I was recently talking with a good friend. She had broken up with her boyfriend—well, actually, to be precise, he had broken up with her. Suddenly and in a way that hurt her feelings quite a bit. A month later she was back with him. So obviously, I wanted to know what made her go back.
What she told me was something like this: “Well, I thought about it and I realized that I haven’t felt this way about anyone in a long time. It’s the first time that somebody dumped me like that and I still wanted to be with him after that. Normally if somebody did that I’d just walk away and say ‘forget it.’ But in this case I didn’t want to walk away, so I figured things are different this time.”
Do you hear what I heard in that? Lots of “I” statements. “I felt” this way. “I still wanted to be with him.” Every reason she had for going back to him had something to do with her, and how she felt.
I didn’t hear her say anything about him, and whether or not he was worthy of another chance. So I asked her. Will he do this to you again? What does this say about him, what kind of guy he is, how he reacts under pressure? She didn’t really answer. Her feelings were clearly doing most of the thinking.
I don’t think she’s unusual in this. I think we all do this. I think we’re conditioned to do it, from the time we’re young. Relationships are about feelings. We’re supposed to follow our feelings. If your feelings are “true,” then the relationship is good.
I know I did this when I was younger. I remember being in a typing class, and suddenly “realizing” that I “loved” someone who wasn’t particularly good for me. But I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask the next logical question: “Is this a person worthy of my love?” No, I just leapt ahead to “I have feelings of love him, therefore I need to be with him.”
In my youthful inexperience, I had no idea what “love” really was. Real “in love,” I’ve always said, is when the heart and the head agree. The heart is excited about the person, but the brain also knows that the person is worthy of that love—reliable, faithful, wants what is bests for me, etc.
These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves when we’re looking at the possibility of a romantic relationship with somebody. Sure our feelings play a role. But only in the negative—if I don’t want to be with somebody I should probably listen to that. But the mere fact that I do want to be with him, doesn’t mean I should.
So stop endlessly exploring your feelings. Spend a little less time looking inward, and a lot more time looking outward, at the flesh-and-blood reality of this other person. Does he or she really care about me? Is he or she even capable of caring about someone in the way a husband and a wife should? Is this person emotionally healthy? Is this person trustworthy enough not to hurt me? Would this person make a good parent?
If the answer to any of those is “no,” then your feelings are irrelevant. You’re not moving forward, and they may not like it. But they’re going to have to follow along.
They have no choice in the matter.
Do you have a question for Mary Beth Bonacci? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.