Discovering who I was in college didn’t come with much affirmation that love could be part of my human experience. I dreamed of marriage and children with all the typical accessories of the American Dream. But encountering anything romantic came in the form of occasional drunken party games or old fashioned errors in judgment. My heart was new to the world, and at 23 I had only distant crushes because those were safer. I was too nervous to ask anyone out on a date. I was not confident in the reliability of my radar, and I feared negative responses from the unavailable. I wanted to be loved, but I wondered if I was good enough for that kind of love. That was my constant curiosity. I held on to the belief there was someone out there for everyone, and that included me.
Then I met someone. We occupied our time with nights of whiskey and Bud Light bottles, Camel Lights, camping trips, and keys to each other’s apartments. My skin would tingle and my heart would tango whenever I came home from work to see a beer in hand and dinner ready. We had clothes and toothbrushes at each other’s places. We spent almost every day and night together, and the world was made right. In our conversations we poured out our hearts, our desires, and the space between us would become alive! I would dream up the possibility of a future with this person, and it made me smile and my heart warm. But more than anything, this person took an interest in me unlike anyone before. The attention validated me as someone worth wanting. I discovered I could be someone who someone could love. We were best friends. And I was in love.
But this person’s heart wanted the same thing mine did. I must’ve misread the actual reality of our relationship because the complete center of my affection also fell in love. It just wasn’t with me. My heart broke.
The particulars of each broken heart are unique, but to know our own broken hearts gives us the ability to walk side-by-side with others in their experience. I walked with my friend who lost a job he dedicated his life to, and a colleague whose husband left her, and a cousin whose memory of her abusive father ruined relationships. We who have mangled messes for hearts must live with the shattered pieces. We have to begin the slow work of picking up our fragmented hearts, stitch them together, and learn how to once again give and receive love.
With a bandaged heart there is uneasiness in trying to figure out how to get the thing to beat again, how to take the next step forward to revive what was shattered. It’s possible. The heart can love again even if pieces of it are missing. My friend is blossoming in a new career, my colleague thrives as a single mother and business owner, and my cousin is flourishing with her circle of friends and a loving relationship. Hearts are resilient. It just takes some time to understand them as such.
The other day I had a moment of recognition. I realized a couple of my friendships are not what I thought they were; the reciprocity I seek and hope for just isn’t there. It broke my heart. Steadily learning how to live this religious life I am noticing the role of friendships is changing. The men with whom I am forming this life are the closest relationships I’ll have now that I’ve vowed my life to God. It is from this commitment that I invest my heart into my community of brothers the best way I know how. With that kind of investment my heart becomes susceptible to breaking. And it did. Maybe not in the same way or for the same reason all those years ago. But a familiar knot returned to the same place in my chest, and tears and prayers overwhelmed me. In time my heart will be patched once again. I have knowledge of this now, unlike the first time.
It’s been 12 years since those surprise dinners and deep conversations. My friend is now married with beautiful children. And my heart is repaired, though it took awhile. Distance and age and time helped the healing. Besides, I truly want my friend to be happy. If I was in love then it can only be with love that I let go. My heart remains fragile. I think once broken my heart doesn’t want to feel the pain again. It is because of the wounds I am reminded that love has truly been part of my human experience. But as long as I desire to love and be loved my heart is devoted to taking on more wounds.