You cannot save people. You can only love them.
And sometimes that means you must love them from afar. I have a friend who had difficulty accepting that her now-ex-boyfriend continued to make life decisions that were not functional nor in his best interest. And when I say “friend,” this time I really do mean “friend” and not “myself.”
She came to understand he chooses to live a subthreshold life–a content, “meh” life, to avoid risks or getting hurt. He uses his defense mechanisms quite nicely to remain emotionally unavailable so that if he keeps his expectations low, his disappointments are smaller. This sort of living leads to a satisfactory life, but cannot lead to a vibrant, deep, fantastic life. This man deserves the latter. We all do. So this saddens my friend. His choices also mean she cannot remain in a relationship with him, so this saddens her even more.
She can see clearly the hard work he needs to do to take risks and be vulnerable, to put yourself out there for the big Woo-Hoo! She’s tried explaining this to him, she’s tried helping him with it. To no avail. He nods. And continues with his behaviors and patterns.
She can only love him. She cannot save him. And now she must love him from afar. And it breaks her heart. This time, this story truly is not about me. But in the past, all the other stories about Loves I Tried to Save were me. If I love you enough and explain to you the error of your ways, I can help you expunge the ennui from your life! I mean really, who doesn’t want to be happy?
Turns out a lot of people. Turns out a lot of people would rather live with the devil they do know rather than the devil they don’t. Turns out a lot of people have done a cost-benefit analysis, and believe their calculations say that a risk is not worth any outcome.
But we feel compelled to save. You’ve done this, I know you have. We all have. We enable people to different extents. Sometimes it’s truly enabling someone’s addiction. Sometimes it’s trying so hard to help a friend stop creating so much drama in her life. It’s exhausting trying to save someone.
But it’s hard to just love from afar. It can feel and look like abandonment. Like you don’t care. So when do you love from afar, and when do you love from anear? (Look, did you notice that? I just made up another word)
I am struggling with this now. At what point do you decide broken is too broken for you? At what point do you accept that we are all complex beings and the human condition is variable, and we’re all messy? At what point do you risk yourself and love from anear–accepting the person will not change, but instead your expectations or needs must change? And at what point do you cut your losses and love from afar because you’re losing too much of yourself?
When you love someone, it softens him. He may not accept it and may walk way. But he has been changed. He has felt the love. Perhaps he’ll tuck that away and remember it later and use it then to precipitate change. Perhaps he will not. Sometimes your love is what motivates someone to make changes that will save him. But in the end, its not the love that saves him. The person needs to make the decision to choose to change, to risk doing hard things.
And loving someone from anear requires kindness and believing you are both on the same team; it requires honoring the concept of being kind over being right. It requires compromising for the other even when you know he is making an unwise decision, because he will do the same when it’s your turn to make the foolish call. It’s time to love from afar when the other consistently won’t choose being kind over right; when the other won’t support your foolish decisions too. Then it’s time to save yourself.