It’s been said that there are two great disappointments in life: not marrying the love of your life – and marrying the love of your life.
Thirty or forty years have passed since I first heard that truism and, perhaps because of the arrogance of youth or the ignorance of the same, I thought I knew what it meant. Now I know I was wrong back then, or at least partially wrong.
The pain and disappointment of not marrying the love of your life is fairly obviously. He or she is “the one that got away” or left you or was taken from you somehow. The disappointment grows out of the rich soil of fantasies and illusions you have nurtured and still nurture over the years. You harbor a longing love for the memory of a person frozen in time, a golden aura of beauty and bliss surrounding them and expanding with age. Powerful feelings radiate from this memory every time you reflect on him or her. A part of your heart and a willingness to be unashamedly naked before them – emotionally far more than physically – remains locked in a precious vault of comforting dreams with the memory of moments that now exist only in the deep recesses of your being.
It is this latter development that creates such a painful disappointment. So tied to the dream are you that you can never really be fully present with the person you do have. It matters little to you whether or not you are the love of your partner’s life. You are haunted by the soft memory of the love of your life that no longer is within your reach, lost to you except through a veil of reminiscence. You may look upon your actual partner with compassion and sympathy or with disgust and scorn because they do not possesses the intoxicating power to make your head swim, to bathe you in a warm flood of endorphins, to submerge you in an ecstasy that is more remembered than real.
You are certain that your life is diminished because of the disappointment of not marrying the love of your life.
But it is the second great disappointment – that of marrying the love of your life – that I was wrong about or ignorant of. I originally thought it was disappointing because he or she, for all the promise and presence of unending love, did not turn out to be who you imagined they would be in your happy fog of youthful romanticism. Failures and disappointments that can only be known or revealed or developed in marriage insidiously begin to spread throughout you, eating away at the joy you were certain you’d possess without limit on the other side of the altar and beyond the excited words spoken in unfounded confidence before a witnessing crowd that included God Himself.
Finding out who that love of our life really is, however, is not the second great disappointment. This is where I was wrong.
The second great disappointment – and it is the greater of the two – is marrying the love of your life and then discovering that you are not the person you thought you were. You fail the very person you only and always wanted to care for and make happy. This is a tragedy that they suffer and you witness. The mirror reflects your face and it is the face of someone who has failed, who knows they have failed, and lives with regrets and sorrow.
Your love – which felt so inexhaustible and unchanging in your mind long ago – fails you at critical moments, lost like a shadow in a dark room of pain and sorrow. You stand as a tragic perpetrator and witness to the disillusionment of your partner even as he or she watches the recurring train wreck with you from the other side of the tracks. There is no undoing the pain suffered and inflicted, no rescuing the promise of true, enduring love. It is death by a thousand paper cuts to the heart. It is felt within and seen without.
This is no less true or tragic even when you did not marry the love of your life. They were the trusting lover, the innocent believer, the collateral damage of your immature and misdirected love. They did not know, at least at the outset, that they would compete for years against a memory of love lost, against a ghostly other who was perfect only in your foolish beliefs and star-struck eyes.
Even so, the disappointment is not only or primarily the pain of discovering your failure. It is the penetrating realization of the damage you’ve done to another human being who trusted you. It doesn’t matter if your partner is the love of your life or not: the damage done is at times overwhelming incredible. And while there is forgiveness and moving forward and hope and every other positive thing you can come up with, you can’t undo what you’ve done. Their pain looms in your memory as a horrific monument to your selfishness and smallness.
Perhaps, in the end, there are two great disappointments in life, but they are not what I once thought them to be. It is not disappointment in another but in yourself s that is so disturbing. Knowing better but failing to do better. Failing, in short, to love another for who they are.
Is it really possible to love another so deeply and completely that you do not inflict your dreams and hopes upon them? In this life? Is it in itself sufficient for a felt joy that travels with you through life? No, no, and no.
You are made for relationship: a deep, abiding, flawless relationship with another “that answers back to us,” to use a biblical description. It stands within your grasp in your mind.
But not in this life. One day, maybe, but not today.