She says she still loves him. Still wants him. Still treasures him above all others.
But she also spent half of our time at dinner tonight telling me the ways she wants to hurt him. She knows things about his business affairs that could hurt him if she revealed her secrets. There’s something he did recently that would embarrass him if his friends knew. She knows his secrets — and she’s trying to decide which of these terrible traps to spring.
She says she loves him. She says he means more to her than anything. But he has rejected her now — nicely, gently, but still a rejection — and this man who means everything to her must pay. She intends to hurt him.
I had dinner with this friend tonight. She had been engaged for six months until her love told her a month ago that he thought they were making a mistake. He was decent and kind, but he broke the engagement. He ended their relationship.
For weeks, I had offered no advice. I had just listened. But tonight, she asked me for advice.
I understand the way my friend feels. I know how much it hurts to lose the love you want. The love you need. The love you can’t go on without. I know the searing pain of that loss. The emptiness and despair.
For weeks, I have expressed my empathy about her feelings of loss, because I do know all of that. I’ve felt it more deeply than I want to admit. Loss of love has been responsible for the worst days of my life, especially in recent years.
But what my grieving friend is feeling right now isn’t love. I asked her — as gently as I knew how — whether she really loves this man or if she’s simply angry and hurt that she can’t have what she wants.
My friend has quickly gone out and started looking for a “replacement” for the man she loves. Her attitude is one I’ve heard before. I’ve even heard the joke she used about it tonight.
“The best way to get over one man is to get under another one, right?” she said at one point with a smile.
After she finally asked me what I thought — about what had happened and about what she should do about it — I had only two things to share with her.
First, I told her that if she genuinely loves this man, she wan’t going to find a substitute. If her heart really loves him — instead of just the idea of having a romantic companion — nobody else was going to be just as good.
I outlined a hypothetical scenario. I asked her to imagine that she discovered that this man who just broke up with her had an identical twin brother, maybe one he had known nothing about. I told her to imagine he looks and talks and acts and thinks just like her ex-fiancé. I asked if she would accept him as her new boyfriend, someone with whom to pursue love.
She laughed at my scenario, but said that would be perfect. As long as they were just alike — or even mostly alike — it wouldn’t make any difference to her.
I told her that isn’t love, because if you love someone, it’s not just the person’s look or achievements or personality or any outward attributes that matter. If you love someone, it’s because you love something specific about the heart of that one person. You might appreciate all the other things about the person, but if you really love someone, you love a heart that you see and feel and experience apart from all of those things.
She was dubious.
Second, I reminded her of something from my own life — a story she already knew. There’s someone who I love — above all others — but that person shocked and hurt me by not choosing me. I asked her to reverse our positions. I asked her whether she could imagine me wanting to hurt this woman in return.
She turned pale. It was as though something new struck her. She was silent for a minute.
“You would do anything in the world for her,” she whispered at last. “You don’t really think she’s ever coming back to you, but you want her to be happy more than anything else. Don’t you?”
She had seen where I was going without me having to push her.
If you genuinely love someone, you want that person to be happy — above all else — even if it means you can’t have what you need most. If you’re in such a position, you hope and pray that the love will one day die, that you’ll one day be released from the need to place her happiness above all else. But as long as love is alive, you can’t compromise. You can’t pretend. You can’t lie to yourself. And you can’t want anything but peace and happiness and joy for the one who your heart reveres above all others.
My friend started crying softly as she saw all this. We had finished eating long before, so we quietly left and went to sit in the car.
She cried and had trouble talking for awhile. She told me what a terrible person she’s been for plotting to hurt her ex. I reminded her that she’s just human. And she’s been hurt. I told her I understood why she felt that way.
But I reminded her that she has to decide what love means to her.
“Love is really easy when the person you love is giving you all you want,” I told her. “Anybody can do that. There’s no sacrifice. That sort of love has no meaning, because you’re just taking what you need. It’s easy. But sacrificial love means you’re willing to do the right thing and to put someone’s happiness first — even when it’s not convenient. If you love him, you will honor that love and grieve him — while you wish the best for him — until you can finally fall out of love with him, if that ever happens.”
Being hurt by someone you love is the most pain you can experience in this life, but how we react to that hurt tells us whether we know what real love is — or if we’re just immature children who know how to take but don’t know how to love.
Maybe my friend really did love this man. Maybe she’s just been so hurt that she had lost sight of that. I’m not certain yet.
All I know for sure is that if your heart truly loves a person, you will hope and pray every single day that the other person is happy and has peace. And you will also pray — as earnestly as you know how — that God will either bring the person back to you or else release you from this love which holds you as its eternal servant.
Real love means your world no longer revolves around you.