Life Advice for Book Lovers: For Lovers In the Exact Wrong Time and Place
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
I love advice columns so much, but yours is very special to me because of the book angle. I have always tried to understand life via books (with some terribly mixed results) but this time I can’t for the life of me find just the book I need to help with a particular problem.
The problem is this: four years ago I moved into my current house at almost the same time as my next door neighbor moved in. We met a few times at the local pub and almost immediately slept together. We just had the craziest chemistry, but I wasn’t ready for a relationship and turned him down when he asked me out.
Fast forward one year, and I was ready to admit I really had strong feelings for him, but he was seeing someone else. Fast forward another year, his relationship is over but now I’m seeing someone. At no point did our relationships stop us from hanging out together both platonically and… not.
Now we are both single at the same time, and we hook up regularly. My friends tell me that he and I just need to talk to each other about our feelings, because after four years it’s clear there is something very big between us. But to be honest, neither of us is the type to talk feelings, and… while I can admit I love him, that I am in love with him, I don’t see us working out as a couple.
Maybe it’s the timing, or maybe it’s that what we want in the future is different, or maybe it’s that we don’t know what the hell we want and figuring it out is too hard from inside a relationship. I don’t know. I am going to leave the country soon, and it is going to break my heart not to see him again, but I also don’t see how else this can end.
So what I’m looking for is love stories, but love stories that don’t have happy endings. Love stories where people meet and there is so much passion and intensity, but it doesn’t work out, and that is okay. They have a life changing love, but then they also have their own lives to live.
Even if you don’t get a chance to respond, thank you for reading and thank you always for your wonderful column!
Miss Movin’ On
Dear Miss Movin’ On,
Thank you—for your kind words about the column, but most importantly, for trusting us with your story, with this slice of heartache. It’s so, so hard to extricate yourself from that kind of knotted, tangled love. Especially when the roller coaster of what-ifs, the will-they-or-won’t they of it all, has become its own kind of solid ground. Four years is a long time to exist in that space. And, in a weird way, it’s sometimes easier to keep running into the warmth of that fire, isn’t it?
I liked your phrasing there, that there is “something very big between us.” It’s either love, or the elephant in the room. Personally, I’m always an advocate for saying how you feel and asking for what you need. But I know that sometimes there are no words. And while I do generally firmly believe that there are always books to show us the way, maybe the fact that you haven’t yet found a book to sate you in this particular situation means that there aren’t quite words for what you are to each other. It can’t be contained in the shapes of letters; it just is.
Still, we will try. I do believe if there is a book that comes close to what you seek, it has to be Laurie Colwin’s Another Marvelous Thing, which follows Josephine “Billy” Delielle and Francis Clemens: madly in love but married to other people. It’s the story of their love, which, as you requested, must end. It’s also right there, on the back of the book; I didn’t spoil anything, and in a way, that’s sort of the point: whether or not it goes on is unimportant. The joy is in the intimacy, the utter weirdness and intensity of their connection. Listen: “When I think about him it’s always in the past tense, but when I saw him I realized how alive these things are, even when they’ve ceased to be.”
And, for good measure, here are some other books you might enjoy: I’m sure everyone and their mother has told you to check out Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and honesty, if you haven’t, it might speak to you in this moment. See also: Lily King’s Five Tuesdays in Winter, which hinges on these meetings, the important intersections of lives after which we will never be the same. (Something about short stories also seems right, right? They tend to drop you into the remarkable, meaning-making parts of a person’s life and leave out the rest.)
For what it’s worth, you seem to be handling this circumstance with maturity and grace. Something you said reminded me of something Esther Perel said, the gist of which is this: There are two kinds of people in relationships: cornerstoners and capstoners. Cornerstoners believe that their person is an essential part of who they are; they want to build a life with that person as a key element. Meanwhile, capstoners see their life as their own journey, and it’s only when they are their fullest, truest form of themselves that they are ready to meet their person. It’s important to note that neither is better than the other, and you, my friend, seem to be a capstoner! Go out and do your thing. It’s a whole wide world out there, waiting for you.