About eight years ago I had a very enlightening conversation with my estranged father. He had never really played an integral role in my life, and I felt the time had come that I needed to forgive him. I didn’t want to forgive him for his sake, but rather I needed to forgive him for my sake (you can say I was a pretty enlightened 22 year old to have come up with this all on my own). I had learned the power of forgiveness very early in my life and for this is I am very grateful.
He and I began to talk and I told him that I forgave him for not being in my life and I understood why he decided to drop out. You can imagine how surprised he was when I said I understood. I told him I understood that the reason he dropped off was that he wanted to prove to my mother that she couldn’t do it on her own and that she needed him (boy, he really didn’t know my mom). He thought that if she realized she couldn’t do it on her own that she would come back to him and they would be a family all over again, but that’s not the way it happened. Not only did my mother prove she could do it on her own, but she even married someone else. So his plan backfired and he felt there was no reason to try because he was no longer needed by her; never mind he had children, but the fact that she didn’t need him was the only thing that concerned him.
You see, that very day my father was still in love with my mother (at least this is what he claimed) and somewhere deep inside of him he still harbored a belief that one day they would get back together. So, I asked him how could he be in love with my mother and he doesn’t even know her anymore. I couldn’t see his face because we were talking over the phone, but I’m sure he probably looked at the receiver as though I was talking crazy and had completely lost my mind. How in the world could he not know my mother, he was probably thinking. He had two kids with her so of course he must know her, but I had to pose the question to him again. “How can you love someone you don’t even know?”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.” He replied.
“I’m saying the person you’re in love with no longer exists. The Iris you fell in love with all those years ago is not the Iris that she is today. You are in love with a ghost.”
It didn’t take him long to realize what I was saying to him. He got it immediately. He was in love with a woman the way she was 15 to 20 years ago. Although she appeared to be the same on the outside, life experiences had made her into someone completely different. This different person was someone he did not know, but yet he still thought he was in love with her even though the she he was in love with no longer existed.
This brings me to today. I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers and she was telling me how in her heart she was still holding out hope that her ex-husband would come back to her and they would be a family again. Although he had an affair and had gotten another woman pregnant, she still was in love with him. Now, I respect the fact that she still had love for this man, because after all he was the father of her three kids, but sometimes love really isn’t enough. This is the same man that told her that he never wanted to be married in the first place.
So, I asked her which Derek* was she in love with and once again the confusion came. Of course she told me she didn’t understand the question, so I had to break it down for her. She told me she was in love with the old Derek because the way he was with this new woman was not the way he was when he was with her. So, I asked her was she in love with the guy that said he never wanted to be married or whether or not she was in love with the guy that said he never stopped cheating. Or how about the guy that brought home a baby from someone else. Was she in love with that guy? She shook her head and said no. Of course she wasn’t in love with that part of him, but she was in love with the father of her kids.
I told her that the man she was in love with no longer exists and probably never existed. The man that he is today is not the man she fell in love with seventeen years ago and she isn’t the same woman he was with either. Now, that’s not to say that they couldn’t be together again if that was the way fate would have it, but that she shouldn’t expect everything to be the same between them because they both had changed as people. In order to make things work today, they would have to get to know each other as the people that they are today and not this apparition of what they use to be.
A lot of us are victims of being in love with ghosts. We continue to harbor feelings for past loves and hold out faith that maybe one day we’ll be reunited with that person, but that isn’t enough. You can’t love people for the way they use to be, but rather you have to love people for who they are today. Human beings are constantly evolving (or devolving in certain cases) and changing. It is these changes that keep us interesting.
Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t reminisce on a former love or take solace in a memory, but rather you should live in the present and enjoy the moment for what it is. Love people for who they are and not who you hope they would be. When you can’t honor a person for who they are now you do a disservice to them and to yourself.
* Names have been changed to protect the identities of subjects.