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When Relationships Hurt Too Much

I know plenty of people who truly are happy alone, or perhaps with one or two other friends in the whole world. 

And I know lots of people who invest in everyone around them, in their marriages In their children, in team members at work, in our collaborations. It seems so obvious that we really should desire to be among the latter, gregarious group, than the former. But we also know that relationships hurt.

When I first became a father of a two year-old, I grappled with the fact that a piece of my heart was attached to an idiotic toddler who was perfectly capable of leaping off a bookshelf or running into the street. It scared me silly. And if some things had not gone just right, I would now be like my parents were for decades: in a state of grief.

Investing in people can be like throwing yourself into care for late-stage cancer patients: you pour in love and care and your very soul, only to get burned time and again. Eventually, you have to withdraw or you end up being sucked into the maw of despair. It may be better to have loved and lost: but boy, losing still hurts.

I think this is true for all kinds of relationships: with a spouse, with dear friends, with parents and with children. It is also true in religion: loving G-d deeply often comes with wrestling with the Big Questions, like, “I have been good. Why am I being pummeled?” 

With loving comes loss – at best. At worst, we have betrayal, in all its forms. I recall certain relationships that just make me want to curl up and cry; there is literally nothing I can do to make things better. All I have is the hole in my heart. And it will always be there.

Perhaps this is even an argument for mortality. At some point, we get tired of the pain, and then we really stop living. I think this happened to Jacob in the Torah: at some point, after a string of close scrapes, and deeply (if unequally) loving his wives and children, and even tending to flocks for 21 years (a process in which the shepherd invests in – and identifies with – the sheep as they live and die), Jacob stops being a man of action. He becomes only a reactive person, only responding to what others say and do. And then Jacob starts talking about death. He gets deeply bitter, and he keeps talking about death, expecting to die, seemingly hoping for it. At the end of his life, Jacob finished saying what he wants to say, he pulls his legs into the bed, turns toward the wall, and Just. Lets. Go.

It all hurt too much. And Jacob was done.

The alternative, as I said before, is choosing NOT to invest in others. There is safety in solitude. That way the only person who lets you down is you.  And we are pretty good at letting ourselves down in ways that are reassuringly depressing. 

How do you keep yourself able to reinvest?

[another @susanquinn and @iwe production]

Comments are welcome!