My client asked with a shaky tenderness, “Maybe I don’t even know what love is? I don’t think I ever learned what it means to be in a healthy relationship.” It was an ah-ha moment. After months of sorting through the details of the relationship and conflicted feelings of whether to stay or go, it boiled down to these fundamental questions.

Of all the reasons that bring someone to my office, nothing permeates more than issues surrounding relationships. Clients come for clarity regarding relationships between lovers, family members, friends, colleagues, and (it is my hope) the relationship with their own self.

The nuances of relationships transcend and overlap the many stories that bring people in. There is a seeking for answers to questions: how to find a lover, whether to stay with a lover, how to maintain one’s freedom in a relationship, how to feel inspired with their partner, how to ensure everlasting passion, how to be understood and show our real selves (assuming we know what that is), how to be sure we don’t scare them away, how to keep from running away ourselves. We want to know what it means if we “fail” at this? What might be regretted later? Are humans even meant to be monogamous? Like the client in my office this can lead to a search of ‘what happened to get me to this place?’

I’m not there to give answers (sorry to burst your bubble if you thought that was the case). Aspects of it will always be a beautiful mystery. Yet there are many psychologists and scientists who study these questions seeking answers. Currently I’m enjoying the wisdom of Esther Perel’s book “Mating in Captivity.” We cling to science to ensure we make the right choices and will be okay.

Until we arrive as some semblance of an answer we cope by retreating into our “love stories.” I hear many of these — narratives of when they met their partner, why they don’t have a partner, how the love faded, how they drifted from lovers to more like roommates and perhaps lovers again, how they don’t deserve to be loved. We all have these stories. Over the years I, too, have created my own. They gradually became less fact and more fiction due to my biased “memories” filling in the cracks over time.

Which is why it was such a gift to rediscover boxes full of old cards and letters from friends and ex’s as well as old journals going back to 7th grade. They were stored in 2 bright red boxes from Ikea that had been locked shut many years ago. I somehow managed to lose the keys. It wasn’t until I had to move that I was reminded of them and became curious. I brought them to the cabin with the intention of keeping them in storage. One day while me and my Beloved were at the cabin the time seemed right to investigate the contents.  He smash the locks off with a hammer and opened them. Low and behold it was quite the time capsule. I still haven’t been able to read some of the old journals for fear of what I might find. But I did delight in seeing the birthday cards, evidence of a time when people actually wrote down their sentiments and used snail mail.

I wasn’t prepared to find the old letters from my Beloved who now once again sat there with me. Our love story goes that we were together in college, went our separate ways for 17 years until we reunited again. (I guess you can thank electronic correspondence for some things). The reunion was just as romantic as these letters he’d written me many years ago that I saved. We sat on the screen porch nestled in our own little tree house at the edge of the lake. I listened with nostalgia as he read postcards sent to me while in the heart of our relationship. They were gushing with the adrenaline and sweetness of a 19 year-old. Then the tone shifted when he read a letter written about one year after we broke up. (I broke up with him. Don’t ask why I did that…when you’re 19 years old do you really need a reason? Maybe the answer is in one of those journals!) In this letter was his sadness, longing, regret and recovery from the relationship ending. His words were poignant and unlike a typical 20 year-old college kid. I suspect his open heart and raw vulnerability scared me off at the time, but I cherished it now. I started crying. He teared up as well. I was grieving all the lost years together but also reveling in the gratitude of being reunited. Could it be that here was a love “story” that had truly existed beyond my imagination and come full circle?

Tucked amidst the cards and journals was a poem. I think I had torn it out from a wedding program.

 “Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.” ~Louis de Bernieres

Happy Valentines Day.