Taking the Temperature

A friend’s comment on my latest blog post launched in me a whirlwind of thought. My friend related the story of her mother who, after 45 years of marriage, fell in love with another man just a few months following her husband’s death. The couple enjoyed thirteen years of their new marriage, up until the man’s death. My friend and her siblings were stunned by the surprise and the speed of the relationship; those thirteen years, though, were wonderful, meaningful years. As my friend said in her comments, “Love happens sometimes when you least expect it.” I may be a wide-eyed unsophisticated romantic, but I believe the sentiments behind that comment are as reliable as the sun.

I am confident there are those in my circle of friends and acquaintances who think my new relationship with this woman—any woman at this tender moment in my life—is dangerous. They think its development was too fast. They think its potential for causing pain is too great. And they believe it will prove impossible to sustain because…”you’re investing all of your emotional capital without giving it time to grow naturally.” Or something along those lines. The unspoken message of those judgments is that my new girlfriend and I are taking enormous risks by allowing our emotions to control our actions, rather than following “safer” social conventions that would provide us protection from decisions made in haste. Okay, my confidence that others judge our relationship in this way is based less on overt evidence than on supposition. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m betting I’m not.

These judgments and doubts can, if we let them, interfere with our own feelings about the relationship. We would be naive if we simply dismissed those judgments and doubts out of hand. Yet putting too much stock in them could torpedo our own strong feelings that this relationship will not only survive, but grow. If we were to trust others’ distant assessments more than our own intimate and immediate experiences, we could risk dismantling something extraordinary simply because it is, admittedly, extraordinary. And so the matter ultimately comes to this: do we exercise extreme caution at the risk of letting an opportune moment that may never come again pass or do we expose ourselves to the risks (and the potential for immeasurable rewards) that unbound emotions can bring?

I understand and appreciate subtle suggestions that this time of chaotic emotion merits “putting on the brakes.” But I also understand that paying too much attention to warning to be cautious can ruin lives just as readily as being carefree and spontaneous. I have never favored taking action that completely disregards the potential consequences; consideration and analysis belongs even in cauldrons of emotion. But logic has limits in matters of love.

I hope my “assumptions” about what others might think of my blossoming relationship are not coloring how I view the world. I don’t believe they are. I avoid wearing rose-colored glasses. Yet I am aware that, as certain as I feel at this moment, things could change. This moment in my life could morph from an unexpectedly joyous one to an unspeakably painful one. I understand the risk of letting ourselves become so heavily invested emotionally that a derailment could cause immeasurable grief. I also understand that time is a precious commodity that can be squandered by indecision and “waiting until the time is right.”


On matters almost (but not completely) unrelated, here are some things that have been on my mind recently:

  • Cooking my own soft-boiled eggs at Hotel Le Calendal in Arles, France
  • Driving cross-country as the first stage of a long, leisurely exploration of time in the presence of happiness
  • Learning how to immerse myself in music in ways I’ve never known before
  • Dragging myself out of a rut of my own making on the wrong road
  • The joy of watching birds acquaint themselves with a new place to dine
  • Determining how much is too much and how little is too little and what is exactly the right amount
  • How unexpected joy and unexpected tragedy have the potential of overlapping
  • Neglecting anyone important in one’s life is a way to dash dreams


This post was meant to be shorter and more gleeful and cooler. I blame the temperatures. Arkansas should not be so damn hot at this time of year. Or any time of year.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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6 Responses to Taking the Temperature

  1. Kim, you have wisdom beyond your youthful years! Thank you for your kind and very true words.

  2. Kim Townsan says:

    Experience joy, love and happiness wherever and whenever you find it. Feeling fulfilled is never done by trying to meet the expectations of others.

  3. Janet, I so appreciate your comments! Your experience offers ample evidence that “madness” sometimes is the glue that binds us together. 😉 And your words are so very, very true: “No one understands a relationship better than the people involved in it.”


  4. Warren, thanks for sharing that very valid and valuable quotation.


  5. warrens1or2 says:

    “Right and wrong, good and bad, the lines are blurred when it comes to matters of the heart. Anyone who has never felt that has no right to judge and everyone who ever has won’t have to.” Megan Hart
    Follow you heart,

  6. Janet Holt says:

    Ah, John. Your statement that unexpected joy and unexpected tragedy have the potential of overlapping is the definition of life. There is no reward without risk. I married my husband within 60 days of our first date. My friends thought I’d lost my mind and told me it would never last. Yet here we are, still together 41 years later. No one understands a relationship better than the people involved in it.

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