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Freedom from Love

a

Being apart is another way of being together.
Sartre



How do we free ourselves from a past love?

It is not a question of denying or becoming angry at the other; on the contrary, freedom entails a calm acceptance--a recognition that, perhaps, no one is to be blamed for a failed love. And when no one could be blamed, either her or myself, my anger quickly dissipates for it has no object. For denial is precisely this: diverting the pain which eats your insides away to something--anything--which could absorb a force I can no longer handle; so I turn my sadness into my scorn for her. I deny first that I suffer from a pain with no name (pretending that it was "no big deal" or that it was "necessary" or "time" that we part ways, etc.). Then because this denial could not be denied, I gather my listless and diffused emotions in order to aim them at her who must necessarily have caused all this madness. Hence, the past beloved, who hurts as well, quickly becomes the object of my anger and hate, and all of a sudden becomes the one who is to be blamed as I can never blame myself. How could I blame myself when I am hurting? Some other must have hurt me.

Yet the inversion of love into anger and hatred by no means frees me from her. To the contrary, I merely transfigure my passion into something that no longer reaches the other through love but already through malice: the outward projection of my inner self remains, that is, fleeing my self, I bother to go out of myself in order to reach her, but now no longer to caress her but in order to hurt her. There is no point to exaggerate: revenge, that darkest passion, could be as exacting and calculating as a great love. In no way, however, do I become free from her when I exact revenge. A murderer, believing that he could end his own suffering by silencing him who caused it, only knows too well that he had afforded himself a ghost that will never leave him during those long restless nights.

Let us be clear, therefore, that any at all remaining passion for the old lover leaves me unfree from her. If every so often I admit longing for her in those twilight moments between sleep and wakefulness; or if anxiety welcomes me when I pass by all those places (restaurants, parks, movie houses, etc.) which for a while accommodated our love; I must also admit that I am not yet free from her whom I once loved but now could no longer do so. This is not a matter of sentimentality or being melodramatic; this is the law of love's recovery. For if I do not at one time long for her presence amidst the absolute silence of her absence, I am afraid that I may have not loved her at all then. I must then by necessity first be unfree in order to finally be free in order for my experience to acquire the rank of a real, but now unreal, love.

Yet how could the transition between unfreedom and freedom be set into operation? By what ways or acts could I finally begin freeing myself from a lover who is no longer yet who holds me and keeps me from being my self once again--that is, free to love and be loved once again? How do transfigure a love that has ended or that can no longer be into something which does not constrict me anymore but also does not disqualify the past love as a love that was real? Or finally: how do I bring a love which I love till now to a close in a closing which opens up a horizon for me, allowing without forcing a new possible love?


Time's Prison


It is said, in a popular way that is mostly misunderstood, that all it takes is time. That is to say, that time shall "heal all wounds," that it will reveal what cannot be seen at the moment, that only time can tell why one goes through the otherwise unexplainable shuffle between love and unlove. If I do not as yet know how to free myself from her, if I am still lodged in the dark room of our memories--of precisely our past--then, as the logic goes, all I need is the gentle hand of time.

In time or through it, I will be able to slowly ease my way out of this unfreedom. If time is a friend, it can only be so because it is able to gently steal me away from the past which I still bear too heavily. Time is my escort which delivers me from the place where love was made and destroyed into a place where hopefully I may--what else but forget? Time and memory: the more of one, the less of the other. And if all that I have of her now is a memory--either painful or joyful matters no longer--then I can only be free from her by forgetting her. But in order to forget, I need time.

But of course, we do not easily win over time--I wait for it to come, I have to be patient with it because I cannot force it. That is, I must let time do its trick of "keeping me busy" to "take my mind off" of things. Time enables me to wean myself from her, making room for new spaces where new memories can be made, making it possible for my eyes to see new things as time teaches me that I can no longer keep my eyes closed to a world which is only marked by her absence. Thus the inevitable consequence that time teaches me: I must go on because it shows me that things do go on in order to follow its march--I, hopefully, along with the rest.

Yet precisely there are occasions when things get difficult, when her memory suddenly suffocates me in a frozen instant, telling me that time does not exist as what I felt before for her still remains now even after the long march of time. I experience this uncanny feeling when I chance upon an old picture.

