Dying for love

Three weeks of delirious rapture, three years of tears. Now he's back, but the divine spark is gone. Time to move on?

Published January 14, 2003 8:15PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm 30 years old, and three years ago I had my luscious, full and happy heart broken and stomped on until eventually it sounded its death knell. I fell in love with a man. Within two weeks of knowing him, I realized that I would spend the rest of my life with him happily. We were perfect for each other.

On our three-week "anniversary," he broke up with me, and for the next six months we corresponded sporadically while I pined, cried, didn't eat, dreamed, prayed, finally had to accept that he would never come around, and cut off all correspondence. The following six months were the worst. Every day I would come home with the expectation that he would have realized that I was the perfect woman for him ... to no avail. I heard not a peep from him.

The six months after that were even more dismal. I woke up every morning and had to remind myself that I would be without my one true love. For the next six months I just wallowed in despair until it kind of eventually clicked: I would never have this man I loved so much, and I would struggle for the rest of my life and, if I was lucky, maybe find someone who could only hope to be 10 percent of what this man was to me.

Then one day last year, he called me and we started dating again casually, one or two days a week ... Six months ago he introduced me to his family and told me he loves me and is now living with me. He tells me that he loves me six times a day, that I'm the perfect woman for him, and he jokes that the last three years were my fault: I should have told him that we were so perfect for each other. We're talking marriage and children.

The problem is that my heart is still cold. I know intellectually that he's the one for me and that I love him, but it hasn't reached my heart. I feel that I could leave him tomorrow and be perfectly fine. I grew so used to the idea that I would be alone forever -- had to rip the happy, fertile and comfortable idea of Love-plus-him out from the roots. I so want to get that feeling back, to feel the delirious, hot, insatiable and desperate desire for someone who, by a miracle, feels the same way and can't get enough of me.

What should I do?

Still Heartbroken

Dear Heartbroken,

That "delirious, hot, insatiable and desperate desire" is not likely to return with this man. So you have to know if that, precisely, is what you need, if there is some fundamental part of you that must have the fireworks, if it is your destiny, if you were put on this earth to howl and scream in ecstasy the way you did when you first got together. It's possible that you were or at least that, for now, you must seek out that kind of experience. Perhaps it cleanses something in your soul; perhaps it is the only way you truly know you are alive.

If that is the case, staying with this man might kill something inside you. It might be an abnegation of your true nature, a turning away. You must not do that. You must not stay with him if to do so is to give in to a kind of grayness, because then you just add more grayness to the world, and the world does not need more grayness, and it will not be grateful to you for your gift of grayness, and it will not reward you for it.

Was this initial experience with him a one-time, life-changing experience? Did it change you permanently? Or did it simply leave you thirsty for more experiences of the same intensity? Did your profound and passionate response to him convince you of some eternal goodness and rightness that lies inside this man? Or did it convince you only that the experience itself is something you need in your life? In other words, is it the experience of erotic ecstasy that you need, or is it this particular man, even if he no longer gives you that experience? If it is the experience you need, and if its intensity depends on newness, novelty, uncertainty and risk, you will probably have to dedicate yourself to finding this experience again with a new man, and when it fades, you will have to move on to yet another man. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are honest with your partners, and you have the emotional maturity to endure a series of hellos and goodbyes.

That raises yet another question: Is this a true hunger for a certain kind of experience, or is it some kind of addiction? For some people, one out-of-the-body erotic experience might be enough to leave them permanently persuaded of the majesty of life and the rightness of passion; for others, it might be just a kind of spiritual aerobics, to be practiced daily or weekly. And for others it might become an all-consuming addiction. How will you know? An act you do regularly can be an act of maintenance, or it can be an addiction. How can you tell? You may have to take the risk of seeking this experience to find out whether it is just a bottomless addiction, or a spiritual quest.

Many people, myself included, at one time not too long ago took LSD and had experiences that were not easy to integrate into the rest of what we took to be reality. They were experiences that left one with a palpable sense of an alternate world operating just outside the world we know. Visits to that world were quite taxing and left one exhausted and sometimes unable to function well upon return.

The intensity of the experience would diminish as the novelty wore off; the jeweled telepathic beasts born of the sun and glistening in dew became routine. So it became a question of asking what place this mind-shattering experience had in one's life overall. Many chose to be transformed by the experience and to then move on; the task then was to remember the awe, to carry away a sense of reverence for the infinite, a corner of a speck of a grain that had been revealed for an instant.

This Dionysian erotic thing might be like that. It might be an experience that taught you an awe for the intensity and magnitude of your own passions, your own erotic being, something that happened between you and this man to signal that you belong together. Or it might be something you need all the time to feel whole. If you need it all the time, accept the fact that it probably will not return with this man, and you can't settle down yet. Accept the risk and move on.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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