Ask JKE is our monthly advice column written by Jackie Kai Ellis. Submit your questions anonymously here.
How did you find the faith to fall in love again? What did you do to find your way back to love—books, resources, therapy, etc.
Heartbreak is hard. While your heart is healing, questions circle. What went wrong? Was it me? What do I want now? How do relationships survive? What even is love?
When my marriage fell apart, I went through many years of searching for answers. I wanted to understand the mechanics of love so that I would never have to suffer the same pain again. I wanted to know the terrain ahead so that I could navigate it—avoiding the holes and bypassing the quicksand to find the safest way across. I imagined love as an obstacle course and my mission was to conquer it, to come out on the other side without so much as a scratch.
I read books, saw my therapist, questioned the purpose of relationships, and interviewed couples celebrating their golden anniversaries in search of their secrets. I thought that perhaps I didn’t know what I wanted, having gotten married young without ever really dating. So I decided to challenge myself to discover what kind of relationship I wanted and who I wanted it with. I was so petrified of being hurt again that, on my first attempt at dating, I casually tried to hide a full-blown panic attack. Of course, panic attacks are not easy to hide, but my date was kind; we eventually became good friends with a funny story.
As time went on, I continued to meet people (sans panic attacks), dipping a toe or more in the water but always with one foot firmly out. Though many years and relationships passed, and though I was learning about the landscape of love, I was still scared to love with my whole heart again. I was scared of making the wrong decisions; I was scared of being shattered again.
Around this time, I met someone else who had been shattered. He spent time healing in his own way: not pushing himself to date as a form of exposure therapy and not seeing love as a challenge to conquer, like I did. He quietly felt his pain, nurtured his wounds, and, in the midst of it all, found the little string of light in a sad place, following it until he felt brave enough to try again.
I watched him, with his whole heart, put both feet in the water. I was confused and bemused as he fell in love with me. At the time, I thought it was foolish—but when I look back now, I see that it was courageous.
For him, the point of love was not to come out unscathed, but to have the courage to live a life full of love despite its inevitable pains.
After many more dates, each time putting myself deeper in the water, I too eventually came to understand this. That heartbreak will happen, in all different ways. Sometimes it may not end in a breakup, but with a betrayal that can be healed—and sometimes it may result in moving on after many happy years together. I learned that the joy of love and intimacy, and the pain of vulnerability and loss, are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have one without the other; if we evade pain, we also evade joy.
Many years later, that courageous man and I chose to be courageous together. Separately we had discovered that the courage to love another came not from faith, but from knowing how to love and how to trust ourselves first. He learned how strong he was and promised never to abandon himself for anyone else again. I learned that the relationships we have are the ones we say yes to—so I figured out how to say no unless the other person could love and trust me as much as I had learned to love and trust myself.
And through this long journey of finding my way back to love, I have also come to understand that blind love—or blind courage—is, in fact, not courage at all. True courage is clear: it knows the potential pain, and despite the fear, it takes a knowing step forward and reaches out a vulnerable hand, asking: “Yes?”