It’s taken me a long time to really accept this fundamental truth: You don’t know how you’re going to feel until it happens.
Oh, sure. We’re pretty good at imagining. Working out logically how we should feel when X happens. Or Y. Or Z. If we treat it like a logic puzzle, we can come up with something that makes sense. Something that sounds true.
And yet, when the time actually comes and whatever is going to pass comes to pass, many times our expected emotion doesn’t match our actual one.
I found my divorce to be an excellent example of this. I had always thought I’d be devastated by going through a divorce. This was particularly because I take my commitments very seriously. So divorce always seemed like something I would never do. And if it ever happened to me, I’d be miserable. I knew this. Felt like it was incontrovertible fact.
And yet… when the day of my actual hearing came and the judge pronounced the words to let me know I was divorced, I felt a profound sense of relief wash over me. By that point, I’d gone through all the pain and misery that came with an important intimate relationship becoming something disappointing and hurtful to us both. And I’d later struggle with feelings of guilt about the divorce — because as I’ve said, I do take commitments rather seriously.
But on the day my divorce was finalized, I was euphoric. It was the happiest day of my life. (Happier than either of my wedding days.)
Similarly, I’ve known friends who are hit particularly hard when someone they know dies, even if they weren’t all that close to them. The grief that sweeps in can be raw and real and much more than they anticipated.
That’s Why Making Rules About Feelings Is a Doomed Endeavor
In my time writing as a relationship expert, I’ve spoken to couples at practically every stage in their lives. Generally speaking, couples who are opening up a relationship that used to be closed come up with a lot of rules. And I commonly find that over time and with experience that those rules either morph into personal boundaries or are dropped as the folks involved realize that they either don’t need the rules in question or that the rules don’t actually do what they were intended to do (occasionally both).
Really, the least successful rules of all seem to be ones that are about feelings. Things like “neither of us will fall in love with anyone else” are particularly doomed.
Not just because love is unpredictable (although it can be). But because you don’t know how something is going to feel until it happens — not just with love but with grief, with guilt, with the entire pantheon of feelings.
This fact doesn’t just go away because it’s inconvenient to feel a different way than we hoped.