Did you see the movie Moonstruck? Cher and Nicholas Cage. I remember very little of it, but there was a scene when an older man, distinguished university professor type, was out to dinner with a young woman who threw her drink in his face and stormed out. Olympia Dukakis* was watching and they started talking, she and the man. They were the same age, a little intellectual sparring, if I remember correctly, and he asks her to have an affair with him. It would have been a step forward for him, initiating a relationship with an equal, not some pretty young thing but someone who could challenge him without resorting to theatrics. And she refused. Why? he asked.
Because I know who I am.
And I thought: Oh, how much I would like to be there. To know myself so much that I don't have to save anybody. It seemed sort of impossible. At the time I was nineteen and very much in love with someone who told me at regular intervals that he didn't love me but seemed unable to let me go if it meant losing my friendship. Instead of breaking my heart in a good clean way he tapped away at it at intervals, breaking off slivers, until it was small enough I could hold it on the palm of my hand and even then I kept offering it to him every time he asked to see it. I could not imagine a future in which he would not be eventually redeemed by my love, I could not imagine a world in which knowing myself would come ahead of this consuming desire to love and to be loved.
And yet here I am, years later, and I have loved since then, have loved as much (though not as hopelessly, I think) and yet every year I have come closer to accurately seeing the situation so that I can walk away from just about anything that looks like it's going to hurt. And now to the point where I can even sit down at the table where water has been thrown, have a pleasant conversation if it seems like a good idea, and still walk away when it's time, even if it hurts a bit, because I know who I am.
*trivia: I voted for Dukakis and even worked on his campaign because I figured anybody related to Olympia Dukakis had to be decent, silly military photo op or no.