One of my favorite professors in college (actually, she’s the reason I minored in sociology) once told a story from the early days of her 30-something highly-successful and loving marriage.
At the time, her and her husband had yet to learn how to communicate with one another and often got in tedious fights over in the most insignificant of differences. In a particularly nasty fight, she stormed off into their bedroom, slamming the door and collapsing into the bed, sobbing uncontrollably. Ten minutes later, when her husband didn’t follow to console her and apologize, she raised out of her despair to find him. She pulled the drapes away to find him outside, mowing the lawn, seemingly unaffected by the argument they just had.
Infuriated, she sought revenge to make him feel the same pain she did. She described herself running through the house inhibited, furiously looking for something to destroy. And there, sitting in its prized placement on their living room coffee table, sat a book of beloved poems. Not just any collection bought second-hand at a bookstore – but an actual, original copy. Knowing her love for the greats, it had been a wedding gift.
In her rage, she took it in her hands and ripped out the pages, letting them splash across the floor as pitifully as the tears rolled down her face. In this moment, her husband walked in and saw her. She stood frozen, the shreds pressed against the bottoms of her feet, and he stopped in his tracks. Whimpering, she put her angry face back on to show she wouldn’t be the first to let up or to give in. She was sure this would get him – look what she had done. This would get him.
Without saying a word, he picked up a garbage bag and dust pan, swept up the pieces of the book, including the spine and walked away. They went to bed mad, never saying anything, and she continued to pout.
Months later, at Christmastime, the fights had lessened and they had started to effectively discuss issues instead of taking them out on one another (or literature). When their guests had cleared and they were left alone, he said he had a special gift for her. Excitedly, they sat in front of the fireplace, next to the coffee table and she unwrapped a book. The book.
He had painstakingly taped back together every last page of that antique collection of poetry, and inside the front flap, written: How do I love thee? Still.
She had forgotten by then what that awful fight was about but she never forgot that gesture, and she tried to never do something so vicious again. My eyes watered while my heart swelled in class, and it still makes me a little gooey inside to write it now. It was inspiring – and so touching – that a person could forgive and still love someone ever after doing something so horribly disrespectful.
But now, a few relationships and more than a few years later, I’ve come to realize that what she did is no different than what we all do. Especially when we rely on immaturity and grand gestures to keep a relationship strong. If we race away (and wait the allotted few minutes or so), he’ll feel guilty and come to our rescue, tell us he’s sorry and all will be well. We really think that by leaving, the other person will surely follow, for they could never imagine their life without us. We believe that if we remove ourselves enough from the relationship, even cutting the chord or doing something we know that’ll dig that dagger despicably deep, they’ll see how much they’re hurting us because they’ll hurt too. And if they hurt and we hurt, then we’ll get back together, we’ll get over that awful predicament, to be together.
It doesn’t work that way, does it? It’s not supposed to, is it?
I can’t imagine being in (another) relationship where I feel like to be noticed, to be valued, to not be taken for granted, I have to leave. And I surely don’t want to be in one where even if I do, even if I’m pushed to that point, I’m left out there in the street, still waiting for a gesture that I’m nearly convinced will never happen.
Because somewhere out there, in this concrete jungle or maybe on a safari I’ve yet to scour, there is a man who will love me still. Who will love me despite the madness or the sadness, and regardless if I’m crazy or collected. Who will be able to give me what I need and appreciate what I give him. Who will be able to fall in love with me as easily as I fall for him.
And if there isn’t – if that’s not my destiny, I’ll still love me…still.