More than reminding me of her, the picture takes me back to a time precisely when love was real. To be sure, I may no longer experience the same emotions now when I do in fact see her when I "bump" into her--hence those awkward gestures and hesitant smiles we now exchange. But the old picture, which was able to suspend time, able to frame a reality that could not be denied--as it shows, and cannot but show--the old picture tells me one thing: I was happy. And I see such happiness in those unguarded smiles. What then was a moment that had wanted to be treasured and captured for posterity, a moment we both wanted to keep so that, later on, we could look back at our history of love, now, since we are apart, at this moment when I am looking at her, I become estranged to not only that time or to her, but also to myself, that is, I become an alien to myself.

I
was happy: and now it is this very happiness which strangles me because if I were to suppose that I am the same person in that old photograph and the one who looks at it at this moment, then I cannot but ask myself what happened between that happiness and this melancholia? That I no longer recognize myself in this photograph only means that I was the one who had transformed--and not her. How could it be her when she still smiles that same smile, a smile that I admired before but now a smile I can no longer afford to see? And they always smile in the same way.

I must now then conclude that whereas time was supposed to distance myself from those days of youthful happiness, the picture only proves that time can at most only hide or distract me from such realities as love. If love can transcend time, that is, last it, bear it and go beyond it, this can only present a problem for a failed love--as a broken love, a love which was real then in its wholeness and remains real today in its brokenness, is also able to break time and exist no longer necessarily between us but already among us. Left with shattered pieces, like shrapnel from a bullet lodged into a skull that cannot be extracted anymore, I shall forever have to be marked, like the marks on the body of a prisoner waiting for judgment, by all my doomed loves.


Ball Games: Rebound and Substitution

If I can never escape the tyranny of time (and nothing does), can I nevertheless disregard it and be indifferent to it by not waiting for it (to heal myself, to free myself) and by rushing it--to become free by loving once again, without time's approval? To be sure, I may: I could disrupt time's plan by nevertheless deciding to love once again, immediately and without patience, in order to short circuit the process, like fast-forwarding a film and thereby mocking lived time. I may decide to love immediately, or create a present love, in order to free myself from a past love. If I know and hope that, indeed, the fruit of my future freedom will be the chance to love once again, then I may do away with the waiting and settle the matter with my own hands: I shall love now in order to be free.

This choice, always open to the impatient, is always done. What we casually call a "rebound" relationship indicates the necessity we sometimes feel to get back on our feet again, or, as the image suggests, to be caught and be assured once again. I took a shot and I missed; now I have to take another shot lest I think myself a poor shooter in this game. A missed shot leaves the ball up for grabs; any one can reach for it and claim it. In a rebound relationship, the new love could be any old other: what matters is that he be there at the right place and at the right time. That he loves you or not, or that you love him or not is a matter of profound indifference. Better to pretend to love than to think yourself unlovely. These are games: the one who falls and the one who catches know it, and since they know, they only play it till it lasts. Instead of playing lonely solitaire, in this rebound game I at least see that there is still someone there to play with me, even if he may play with my heart.

But what is important is there is somebody who plays this game with me--again. The new beloved, for one or another reason there at the right time to catch me, breaks the possible fall I may suffer from a broken love. Rebounded, I am--again--loved; and more importantly, I love someone new--again. Again: this is important. Because if a doomed love can no longer be revoked or recalled, then the easiest way to remove its bitter aftertaste is to taste something anew immediately--like sherbet in the middle of a meal or a sweet dessert after--that is, love and be loved anew to replace the old beloved. This now is the game of substitution: on a rebound, I quickly, as if my dear life depended on it, hold on to the next lover in order to continue a game which I did not want to end. The new beloved will then be her excellent stand-in.

It is rather easy to discern how and why substitution happens. A doomed love leaves the lover questioning or, what is more dangerous, doubting himself. Take away all the idiosyncrasies of the lover and the possible reasons that he may find as to why he was failed by love and all he would have is the question "Am I lovable?" The reply to the question is rarely favorable to him who lost a beloved. Thus anguished and suffering from a doubt which can only be expelled by the sweet reply of another, the lover then hastily leaves the horizon of that self-inquiry in order to prove immediately that he is, of course, lovable--and that the past beloved was the one who could not, in a word, love. The next beloved can only give me an affirmation I direly need right now. "Thus I will throw myself into your arms but just tell me that I am lovely."


