I think I have a dysfunctional understanding of romantic love.
I don’t believe in falling in love
I didn’t fall in love with my ex. I slid into love. He was attracted to me, which I found very flattering, because he was funny and hot. A bit of flirting led to a few dates and a lot of getting to know each other, discovering similar values, interests and humor. Weeks of enjoyable dating became months and one day I woke up and I was sure I loved him. He had a spot in my heart, which continued to grow and take up space over the years.
That is the best way I can describe love: the person occupies a spot in my heart. My family all has their bit of real estate, and a few select friends do too: Dynamo, Coach, DD, P-dot and a few other ppl that haven’t made it into the blog. It has nothing to do with gender: my heart’s square footage is evenly distributed among girls and guys. Just sometimes, included in that space, is a male friend, that I also sleep with, and whose space grows steadily bigger and more lovely.
I believe in growing in love, even if it isn’t a perfect fit – what matters is the building of a life with someone else, based on respect, trust and non-romantic love (and really good sex!). A partnership of sorts, with someone with fundamentally similar values. The thrill isn’t in the beginning honeymoon phase: the thrill is in peeling back the layers of intimacy, slowly, over time. Always earning the other person’s trust, and discovering that it is reciprocated. Facing challenges together. Knowing someone has your back. Working through obstacles together. Motivating one another to be each other’s best self – not by whitewashing each other’s faults, but by acknowledging them with compassion, and continuously trying to live one’s best life. A safe-zone for vulnerability. I can’t imagine a greater privilege than being witnessed by someone. Not the persona I show the world, but me. All of me, continuously, even as I grow and change. Being seen honestly and accepted. That is the gift I wish to bestow on my eventual life partner. That, to me, is true love. It is almost impossible to do, and requires a lifetime of effort.
In a diluted manner, the above definition of love applies to those select friends and family. It is harder to accomplish, since there is less face time, and as such it is longer to strip away personas and get to that deep level of trust; it happens much more gradually, over the years of constant friendship. Nevertheless, love is the common thread between all those people. I can trust them with my real self, and in return they share unvarnished, less edited versions of themselves to me.
That is why I don’t really buy into romantic love. In my life, it has manifested itself as being just Love, with the additional components of sex and constant proximity thrown in.
I think I am missing part of the equation
I thought that was what I was doing with my ex: building a life together. The breakup blindsided me: he loved me, he did. Just not enough to marry me. I didn’t understand what that meant. Hadn’t we built 5 years of happiness? 5 years of trust? Were we perfect, no. But we were successfully building something. I had given all of myself to him, shown all of myself to him. And in the end, I was not good enough. That hurt like hell, especially because I didn’t understand what more he could have wanted. I still don’t. But in hindsight, I can acknowledge that I often idolized him, which by definition, means I wasn’t actually seeing the real him, which is a failure in my capacity to love.
Most recently, there was the Beaut saga. It ended because, as he told me, he liked me. He enjoyed my company, my mind and my body. He respected me, and had a fair bit of fondness for me. But he wasn’t in love with me. He didn’t have that magical feeling around me – he thought me more as a friend, one he really enjoyed having sex with. To him, that was the definitive argument as to why he didn’t love me. To me, that was the exact reason he appealed so much to me: I could reveal all of myself to him, and he was doing a pretty damn fine job at sharing all of his complicated story with me. As for magical feelings? Sure, I’d had some butterflies in my belly, which is how falling in love is commonly described, but upon analysis (supported by discussion with my therapist) that turned out to be driven by insecurities and pride (flattered at having the guy’s interest, insecurity that it wouldn’t last). Anything else, the sunshine and rainbows that we hear about in songs – yuck! I don’t want that, at all, because any excessive emotional high is always followed by an emotional low, and that rollercoaster is usually symptomatic of a dysfunctional setup. It goes against my goal of building happiness.
As I continue to explore my friendship with Beaut, there is no doubt: he has been granted a spot in my heart. I regret that I won’t have the chance to build a fortress of happiness with him, but it is what it is. I can’t force someone to pursue my vision of love and happiness – I did that with my ex, and it just resulted in a disaster. All those years, my happiness came at the cost of his, which is not what I want for someone I love. More importantly though, I wonder:
What if I am all wrong about love?
Everyone tells me that my concept of love is a bit off. “Of course you should fall in love, and then grow in love.” But that scares me. I can’t ever imagine myself relaxing enough around a person enough to trust them to fall in love. I need months of regular interactions before trusting a person with my real self. All of my special friends mentioned above – I didn’t love them from the get-go. I might have had a bit more affinity for them, I knew that I liked them well enough, but it was months/years before I realized that I truly loved them. That isn’t how it works in the dating world.
I think some cautious people just don’t throw themselves into things the way other personality types will do so… But I think it still happens, just not like in the movies.
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I “fall in love” the same way you do, but I don’t think we’re wrong! I like the way my love works– it’s a meritocracy, as opposed to a lottery. It’s based on both emotional and physical attraction, plus a growing intimacy and respect. What more is there to want? Some sort of intangible, “sublime” feeling? That’s what art is for.
(so um, there are probably others like us…you just have to date one of them)
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Thanks T. I sure hope so. I don’t think I can change how I am wired, so the best I can hope for is to find someone who approaches love the same way I do.
Hard to find though. I panic a little bit. Beaut was the only one I felt like dating in a 6 year period… OYE. But that is pointless anxiety, I know.
It must be hard to give 5 years of your life to someone and then find out they don’t want to take that last step. It must have hurt bad as you say and I would never put that all on yourself and it sounds like you didn’t. Whatever your definition of what “true love” is, or whatever you want to call it, there is someone for everyone out there. The day that you meet that person, eventually you’ll both recognize it in each other – doesn’t matter if it’s instantaneous or over the course of a few years. The important thing is not to close yourself off from it and to take that chance of putting your feelings on the line. It’s OK. You’er not screwed 🙂 You’ll find that person balletandboxing. I know you will.
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SO RELATABLE. ughhhhhhhhhhhhhh I’m with you.
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And also you weren’t not good enough for your ex. But I understand that feeling completely.
You describe Love. The acknowledgement of the other, the recognition of their self who turn to be unique. Love can happen through time of sharing. Your thoughts remind me of my parents who were married 68 years and my parents in law who were married 63 years… They loved and learnt to love.
WOW 5 years, usually around that time you know if you want to marry someone or spend the rest of the your life with them. I been with my husband for 16 years and we didn’t get married until we was together around 8 or 9 years, he always told me that marriage was nothing to him because we was going to be together no matter what a piece of paper said, we went on my lunch break and got married, I wanted his last name. But now I sit and think about the things I run into like did I rush my life, did I rush having 4 children by a man I only knew for 2 years. Love is not defined by marriage or time, love is defined by happiness, can you always be happy with a person aside from differences can you have a argument and agree to disagree. We lack communication and because we are two strong opinionated people it messing with my head and our relationship. Love is a unusual thing, and unless you truly know what love is it will always be a puzzle with missing pieces, good luck
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Thanks. Love IS confusing incredibly so. And it is not enough, just by itself. Communication skills, patience, kindness… all of those are ALSO required.
Adulting is hard.
Good luck with your hubby. 16 years is quite the achievement.