Friday, March 16, 2007

Letter to a friend

The daughter of a dear friend of mine recently went through a rough time. Her husband left her, and she was distraught. I don’t know all the details. . . And yet I do. Wouldn’t you think that something as common as romantic rejection would make us all brothers and sisters - united in our caring and understanding about each others’ pain? Well, that’s how it should be, anyway.

My friend has been such a help to me that I wanted to try to help her daughter, and maybe help all of you folks as well. If it helps you, use it. I know I will.

Dear friend,

I recently heard about your bad news. It brought back memories of similar things that have happened to me. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

The most important thing I can tell you is something you may already know. You are going to be okay. Because the one you love has gone, it can feel like the end of the world, and that you will never love again. But do not forget where love comes from. It was in your heart all along. Your beloved helped bring it out, but it was already within you.

Our society does not place value on love of self. We just sort of assume that everyone has it. But everyone does not. Learning to love myself has been one of the most difficult challenges in my life. Why? Because often, no one is helping me do it. But through practice, I can do it and have been doing it. And through doing it, I have learned about myself and about love. I have refined a strength that few people seem to have.

It’s interesting how the stereotype of the “macho” guy makes guys seem tough and rugged and independent. But if this were true, why do these guys get married? Why don’t they just stay out there on the range like Marlboro men? Because they’re human, and they need love just like everyone else. The pain you feel is part of that humanity. It is the price we pay for loving, and it explains why so many people seem unable to love. It’s more like “unwilling.” They don’t want to get hurt again.

As you know, much of romantic love involves “give and take.” The problem arises when one of the people playing the “game” is gone. How do you play catch when there’s nobody there to catch the ball? That’s the struggle we face. We don’t want to have to change the rules of the game. The idea of “playing catch with yourself” sounds ridiculous. And yet we must, at least for a little while. It’s not quite as ridiculous as it seems. It just seems strange because we’ve never actually played the game this way.

You may indeed marry again. In fact, knowing how much you are loved, it’s likely. But one thing is certain - you will definitely LOVE again. That wonderful love will be there no matter what. And this time it will be better, because it will be by your own choice. Again, remember where love comes from. When you play the game this time, you will always catch the ball.

No matter who you find, that person will always be secondary to the person who is most important in your life - you. Your husband can and should do many wonderful things. But you can not and should not expect your husband to meet all of your emotional needs. (Any more than you could meet every single one of his emotional needs!) There is nothing that any man, woman or child on this planet can do to make you feel loved - unless you are able to love yourself first.

This is the great paradox. To feel love from others, we must love them first. And to love them first, we must love ourselves first.

The beautiful poem “After A While” by Veronica Shoffstall sums this up so perfectly. I want to share it with you now, with the “or a man“ line added for my own sake. :)

After A While ©1971 Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't always mean security.

And you begin to learn
that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman (or a man),
not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.

And you learn
that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn...

I know all this can sound difficult. I have certainly not found many people who can do it. I have, however, found many people who would rather spend the rest of their lives complaining about what a horrible spouse they have, and why did I ever marry this person, etc. Interestingly, they never divorce! For divorce would require a strength that they don’t have. You certainly do not have to live a life like that. You can plant your own garden now.

Regardless of what happens to you, you can always carry with you the loving feelings you have. I know your family cares for you, and as someone who’s been there, I do as well. We are behind you in this. You are not alone. We have all gone through this in some way. “After a while” was written by someone who walked the same path you did.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the book, “How To Be Your Own Best Friend”:

“Everything you do is richer and fuller when love is there. But love is not always there, and how you feel about yourself the times there isn’t someone around to receive and return your love has a lot to do with how rewarding the experience of love is when you have it.”

May the love of your friends, family and God be with you for all time. I know your love is already strong enough to accept all of ours. Your love will always be there.

Yours very truly,


For a little bit more about love & self-love, you might enjoy these two posts of mine. The first involves my “neighbor” and a certain striped tiger.


The following is a true story. I survived. And I’m still friends with the people involved. And I can still love them.