Blinded by love

What thwarts love more -- not being able to see or not being able to tell the truth? Plus: How long does it take to mend a broken heart?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 16, 2002 7:38PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm blind. Not the need-a-stick kind of blind, but the kind that allows me to function in the world mostly. Unfortunately some of the great pleasures of life are within my view, but not available to me. Like driving a car. Flirting in a bar. My vision is sort of like a Parisian fresco painting. I see no detail beyond a foot or so. Glasses enlarge that a few more feet, but without really solving the problem.

So what's my question, you ask? How do I, with wit and charm, present this bombshell on a potential mate? Let alone meet one using an ad, or even in person. When meeting women, it's a rare one who would actually sit and talk to me. Most, when fully understanding the ramifications of life without functional sight, walk away.

I am professional, articulate, can spell, and the rumors about other senses being stronger are very true.

Blind, but I Can See

Dear Blind,

Any potential Mrs. Blind will already be wondering if she can adapt: How will she feel always being the driver? Will she have to do all the decorating herself? Who will play catch with the kids? Can you go hiking, for instance, or to movies, or on long drives? If she likes you, there's no bombshell. She's beyond that already.

On the other hand, the women who seem to disappear the minute they observe your condition do not require an explanation, and it wouldn't help anyway. What are you going to do, shout it after them? "Come back! I'm not completely blind! Really! It's just that your face looks like a fresco painting!"

While potential mates are going to need detailed, experiential information, and those who show no interest do not require any explanation at all, there is a third case: the casual acquaintance you have just met, who as of yet is neither a confirmed potential mate nor the kind who steals money out of a blind man's cup. For such situations, consider drafting a standard, brief, lighthearted and witty explanation of your inability to see the taxi pulling up out front. You don't want to draw undue attention to your condition nor hide its severity. If it has a technical name, include that. If you have a favorite metaphor, such as that of the Parisian painting, you might use that, although you don't want to frighten people. And if any famous, admirable people have had what you've got, you might explain it briefly in those terms. Buckminster Fuller, for instance, the visionary inventor: I'm not sure if he had exactly what you've got, but he was severely nearsighted and it profoundly influenced the way he approached systems and problem-solving, because he saw the world in terms of large patterns.

Dear Cary,

How do you get over losing someone? Especially someone who wasn't really very good for you in the first place? Maybe it was because of his lack of warmth and ability to make a commitment that I fell so much in love with him (I just had to keep trying); maybe it was just that the sex was terrific. We went out together on and off for about six years and then he left me for a much younger woman, saying that he had decided that he now wanted to have kids. (I'm now too old.)

They have been living together for over a year now and I have tried to get him out of my head, but it is difficult. I have tried dating other people, I have made positive changes in many areas of my life, I have had therapy and feel much better about myself, but sometimes, especially if I see him somewhere, I still feel terrible. Jealous and sad. And how will I cope if they have a child?

How long does it take and is there any way of speeding that process of letting go? Or does it always hurt, just getting more bearable over time? I have never been like this about anyone before, but then I guess, I've never been dumped by anyone I loved before.

A Little Blue

Dear Blue,

It takes a long time, that's all I know. It takes longer than it seems like it should. I learned a few years ago this thing -- really it was another kind of suffering that went on longer than it should have, but it applies to suffering over a lost romance too. I found that I was prepared for a certain amount of uncomfortableness. I found out that I had in my head a certain expectation of how long any given uncomfortableness should last. Maybe it's a physical thing: We know how long wounds take to heal. I don't know. But I do know that it was fairly easy to bear the uncomfortableness during the period when it seemed reasonable: Sure, something bad happened, I should feel bad for a while. But then: There was a whole new period where the uncomfortableness kept going on month after month even though it was time for it to be over now! And that was where it got hard. That was where true surrender had to occur. That was where I was dragging, day after day, burdened, crushed, oppressed, truly just slogging it out. And every day during that period I would tell myself, This is something new, buddy! This is uncharted territory! I can't tell you how long this is going to last, we just have to hang tough!

It did end, gradually, unspectacularly, and things are better now. But it took longer than I thought it was supposed to. And I think that second period is the one you have to pay the most attention to, because that is the one that seems wrong. Everybody knows you feel bad for a while. But not many people will tell you that it always goes on longer than you think it should. That second phase, in my opinion, should get more attention. That is the one you need to be aware of: It's as immutable as the other phase, but it's qualitatively different; it's not even so much about loss as it is about the inner struggle to accept the loss. What I mean is that the suffering itself consists in your believing that the suffering should be over.

Dear Cary,

I've been reading your column since you started writing it (I read Mr. Blue pretty religiously too), therefore I know that you get a lot of letters like the one you're about to get from me -- letters from young adult women or men with fearsome issues and troubling doubts all boiling down to the quintessential plaint, "Yes, but does he/she love me? I mean, are we meant to be?"

I've been with my boyfriend for just over five years, and have held him as a dear, fast friend for more than eight. We've witnessed and experienced each other's adult lives in bloom and in drought, all the sorrow, joy, silliness and seriousness from age 18 (we're 27 now). Best friends forever. You know how it is.

We live together. We have settled in. We have pets. We are comfortable. But I want more.

He is not much of a talker. He is insecure and often cynical. He is loving, but does not say "I love you." He surprises me with little kindnesses, the kind only those close to your heart can know. He brings me joy. We are more alike than we are different. The words that come to mind when I think of our relationship are "natural," "cherished," "honest." But I mention the word "marriage" or "future" and he balks. He uses his parents' nasty divorce as a crutch for emotional unreadiness. And recently, I don't even know if he's afraid of commitment, bored of the relationship, tired of my body, or what. We haven't had sex in months, and when we've talked about it he assures me that it's not a lack of attraction or love, but a mysterious loss of libido.

