Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.

Love Doc

Loving and Losing

How can you let go of a lover who's left?

Posted Sep 01, 2010

Light blue eyes peered out at me from a fringe of dark lashes. "We were so perfect together, her sensuous smell, her dancing eyes, her exquisite face, her sumptuous body! She's so delicate, innocent, and I feel so protective with her." Mark was clearly smitten.

I was curious about the nature of his ardor. "What else do you love about her?" I inquired.
"Caroline is so sweet, soft, feminine in her ways. We had this incredible spiritual and emotional connection. I don't get it. Why'd she end it?" Dreamy eyes turned into tortuous question marks.

To which I posed yet another question. "What did she tell you?"

Like all of you, Mark had all the answers, not me. "She said she needed to work on herself so she'd be more independent."

:"I see." I commented.

And he went on with "Here's the thing. There's this guy Hank who's incredibly wealthy. Well, he met her, felt sorry for her and so he keeps sending her tons of money."

"So there's a twist to the story." I winced inside and tried to remain neutral. But then of course, all of us have our own subjectivity.

Mark saw through it as he said "I know what you're thinking, but she's not sleeping with him. He's simply her benefactor."

"But he takes care of her and she's dependent on him." I remarked. As an independent self-sufficient, autonomous woman part of me felt disdain for her. Alas, much to my chagrin, part of me envied her soft life.

Mark made his male protest. "Yeah, but I would've taken care of her. She told me she doesn't want that anymore. But I think he's still sending her money. Oh, I forgot to tell you, she's still married and in the midst of separating from her husband, Ken. They have not had sex in five years, and so they ‘re friends, not lovers. Caroline is innocent and pure...I know it"

"Innocent and pure, with all these men in her life?' I confronted him.

Not flinching, Mark said "She told me she was leaving Ken and that she loved me and wanted to have my baby. I can't get her angelic face out of my mind. I think about her night and day."

Curiosity turned to concern as I inquired "Are you sleeping and eating?"

"I can't sleep, but I don't want to take anything that I could get addicted to. No, I'm not eating, but I like being lean so that's fine with me." He explained.

"I see how hurt you are. I empathized with his dilemma as I too have loved and lost. Who hasn't? Then I asked, "How long did you know her?"

Mark told me " Two months. Not long, but we texted ten times a day and she stayed with me in my house for a week ─ the best week of my life. I was floating on air the entire time."

"Only two months?" I remarked.

Mark explained how this happened. "But it felt like a lifetime, we were so close. She told me everything about her miserable childhood and that she was a stripper. But I didn't care. I wanted to take her away from that sordid life so she could live like a princess. I make a good living and she'd never have to worry, just stay home and take care of me and our babies."

"Is that what she wanted?' I wondered.

Mark went on with "I don't know what she wanted. She's coming to New York in two weeks and told me she'll probably strip again. I imagine her in my arms and I cringe from the thought that other men want her. I know she's weak and takes the easy way, but deep down inside she has class. You should see how she dresses, so refined, so ladylike. Everything about her and our being together was wonderful."

Is Mark in love with a real woman or is it an illusion?

An educated, successful, handsome forty-eight year old man, Mark fell madly in love with Caroline and in his mind she was real ─ a pure virginal angel. Never mind that one man sends tons of money while she is married to another man. Never mind that she parades her naked body to other men and hustles them for money. Never mind that she is anything but a pure virginal angel. Mark was in love and as the saying goes love is blind. How so?

That love is blind is a neuronal fact. Here's a little of what goes on in the brain when we fall madly in love.

We come into the world wired with the capacity for suspicion, doubt, and judgment. But here's the uncanny thing that happens when we fall in love. The parts of the brain that house these capacities become dormant and so we place our beloved high up on a pedestal. In Mark's case, he placed Caroline on that pedestal. But that's not all that goes on in the brain.

When we fall in love, we are bathed with a cascade of brain chemicals ─ oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, testosterone, and natural opiods ─ that intensify the feelings of love, eros, and elation. When Caroline rejected Mark, his brain chemicals came crashing down so that he was beset with depression, anxiety, and obsessional thoughts.

Not only that, but her rejection was a blow to his self esteem. A stunningly beautiful woman on his arm made him look successful, desirable, and sexy. With serotonin and dopamine flowing into the crevices of his brain, Mark was on a twenty foot high. Needless to say, when Caroline called it off ─ prompting a quick cessation of brain chemicals ─ he took a dive into the depths of despair.

How then can Mark, or any of you who have lost a love, let go and move on?

For one thing, removing the blinders may open your eyes to who this person really is. Once you know, you may feel angry at her or even angry at yourself. Anger is a wonderful antidote to depression and obsessional thoughts.

For another thing, engaging in activities that you find pleasurable ─ physical exercise, sports, dance, etc─ stimulates the brain to release natural opiods, dopamine, and serotonin. So in a sense you are replacing the high of the love chemicals with these activities.

Distraction helps, particularly when it is something that you really enjoy such as painting, sculpting, writing, chess, a great movie, concert, or hanging out with friends.

Examine yourself as to what about you fell for this person. Do you have a need to fix vulnerable people? How about rescuing others?

Review your childhood and the relationship you had with your parents. If your mother was preoccupied or depressed, you may have been deprived of the love you needed and you are left with a feeling of emptiness. Perhaps, in your wish to fulfill the void, you conjured up an illusion of a woman who finally would do just that. A caveat is in order. When your need is so great, chances are you will not see the person for who she is, but who you want her to be. If this is the case, begin to focus on ways you can fulfill the emptiness yourself.

Many other childhood scenarios can be playing out. The idea is to look back at the childhood deprivations, the abandonments, the painful separations, the losses and separate them out of the present situation. By doing so, you will see the situation unencumbered by the past and the present loss will be a much less painful one.

Finally, when you feel ready, get back into the swing by meeting new attractive potential partners. Once you let friends know you are interested in meeting someone new, you will be surprised at whom they may introduce you to. Internet dating is popular and can be productive.

By surviving this loss, you are stronger, more self aware, and more cognizant of what you need in a partner. With more insight, you will also be more discerning about your next love. And so you have much more to offer the next love. What is more, this can be a fun time, so go for it!

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About the Author

Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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