**Disclaimer: I wrote this in 2007 and I haven’t thought about it much since, that is…until this morning when I had a phone call that brought me to tears. I thought you might like to take a look. It has much more to do with my friend than with Ms. Breakup. If you make it to the end, you’ll find out why.**
A few weeks ago, an old friend (a girl I used to date who has long since gotten married and raised a family) called and invited me to a party at her place. I said I’d be there. That night, I met a bunch of her and her husband’s friends, one in particular; a girl who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She drank and the more she drank the more she talked….about her boyfriend. She told me how wonderful he was, how much she missed him and how long they had been together.
At this point, I was a bit surprised they were broken up. Most break ups I know result in anger, hostility and finger pointing covering the hurt, the pain and the broken promises. This one, I didn’t get. I asked what the deal was, “did he break it off with you?” She said “no,” she ended it. I was impressed. I thought “what a classy woman. She ends the relationship and speaks well of her ex.” I don’t see that often enough.
I told her I was surprised given how fondly she spoke of him. I asked her why she broke it off. She explained he couldn’t tell her he loved her. For two years, they had been together but he confessed to not knowing what love is and felt somewhat uncomfortable and dishonest in saying it. He can’t say “I love you.” I acknowledged that this is obviously something very important to her. She looked at me a bit surprised and said “Of course! Isn’t it to you?” I told her that while I understood her concern, I did not share it myself as I was in no position to demand of another what I’m incapable of myself. I, too, don’t know what love is.
Mind you, I’m no buffoon. I’m the not brightest bulb either, but my lack of identification with love isn’t because I haven’t heard it. Countless times I’ve heard people define it and give examples from their own life. Usually, it’s used in a rather transitory sense. I don’t see that. I see there being something far greater than a feeling and a passing one (like all feelings I’ve felt) at that.
She asked me to explain what I think it might be. I told her I thought it had more to do with action than with any word or group of words or feelings. For example: Does he treat you with respect? Does he behave lovingly toward you? Do you feel he loves you? I said “From what I can tell, the person to ask if they love someone is not the one giving the love but the one receiving.” How many times have I said “I love you” to my mother only to treat her with contempt and disgust? Similarly, my father, the way he treated my mother. If that’s love, I want no part of it.
She said he undoubtedly loves her. For years he has appreciated, admired and respected her. Their relationship is healthy. He is a steady, encouraging influence in her life and she’s a better person for knowing him. “Yes, absolutely, he loves me.” I’m puzzled. I really am. I ask her if she’s been with men who have said “I love you” and yet could not seem to demonstrate it. She has. Many. Most, in fact, until him, her most recent. She asked what she should do. I told her I didn’t know the answer to HER question.
The night ended and she thanked me for listening to her and for being so understanding and helpful. I thanked her for allowing me to be of service.
Two nights ago, my friend, the hostess of the party, called. She thanked me again for coming and told me that her friend, Ms. Breakup, could not stop singing my praises (she is perhaps the ONLY person to sing my praises). After that night, Ms. Breakup called her boyfriend, had a long talk and the two of them are back together, very happily. My friend asked what I had said to her. I familiarized her with the above. I told her I didn’t know what love is either.
I have known this beautiful woman for 15 years. I have never stopped admiring her, thinking her husband one of the most fortunate men to be alive and grateful he found her and so generously provides for her. She knew me when. When no one else cared to admit to knowing me. She saw me in the hospital, when few others did. She offered assistance and took me to dinner when I was homeless. She loved me. She loves me. That I know. And this woman, this precious gem of a friend said: “From where I sit, you know exactly what love is. It’s what you’ve always shown me.” I sat speechless. I have been given no greater compliment.
Sadly, she too, offers only her best guess as to what love is.