Of gods and ex-boyfriends

Joey Garcia

Why do girls put so much of themselves into relationships? My sister was dating someone for a year. He broke it off, saying that he wanted time to figure stuff out and wanted to do it on his own. My sister barely came out of her room for weeks, which resulted in her getting fired from her job and bombing her classes. She calls and sends texts to her ex-boyfriend 40 times a day, telling him she needs to talk. When he ignores her, she posts crazy things on Facebook. I tried to talk to her, but she just tells me that I don’t understand. What’s up?

Your sister has confused romantic fantasies with the reality of love. Her behavior is symptomatic of a dangerous series of beliefs: A person is not complete without a romantic partner, a relationship in which a person felt cared for and said (or was told) “I love you” must last a lifetime, and refusing to let go is a sign of true love. These hyperboles are threaded through popular songs and movies and through poetry and novels to entertain us. But extreme dramatic arcs (think of Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You”) can also inspire obsession. That’s because our unhealthy egos insist that what we’re hearing, seeing or reading is not just entertainment, it’s evidence of passionate, real and lasting love. Of course, that’s rarely true.

The deeper problem is that your sister harbors a yawning emptiness in her own heart that cannot be filled by a person. It can only be filled by her own love of and esteem for herself. The pain of heartbreak is a call to grow spiritually. She must learn the joy of being alone without succumbing to loneliness. When she does, her desperate behavior will end. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Mahayana Buddhist monk and author, says: “The moment you see how important it is to love yourself, you will stop making others suffer.” I would add that when we love ourselves, we suffer less, too.

Your sister has made a god of her ex-boyfriend, and that means she is failing to see him as fully human. Everyone “has both flowers and garbage inside,” says Hanh. As long as your sister continues to worship her ex-boyfriend and the relationship she experienced with him, her pain will persist. So, what can you do? Be love to her. In Hanh’s words: “Be present. Listen. Respect. Encourage.” It’s especially important that you encourage her to see a counselor. She needs a neutral third party to help her wake up.

My guy friends are important to me, but every time one of them gets with someone, I’m kicked to the curb. My relationship with these guys is not romantic at all, and I have no interest in any of them in that way. I just don’t understand why our friendship doesn’t continue normally when they have girlfriends. I’ve dropped hints about this, but I not sure how to bring it up without sounding like I’m complaining or jealous.

You can’t control how other people see you. If you know who you are, you won’t be too concerned if one of your friends labels you as whiny or jealous. That said, try not to see yourself as displaced, either. When a guy friend starts hanging out a lot with someone new, be happy for him. Clock time is limited: Most people shift their commitments and obligations to make space for someone new. It’s not a diminishment of you, unless you choose to believe it is. And please, stop dropping hints. If you care about these guys and yourself, be authentic. Address the issue directly and without blame. Honest communication is a key to good friendship.

Meditation of the week
“Comparison leads to violence,” said actress Kathryn Grody, wife of actor Mandy Patinkin. Can you accept your uniqueness?

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