Broken Identities

Yet not only does the new lover affirm me of my loveliness and my worthiness; primordially, what is affirmed is my existence. For the old lover betrayed my existence by leaving me, thereby telling me silently (as in a whisper or in voice muted by distance she takes as she leaves me) that I am yet my being amounts to nothing for her. By leaving me to myself, what she had professed to love "till the end" or "always" or "forever" she now just as quickly sets aside, runs away from like a plague, or worse, curses like I were death. Herein lies the final blow of doomed loves--final because some may never recover from it: that my existence becomes disqualified, that it seems I might as well not have been, or, to put in in plain words, "I amount to nothing to you." Again, although there is a temptation to exaggerate, such a disqualification nevertheless happens everyday. For what is left to itself means it has been too heavy to lug around; too difficult to carry, like burden, like a cross which no longer deserves to be my weight; or, in a word, dispensable. I am dispensed means I could be any other which also means I am no one.

Thus with broken loves what really breaks is not such grand ties between two persons, but real selves, persons, identities, egos. There will always be violence in all relationships, a violence that either mends or repairs, either builds or destroys. When lovers are bound by love, when they create a relationship between them, they necessarily also have to suffer extending themselves, opening themselves, allowing one and the other to enter into one's self. Yet this is also a violence for I am not "designed" (my body shows it, my ego thinks it, etc.) to be with another, or to open myself to another who may love me. But more so, or perhaps more difficult, would be the severing of ties that bound two lovers before, the cutting off, the extraction, the breaking up--all these words suddenly matter for those who have to go through the operation of a separation. The mystery of all mysteries: what could have lived apart without the need for each other found out that they could not live without one another. But even more mysterious is how one or another quickly finds out that it would be better to be alone without the other--not because he does not matter (perhaps we were too hasty above) but maybe because I no longer need him, or, to put it better, his existence is already something I neither affirm (love) nor deny (hate)--worse, I just become indifferent to him.


The Opening

It is this indifference to the old beloved which, however, may be the beginnings of one's recuperation. What with being left with shattered pieces (not knowing where to begin, not knowing if I should begin) and having to inspect the damage done, I cannot but assess my self, look at myself and focus on myself. My indifference to her, one that precisely makes me apathetic, may, to be sure, leave me in the silence of solitude and despair. There are only a few experiences available to us which leaves us terribly alone (sickness, death and a broken love, etc.) Without being able to blame her anymore because she is gone and she is not even worth my time of day, I find that I have to take care of myself now. Of course, this is not automatic: we may stay in anger or in despair for a long time or forever; yet I know that anger is quite tiresome and defeats itself, and despair, well, I just have to pass through it.

I take care of myself after a broken love because there is no longer anythings else I can love. Loving another hastily on a rebound, though easy, is difficult for someone who already learned how to doubt and to not trust completely or easily as before. This is not ugly selfishness. This is being practical. And we have to be practical with ourselves sometimes. When I wreck my car in an accident, after blaming the other driver, after being angry with myself (should have slowed down, should have left early, etc.), I still go home alone with the car I destroyed. I still have to fix it myself soon. It would be absurd to just leave it as it is because anyway it wasn't my fault or because it was an "accident." For this car, which I have cleaned everyday and have been to places with, is still my responsibility. And I cannot pass on this responsibility no matter how ugly the accident was or if it was all her fault.

I have to be responsible for my own healing when I come from a broken love. And this is where time does come in to help me. No longer is time simply a time to forget as I will never forget. This time is the time for repair work, for learning, for--forgiving. Time can be the most unforgiving enemy if you use it against you. But time is always on your side if you know how to befriend it. Befriending time: this means lasting it, dancing with it, crying with it, forgiving it, or loving it.

When do you become free from a broken love? Only when you let time and everything within it unfold. If I do not open myself to time, then all that may show within its horizon will be covered over. But in the showing in time, I may be able to see much more lovelier things: myself, or even an other. For time alone holds all the possibilities. And there is no greater gift to a broken man than the gift of possibility.

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