A friend of mine (let’s call her Sarah) came to visit me for the weekend. We had dated in Chicago a ways back, and had had a lovely connection. She had been clearly still recovering from a romantic wound, and in some ways not emotionally available, but we did a great job of respecting each other’s limits and taking each other for who and where we were. Since then Sarah had gotten into a peer co-counseling class and was sorting out a lot of the previously stuck issues in her life. The difference in her when she came to visit was obvious: she had actually been building momentum the whole time I had known her, but now she was really on a roll, healing herself and liking herself more than ever.
We spent a long, delicious Saturday, sampling the delights of Cincinnati all up and down the river. We would sometimes sit on one park bench for a long time, deep in conversation, then just walk and play and be silly for a while. Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting in a relatively private spot, again by the river, and Sarah allowed herself to progress from talking about some anxieties in her life, to taking a good cry, sitting there with my arm around her.
I think Sarah had always known it would be all right with me for her to show her feelings this fully, but now she knew it was also ok with her. She let the tears flow freely, then mopped up and felt great – appreciative of me and of herself, her new level of openness and trust in her own emotions and inner strength. The rest of the weekend was even more enchanted. Sarah was more alive and playful than I had ever seen her. We felt very close to each other, and she was naturally affectionate in a charming way that was new in our experience together. We had a great time.
When I spoke with Sarah on the phone a few days later, I could tell that something was feeling tight for her. It took some exploring to figure out exactly what was going on, but then Sarah seized her courage and put it right out. She was having a lot of romantic thoughts and feelings about me. Her limits had always been so clear in the past, and we were now so GUD to each other (geographically undesirable), that it had not occurred to me that this sweet weekend together might take off in this direction. And truly it didn’t make sense to me as a direction for our particular relationship. But it was easy to see what had happened.
Sarah had released her potential for lovingness. She had been doing such good work on herself, learning to trust herself so much more. Then she had taken her new level of openness out on the road. I was a man who she felt pretty safe with, so she came and tried out her freer self with me, and it worked. And, when it worked, she experienced her own capacity to love in a wonderful way that had not been on the scene for quite a while.
But I knew that this love was not specifically about me. It was genuine love, so when it came my way, I felt loved. But it was not so limited as to be defined by me, and it certainly wasn’t caused by me. Sure, I’m a good guy and relatively easy to love (why fight it?) but Sarah was ready to love, and could have focused love on lots of people. In fact, while we were together, she radiated love – towards the people we encountered, toward my fair city, even to the thunderstorm we got caught in.
You may be familiar with the idea of projecting emotions: I’m scared, so think you are threatening me; I’m angry, so I see anger all around. But we can project positive emotions, also. Sarah thought she was falling in love with me, but really she was simply experiencing her own recently expanded capacity to love. I wasn’t the cause, she was. She needed to take responsibility for her own feelings of love.