I am a romantic. There is no denying it.
I was raised in the 80’s on a steady diet of John Hughes romantic comedies, Sweet Valley High novels and power ballads. It was dramatic. We were dramatic. The expectation was huge romantic gestures…John Cusack with a boombox standing outside my window…and only happy endings.
I thought for so long that it was all about falling in love. It was about the beginning. What happens next? Who cares. We are in love and the rest will sort itself out.
Roll credits. Ride off into the sunset. Mission accomplished. Right? Nope.
What it Means to Fall in Love
Falling in love is beautiful. It is flowers and butterflies. It is exhilarating, euphoric. We are flooded with every good-feeling chemical our body can conjure to attach us to another human being.
The beginning of a relationship is a cloudy, hazy mess. It is a flood of lust and emotion and it all overrides any warning signs that might be glaring obvious. And before we know it, we find ourselves in a mess of a relationship wondering what we were thinking when we got into this situation.
Hence all the articles about reading the signs. Because we can’t see straight when we are falling.
What it Means to Stay in Love
Falling in love has nothing to do with staying in love or building a healthy long-term relationship. Two different experiences. You can fall in love with a load of people who are the polar opposite of who would actually make you happy.
You simply can’t make it work with just anyone. There are core components that must be present to become a couple with a successful, thriving relationship over time.
- You Share Values: falling in love is about getting swept away in the dream and fantasy of the relationship. But knowing if you are compatible is pure, logical decision making. Do we want the same things? Do we believe the same things?
- You Have a Friendship: You have to love spending time together. Obviously. But even more important, you need to treat each other with respect. That means your love is not the only element of your existence. Just like your friendships you have a life outside of that relationship.
- You Have Hard Conversations: Couples who feel like they have successful relationships have the hard conversations, with each other and no one else. Complaining about your spouse instead of confronting the problem head on never strengthened a relationship. It undermines the foundation and betrays what should be fundamental, trust in each other.
- It Takes Two: We get so confused by common relationship advice. We think we need to ‘commit’ and that means making ‘sacrifices’. Yeah, ok. But let’s not get carried away. So many bad relationships continue to exist based on something that looks like compromise but it is more akin to mutually assured destruction. Forced compliance isn’t love.
- A Feeling of Freedom: You can’t have a life together if you don’t have a life of your own. You need your own friends, your own creative pursuits, your own passions. In providing separateness, we ensure freedom. Restriction is born of fear, insecurity in the relationship. Insecurity in ourselves. No relationship can thrive without the freedom to outgrow its current form.
Maybe someone stood outside your window with a boombox to profess their undying love. That’s sweet. And as much as I would love to believe those huge romantic gestures will be the moments that reveal true happiness, it’s a fantasy. It is not a dream proposal, a house with a three-car garage or the perfect vacation that will guarantee your future relationship. It is the work you do everyday as a couple.
What it Means to be Addicted to Love
It’s not a good thing. Feeling the high-drama of relationship ups and downs is a bad sign. As Brené Brown says, don’t work your shit out on other people. If you find yourself on the giving or receiving end of any of these, it might be time to think through your life choices:
- Leaning heavily on your partner to meet all your needs
- Committing too quickly or rushing through stages of the relationship
- Using sex to smooth over relationship fights or problems
- Justifying the bad behavior of your partner to others
- Feeling exhausted by consistent low-level problems
- Changing yourself to accommodate the relationship
- Losing relationships with friends or family
- Never feeling you can do enough to make the relationship work
Why The “Why” Matters
The only reason to ever get into a relationship is because you love being with that person. I love you, in itself is not a reason. Love can be good or bad. It can be romantic and healthy or toxic and oppressive.
A relationship will never “fix” you or the other person. It will expose every flaw you have to the daylight. If you use the facade of a relationship to hide your own personal flaws, then your relationship becomes a transaction.
I will be happy in this relationship if and only if you make it your mission to make me happy. No. It is my job to make me happy. It is your job to make you happy. Then we come together, we ride the highs and lows of life together.
So there go the huge romantic gestures I used to dream about. It is my job to find that feeling on my own. The worst behavior in a relationship is to sit around waiting for someone to profess their undying love so that you can have a good day.
I still love romantic movies. It is my strength in relationships to use my wild imagination, my romantic nature to see a future and participate in creating it together. But I live in reality.
And that means creating what I need for myself.