Not quite two years later, I woke up one day missing him so much my chest ached. I put my hand on the phone, telling myself that it’d be unfair to call him unless I could commit in some way. Before I could move my hand away, however, the phone rang. It was Eric. He missed me, too.
For me, the turning point between us was something ridiculously ordinary. It happened when I went to visit him eight and a half years after we’d met. We were settled in our separate lives and dating other people in our home countries, but unwilling to give up our infrequent encounters for them. By then, Eric had become a creative director living in Paris; he still wrote and performed music for the ads he wrote. I’d become a psychotherapist.
When we met at the Paris airport something had changed. Eric’s consistent love became more real than the voices in my head telling me not to trust it. I was no longer surprised by his actual physical presence, that he took up space in the world, and that the reality of his presence wouldn’t hurt me by somehow taking me over or vanishing. Later, on that first morning of my last visit, exhausted from jetlag, I took what was supposed to be a short nap. Instead, I practically slept all day, leaving only three more days together.
“I’m so sorry, I’m just so tired,” I said. “I’ll get up now.”
“Sleep, mon amour, sleep. If you’re tired, sleep,” he responded.
In that moment, all of his past acts of acceptance and sweetness congealed into a precise and permanent sensation that could no longer be swept away. I was filled with love. And then I knew.
Thirty-three years later, our four daughters are at the stage in their lives where they sometimes need advice in matters of the heart. Their answers must be their own, yet I share my story in the hope that it might become a parable to them about the intricate tie between self-knowledge and true love. I tell them sometimes it can take a long time to know. It did for me. But on the way to knowing, love can be as simple as the permission to sleep.
Kim Sutton Allouche is a psychodynamic psychotherapist who works with individuals and couples in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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