Discovering Love, Only to Lose It. (Or Give Up.)

Today I’ve been interested in National Geographic’s Ten Weirdest New Animals Discovered in 2010. I tend to be interested in discoveries, especially in the natural world. And most especially discoveries about love and longing – not that the Nat Geo piece had anything to do with the latter, except for a few stray comments about mating behaviors among certain species.

But what did catch my attention is the snub-nosed monkey, discovered in Myanmar in 2010. The not-so-little thing is said to have been so fragile or sensitive in ways that it would sneeze during rainfall. And the sad thing? The only known snub-nosed monkey was killed and eaten.

And that’s what reminds me about love.

Sometimes we discover a love (or something that could become a love, if given the opportunity) that invigorates us, inspires us, helps us to see or feel or learn about parts of ourselves that we didn’t know about before, or that we’d forgotten about.  Sometimes we become afraid of those feelings, maybe because they’re so powerful or because they shake our world or because for the love to have a chance we will have to leave a current partner to follow it or the other person will have to leave their current partner to find it – or both people will – and that’s scary and sad.

And so we kill it. We kill the thing-that-could-be-love before we ever get the chance to find out whether it could grow into a full-out love.

A long time ago, I did this in my own life, ducking out on something that I had a sense could be quite good if I or we only followed it. But for various complicated reasons, I or he or we didn’t follow it. We killed it instead, which is sad.

I’ve generally not been one, for example, to want to break up another person’s relationship, even though I’m fond of movies in which people long for other people who aren’t their partner (Serendipity, anyone?). I wonder sometimes at the contradiction in American society – on one hand, a moral imperative about monogamy and sticking it out and yet, on the other hand, a plethora of rom coms that celebrate people finding their true love, even if they’re married or otherwise committed to someone else.

I suppose that’s an exploration for another day, though. It’s just so compelling that these are stories of people who find a love and go for it anyway – or, in the case of Serendipity, who find it and let it go – only to find they can’t really let it go at all.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at