Woman laying on floor with heart
Photo: Hemera/Thinkstock
I always knew that love was hard. When my off-to-college boyfriend stopped writing to me and resumed only long enough to let me down easy, I knew love was hard. When my best friend locked me in the girls' bathroom at school because she thought I looked too cute the day her new beau was coming to pick her up, I knew love was hard. (And the janitor didn't hear me until dinnertime.) When a man who loved me offered to leave his wife and children for me and I said No, and he knew it wasn't because I was noble but because I didn't want him enough to go through all that, I saw that I had broken something big inside of him, and I knew, after that, that love was harder than I had imagined.

Also, I had noticed that love could make you crazy. It could drive you to distraction (a friend of mine forgot to take her LSATs The Morning After. That's what she said, her childhood in Texas rising right through the East Coast sophistication. "Girl, I plumb forgot," she said. "I'm in love"). It could lead a sensible heavyset man to wear spandex shorts and train for bicycle racing to please the athletic woman he loved (and later on, that heartache could lead him back to the couch and a box of Krispy Kremes). I knew that hope could make a woman on a budget drop $300 on La Perla's best push-up bra. And, radiant and reckless, she had to get the matching panties, too; I loaned her the money. Love made her glad she did, and disappointment made her set her lingerie on fire. In his office. During a meeting with his stockholders. 
Also, I noticed that love could make you someone you thought you were not. I was under the impression that I was not a jealous person. If you had asked me, I would have told you that possessiveness was a sign of insecurity, not of love. Hell, I would have said more than that: I would have told you that no one can hold on to anyone, that a good relationship is one you choose, every day, and I might have, after a couple of drinks, said something like "If you love it, set it free." I might have, if you had gotten hold of me in my willful youth (before I was 40), said that monogamy was a holdover from the days when women were chattel (and died young, making 60 years of fidelity not only unnecessary but unimaginable) and when men needed to know which baby was theirs so they could drag home only the necessary number of mastodons. I was known to say that love is not a pie. (And now I say, "Well, maybe not, but time and energy are and it is possible that there is only so much genuine intimacy a person can support, or even tolerate, in one life. And the heir-and-a-spare approach definitely trims away the intimacy.")

I'll spare you the details, but I understand jealousy now. I understand that there are things one imagines that make the ninth circle of hell seem like nothing more than a long line at the deli. I understand that one can sit at home for a few hours that seem like a few years, and I have come to appreciate Judith Viorst's words: "It is true love because...when he is late for dinner and I know he must be either having an affair or lying dead in the middle of the street, I always hope he's dead."

So I already knew that love is hard. And that it makes you crazy. And it brings you in touch with parts of yourself of which you would have been happy to remain ignorant.

What I hadn't understood, until recently, is that sometimes love is not enough. And that is the worst news-from-the-universe I have heard for some time. Love is not enough to lead depressed people to happiness. It is not enough to make men who really don't want babies want them. And it is not enough to make women who really want babies stop wanting them. It is not enough to make people who need passion settle for companionship, and it is not enough to make addicts give up whatever they are addicted to. Love stretches us, but time often snaps us back to our original shape. Love takes us further than we thought we could go, but it does not take us past the limits of our nature. And that is a hard thing to know. 

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