Only love can break your heart

by Mick Rhodes |

People sometimes look at the tattoo on my left shoulder that says, “Love hurts,” and say, “No it doesn’t.” I always reply, “Good for you.”

Love is the very best stuff, to be sure. It can heal, soothe, and make us feel safe. But it can come at a steep cost. Neil Young was right: only love can break your heart.

Being loved has always come easy for me. Born lucky, I felt it unconditionally, along with kindness and safety, straightaway. Mom raised me alone, no dad, no siblings, just her and I (I hear her in my head right now admonishing me to use ‘her and I,’ not ‘me and her.’). I was very, very lucky to have been born into a tiny but loving family. Mom had my back, always.

I’ve also found loving to be quite effortless. Romantic love has nearly always been part of my adult life. Some say love is an addiction, and maybe it is for some, including me. It’s a vice I am happy to live with.

This past June, I entered into (lucky) marriage number three. Being with Lisa has made clear my lifetime of romantic love was my education; I’ve graduated now, and I’m in this rare spot of unending fascination and admiration, of wanting to do good for someone who is a true partner, one I just happen to be ravenous for as well.

Our relationship, which is going on 10 years now, has been tested over and over by outside forces, and has only grown stronger. In my fifties, I somehow stumbled into this rarest of all love. I love her more today than I ever have, and am mad to make her happy.

One of COURIER editor Mick Rhodes’ tattoos reads “Love Hurts.” Tattoo by Matthew Wheeler, Old Glory Tattoo, Placentia, CA.

For me, love is essential. Without it, I wither. But like all things worth doing, there are risks.

A broken heart can hurt more than any physical injury, and in fact can cause real-life physical health damage. With any luck, the wound scars over, and the pain becomes part of who we are. No heartbreak is ever forgotten, only subsumed into the permanent record of the soul. Heartbreak, hopefully, ultimately becomes wisdom.

After struggling for nearly a decade to understand, treat, and love my way through the most devastating heartbreaks in my own life, I’ve come to realize I will just have to live with them and move on.

Boundaries, therapists have told me, are how we protect our peace, among other things. I’ve always said the words, but only recently truly understood their meaning. It’s a tough but necessary job, establishing what you will and will not accept from a loved one, or anyone for that matter. Telling someone they’ve crossed that line and there will be consequences, especially a loved one, can be traumatic for all involved.

But we get one life, and it’s ours. And though I believe loving someone is the highest form of human expression, even loved ones sometimes need clear boundaries if we are to lead peaceful lives.

Many of us have friends or family members who have experienced these sorts of problems. Addiction and/or mental illness are often at the core of these fractured relationships.

Boundaries aren’t a panacea. But when they’re clearly articulated and solid, at least half the people in the conflict can live their lives in an attenuated version of peace. Leftover is the unremitting sadness of knowing someone dear to you is out there, damaged, unwilling to be helped, and that despite oftentimes years of Herculean effort and self-sacrifice, our will to protect, to advocate for, is just not enough.

Now approaching 60, I’ve accepted I am in control of just one thing in my life: myself. Letting go of the version of a relationship that no longer functions in a healthy manner is part of this realization. These relationships still exist, but in a new dimension in which I am safe from further trauma.

With these new boundaries has come some shame. The relationships I speak of aren’t transitory or temporary. They are lifelong ties. It’s profoundly disheartening, even embarrassing to admit that despite many years of effort, I have not been able to mend them.

I lean into Lisa’s love, she never fails to support and affirm. If not for her, and my best friend Christine, I would be unsure of myself, unmoored, and may otherwise spend my life chasing my tail in an effort to solve this unsolvable puzzle.

Christine has always told me, “When someone tells you how they feel about you, believe them.” Over the past several chaotic years this advice has rattled around in my head through all manner of trauma and conflict. It takes a complete release of the folly of control to truly trust its wisdom. I think it’s excellent advice, and I’ve turned to it a lot lately.

Letting go of control doesn’t mean giving up hope. I’ll always hope for a better day, a better relationship, for a change in circumstances that might lead to healing, or maybe even that very best possible outcome, forgiveness.

For now, I choose peace over all else. I have kids to raise. Chaos is the enemy of peace, and peace is what they require. I’ll do whatever it takes to get there, because we get but this one life, and I’m intent on loving as best I can while I’m here, and leaving them with a serviceable blueprint on how to live their own loving lives.

After all, love is the very best stuff.


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