It occurs to me... though somewhat belatedly, I'll grant you... that love shouldn't hurt. I'm not saying it should be a walk in the park every minute of every day, especially if two people are living together or seeing each other every day. People get on each other's nerves, a bad day at the office travels home in a person's empty lunch sack, bills and in-laws and kids make patience thin and fragile.
But overall, love - real, genuine, reciprocal love between two people who respect and care for each other - really shouldn't hurt. Love isn't, by nature, painful. We make it that way. Love doesn't break your heart. We do that to ourselves, by choosing the wrong people to love or loving them at the wrong times. Love isn't mournful or melancholy or morose. It isn't spiteful or sad or full of sorrow and unfulfilled dreams.
Love abides with affection and tenderness. It thrives under the watchful eye of dignity and mutual admiration. It doesn't feel imposed upon by the lovers, or feel burdened by them.
And the minute that those other, not-so-very-nice feelings start to creep in, love needs to be reassessed, and perhaps abandoned for something or someone else. But letting go of love, even painful, inadequate, unrequited love, is much harder than I could ever imagine. I have just let it die a natural death in the past, which can take months. But I don't have months. There's a friendship at stake I'd like to salvage, and it's hanging by a thread, and this love that is so toxic and utterly agonizing will kill it sure as anything if it lingers too long.
So how to let go of the love and still keep the friendship intact? Can it be done? Maybe not. I know very few people who can stay friends when one loves and the other does not. Or worse, when the other loves another. If you remove every photograph or visual reminder in front of you, then how to you get the picture out of your brain? How do you reconcile the fact that someone that you could feel so close to, so connected to, so bonded with, so attracted to, could not possibly feel the same way about you? Why is the Universe so cruel as to give me the capacity to love so entirely, to dangle this person who appears, at least on the surface, to be everything I ever asked for, only to then say, "But, here's the bad news, he's already chosen the little blond rocker who (unlike you) is skinny and pretty and very young. But you can be his chubby gal-pal and hear all his laments about how love - even to the skinny, pretty, young rocker girl whom he professes to love most in the world, to the point of being unable to love anyone else - really only gets in the way of his happy single life. Aren't you lucky?"
No. Not so much in love. Or cards either, which is, to me, the ultimate cheat, because shouldn't there be some kind of consolation prize? I mean, if I'm not going to Vegas to run off and get married to the guy who swept me off my feet, shouldn't I at least be able to go there and beat the house at blackjack? I guess my consolation is knowing that I'm not inconvenienced by the burden of love, that my happy single life remains free and unfettered by something so demanding as the love of another human being. I am free. Free to come and go as I please, without anyone caring when or even if I'll be home. I'm free to stay or go, without anyone to share the time either way. I'm free to forgo the comforts of partnership and camaraderie, of intimacy and daily tendernesses. I'm mercifully unencumbered enough not to know how it feels to have someone tell me - and mean it - that I'm their one and only, and they love me the way I am, and they feel so fortunate to have found me.
I guess I must have pretty much hit the emotional jackpot. Lucky me.
So, I'm moving on, as best I can. If I'm free to stay or go, then I choose go. At least love-wise. Pack up my "in-love" self and go far away from someone -- yet another someone -- who is incapable of loving me in the here and now. I need someone present and accounted for, and there's a tiny part of me, amidst the dark void of "no such thing" that knows he's out there. I've taken a little break from the online places I've frequented, in order to try and make myself available for someone who must certainly be looking for me the way I'm looking for him (or will be, once I can wash this current, painful love away).
And the next time, I'll know it's love because it makes me happy. I'll know because the person that I love will love me back, and not be afraid of that. I'll know because I will be valued as an asset, rather than an inconvenience or an imposition. I'll know because he'll be there, right in the room with me, and life will be what it always is -- messy and complicated and occasionally unpleasant -- but he won't blame that on me. He'll know that's just what life is, and we'll get through it together.
And I'll know, first and foremost, because love won't hurt.