I have so many misgivings about this advice she’s giving her sons. Is that really how they ought to be going into relationships, trying to resolve internally that they can fall out of love even if that’s not how they treat their partner? Everyone deserves the right to leave, and so their partners deserve the right to take that into account. But above all, I think my misgiving is wondering, “Is she right?” Is this cynical advice good advice in the long run? The more I hear it, the more it sounds completely logical, and that desire to fall out of love is something I’ve felt in past breakups myself, but it pushes against every romantic bone in my body.
Should I talk to her and see if she might stand down? Should I offer an alternative POV to her sons? Is this what I should be telling my own children one day, quite frankly? — Questioning my Sister
Well, first of all, your sister is your nephews’ mom and so she can give them any advice she wants, and if she had wanted your perspective on said advice, she’d have asked for it, right? That’s not to say you can’t give them your own advice or that she doesn’t want you to tell them certain things, but I think questioning her parenting here isn’t the right take. I get the feeling this is more about you and your ideas about love and romance and lifelong partnership than it is about your concern for your nephews. I suspect your sympathy lies with your brother-in-law in part because his heartbreak triggers a very real worry that you could experience a similar heartbreak one day, and this was something you hoped choosing wisely would spare you from. Oh, if only life worked that way!
The truth is, your sister is right in a way: There’s no guarantee that the person we choose to spend our lives with and even vow to love and stand by until death parts us will uphold his or her end of the agreement. There’s no guarantee that feelings won’t change one day or that circumstances won’t separate us sooner than we imagine some far-off-in-the-distant-future death from old age will. What we know about life is how uncertain it can be (how many of us predicted we’d spend 2020 at home, isolated from our friends and family and co-workers?), and how it can sometimes change on a dime. So, while I think your sister is right to caution her sons to prepare for anything in love even after choosing a partner wisely, I also think it’s fair to ask yourself whether there’s a less cynical perspective to consider. I think there is.
I think there’s a way to prepare one’s self for life’s inevitable curveballs and disappointments and even sucker punches that leave you breathless and momentarily disoriented and still be vulnerable in the way that allows you to fully be seen for who you are and loved for all the aspects that make you a multi-faceted, complicated person. That’s what you want, right? To experience a love so great and rich and full that your need to have a protective guard up comes crashing down? You can have that, but it takes two very important things: the cultivation of multiple sources of love and support so that if one source – like a romantic partner – suddenly becomes less available or unavailable to you, you are still receiving the nourishment your soul needs to thrive; and the acceptance that heartache isn’t an end point, it’s a temporary stop on a long path – one that is very much survivable.
So, here’s what you can not only tell your own children one day, but also what you can tell yourself about love: If you are lucky enough to find love in your life, whatever its form and however it’s available to you, hold it while you can. Hold it and nourish it and invest in it. If you see it begin to wither, tend to it in the ways you’ve learned the source appreciates and needs – the ways that have always helped grow the relationship in the past. If those ways no longer work, ask if there’s a different way you can offer your love. Sometimes, in what can be the saddest experience, a source of love becomes unavailable to us and there’s nothing we can do cultivate a regrowth. Sometimes a love source changes the way it’s available to us and that transition can be painful and complicated (and sometimes it’s easier than we might imagine). If this happens, it’s the love we’ve cultivated all around us – including the love we have for ourselves – that helps us through the loss or the transition and the pain. My advice for you (and for your nephews and for anyone else who needs to hear it) is this: Don’t love less out of fear of rejection or heartbreak; love more. And re-imagine what it means to “choose wisely.” It’s not just romantic life partners we choose to invest our love in. They alone are not the key to a full, joyous life full of love.