We have been partners since 1993, and married since 1994. Throughout our time together, we have chosen to work to unveil and explore feelings that endure from our most soulful earlier loves, so we are particularly qualified to write about past loves.
When we became romantic partners, we already had a close emotional bond from a seventeen year friendship. That friendship allowed us to feel that we could, with relative safety, continue to share feelings about even our most recent prior loves. Who but a partner–who was also a trusted friend–could better respond to that complex web of love and loss?
And so that we would not endlessly put off facing the issues the couples find most difficult about forming a lasting partnership, we set a one year limit on how long we would live together without choosing whether to make a deeper commitment. This choice point offered us an opportunity, indeed, forced us, to participate in what we half-jokingly called Relationship 505, an "intimacy intensive." It was a chance to engage with barriers to fully knowing (and being known by) one another that we had been unwilling or unable to identify in previous relationships.
At the end of that year we would each decide, privately, whether we wanted to marry or go our separate ways. If one or both of us chose the latter, we would work together to return to our former loving friendship. Each of us had a sense that, even if we chose not to stay together long-term, we would have learned a lot about ourselves in the mirror of a truly intimate relationship.
During that first year, we consciously chose to elicit, and share, deep and subtle emotions which had gone unexpressed in our previous relationships. We held ourselves accountable for making conscious choices about discussing all relationship-related issues, even if the particulars might be unsettling. And because we each wrote in a journal daily, we were put us in touch with our immediate angers, longings, fears and uncertainties. In all of those ways, we created an environment in which it was difficult to avoid facing what was relevant.
At the same time, each of us was feeling love for, and loss of, our former partner, who still occupied a warm corner in our hearts. And as one way, albeit an uncomfortable way, to insure that we did not unconsciously avoid this sensitive past love material, we agreed on a daring plan: Leon would read aloud from the unedited journal he had written the previous year, during the several months he had been with his most recent–and most significant–past love. Kate would listen and respond with whatever came up for her. There, for each of us to experience in our own way, were his private and unguarded thoughts and feelings about a specific love and loss.
These readings, done on the anniversary date of when they were written, pulled us into the vortex of our greatest vulnerabilities. Predictably, this "intensive" brought us into the dance between trust and fear, a tension familiar to anyone in an intimate relationship. And since we no longer had the emotional distance (and safety) of when we had been friends, but not lovers, it was harder to be there for each other when our own insecurities flared.
Over time, however, the practice of really paying attention to our own (and each other's) feelings about past loves, and to other potential tender spots, has led us to better see, and accept, ourselves and one another. As we become more able to recognize our own and each other’s insecurities, we can, more and more often, step out from behind our defenses and transform discomfort and fear into understanding and confidence. Our conversations about past loves, within the context of being and disclosing who we really are, has become the crucible in which an even deeper bond between us has been forged.
As partners who are fully engaged with our loves and losses, we have opened realms of the heart not available by any other means, even with a friend or a therapist. That experience enabled us, in interviews for If Only I Could Tell You, to ask questions and listen from the depth of understanding born of truly having been there. And that deep understanding informed our written discussions of the complex nature of sharing past loves. It also informed our approach to envisioning and editing our true-stories anthology, Heartscapes.
For another glimpse into our journey together visit PRELUDE, an excerpt from If Only I Could Tell You...
We were guests on Tom Ashbrook’s October 23, 2008, "On Point" program from WBUR in Boston, and National Public Radio. That interview is available at www.onpointradio.org.