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I want to end my relationship but I cant, because I love him

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What better time to address the intelligence defeating, rationality obliterating emotional surge we call love, than St Valentines Day?

First dilemma My boyfriend says he is not sure what we are doing or if were even heading down the marriage route. We have been together for four years and he has hurt me a few times with arguments, things he says in anger and how he has acted towards me in the past. But I am scared of losing him and I do love him.

Second dilemma Ive been with my boyfriend for one year. When its just the two of us we have a great time. Hes had no long-term relationships, but lots of one-night stands. Weve had a few arguments because of his lack of commitment to the relationship. Whenever we go out I feel humiliated because he stares at other women until they make eye contact. He doesnt flirt openly when Im around, but he does talk about other women. I would dump him, but I love him.

Mariella replies Of course you both do! But how many mistakes we make using only the rationale of our hormonal responses. Thank you for putting love on the menu, and the myriad acts of self-harm we commit in its name. Picking a partner is the biggest choice we make in our life, but our selection is often based on animal instincts. Instincts which let us down more often than not. (See war, greed, envy, violence and sloth for further evidence.) The only instinct I trust is the one that tells you when something isnt right. So separating the many strings that make up the knotted cord of passion is as challenging as it is invaluable.

What better time to do so than now, while the L-word is in the air? Our annual orgy of conspicuous romancing where, wallet in hand, we declare our love via saccharine cards and balloon hearts, overpriced flowers and waist-thickening chocolates is upon us. That inescapable, seductive, intelligence defeating, rationality obliterating emotional surge that says were in love is being celebrated across the land, and only a sour old crone like me would throw salt into the open wound that heartache makes.

When youre in love youre a victim so the mythology goes helpless to defend yourself against the onslaught of biological busyness. Good love is what you run home to its the chest you bury your head in, the space where you summon the nerve to step back into the world; it makes you happy and whole, not insecure, lacking in self-worth and feeling that you need to try harder. Valentines Day is a lottery, and winning tickets are rare. For all the fully sated love addicts out there whose lovers live up to expectations, there are the many millions for whom the day is simply a reminder of what they havent got or highlights the flaws of the partner they couldnt help falling in love with.

When you get to midlife, like me, you get asked a lot about regrets and rarely about future ambitions. It happens so surreptitiously you barely notice the day it switches. I used to reply that regret was a wasted emotion, but nowadays what I regret is all the time I wasted trying to mould unlikely boyfriends into perfect partners.

What is it about the human condition that makes our pulse rate and pheromone levels rise in direct contrast to the level of attention were paid? For too many of us love is making excuses for the perfectly functional, capable human beings who fail to be functional and capable around us. Why do we bother? Its a squandering of emotional energy most common in youth, when we feel we have an excess of time for everything. Even with the clock on our side its a period when we should be gorging on freedom and fun instead of fretting about some will-o-the-wisp who hasnt called, has failed to show up or has spent the previous evening gazing at someone from afar or drooling over them.

Luckily you do grow out of such masochistic tendencies, but its hard not to regret the decades that flitted past where every scornful act, every insult to your intelligence, every crime against your confidence was embraced as a challenge rather than registered as a stop sign.

My favourite Valentines Day was 25 years ago, when I received an anonymous handwritten copy of the lyrics to These Foolish Things. That selfless act of devotion with no regard for a result may be the most romantic thing that will ever happen to me!

Luckily we live in an overpopulated world what I realise now is that there was no need to get hung up on one single human being when there are billions to choose from. Thats not the message Cupid is firing off today, but its possibly the truest thing youll hear. When it comes to choosing a companion for life we should none of us be contenting ourselves with bare bones; in matters of the heart there really are plenty more fish in the sea.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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