Over the years, as relationships have come and gone, I’ve often found myself reflecting on the “L” word and what on earth it means. It must be one of the most used words in the dictionary, yet in my experience, it’s also one of the most easily and often misunderstood. It seems there’s often very little correlation between what one person thinks they mean by it, and what the person they’re saying it to thinks it means!
Leaving aside the reptiles masquerading as humans who use professions of undying love and adoration as a way to manipulate and control others; in the realm of sincere intentions, and taking the risk of horribly oversimplifying something which is usually anything but, I’ve observed two main types of relationship that come under the general title of ‘love’.
First, there are the entanglements – which come in a range of guises, but have some things in common: they tend to be intoxicating to start with, like any drug – with big highs, followed by equally big lows; they often involve being with someone that none of our friends think we should have anything to do with; and they tend to escalate quickly to a point where we think we’ve finally met the person we’ve been ‘waiting for’ – but eventually end up with us wondering what we ever saw in them
This is love as an emotional roller coaster. It may be appealing if the rest of our life feels empty, and because of the adrenaline rush, it can be addictive even when we know it’s not really good for us. Millions of films, books and plays are based around this notion of love as a kind of dangerous drama – an intense palette of feelings which make us feel more alive because of the pain (like a kind of self-harming), as well as the joy they cause. I’ve been on this ride a few times, and with hindsight I can say that for me this type of ‘love’ was rooted in unhealed wounds from the past which I’d projected onto the object of my adoration, rather than an appreciation of that of that person as they really were. And it had very little to do with any true compatibility between us.
Relationship experts tend to believe that these irrational but fierce feelings of attraction or attachment to someone are often the result of a buried hurt from our childhood. For example, because I didn’t feel very loved by my parents, I was drawn to women who were emotionally unavailable – and the less available they were, the more desirable they seemed. These relationships were the emotional equivalent of wanting ice cream, but only getting ice – and then going back again for more of the same. Perhaps I thought that was all I deserved, or I needed to be punished for some reason. Either way it wasn’t good for me, or the person I was with at the time
Which brings be to the second kind of love. I’m getting too old to want drama and turmoil in my love-life – and I’m not sure I ever really enjoyed it all that much, anyway. I just thought it was all that was possible, and it helped me fend off what I now know to have been an unnecessary fear of being alone. I don’t want metaphorical ice-cream (which gets sickening after a while) or ice. I want the kind of love that’s enjoyable and emotionally nutritious – not too much sugar, or chili sauce, although they’re both lovely in small amounts – and I think I’ve discovered the best recipe for this.
But to enjoy it, I need to have either healed from, or let go of, the buried pain from the past, and replaced any distorted and negative beliefs about myself with a realistic appreciation of the good-enough person I am so I don’t need someone else to reassure me about my basic human worth any more. It’s those thing that make entanglement hard to resist!
For me, the recipe for simple, healthy and happy love has six main ingredients ;
Kindness; humour; forgiveness (including of ourselves); affection; attraction ; and respect – including trust.
These can be expressed by my partner and I in five main ways;
1. We both know, and accept ourselves as we are – without shame or vanity;
2. We both believe and expect the best from each other – and are sure if either of us ever seem to fall short, there must be a good explanation;
3. What’s important for me becomes important for my partner, just for that reason – and her well-being is as important to me as my own (and vice versa on both).
4. When we have a conflict we see it as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and each other, rather than either of us trying to be more ‘right’;
5. There are no secrets or lies between us (ourselves or each other) about anything that matters.
What it boils down to is finding the same things funny/unfunny; interesting/uninteresting; and important/unimportant. i.e. similar values, similar interests, similar humour, and similar taste.
Binding all that together and making it work is our “commitment“ – i.e. trusting that we’re both mature enough to know who we are and what we want from our relationship, and we’re not going to give it up on it easily!
With all the benefits of hindsight, I now believe that if your relationship doesn’t have those simple ingredients, the best thing would be to own up to that and go your separate ways.
Unless you need more complicated turmoil and drama in your life, of course!
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