The Tragedy of Witholding Love

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”

Bertrand Russell

Last spring I sat in a circle of women and heard a wise friend say that she had been “withholding” love.

Immediately, I knew that she had named my pain, and ever since, the word withholding has been rippling in my life as I seek to discover just why I withhold love from those I hold most dear.

It took a bit of unearthing, but I’ve finally uncovered when the withholding began.  It was in the early years of my relationship with my life partner, maybe even the early months, maybe even the early moments–when the force of love was too powerful to sustain.

For weeks we had immersed in a nest built from two love seats pushed together.  We ate, made love, slept and showered together.  We even worked together so the days were filled with the continuity of flesh.

Then my lover’s father invited him out for a game of golf.  I never knew how long a game took. It was excruciating to be separated for such a large swath of time.

The following week, my best friends whisked me away to a concert in the city–to see one of my long time favorite performers–but embarrassingly, I was miserable, I only wanted to be in one place with one person.

Two months into this relationship and the love curdled into fear. I didn’t like to feel such dependence on another.  I felt disabled and at risk–especially because neither of us was certain about the longevity of our coupling.

Another month passed and we headed out to the Rockies with friends.  We each had to work day and night to survive, and whole days passed without seeing the other.  Within weeks, we knew that our love had become a “forever”thing– and within that understanding, the anxiety of separation began to soften.

And yet for years, we continued to “long” for each others’ company–so much so, that at times, we would feel the longing–even when we were in each others’ arms. “I miss you,” I’d say, from my lover’s chest.

For practical reasons, like life and bills and offspring, we began to withhold more and more of our love.  Soon the anxiety we experienced when separated  “softened” so much so as to be formless.  We no longer felt the ache of absence though we did always enjoy homecomings.

Over time, that joy mellowed into appreciation and slowly disintegrated into expectation. As our life together grew monumentally complex, deep love was set aside in order to raise a family and tend a household.

Almost 25 years after our initial hours apart, our minds are more certain than ever of the enduring quality of our love, though ironically it is harder and harder for us to “feel” it.

While “for better or for worse” holds more meaning than it did on our wedding day, we now know that it’s the “flat line” of our lives together that is the greatest challenge to love’s expression.

Thus we have begun to dust off the love that we withheld all those years ago–in the the hope that we can reclaim some of the exceptional vibrancy that once scared us into tucking it away.

This is the gift of loving into mid-life. With our hard earned “identities” so fully expressed, we welcome the transforming power of love with open arms.



5 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Witholding Love

Add yours

  1. I read a couple years ago about “flat” that seems relevant here. The classic term “flat as a pancake” was examined in comparison to the actual terrain of the state of Kansas. Turns out that in the scale of a pancake is increased to the size of Kansas, the pancake is wildly varied in texture where as Kansas had a minor deflection of terrain. The same goes with an orange and the Earth. If an orange was the size of the earth, it wouls have pits and peaks many times the order of what we see between Everest and the Marianias Trench.

    I’ve only been married for 8.5 years, but it seems to me that what is working here is scale. As pressures mount, as responsibilites slowly and lovingly bind us, we change our scale of comparison. The area of our loving grows larger and larger including not just ourselves and our lover, but our children, our friends, our homes, and our very routines.

    Perhaps the witholding itself is a negative statement of how much love there still is in oneself to give (much as we say “Not too bad” instead of “Well” when someone asks after us). Your post is good food for thought and a good reminder that love is like fruit, it changes its flavor and texture over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelly- I’ve just been poking around some of your older posts. It is so nice to hear the perspective of someone who has made it through to the other-side of the small child part of a marriage. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How fortunate you are that both you and husband both still had that connection that gets lost in the raising of family and just daily life. Many arrive on the other side and find that the connection has faded too much. Or due to infidelity that you are the only one that still wants to re-build that connection.

    Liked by 1 person

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