Our culture is crazy about love. Not crazy as in edgy and fantastic, but crazy as in seriously screwed up. We have been sold a Disney-saturated, happily-every-after story that sets us up for disappointment and struggle. So much so, we must unwind years of conditioning to understand that loving someone is hard, hard work. So is becoming the kind of person who someone would want to keep loving.
Here's what I think love means:
- We say that falling in love "just happens." But staying in love means doing, especially when it's a struggle to do so. Apologizing when you don't feel like it, getting up in the middle of the night to let the dog out so your wife can sleep, holding back a sharp retort even though it would feel so good to let fly.
- Lasting love is not a star-kissed, dozen roses fairy tale feeling; it is concrete and tangible, something you touch and shape and form and build every day. Even when you're in a bad mood, even when your partner is being a pain.
- Love means being willing to compromise, to negotiate, to get out of your comfort zone and find out how you can be different for this relationship. Only children get unconditional love; adults have to learn to be a loving--and lovable--partner. So, instead of "you complete me," love is "you inspire me to be the best person I can be--for me and for you."
- Love is not expecting your mate to fulfill every empty crack in your soul. Make yourself happy. Ignore the myth of "two-halves-make-a-whole"*** and keep doing your own work. Then ask your partner for support and comfort if you need it.
And last of all...
- Loving someone can be painful and it can be scary. It means taking risks, showing your messy, mangled innards to another person -- the mistakes you've made, the fears and insecurities about your body, your job, your life, the secrets, the shameful places. A couple I know write down their resentments towards each other and then read them to each other at the end of the week. They don't argue, defend, fix or fight; they just say, "thank you for letting me know." They report that just being able to be that honest with each other usually is enough. And they add, this honesty often leads to better love.
***Actually, two wholes make your relationship a whole lot stronger and more satisfying.