Last spring at a poetry slam, I listened to a lot of young people expressing a great deal of pain. Much of it clearly came from their relationships with their peers. I remember being a teen all too well – the confusion, hunger and need it created, coupled with no idea how to do relationship. We go out into the world barely knowing ourselves, with little clue of what we want, driven by hormones and social pressure. And so we wound one another. Most of us don’t do it deliberately – some of course do. The process of falling in and out of love, which so seldom happens tidily or at the same time, causes wounds that stay with a person.
The process of being wounded is also the process of growing up, learning who we are and how to relate to each other. It’s the process of being hurt that teaches us compassion. In making mistakes we find out what we actually want and need – or at least – we have the opportunity to. Avoiding such pain means avoiding life and the chance to grow, but plenty of people do their best not to learn. As with all things, the key element is accepting responsibility for what we do, and where we go wrong. Both in terms of how we wound others, and how we open ourselves to the risk of being hurt. It’s not about learning not to take the risk, just a matter of getting a better sense of which risks are worth taking.
There’s also a process of forgiveness that needs to happen here. It’s not one that should come quickly – with heart broken and sense of self in shreds, forgiving the one who turned out not to love us in return is neither possible nor desirable. We move away, move on, learn what we can and try not to make the same mistakes again. There’s a process of forgiving ourselves for those mistakes, for the moments of poor judgement, for the times we did not let go when we should, or walked away when we shouldn’t. Hindsight is seldom a comfortable thing. Sometimes it’s also needful to explore forgiving ourselves for what we did to others – in ignorance, in innocence, in downright stupidity. The process of growing up is littered with mistakes, and the likelihood of hurting others. It’s important to know where we went wrong and why, but no one should spend their lives beating themselves up for that.
There was a friend, once, some years older than me who said he had given up on relationships because either he ended up getting hurt, or he hurt someone, and he could not bear to go through that process anymore. He’d been single by choice for years. It seemed like a great waste to me.
To love someone is to enter into a state that is going to hurt one of you, at the very least. All relationships end – either they falter, or someone dies. No one gets out of this unscathed, that’s the nature of the thing. Focusing on the pain of endings is about as useful as focusing on the inevitability of death – these are just things we have to accept. In the meantime, there is life to be lived, joys to know, hearts to break, and the peace that comes from forgiveness. We will all of us cause hurt, and be hurt in our time. We can’t avoid that, but we can step up to it with all the honour and integrity we can muster. That way, where there is pain, there is also learning, healing, and life.