Very few of us get through life without having our hearts broken at least once.
I, of course, remember my first love. He was a young man in my junior college biology class. We ended up as lab partners and took to each other almost immediately. I was a year ahead of him in school, and at the end of the term I graduated and moved on to a nearby four-year university while he stayed behind.
And that’s about the time when, over the phone, he told me he didn’t want to see me anymore.
I was devastated. Breaking up is hard to do (as Neil Sedaka will tell you), but when you’re on the receiving end, it’s ten times as tough. I wanted to know what had caused this shift in my boyfriend’s attitude. We had been dating for nine months. Just the night before he had claimed that he loved me. Why, I asked, did he want to break up? Was it something I had done? Was there someone else? He assured me that neither was the case.
So why, then, did he not want to see me anymore?
I can still hear his voice through the phone. “I don’t know.”
No matter how hard I pleaded for a reason, the only answer I got was “I don’t know.”
Now, I’m not a big fan of Nietzsche, but he did say “If you know the why, you can live any how.” Going through a breakup is hard enough, but not having a reason left me no way to deal with it. I felt like I had been living in a paradise only to wake up one morning in a dry desert waterland with no idea how I had gotten there.
It took me years to figure out what had most likely happened. I assume he had been infatuated and when the first blush of attraction had worn off—as it inevitably does—he had been taken by surprise and concluded he was no longer in love.
He had figured love was a feeling, an emotion. Well, it is, but it’s more than that, far more.
Love is a decision, especially the decision to sacrifice.
I’ve long ago gotten over this guy. I’m happily married to a wonderful man and have two terrific daughters. But that doesn’t mean I feel sweet bliss for them every single second.
As one woman told me about her husband, “Sometimes I feel like throwing him out the window.” A pause later she added, “But I don’t. That’s what those marriage vows mean.”
We’ve all experienced this dryness, even when it comes to loving God. I recall once praying a rosary during Eucharistic Adoration, and it felt like I was trying to slog through muck. Each Hail Mary was a tremendous effort—and there are 53 of them. It took me over half an hour to pray it all. Why did I feel that way? To echo my ex-boyfriend’s words, “I don’t know.”
Several times during that recitation I was tempted to put the rosary aside. I was tempted, but I was also determined. I decided to go through with it.
We are, the Bible tells us, commanded to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength. (Mark 12:30) How do you do that when you’re not feeling the emotion of love?
Well, the decision to act in a loving way when you’re not feeling loving is actually far more loving. So, amazingly, we love more when we don’t feel it. The dark night of the soul is a better measure of love than that giddy, head-over-heels infatuation we have at first.
I lost touch with my former boyfriend decades ago. I do hope, however, that he eventually learned that love is more than a feeling.