In my last two blogs I invited my readers to consider some of the properties and principles of love, especially how the pandemic has impacted our experiences of love given all the many anxieties and stresses we’ve been experiencing. We have needed to feel loved and be able to give love more than ever during these times of forced disconnection and isolation. For many of us we have come to treasure even more now the privilege to love others, and be loved in return, despite all that the pandemic has done to make that more challenging to do.
The pandemic may also be a contributing force in causing us to have to end relationships or downgrade them or to even completely remove from our circle of relationships founded on love.
Perhaps the image we had about a relationship where we felt we were loved and able to give love turned out to be false as people let us down, become overly critical of us or even nasty towards us. How about when someone we thought loved us trashes us on social media? And then says they were only kidding? We may be able to justify some of their behaviors because of the pandemic-related stress they are under but at the same time the hurt can be so deep that we need to step back and redefine some relationships.
All this can lead to a very important decision: we need to find a way to extinguish love. The problem with that is that love is more than a feeling or sensation. It is an energy, a force, something many of us believe is a gift from God. We need to respect these properties and principles of love. At the same time, we may realize that someone has hurt us so badly that the relationship is damaged beyond repair.
Extinguishing love is a little like blowing out a candle. When lit, the flame burns with an energy that produces light and warmth. Some candles allow you to trim down the wick and reduce the amount of light/the size of the flame. Other times the wind comes along and blows the flame completely out and it’s gone. Maybe having to extinguish love is like blowing out that candle and all that is left is a little puff of smoke that dissipates into the air and is gone.
This need to extinguish love can come on gradually or it can happen in a shocking moment when something is said or done that causes deep pain, loss, separation, shock and the realization that this person is not who we thought they were. Sometimes it is their lack of interest in us, or less care and empathy. Sometimes a person becomes highly critical, is harsh, accusatory, attacking. Sometimes it’s about abandonment: the person does not reach out, does not respond to emails, texts or phone calls and it becomes clear that they no longer have an interest in nurturing what we thought was a deeply committed relationship built on love.
Extinguishing love destines us to move down the path of grief. It is work to fall out of love. The loss can leave a hole in our heart, a kind of emptiness that happens when someone we love literally dies. We may need to wrestle with that inner part of us that begs us to hold onto our love for them, that feels so desperate to not be alone and separate from that beloved person, feelings that may be exacerbated by all the disconnection we are experiencing in this pandemic.
Our love can pull us like a child tugging on the coattails of a parent who is trying to leave, to get to work and must leave that child behind. How do we stop wanting the person to be who they once were or who we thought they once were? How do we block them out of our life, our thoughts, our desire to share what is happening in our world? How do we stop wanting them to come to us to share what is happening for them?
Maybe we need to go through a mental practice of changing how we think about the person. Or we might need to avoid contact with that person, stop looking at emails and texts saved, letters and pictures from years past.
Maybe there are mutual friends or there still exists close proximity to the person. Those moments are opportunities to practice reducing love feelings. We could monitor our thoughts and feelings and replace them with thoughts that help stop feelings of love. Over time we can feel ourselves making the shifts to stop the pain.
I believe there is a place to feel grateful that there once was love, whether real or imagined, between two people. After all, love is an amazing gift that needs to be cherished. At the same time, it is important to know that sometimes we need to reduce and even extinguish our feelings of love for someone to protect ourselves and reduce our experiences of betrayal, abandonment or other forms of hurt. The pandemic may make this process extra difficult but also may help us become more aware of who is safe to love and who we may need to separate ourselves from.
Invitation for Reflection
- Take a mental inventory of people in your life that you love. How does that love manifest itself? Is the love reciprocal?
- Are there people you have had to fall out of love with? What caused you to need to do this? What did you do to lessen or extinguish that love?
- Is there anyone you need to separate from because you realize the love is toxic for you? How can you make the process intentional? How can you get some support from others to walk with you as you go through this painful but necessary process?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute