I fell out of love here—well, not so much fell out of love as a love, the longest-lived and most complex and intense of my (semi) mature romances, fell apart. Right there on that porch, in fact, did the crumbling begin. We had chairs and a table then, and it was much warmer, late summer. I remember how excited I was to have a porch like that when we first moved in, and I thought of all the time I’d surely spend out there reading, writing, thinking, talking, watching the dogs in the yard, just watching, being.
The house had character, to be sure. It was temperamental, difficult, ridiculous, delightful, cozy, bewildering, and plain frightening—for both of us. It fit the bill perfectly, a wonderful setting for our increasingly strained, somewhat unpredictable association, the last domain in a rather motley line of apartments and houses that these stubborn selves would abide. It spoke plainly of incongruence and disarray, slyly suggested spaciousness without being especially open, directly presented us with a physical environment where the strange past persisted in the face of awkward modifications and outdated updates—big rooms with small closets, a short central staircase to nowhere (by “nowhere” I mean the unfinished, eerily still second story where we stored some of our junk), mismatched, stained carpet in some rooms and beat up wood floors in others, an unusable fireplace, cranky radiators, no air conditioning, no dishwasher, one usable bathroom, and my favorite: the kitchen “pantry” created by closing off the top landing of the stairs down to the basement with three shelf-covered walls. The landlady rather blithely explained to me on my first tour as a prospective tenant that the mad old woman who had lived (and perhaps died) there before insisted upon the pantry because she was terrified of the basement. I visited that basement as infrequently as possible and, well, let’s just say I was glad it was only accessible from the outside—the old woman had reason to be distressed. It seemed somehow to be about a century older than the rest of the house, dirt floor uneven and littered with stones and debris, an almost central wooden wall from floor to ceiling broken by a doorless passageway. I hated the other side of that wall. There was something menacing there; I’d have to reach into the deep black to find the pull string for the light on the ceiling just to expose it (I peered in a couple times but never stepped all the way through the passageway) and every time I expected something to grab me. Pain and cruelty resided there, like someone had been held in captivity.
The porch was another world entirely. It was a peaceful and open place, free and easy, exposed but not without an important element of seclusion and privacy. We were different out there, less confined, less surrounded by things, walls, and memories. The breeze blew, rain fell, nearby branches creaked and leaves rustled, birds chirped, crickets did whatever the hell they do, bees buzzed. There was nothing like sitting outside on warm evenings, ignoring the passage of time, or enjoying the cover on rainy spring or summer afternoons, our speech hushed and our movements slowed by the steady rhythm of drops on the tin roof, on the leaves, on the grass. It was preferred territory, a space that I came to feel was mine, a perfect fit for my personality, an exterior retreat, just outside the main structure but still attached and sheltered. And what happened there—what I simply allowed to take place, the silly incident that really, finally set the process of falling out of love on a path to falling apart—was my doing and my doing alone. It was my space and I invited it. But, of course, falling out of love is never just one person’s fault, if you can even assign fault to something so broad and amorphously intertwined in the first place.
Unless something like this comes in to push it apart, falling out of love is happy to creep, crawl, lurk sometimes, watching you until you become completely uncomfortable and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It made me nervous, delicate, even fearful—not so much fearful of disintegration itself but of the moments and exchanges of which that disintegration might consist. I found myself treading apprehensively on ever-present eggshells, hyper-sensitive to the fact that any brusque movements might topple our house of cards and leave me standing there unable to remember how to stack them back up again, how they ever stood in the first place.
I would lie in bed at night certain that I knew better, that I was just imagining the things I heard as I was dozing off, but nevertheless unable to completely stop wondering if those noises were in my head or in the house or in my heart. I would take walks in converted farmland with my dogs and think that I was sensing things in our relationship that I could probably do without sensing, noticing things that frustrated and disturbed me in ways I always knew were possible but tried my hardest not to expect, things that only made it more difficult to continue. I thought maybe I was looking for cracks, searching for something to doubt or question, creating problems. But I saw and felt those things, I knew I did, I knew they were real—and I knew they had been there all along, in one way or another.
Loss, that’s what people point to with things like this, when you stumble out of love. You’ve lost the edge, they say, the spark, the flame, the point, or some painful-sounding object, some thing that, judging by this list, threatened you enough to make it all work before. But really you just lose your place and bearing—or you lost it and that’s why you’re falling. In a sense it is a positively literal falling out, falling down, falling past. You drop out of your troubled, delicate, somewhat contrived state, down and through the years, the words, the events, past the misguided, wishful declarations, the laughs, the fun, the glitches, the misunderstandings, and into a state of generally confused reversion to self, a state where you can only count on you again and need to because you’ve stopped, where uncertainty and the mysteries of life are no longer assuaged jointly, if they ever were to begin with. In this way, you come to see the truth, things that you and your infatuation were too distracted, expectant, or pre-programmed to apprehend or acknowledge. Or perhaps you were just too unsure of who you were as a human being to even fully understand what you were doing. I know I was. The space and lack of workable amenities became irritating, the walls confining, the unpredictability uninterestingly predictable, the intrigue plainly familiar. I cared and cared deeply, but caring is not being in love.
If falling in love is ordinarily based on fascination and the pull of the moment, falling out often grows from questions answered, mysteries debunked, fears realized, hopes brought back down to earth by the regularity and ordinariness of everyday life. Falling out knows, and it knows what life is really like once that seemingly promethean fire dwindles and you’re left in the vast, slow dark of the plateau. That’s not quite what happened here. Very little about this relationship was ordinary, not even everyday life. We tried at times to be some version of ordinary, tried domesticity and partnership, you make messes and I clean them up, favors, chores, support, exchanges—none of it was typical except perhaps in appearance (sometimes). But that does not then suggest extraordinariness, does not imply true love.
All in all, all oddities and quirks considered, the relationship was just like the house in which it fell apart: seasoned, tired, creepy, unique, alive; it had a feel to it, a sense, a presence even, one that was quite regularly disconcerting but nevertheless held an underlying understanding, a familiarity bolstered by familiar comforts. Understanding had become subjectivized, in other words, no longer balanced by knowledge, and we entered a rather uncritical state (openly uncritical, at least) wherein it came to seem that individuality was being consistently and unreflectively sacrificed for easy assimilation by the other. And so understanding broke down, as it always does when individuality ceases to be preserved. That’s what was ordinary, just that. We became the relationship, merged into habits of being and mind that went from open and expansive and hopeful to quite confining, smothering. And that’s what happens when it’s not quite right, when the alignment is somehow uneven, when what you become is not really you, each of you, fully, together, joined, but two people reaching for and trying to maintain understanding at all costs, as Jung said, somewhat “unthinkingly going along with the other’s experience.” There’s nowhere to go from there, no room to grow—if there was, you never would’ve arrived at such a point, such an imbalance between knowledge and understanding.
Where falling in love is fast, fluid, and sometimes unpredictable, falling out is gradual, persistent, and steady—you really can see it coming. All you have to do is open your eyes. But constancy, persistence, and predictability are by no means without a notable component of volatility. Anything may set it off at any moment; your increasingly delicate association needs only a spark to be fully ignited into an entirely different kind of blaze, the kind that burns up good feelings and singes memories, that engulfs and pushes you out the door gracelessly, hurriedly, anything to get away. This relationship, flammable as it had become under the arid conditions of imbalance, received that spark on the porch, setting off a conflagration that took all of a year to extinguish as we finally went our separate ways.
It takes time—perhaps not as much as it took us but time nonetheless. All the big and little things you’ve shared, all the thoughts, dreams, and memories, all the hopes, all the things you did (and acquired) together—these rear their heads, call for attention, seem to demand consideration and reconsideration, sorting and purging and reckoning. This can drag on endlessly as you go back and forth on what really happened, what it all really meant, who said and did what when. You doubt yourself, your change of heart, your ability to move on. You wonder if perhaps this really is (was) as good as it gets, if you’re just being picky and idealistic, a silly romantic dreamer uncomfortable living a life you want to believe, for the sake of argument (the argument you use to justify the fall), is someone else’s and not yours. Eventually you will come to a point where you’ve simply had enough of the questions and uncertainties and tiptoeing and angst-ridden disagreements and confrontations, a point at which you can no longer deny that they mean something, something important and difficult. Then you’ll do something bold and clear and honest, or else, like me, something passive, muddled, but quite honestly indiscreet—either way, the fire will be stoked and you’ll have to endure the heat until it’s really, finally over.
Strong and distinctive and consuming as this love was for me, it was not true love, not for either of us—no matter how great we were at times, how well we got each other, how difficult it was to pull apart. The problem was not that some single something went wrong and we were unable to make it right because we somehow lacked sufficient resolve or conviction regarding the preeminence of our union. The problem was that we simply were not quite right for each other, that it was governed by initially misconstrued senses of self that, once revealed, led us to take refuge in understanding, in desires to keep going along as if knowledge would be an unwelcome and disruptive guest (which it ultimately was). And the result, at times joyful, sad, frustrating, beautiful, difficult, comical, and awkward, was just, in the end, as a whole, on the most basic level, setting aside all the particularities and nuances and details, as odd and possibly contradictory as it may be to say, rather extraordinarily ordinary, a completely atypical but yet quite typically limited combination of ungracefully matched beings. Aren’t we all. We reached our maximum, our version of fullness. And it was too full of too much for us to continue without a release. I just didn’t know how to go about releasing and so the front porch it was.
Memorable, the context and content of life-depicting—maybe even life-defining—stories, representative of a time and place you fully inhabited and enjoyed but ultimately local, limited, insufficient, no matter how much you loved it—that is extraordinary/ordinary love, and you can’t help but fall out, off, and away as its true presence turns to past circumstance.