On Love, Sweet Love: What’s Up With Commitment—and Endings—in Our Lives These Days

On that most maddening of subjects that I’ll call for the moment love and relationship, it feels right to begin with a small poem. But it’s not your gramma’s “Roses are red” kind.

I Knew a Good Man, Darling

I knew
a good man
who couldn’t
relish spring
and the sweetness
in his garden.

Relax, my
love, enjoy,
I teased,
laughed, whispered,

I realized
a piece
a promise:

I am yours
and will
never leave you,

Or, sweeter:

I’ll only go
if you
want me
if you
want to go,
I’ll say,

Teresa Young

Love is a helluva drug

Because the dance of love and relationship really is like nothing else. Love really is a helluva drug. There’s nothing more mysterious than love.  Nothing more maddening. Nothing that’s ultimately more of a secret.

Yes, I’ve been feeling for years that every love relationship is a secret. No one outside any two-person tango can truly know the nuances of how the partners move together. No one really knows the relationship’s inner climate, including its inevitable dark patches and desert places. Whether or not it’s ultimately a place of mutual growth, of rest, of self-expression. Of comfort and delight. All that we hunger for and deserve. Though of course there are also certain toxic non-matches that become obvious to everyone.

But does a relatively constructive committed love relationship really have to be all the good stuff above? Or is commitment itself, that willingness, more important than partners being all things to each other? Indeed, is being “everything” to one soul even possible, or healthy?

You could also say that romantic love, relationship, and commitment are all separate topics. Though in modern western culture, where we’re so free to choose commitment and to change our hearts and minds, I say that successful, long-term, committed love is a rich, ever fascinating focus and goal. And note that I skipped the word marriage. Why leave any committed love relationships out?


Is being “everything” to one soul
even possible, or healthy?

That which ends also matters

Yes, let’s go there, to the fact that in the realm of love and relationship, many, many well-intentioned commitments end. There’s a normality to it all these days, though the stats aren’t actually as awful as the 50% divorce rate we’ve been hearing about for the past few decades. That’s partly because GenXers are staying together longer so far than boomers did, and millennials are proceeding with caution.

But we’re exploring so much in relationship these days, including or especially ourselves. Exploring our own growth. Along the way, committed relationships, for all their beautiful beginnings, do often end. And yes, I say those endings matter. They matter a great deal.

As daunting as this may sound in any given situation, I also say that it’s important that they’re done well, with respect for all parties. With kindness and gentleness, honoring both what was and what is. It’s possible. The truth really does set us free.

Of course, even aided by gentleness, endings burn like hell. The pain burns cleanest when we’re as kind to one another as possible in the process. It helps us heal. And heal we do.

Because life is long, and we want—we are determined—to love and be loved well. The truth is, our expectations are often astronomical! And just like every other form of freedom in our 21st century lives, we’re as free in the realm of love as we believe ourselves to be. Free to pursue what we want most.


It’s important that endings
are done well,
with respect
to all parties. It’s possible.

The how of it all matters

In the midst of our perhaps dizzying power of choice these days, I’m profoundly interested in how we care for one another and ourselves along the way. What’s more, I believe it’s one of our most important—most sacred—opportunities.

So I say this: If you’re in the throes of something immense in the realm of love, take your time. Get and stay attuned to what’s truly healthy for you and others. And proceed gently, oh, so gently, with everyone, including yourself.

Take the long view, with the goal of being satisfied with your approach when you look back on the present four or five years from now. Really. Sit with that a bit. Slow your roll while you reflect as deeply as possible. You can do it.

I often refer folks to the movie It’s Complicated with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. It’s a comedy, but there’s so much truth in it. What I love is that throughout the plot’s twists and turns, with all that’s ultimately to be and not to be, the emotional tone is gentle, gentle, gentle.

In such profound matters of the heart, I say we should aspire to the same these days. It’s time for that level of evolution for us as a species with so much freedom to do love and relationship however we choose.

Support matters

And very importantly, do call on the resources you need. Include some relationship coaching or therapy, even or especially for endings, along with your own individual coaching or therapy, and expert support for young ones.

Search for low-cost options if you need them. You and yours deserve any and all assistance at life-changing junctures, toward proceeding in healthy ways and minimizing trauma all around. One important point is to ensure that you don’t repeat painful lessons later because you jumped from relationship to relationship without actually learned whatever was to be learned.

Bottom line, regarding the sweet, maddening drug of love, challenge yourself. Make your best self lead. Then take comfort in your good work here on the wild, wonderful journey of 21st century life, with our immense freedom to make of it whatever we want most.

Teresa Young