For a very long time, I wondered how this would end. Would there be a dramatic climax? Or would love just slowly and quietly die from lack of tending?
It’s hard to even know what to call it anymore. It hasn’t been a relationship for a long time. It was a hope. Fondest dream. Futile faith in what a love might be? Fantasy, maybe?
Of all the things I imagined for seven years or so, I never imagined that it could end as sour grapes. But now that the hurt of lost love has faded into vague resentment instead, I can’t help but think, “I wouldn’t have wanted her anyway.”
I laugh bitterly at myself and wonder whether I tried to fool myself for years or if I’ve been trying to fool myself more recently. I’m not sure I would know when I’ve been most honest with myself — then or now — much less what was really best for all involved.
All I can do is point to Aesop’s fable called, “The Fox and the Grapes.” Do you remember the story?
If you’ve forgotten the story that you surely heard in childhood, here’s how it goes. The versions that we read as children were longer and had embellishments which weren’t in the original, but here’s a translation of the concise Latin version:
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked, ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
When I was driven by love for a woman who I couldn’t have, I wouldn’t have imagined being able to see her in this way.
In my mind, she was perfect. Or as perfect as a human could get. I ignored evidence to the contrary. I ignored the contradictions between her words and her actions. I made excuses for the things which hurt me. I had faith that she would ultimately prove herself to be the woman I believed her to be.
I saw what she could be. I saw what we could be. And I wanted that.
I’ve written before about the realization that the end of love is something like the breaking of a fever. Something can seem all-consuming and devastating, but one day the fever breaks and the fever is gone. You suddenly start to recover, even though you thought before that you never could.
I’ve felt my fever breaking for a long time, but I didn’t want to give up on what I believed. I was so sure. I even had her words saying she believed the same things. I couldn’t reconcile all of that faith with the evidence in front of me.
I slowly admitted to myself all the things I hadn’t wanted to admit. I gradually realized all the clues that had been there which I hadn’t wanted to see. And then there was one time when I finally consciously allowed the thought in my mind.
“If she’s really who she appears to be now, I wouldn’t have wanted her anyway.”
And that’s when I laugh at myself. Am I like the fox who was incapable of gaining the grapes which he badly wanted and needed? I don’t know.
I do know that I can’t speak disparagingly of her. She was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known. (It’s been years since I’ve even seen a photo, so who knows what she looks like now?) She was bright and funny and talented and driven. She had a good heart.
I would have done anything for her. I would have given her anything she wanted, even if it was unfair or unreasonable. There was no price in life that I wouldn’t have paid to have her.
I didn’t just imagine all the good things I saw in her. They were real. I simply couldn’t imagine she was capable of what she did. And now I look back on ways she acted and wonder if she was even capable of the love she promised. Was she always destined to love me and ask me to hope — to say, “Don’t give up on me” — and then to disappear?
I’m also wondering if all lost love ends in some version of the sour grapes story. When we fall in love, do we either get what we want or eventually convince ourselves that we didn’t want that person anyway? I don’t know the answer to that.
I can’t help but treasure the picture in my mind of what we could have been together. The idealistic voice in my head wants me to remember her that way and to honor the heart I once knew.
But the cynical and hurt voice says, “You wouldn’t have wanted her anyway.”
I want to listen to the first voice, but maybe the reality of losing love means I have no choice but to believe I wouldn’t have wanted her anyway. Maybe I’ll never know which voice is telling me the truth.