At some point in many of our lives, we will find someone to whom we are desperately attracted, and yet who endlessly hurts or exhausts us. The stakes seem so high, the desire is so deep, but so too the pain. In Fire: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, Anais Nin writes of Henry Miller: “this love will either kill or save me forever.” Which will it be? Will the love slowly eat at your soul as you fruitlessly continue to search for the grail while suffocating in its tomb; or will it give you the courage to crusade, to fight to the death, and to discover something truly sacred? One scrutinizes each decision, each gesture, each proclamation, all of which alternatively inspire either trepidation or hope. Just one detail at the wrong angle and it all becomes farce. One dismisses the spectacle for an accident of light.
I was recently confronted by an old lover of this sort, someone whom I truly wanted to forgive. Our issues had revolved around a basic (and well deserved) lack of trust, compounded by dozens of circumstantial issues. In the absence of such circumstantial issues, I thought it might be possible to grow and reach a new understanding of each other. I decided to entertain his apology, promises of change and declarations of love.
Our attempts to understand each other quickly devolved into a toxic state of antagonistic stasis. We pushed and pulled only to sustain a pregnant storm that strangled itself with its own vacuous inertia. During these discussions, I realized that there are perhaps two types of paralysis: one that remains obviously inert and one that sways wildly, falsely suggesting movement while remaining impotent. I struggled, wondering, as Nin had, if this was a love that would kill or save me.
My interlocutor could speak elegantly, could discourse on the many lessons learned, but consistently failed to provide any evidence of resolution. As I tried to sort through the incongruity of his words and actions which left me regarding an impenetrable and ambiguous nebula, I experienced an entire spectrum of reactions, ranging from radical acceptance to utter disgust. We wrapped ourselves in passionate analysis, only to pull ourselves deeper into our own vain chaos, halting before the abyss that would save us. Each time I pried, opened and untangled us from the brambles, he refilled it with red herrings, diversions, evasions.
For us, it seemed, there was no reckoning. Our irresolvable conflicts were desolately attracted to each other. Our spirits could flail at the impasse with such great vigor, but without some basic level of trust, no genuine movement could save us from this cycle.
The requisite strength for me to discontinue this correspondence was perhaps greater than it should have been. Truly, I should have been stronger and more wary. I can be extremely romantic. I want to believe in the goodness of others. But ultimately, these aspects of my personality, which I otherwise consider strengths, left me excessively vulnerable in this specific situation.
It is a strange thing, to mourn for an aborted possibility. It seems so easy to continue toiling for what might be a glorious, beautiful vision of love when its death isn't a fact or event, but a resolution. To accept its loss with such intense sadness while celebrating the joy and strength it proved of you. To seek new things to love. To seek wealth, abundance, trust, and devotion in love instead of systematic suffering. In this heartache, I am left to re-assert how I believe in love, how I believe in others, and how I believe in myself in order to propel myself away from toxicity.
The re-appearing act of an old lover isn't necessarily a sign of weakness, because there are, to be sure, instances when something good can be redeemed. But in any case, it is a time of questioning, examining and declaring what one truly finds important and meaningful in one's life.
Photo Credit: “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli