with the reality of impossible impotence.

I spend my day’s minutes in love while ignoring what the cramps in my gripped fingers held tightly as fists are insinuating: it’s a gift and crisis.  I’ve been back and forth with my person for a great long while.  I’ve never done the unthinkable: I’ve never moved on.  He knows this, of course.  He doesn’t rub it in, he doesn’t take advantage, but of course he sees it, how could he not?  The idea, moving on, frightens me.  So everytime we pause, we break, I wait until the very moment the pain becomes unbearable, and that is when either he or I reestablish contact again…. Again.  I’ve never gotten past that threshold.  Like when a frozen limb regains feeling, if you didn’t know to wait it out — that it gets better — there’d be no reason to withstand blood returning to crossed legs, pins and needles, there’d be no awareness that after pain comes relief just the fanatical fear that the pain could go on forever.  So when you’re in that moment, at the height of sensation and you know the one way to mitigate it — not solve it, but choose a more novel type of pain — of course you take the out, of course you make the call, because at least you can wiggle your extremities in that option. 

I accept that if I am ready to do what I have never done, to move on for real, it will be blind curiosity that guides me through it — not courage or willpower or strength, Curiosity.  I’d be curious as to what could possibly lie on the other side of this.  This that is familiar that I have been unable to transgress. 

The choice has been mine, of course, I have chosen to stay put.  I was unable to believe in our impossibility until I’d attempted us from every possible angle.  I feel I have now made such an attempt and am thus at the precipice of either moving on or accepting I do not need what I thought I needed.  Maybe I do not need that which I have been struggling so deeply in my bones for, that which I brought the fight to him for again and again.  His innocence: he continued to engage, even though I tried so hard to demand he be other than he was.  Maybe it was I who had been pretending, I who thought I was something that I wasn’t.  I could not be light.  I never have been light, so 32 really was too late to make the attempt.  Because the truth is that deep down, I have no interest in being other than I am.  I just desperately hoped he would do something that I wouldn’t consider: change.

I therefore refused to acknowledge what was right in front of me: the truth.  Instead choosing to focus on a projection, an idea that had nothing to do with reality.  Perhaps I fell for our potential, perhaps potential is all I ever see.  That very thing would explain why it is I am always striving, refusing to accept the here, the now, the what is.  Instead only seeing the what ifs, the if onlys, the maybe somedays.  I’m exhausting, he is exhausting.  I would love to say at least he was honest, and I guess he was, just not with his words.  And me being a writer, those were what I chose to focus on (naively) even though I of course know that actions are where the proof lies.  But I was desperate for the lie, I practically begged him for it.  And I would feel relief when he obliged me so I could go on pretending for just a little while longer.  I wasn’t ready to go without.  I wasn’t ready to admit I had the man of my dreams, everything I’d ever wanted, and wasn’t able to make it work.  Still wasn’t able to be happy.  If it sounds like I blame myself, I don’t.  I blame circumstances, brain chemicals, attachment issues.  I blame the act of striving and how natural that can start to feel, so much so that eventually you only look for those that leave you constantly reaching.  I blame fear of stillness, fear of satisfaction, fear of losing my ambition. 

So I reached, he withheld, and we danced.

I love him.  And I remember the other times I’ve used that word.  And I think despisedly of the knowledge that it never goes away.  Love never stops for me.  And sure, there is poetry in that, the kind that every kid wearing too much eyeliner needs to stop writing if they want to grow, but also just settling into an unspectacular.  I no longer wish I was with the others, but that dull awareness of separation never goes away, not really.  Which feels like a prayer and a curse, a weight and a hand.  Sometimes it just makes me tired and other times the existence of love in my body from other stories gives me life: the man from the pizza place, the man with the eyes, the man who should have known better.

In the moments I see myself considering compromises I never thought I’d make, I get scared. 

“Maybe I don’t need to be with someone who’s honest with me.  Maybe that’s just about my need for control.”  Or, “maybe I could be with someone who doesn’t actually seem to want to be with me, maybe I want it badly enough.”  Even compasses can get confused, that’s for sure.  And then you might find yourself in one of those situations where you can’t tell which way is up, so these thoughts seem like reasonable and important considerations.  And sometimes we can spend months or even years fumbling around in the dark because we’ve forgotten that there’s such a thing as light.

You cannot force someone to be in love along with you.  I knew that.  Surely I must have known that, how can I have gotten to 32 without knowing that?  And I don’t mean you cannot force someone to love you, I of course knew that, but I may not have known that not everyone’s love is equal in measure.  The ability of some to love is different than others.  I don’t think I knew one’s capacity to love varies not depending upon the object that the affection is directed, but point blank we are not all born with the same capacity for love.


I never doubted his love for me.  Not once.  But maybe I should have doubted that we meant the same thing?  Maybe I explained one too many signs away.  I believe he loved me as well as he could love anyone.  My heart is breaking not because I can’t go on without it, but because it feels disloyal to let it go, to walk away.  How will he find it?  Who will accept this as a satisfactory substitute to engage in the walk with him?  Because I want that for him.  I want it more for me, which is why, slowly (so very slowly) I will eventually turn and realize I have left him slightly behind me.  Just slightly.  And then more time will pass, more distance will be placed in between our lives, but knowing me, I bet it will take decades.

What I try to employ during these times is faith, faith in the idea that my potential is better than these ideas, and I will never settle for less than my potential in the long term.  I could forget or cling to moments, maintain a drunken stupor on memories alone for a serious and committed amount of time

but not forever. 

And that’s not fair to do to someone, present yourself as less than your potential in the hopes that they will be enough to make you forget what you could have been.

Maybe this right here, these tangled words, maybe this is the representation of a body leaving a heart, and maybe that’s why it feels so foreign.  Give anything enough time and space and just about anything can look like Not Love.

Published by Pam Stewart

I am a writer living in Victoria, BC, Canada. I got my start in spoken word and am now a frequent contributor to Elephant Journal. My writing is the result of a deep dive into the world of self-help. I don't profess to know how others should do it, but am interested in having the conversation. I think there is real value in revealing our blindspots, our vulnerabilities and our fears; which is what I am trying to do through my essays on mindfulness, self-exploration, and living honestly. I have found God through writing, which is to say, I have found myself through writing. My book, I Really Thought It Would Be Easier Than This, is available now.

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