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Dear In The Headlights

My boyfriend and I were together for over two years. We broke up when I went away to college. Recently, he moved here, and we started spending a lot of time together. We are, in many ways, acting like we are together. He tells me every day that he loves me. Still, I'm not sure whether I should get back together with him because I'm afraid I will get hurt again. It killed me when we first broke up. Then again, I'm equally afraid not to give "us" another chance, because I love him so much and I'm scared to death of losing him forever (which is what will happen if things don't work out). What should I do?


EVERYBODY'S LOOKING for a fairy-tale ending: "Gazing deep into each other's eyes, they strolled over the hill, hand in hand, into the sunset...and were promptly flattened by a passing van."

Oops. That was the Stephen King ending. Or rather, how Stephen King almost ended.

Life is dangerous. The harder you live, the more likely you are to have heartbreak, tooth decay, or death offer you a lap-dance.

You do have an alternative: Crawl under your bed with your cat. For excitement, crawl out and watch the wallpaper yellow with age. This probably sounds like a safer bet than handing your heart to a guy who's already had a part in pounding it silly. Actually, the safe approach is dangerous, too; especially in a relationship. One of my favorite deep thinkers, Krishnamurti, says in the book, 'Freedom From The Known,' "The demand to be safe in a relationship inevitably breeds sorrow and fear."

I'm with him. If you want love in your life, you have to agree to the cover charge -- pain that sears you right down to your DNA. You do this by embracing loss. Things end. Relationships tank. What's alive eventually kicks way or another. If you accept that this will happen to you and yours, and that you won't spontaneously disintegrate into a pile of cracker crumbs when it does, you can live in the moment instead of living in fear that you won't have any more moments.

Ironically, people who accept loss as a part of life seem best at preventing it. Biologist Jay Phelan, who not only co-wrote the page-turner "Mean Genes," but managed to score an appearance on Howard Stern without first getting implants, put it this way: "I try to be the man I imagine my wife would cheat on me with."

Love is unlike a plastic shopping bag in that it does not come with handles. To extend its tenure in your life, treat it as something that could blow away at any moment. Sideline the popular view of commitment (that it's a license to get fat, smelly, and boring) in favor of acting like you're permanently on your first date, and you aren't sure whether you'll be offered the opportunity for a second one.

Avoid beaching yourself in front of the television like a drunken walrus, burn all your stained gray tee shirts, and resolve never to speak to your boyfriend in the tone you'd use on someone who's just dumped a wheelbarrow of manure on your Persian rug. For added electricity, you might even consider (gasp!) living apart. Behave as if the lights could go out on your love at any moment, and it might actually last...that is, until speeding van conversion do you part.

Copyright ©2001, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, Ask The Advice Goddess, which appears in 60 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.