It’s better to find love than to fall into it, writes Jamie Utt.
I once heard a poet named Buddy Wakefield say, “The heart doesn’t break. It can only bruise.” What’s broken can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair, but the heart doesn’t break. It can heal.
But bruises sure can hurt! They can ache. They can swell. They can turn the deepest shade of black and blue.
But Buddy’s right. In time, the purples and blacks fade to green, gray, and pink. Eventually the bruises heal, and we’re left only a memory of the trauma.
I recently had a friend tell me that she felt lucky because she’d never truly experienced heartbreak (or serious bruising). She felt fortunate never to have probed the depths of a deeply purple heart.
I’m not convinced she’s the lucky one. After all, how can one know one’s heart, oneself, completely, if she has never known the depth of bruising in heartache?
I’ve never been one who can leave a bruise alone. When I used to play soccer and would get big, deeply colored bruises on my shins or knees, I’d play with them endlessly. I’d always poke my finger into the center, gritting through the added pain, to watch the colors change as I removed my finger. I’d think back over how I got it, considering how I could avoid such a beauty in the future.
It’s not much different with bruises of the heart variety.
For better or for worse, I’m no stranger to heart bruising. Sadly, I’ve bruised a few, and I’ve been on the receiving end of some bruising. About eight months ago, I got bruised up pretty bad.
At first, I hid from the pain, choosing my own forms of medication (including but not limited to WAY too much Bon Iver). As the colors began to change inside, though, I began to prod and poke at the bruising, trying to understand it. How had I gotten here? How did I not see this coming? Why do I tend to surrender my heart to those I know won’t take the best of care? Why did I put myself in a position where I knew the bruising was on the horizon?
This self-reflection, though not a new process, was different than in the past. I was somehow ready to follow this reflection to its conclusions, wherever that may lead.
And it was in this space that I discovered a book that changed my entire perspective on love and loss and the inevitable pain therein. In All About Love: New Visions (Seriously, click that link and buy it. You won’t regret it), bell hooks presents a brave new perspective on love, one that challenges us to see love not as an accident but instead as an act of will, “a decision … a judgment … a promise.”
While reading the book, a friend challenged me to come up with my “needs in love.” He said that I should figure out what were the things that I absolutely need from a partner, and in doing so, I would be able to assert my needs and find a partner who could meet my needs as I work to meet my partner’s. His words mirrored those of hooks, who asserts, “To be capable of critically evaluating a partner, we would need to be able to stand back and look critically at ourselves, at our needs, desires, and longings.”
So I came up with a list, five things that I need from a partner if I am going to truly be accountable in a relationship.
Then I began to reflect on past relationships, realizing that I was stumbling in and out of “love” as if I had no will, no choice. But hooks challenged me to reconsider this understanding of love, one where we “fall in love.” What could relationships be like, then, if I stopped seeing love as something into which we fall, for when we fall, we do not have to be responsible for our actions? What if I could see love as a choice, an act of will?
As a result, I’ve spent time being single. In reading All About Love, I had to wonder, do I know how to be solitary? hooks remarks that “knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving … loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful.” I began working to cultivate solitude in my life (something with which I am still wrestling).
She also reminded me that, “Satisfying friendships in which we share mutual love provide a guide for behavior in other relationships, including romantic ones.” As such, I’ve spent considerable time investing in those that I love and who love me more accountably than anything I’ve ever known romantically: my friends. I even thought about the way in which I love my dog and my dog loves me. This kind of love could provide a much better template for romantic love than Hollywood ever had.
Through all of this, I have found a space in which I am ready for love. Without even realizing it, this time and space for reflection brought healing. The deep purple has receded into a brown and green and pink, and now the heart bruise that brought on this whole process is only a memory, a reminder of the work that lies ahead of me as I hope to create a truly accountable, intentional love, one that will likely lead to little bruises along the way, but one that involves such care that perhaps those big, deep-purple bruises can be avoided.
Whereas before I was, in the words of hooks, “more interested in finding a partner than in knowing love,” now, “I am on my way to knowing love.”
—Photo Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr