Thursday, August 15, 2013

A question of love

"Love isn't some place that we fall, it's something that we do."

I'm home alone again this week. Neil is in Chicago on vacation with his son, daughter, son-in-law and dad. I opted to stay home. We're going on vacation to Wyoming next week. I didn't want to take two trips so close together. The timing of the Chicago trip was inflexible, dictated by a coin show.

Also, traveling in a group like this is stressful for me. Let's say there are too many control freaks in the mix, myself being one. I don't need to be butting heads with anyone about where to eat. I don't want to be locked in to activities I have no interest in for durations of other people's choosing.

They've had a packed schedule so far, a Cubs game, Cloud Gate aka the Bean at Millenium Park, a deep-dish pizza dinner yesterday. Today, the coin show, a visit to a racetrack, dinner at White Castle, and a movie I would have hated. I'm getting most of my information from Laurie's Facebook updates and a few brief emails from Neil.

I think I made the right choice not to go, but I'm also feeling oddly left out. I'm happy for Neil to enjoy time with his family without having to worry about me. I'm high maintenance, I'm selfish, I like to get my way. I just wish I felt like I was missed just a little.

It's just one more day, tomorrow, and then they'll be home on Saturday. And next week I'll have Neil all to myself and we'll be someplace beautiful, the mountains of Yellowstone National Park.

In the meantime, I'm making beads, going to the fitness center, volunteering at the shelter, spending time with my own cats. Thinking about how much I appreciate Neil, how much I count on him, how unreservedly I love him.

In the summer of 1998, I was not yet unmarried. My husband and I were at a standoff about how to divide our property and our court date was still months in the future. I spent a lot of time grappling with the question, what is love.

Had I ever loved my husband? How and why does love end? Is there such a thing as unconditional love or are there always conditions? What did it mean to love? Was I capable of loving someone or was there some flaw in me that kept me from fully giving my heart?

After Robin visited in June, we continued to talk online. I cared about him and I may have been a little bit seduced by the idea of being in a loving relationship, in love with love so to speak. Truth be told, I probably wasn't ready for a serious commitment, and there were appealing elements of fantasy and safety in a long- distance relationship.

Robin and I talked about all these things and many more. I could talk to him about anything, and I was always honest with him. I explained that if I told him I loved him, I wasn't sure what that meant, and until I got some clarity about that, it didn't mean I was making promises about the future.

Almost from the start there were red flags. Robin had a history of depression, and he had once taken a bottle of pills, and years later, after his divorce, he had taken a razor to his wrists. This landed him in a psych hospital, where his depression was diagnosed and successfully treated with meds. He wasn't kidding when, after Marty left me and I descended into hell, he said he'd been to darker places and come back.

I'd been a caregiver in my marriage. With my eyes wide open I'd been willing to be a caregiver again with Nick. Now I didn't want that. I wanted to be cared for, not just emotionally, but in a more tangible sense. I didn't feel strong enough to take on what I perceived to be Robin's heavy baggage.

A couple of months after he visited me, we took a trip together. I flew to Raleigh and we drove to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We stayed in a cabin (with a hot tub) and hiked and went into Gatlinburg, and had maybe our nicest time together (but I missed my kids). We made a plan for Robin to visit me again at Christmas.

But in November, Robin checked himself back into the psych hospital. I felt confused and upset but he assured me he was going to be fine. I've never been in a psychiatric hospital. It wasn't until after Marty left me and the panic and desperation overwhelmed me that I finally understood feeling bad enough to think that you needed to be somewhere safe.

But Robin didn't have that sort of reason to feel so low. We were still chatting online daily. We even talked about the possibility of Robin moving to Texas, but I wasn't ready to live with him. I knew the statistical risks of rebound relationships. I felt like we needed to spend more time together, time when we weren't on vacation, time to date in real life, to find out if we truly were meant to be a couple. Of course that meant Robin would have to find a job first. I doubted he would ever do that.

I can't explain why I stayed in this relationship limbo for almost three years. I think the distance was a safety net. I had someone to talk to, I had a "boyfriend," and I got to live my own life and work through the emotions in the aftermath of my divorce, which was final in early 1999. In the months that followed I struggled with a relapse of sadness and ennui. I was grieving not for the marriage or the man, but for the loss of some American dream family fantasy. I was very low and Robin was constant and supportive while the storm passed.

A year passed. Then another. Robin visited again and I made another trip to Raleigh, during which I cried most of the time and missed my children horribly. There were more red flags. After a visit where I was unable to give Robin any reassurance about the future, he went home, then got in his car and drove back to Texas. Without telling anyone. He was missing for two days and then he turned up on my doorstep. I couldn't be angry. It would have been like being angry at a mockingbird.

When Robin and I had been together for two years he admitted something to me that changed everything. He had always given me nice presents, taken me to nice places. He confessed that he was $50,000 in debt, paying for everything on credit. Financial stress had played a part in the demise of my marriage, Robin knew that, so he chose to conceal the monetary hole he was in.

Call me shallow, I don't care, it changed the way I saw him. Yet I let another year go by before I broke things off. It was easier to do nothing, and I was worried about hurting him, but that entire last year I didn't feel like I was in a relationship. If my daughters' dance team hadn't competed in Myrtle Beach, I would not have gone back to the Carolinas. Robin visited less often. I no longer spent entire evenings on the computer, chatting with him.

And then it was over. And then I met Marty. And then Robin started seeing Sue, a woman from his church, and for a little while it looked like everything was going to be OK.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

"I remember well the day we wed
I can see that picture in my head
I still believe the words we said
Forever will ring true

Love is certain, love is kind
Love is yours and love is mine
But it isn't something that we find
It's something that we do

It's holding tight, it's letting go
It's flying high and laying low
It lets your strongest feelings show
And your weakness too

It's a little and a lot to ask
An endless and a welcome task
Love isn't something that we have
It's something that we do

It gives me heart remembering how
We started with a simple vow
There's so much to look back on now
And still it feels brand new

We're on a road that has no end
And each day we begin again
Love's not just something that we're in
It's something that we do

I remember well the day we wed
I can see that picture in my head
Love isn't just those words we said
It's something that we do

There's no request too big or small
We give ourselves we give our all
Love isn't some place that we fall
It's something that we do."

(Clint Black, Something That We Do)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz