Dear Carolyn: I’m terrified about my boyfriend’s hobby: riding motorcycles. We’ve been together two years and in that time he has crashed twice, the last time totaling his bike. Thankfully, both times he only had minor injuries.
However, he is now looking to buy ANOTHER bike, and every time I imagine him on a motorcycle I just see myself at his funeral. I want to be supportive because I know he loves it, but it causes me so much anxiety.
What can I do? I’ve talked to him about it but he gets upset because he feels like I’m not supportive. He doesn’t seem to see the risks. He thinks he’s immortal. I don’t know what to do.
Dear K.: Embrace mortality. That’s what you do.
Given your boyfriend’s hobby and history, I suggest soon.
I am not being facetious. At all. In fact, if I thought it would help, I’d close every answer with this: “And oh by the way, if you’re not comfortable yet with the idea of death, then I suggest you work on it.”
There is no permanence. If collecting kitten posters were your boyfriend’s hobby, then the odds would tilt more toward his achieving old age, and — this is the real thing, I believe — you’d be better able to trick yourself into a sense of certainty. Sun will rise, summer will come, boyfriend will return from a run to buy milk.
But loving someone is a guarantee of heartbreak. Well, there is one loophole: when you die first. So if you’re building your happy on a belief that it’s possible for no bad things to happen, and if your happy can be derailed by having to stand closer to reality than your heart and imagination want you to, then please spend less time trying to rein in your boyfriend and more on your emotional resilience.
It’s hard. No one (healthy) wants pain. The only way many of us can face the idea of loss is through inevitability — when a loved one’s illness, injury or death forces us to.
But it needn’t be that way. Our minds are powerful things, and when we stop telling them life will be good when everything lines up just right, and tell them instead that life is good when we enjoy what we have while we have it — with conviction, with joy, with a release of strict expectations — our minds start to believe it.
One mantra to retrain your mind toward strength: “I can’t stop this, change this, prevent this. I can only manage it when it happens.” And when you doubt your ability to manage, look around. The human spirit has withstood war, famine, displacement, genocide, child mortality rates that would seem unendurable had they not been, in fact, endured. It has withstood bikers, too — who make it home, and who don’t.
Grief shatters. Most people mend and love again.
Loving a risk-seeker offers two choices: Embrace the risk or torture you both by fighting it.
Well, three: or break up if you don’t want this life.
Watching “McConkey” or reading “The White Darkness” in the New Yorker offers between-the-lines tutorials on loving adrenaline lovers — and “Six Feet Under” is a love-and-mortality master class.
For a mind that resists retraining, consider getting screened for anxiety; sometimes our choices do only so much.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.