Take your favorite romance novel. Then burn it. Don’t look at it again. Because real love is the exact opposite of your book that now smolders in the corner.
Don’t get me wrong. Real love does involve roses and candlelit dinners, but these things show up once every ten chapters rather than every single page. Real love does involve desire, but it’s something that ebbs and flows, advances and recedes, like the waters of the ocean. Real love does involve sacrifice, but there’s also a bit of selfishness and pouting in between those gallant gestures.
I’ve been married for over two decades, so when I speak to those of you who are still searching for true love, I come from a place of experience.
That old adage you need to take the good with the bad? It’s true. But I’m warning you. If all you have seen up to this point is a dashing prince or a dazzling princess, you need to wait a while longer before being certain the lover you have is one that will stand the test of time.
So, here’s what you need to see before you decide to go “all in” on a relationship you think has long term potential.
You need to see your partner at their worst
I know I’ve been urging you to erase the fairy tale romance from your mind, but before I go further, let me tell you that my husband is a prince. My prince. But he’s a flawed one. One that continues to wear underwear with holes, who sits far too long in front of his video games when I am hoping he’ll give me his complete attention, and one who becomes a complete ass and embarrasses himself (and me) when he has one too many drinks.
And even after twenty years, I often find myself fuming at him when the fantasy I envisioned for myself on my wedding day is blown to pieces. But true love should center around the person, not the fantasy.
This man in underwear held together by a thread applied for fast food jobs when he was fired from his six salary career. Luckily, he never had to take them because the fates were kind enough to bring him a better job. But I have absolutely no doubt that if luck had not found us, he would work at a McDonald’s cash register and even manage to smile if the thoughtless executives who stole his pride came in on their lunch break to get a meal. He would lay his heart down on the cold hard concrete and allow it to be trampled by horses before he let his family suffer.
This man I love who is glued to his video games took turns with me waking up in the middle of the night when our colicky son howled like a tornado. He chose to do this without any nudging on my part, even though he had to be at work early the next day while I had the luxury of staying home.
This man who makes a fool of himself when he’s had too much to drink still manages to stumble to the coffeemaker on those nights, setting it to brew automatically the next morning, so when I wake up, it is fresh and waiting. And he hates coffee, so the act is completely unselfish.
The point is that if you have truly found love, you will see beyond your partner’s “ugly.” You’ll find beauty even in the midst of their blemishes, and you’ll feel like the luckiest person in the whole wide world.
And if you can’t manage to see past your lover’s flaws, it may be a good idea to reconsider the strength of your relationship.
You need to see how your partner reacts when you are at your worst
One of the most insightful moments in a relationship is when the illusion of perfection you have tried to maintain for your partner shatters into a thousand pieces in front of them.
They might see your stretch marks for the first time. Your pettiness. Your cruelty or greediness. And the question is when they first see your “ugly” rear its head (and soon after resurface in a thousand different ways), how do they react?
For example, I am often vain and selfish. Many times I spend money on expensive makeup when it could be better used to do the home improvements my husband desperately wants to make. I am an extreme introvert who is frequently unyielding when my extroverted husband wants to have friends over or go out on the town. I suffer from anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder and am usually rigid and inflexible when my husband wants to make large or unexpected changes in our routines.
These are my “uglies.” And this is his reaction.
He tells me it’s okay to buy the three-digit moisturizer because he knows looking good makes me feel better about myself. He cancels engagements with friends at the last minute when he knows my people quotient has exceeded its limit. He doesn’t argue when we go on trips and I pack three extra bags with things I need to feel more secure at our destination.
He loves me in spite of my faults because he sees I am a wife who loves him in spite of his.
We’re a team. And the truth is our two “uglies” somehow make something beautiful, a relationship that is based on two flawed individuals who have managed to find love in its truest form. Love that is naked and vulnerable, and love that knows real princesses have scars and real princes have receding hairlines.
And if your lover can’t be this type of teammate, one who sees the glorious sun hiding behind your stormy seas, don’t give them the warmth of your rays when the rain is over. They’re not for you.
The bottom line:
American author Lisa Kleypas writes “I no longer believed in the idea of soul mates, or love at first sight. But I was beginning to believe that a very few times in your life, if you were lucky, you might meet someone who was exactly right for you. Not because he was perfect, or because you were, but because your combined flaws were arranged in a way that allowed two separate beings to hinge together.”
I’ve had this luck she speaks of, and I’m so very thankful. This is why I hope you see your own lover’s ’“uglies” and why I hope they see yours. Because only then can you decide if you have the foundation for a relationship that is real, one that is naked, open, and worthy of the rest of your life.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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