People often say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” I’m not sure that’s always a true statement. In fact, I think some people know exactly what they have, but in the process of taking it for granted, they think they will never lose it or they don’t do the work to keep it. So … the realization at the end isn’t some deep moment of clarity and awareness. It’s more an “oh shit” feeling of “I can’t believe it’s actually gone.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately … not like losing my keys or my wallet, but the loss of people from our lives. Sometimes loss comes from death, but it also comes from changes in situation (like someone gets a job and moves across the country), or from rough patches in a relationship that just can’t be mended. Sometimes loss happens abruptly. But sometimes it happens over time as a gradual process, like helium from a balloon that sits stagnant too long, or a flower that’s gone too long without water. The relationship wilts. And without the right attention, it will die.
I was reading an article online recently about fighter pilots. In addition to all the implied dangers of the job, these pilots face an insidious threat called hypoxia. Because the system that produces oxygen for pilots who fly at high altitudes is not always perfect, pilots sometimes suffer from a lack of oxygen to their brains which can produce light-headedness or a lack of concentration (like the symptoms we may more commonly associate with high-altitude mountain climbers). In worst case scenarios, a pilot can black out from the lack of oxygen. Unless he “wakes up,” he could end up descending hopelessly into the ocean.
So what does this have to do with relationships? I think the slow, gradual loss of a relationship is a lot like hypoxia. Something happens that causes our relationship to stop breathing. And unless we can find a way to once again start sucking oxygen into it, we find ourselves disoriented and disconnected. Our relationship becomes distressed.
And so I go back to my opening observation. I wonder how often people in distressed relationships actually stop to think about what they have – and if what they have (maybe not at the moment, but overall) makes them happy. Unlike the pilot who may not even be aware of his impairment, partners in a hypoxic relationship could work together to breathe new life into their situation. Of course, there is also a chance to pull the metaphorical parachute and escape. Either way is a choice. And both choices, I believe, are ok ….as long as we made the effort to know and value what we had before it was gone.