A famous star popularized the notion that "it's not having what you want, it's wanting what you got" that made life fuller and richer. Yes, words to live by, yet somehow impossible for many of us to get right. Why don't we ever seem to grasp the fragile beauty of what we've got until it's gone? Why do we often undervalue our husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, appreciating them only in hindsight? Some might answer that it's hard to make sense of love's significance until it's over, until we've gotten some distance from it. Others say that like history itself, love often muddies clearer waters, clouding our ability to choose precisely and well. I say that we cannot value in others what we cannot see in ourselves.
When we fall into love headfirst, we usually fall out of it headless, wondering exactly how it was we ever got involved with the other person in the first place. We say that we lost all sense of ourselves or that we put our lives on hold. We blame the other for taking too much from us - even if we what we offered came free and without strings - for not giving enough back. "I keep hoping for blood and keep getting turnip juice instead," said my friend, Sophia, who's been with Alex for two years.
But this is not Alex's problem. They were friends first, having worked together in the same office. When each realized the other was finally single, Alex asked Sophia out. They hit it off as friends, so why not as lovers too? Clearly, there was an earnest physical attraction between them and the first time they had sex, Sophia called me right after.
"The sex was amazing," she said, breathless. "And–he's got a huge dick. Who knew?"
Like most budding relationships, the first year was heavenly, as they got to know each other, spending a couple of nights a week together. It was easy, she said. I like him, she said. Yet, after the first year, things started to slide, not with Alex, who still desired to be with Sophia, but for Sophia who still desired to be with David, her ex-boyfriend of nine years.
"I think I'm still in love with him," Sophia said. "I can't stop thinking that we could've made it work."
"But it didn't work," I said, calmly, though I was frustrated, as I always am, when one of my good friends is involved with someone who's clearly good for her. "You tried for nine years to make it work. What makes you think it'll work now?"
"I don't," she said. "But being with Alex reminds me of what I gave up in David. I don't want to lose or leave Alex, but if we get more serious, I know I'm just going to hurt him."
I told Sophia that she had to tell Alex about David and her feelings for him and let Alex make the ultimate decision. Which he did: he decided that his love for Sophia would ultimately win her over.
But regret is a powerful weapon against love and Sophia, who regretted leaving David, started also to regret being with Alex. She couldn't see him, quite literally see him, because her lingering feelings, ghostly, irrational and idealized feelings for David kept getting in the way.
"What should I do?" she asked me.
"Honestly, if you want to be fair to Alex, you have to break up with him," I said, which she eventually did.
It's not that two people can't work through their own respective issues, but when one of these issues is the embodiment of what we've lost, it's nearly impossible to get over while with someone else we care about. Wanting what we've got and losing what we never had - in Sophia's case, because she still has feelings for David, she couldn't ever commit to Alex, not in the way she wanted and ultimately, had to give him up. Now, she's without either one and I ask you, as I have asked her, "How could she not find value in someone who treated her well, if not better, than her last partner? How could she give up a guy like Alex for the promise of the ghost of David?"
And so Sophia's left with her objectivity, a cold bedfellow, looking backward at two thwarted relationships, one that never worked, the other that might've. If you had the choice, whom would you choose, the past or the present, to live or to remember?