He's shockingly thoughtless at times. I feel that while he's not trying to drive me away, if I left him he would simply think "it's about time" -- meaning that he deserved it, there's nothing he could do about it, he's just a bad boyfriend and a bad person. These sentiments arise in our fights -- I yell, point out that I need some understanding, some sort of communication -- he says he knows he doesn't do right by me, he'll try to change, but this is just the terrible, inconsiderate, selfish person he is. A major cop-out, in other words. I'm cruelly blessed with a short-term emotional memory, so we make up and it's all peaches and cream until his next perceived offense.

So, yes, does he love me like I love him, or like he used to love me? Can we be together? Is he actually trying to get rid of me without out-and-out breaking up with me? Am I being unrealistic, melodramatic and intolerant? I need some resolution on this, and I don't know how to get it from him. I'll do anything I can to make this relationship work. I don't want to imagine my life without him.

Another Sad Girl In Love

Dear Sad Girl,

It's possible that your two biggest problems are that you will do anything to make the relationship work, and that you don't want to imagine your life without him. If I were you, I would imagine your life without him in graphic and precise detail. And I would not do anything to make it work. In other words, let go and see what happens. Stop trying to hold it together.

I want to talk about him for a minute, and then I want to get back to you and your yearning, because whatever is going on with him is important, but it's not the cause of your problem. He is probably having a hard time. He may be depressed. He may be terrified. The prospect of marrying you and thus repeating his parents' perhaps traumatic and sad relationship may have paralyzed him. He might not even know he's paralyzed. You're apparently at some threshold, and he may sense this; he may sense that he is supposed to want to carry you over this threshold into some new room; he may fear that if he doesn't carry you over it you may drag him through it. He may be blocking out the whole thing because it's too terrifying, because of the parent thing. There's nothing you can do about that; he has to work his way through it, and he could probably use some help from a therapist in getting through it.

But you! This yearning you have for more: There's such a thing as eternal longing. With some of us it just literally never goes away. That's why we have to turn to art or religion or all-absorbing work, or danger, or crime, or mathematics, or start a lawn care business, or collect tropical fish: We just can't stop wanting, wanting, wanting! You may be stuck with that. It's the kind of thing no relationship can fix.

What can happen -- and what may be happening with you -- is that, while no relationship can fix your yearning, you can distract yourself and pretend to fix your yearning by trying to fix the relationship. And when someone is doing that, it feels very strange and frightening to the other person, because they feel like they're being worked on. The other person becomes like your patient: There's nothing wrong with me! Oh yes there is, and I'm going to fix it! And the odd thing is, the person is not actually your patient, but a symptom of your disease! It becomes kind of sick and twisted, and sometimes the only cure is to remove the person like a gall bladder.

So try imagining yourself without him. Get some distance. Try not fixing it. Encourage him to get some help so he can be happy.

Dear Cary,

I'm 33, female and until four days ago I was engaged to a great guy. Or at least I thought he was a great guy. We had just started living together and I poked around in his things (yes, I know that is bad) and found his divorce papers. He had never told me he was married. When I confronted him, he played it off as a little quickie nothing. I asked him if there was anything else I didn't know. Turns out he lied about his education (community college instead of four-year college and an MBA), his past jobs, the success of his current one, his assets.

Worst of all, I still love him. I'm betrayed, certainly, and righteously angry, but also aware that people make mistakes. I want us to live apart for a year and date. We had only been dating six months before we moved in together. Is this a wise idea? Should I date other people? Can I really ever trust him again (OK, I know only I can answer that one).

Also, I am angry at myself. For letting someone in and crowing to my family and friends about this amazing, successful, wonderful man I was going to marry. Even if I never trust him again, how can I trust anyone? I know everyone lies but if someone lies to this extent is it a mental illness? He has agreed to go to therapy but I still have my doubts.

Loves a Liar

Dear Loves a Liar,

I'm so impressed. You did exactly the right thing. While not knowing the answers to the existential questions this event raises, you were able to see the facts clearly and make the right decision. Now you just have to make sure you follow through. Move out. Date other men. Don't let him dissuade you. And, while you're at it, check your bank account for mysterious withdrawals. Cancel all your credit cards. Apply for new ones if you need them.

Don't worry about his rehabilitation. He'll be fine. But he's too dangerous for you.

I find it very interesting that you say that everyone lies. Everyone does not lie, at least as far as I know. You seem quite intelligent, but you did not pick up any signals that this man was lying. Perhaps your belief that everyone lies, that it's OK to lie, allowed you to ignore the signs of his untruthfulness. Perhaps you wanted so badly for this particular drama to be true that you engineered your own suspension of disbelief. You may need to adopt more of a zero-tolerance policy.

This disappointment could take some time to get over. While you are sorting it out, consider how others decide what is true. In journalism, for instance, we check sources and documents; we consider motives. We don't necessarily assume people are lying, but we take a skeptical stance and try to construct a durable, sturdy truth from many sources, a truth that others can examine and understand why it looks credible to us, even if it turns out to be flawed. In having to explain to others what we believe to be true, we are constantly testing what we say. If it sounds incredible, it often is.

I don't know if this guy has a mental illness or if he is simply a cad, a loser, a future Enron executive. But I do know you made the right decision: Get away from him.

Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Sex Since You Asked