A few weeks ago, something sad happened to us.
Our oldest son, Devin, just had his heart broken for the first time. He is a senior this year, anxiously waiting for college. He is a responsible guy. He makes his car payment with a job at O’Charley’s bussing tables. Before that he did neighborhood yard work. He’s a really good student – straight A’s this year. He doesn’t have a curfew per se, but he comes home at a reasonable time, so there’s really no need.
Devin has been ‘going out’ with the same beautiful woman (a young girl at the time they began dating) since sixth grade. Six years. That’s more than a lot of people stay married. A lot more. They had been together so long that their identities morphed. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but when people are together for a long time it happens. Their friends and families always thought of them as a couple.
She became a part of our family. Summertimes when they were younger, if went out on the lake or went to a movie, we pretty much always counted on her coming along. When making dinner I regularly had to ask if there were going to be four or five. She would write these lengthy cute, silly, love notes we would find in his jeans before putting them into the wash. Reams of them. When she sang, we went to their church. Her concerts, recitals, birthday parties, graduation… we would always be there. She would bring us presents when they returned from vacations. We loved her.
Devin was always so incredibly loyal. He never looked at another girl, never thought about being with anyone else. But she was heading off to college a year before him. I guess what happened was natural.
When we think back on Dev’s years between 6th and 12th grade, we’ll always think of her.
So the other day, when Devin called from her house and asked us to meet him in the driveway, I knew something was up. Heidi and I stood there as he pulled up and got out of his car. He told us that she’d broken up with him and we all sort of fell into each other’s arms and cried. It is one of those moments that will forever be etched into my mind. We had our arms around each other, sort of swaying, Heidi and I trying to absorb some of his young misery. The world as he knew it, his future, his dreams, came crashing in on him. His very identity had suddenly changed. Now he was not part of a couple. He was Devin. Just Devin.
Breaking up these days is such a different phenomenon than it was just a few years ago. There are leaks and suspicions raised by Facebook text and photos. Text messages that go back and forth that have to be interpreted, reinterpreted, every drop of meaning wrung out without an actual voice responding. Changing ‘status’ on Facebook was another phase in the process I had never considered from, ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’. Who are her friends? Who are his?
Seeing him so incredibly sad was one of the hardest things I have had to bear. His world had changed in a way that he had never before experienced. A few weeks have passed and things have calmed down. It’s possible that they may get back together. Who knows? I wouldn’t presume to know what is exactly the right thing.
But there are some positive aspects to this situation. For one thing, Devin has had to find out who he really is, what he is like when he’s not part of a duo. Of course he has been more introspective, but that couldn’t be all bad. And, in some ways, he has opened up to us more about his feelings. I can’t remember the last time I really held him, the last time he really cried in front of us, cried while we held each other tight. It was a sad, but incredibly touching moment too. That love and trust has been there all along, but I just hadn’t seen it for a while. We circled up our proverbial wagons, thought about each other more, appreciated family. We hadn’t shared the deep stuff for a while. Now we know we can. And that it’s more than just all right. It’s necessary. It’s hard to be lonely, but he knows that he is not alone. I think he knew that all along, but now it’s not just theoretical.
When he was in his deepest sorrow, he would ask, “What am I gonna do?”
And I could answer sincerely and meaningfully from experience with my own broken hearts, now so long ago and so far away, “You’re going to be OK, man. Breathe in, breathe out. One day at a time. You will be OK.”
I could put my arm around him and it wasn’t awkward. It was necessary. And I know that eventually he’ll be a better man because of this. Maybe he’ll be more careful with other people’s feelings. Maybe he’ll figure out who he really is, and that he is a truly wonderful, worthy person in his own right, by his own self. He’ll be able to look up and look out at the world in a way that he hasn’t since he has become a young adult.
Families and friendships are about building shared experiences, the good and the bad. The big memories stand out, right? The birth of babies, coming of age, death of loved ones, crying until your head aches, laughing so hard that you pee. They bind you together, make your relationships stronger. It’s a blessing that life isn’t just full of happiness, because of the hard stuff we have the opportunity to really cherish each other and know we can count on each other. Because of the difficult times, we know we can truly love.