I have a confession: if you tell me that you and your partner “love each other deeply” (or any variant of that phrase), while I may smile and nod in order to avoid being rude, inwardly I am not only rolling my eyes but also making a mental note of my “countdown to your breakup.”
Does that sound jaded?
Not really. Studies have confirmed that the more people post about their romantic relationship on Facebook, the more insecure they are. People who actively avoid posting about their romantic status are actually the most secure in their partner’s true feelings. My parents were married for 50 years and although they did say “I love you” to each other frequently, I never once heard either one of them tell a third party that they “love each other deeply” (or any variant).
You know why I think that was?
BECAUSE IT WAS ENTIRELY OBVIOUS THAT THEY DID.
The older I get in fact, the more convinced I am that many people, perhaps a majority of us, have no clue what “love” actually is…most especially in the romantic sense.
Our first exposure to it is our parent’s marriage, and based on stats that means at least 50% grow up with a not-great example of what it means to be in love. And that doesn’t even factor in people whose folks stayed together but really, really shouldn’t have.
Our next exposure to romantic love is (most likely) movies, songs and books. We could all play a riotous game now of naming supposed “love” songs that are anything but (me first! “Every Breath You Take“!); but it is also interesting to consider some of the really twisted portrayals we see in rom-coms.
And how about what we read? I am part of a whole generation who passed around dog-eared copies of the Flowers in the Attic series (incest is sooooo romantic!) but even if we somehow avoid the crap (not likely) what in the hell kind of a message does a great classic like Wuthering Heights give a reader about real love?
Is it any wonder we’re a bit confused?
When I watch people in overtly dysfunctional, codependent or even sometimes abusive relationships struggling to “make it work” because they “love each other deeply,” it is all I can do not to point out the obvious—that ain’t love, or even anything like it.
When I see people in healthy, happy, balanced relationships I personally feel healthier, happier, and more balanced myself.
Real love is like that. It isn’t just about the two people. It is about the inclusiveness and expansiveness their love creates for everyone who knows them.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, mind you
My parents, in addition to actually being in love were also marriage geniuses, I now realize. The meticulous care they took of their relationship and their cooperative interdependence (never co-dependence!) were quite breathtaking. They truly were a pleasure to be around and grow up with; however, I once confessed to my mom that I had a recurring nightmare that they had actually divorced when I was a teenager. The very specific timing of my dream prompted my mom to make a confession herself: that was the most challenging period she and dad went through in their marriage (although there were no overt signs of this to my recollection).
My Father’s job had him travelling a great deal and Mom was left home alone with a pubescent daughter (the horror!) and her snotty-attitude-teenaged sister (that’s me!) quite a bit. After a particularly long trip, they got into a nasty snit when we weren’t around in which my Mother quite dramatically declared, “I could walk out that door right now and never look back!”
To which my Father replied, “Yeah. Me too.”
My Mother describes that conversation now as a personal epiphany; she had been so caught up in her sacrifices and how hard the situation was on her that she had entirely discounted how challenging it was for my dad. Afterwards, they were better able to see the tests of both positions and work together to create more balance. So just because you have found true love doesn’t mean you can take each other for granted.
There is a purity and simplicity to love in that it is transparent.
There is no need for manipulation or subterfuge; in fact, if you feel the urge to try to manipulate someone you love, than I challenge you to consider that you are not really in love at all. Instead, you are experiencing what psychologists call an unhealthy emotional attachment. You cannot manipulate someone into loving you better or more; in fact, your attempts to manipulate your partner will actually push them away, cloud their judgment and cause them to behave towards you in inorganic, unhealthy ways.
True love lays its cards on the table. Because if you are playing a game, you are not in love.
Of course there will always be “players”–people who love the game of attraction and rejection and high-stakes drama. But for the rest of us, those who are looking for peace and enrichment in our relationships, here is what I know:
⦁ Real love is NOT a choice. It is an involuntary reaction. Ask anyone you know who is in a relationship you admire if I am right about this. So far, my unscientific poll has it at 100%.
⦁ Real love requires patience. “Whirlwind courtships” are not inevitably doomed to failure; just more often than not. Although falling in love itself is an involuntary reaction, how you proceed from there is where you have a choice. Many relationships that had the greatest potential doom themselves by trying to rush to the end of the story. Savor it; take time to read every word. This pays enormous dividends in the long run.
⦁ Real love is honest. Real love does not “go along to get along” because this is the slipperiest of slopes and leads to the number one relationship killer: resentment. Do not try to align your preferences with your partners if it is not a natural fit. Great relationships are never co-dependent, which means you each have the freedom within the relationship to be yourself and do things on your own. Contrary to popular opinion, it is NOT the couples who spend the most time together who have the healthiest bonds. It is those who have the trust and freedom to explore life without their partner’s constant attention that do. Because:
⦁ Real love accepts differences. I buried the lead here, so let me repeat: real love accepts differences. If you are in a relationship where your partner does not accept and in fact celebrate the ways you are different, then you are in the wrong relationship. Yin and yang is a critical piece of healthy attraction and lasting love. See your differences as “balance” rather than “conflict” and a whole new world has just opened up for both of you.
We all yearn for real love in our lives, but so often we settle for so much less because we figure dysfunctional “love” is better than no “love” at all.
But it isn’t. Dysfunctional love robs us of emotional security and self-worth and makes it less likely than ever that we will find the connection we are looking for; it undermines rather than uplifts.
Real love uplifts.
That is a pretty simple litmus test, actually.
Does your relationship meet that standard?
Photo: Getty Images
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