I thought I had it all figured out. I created my future in an imaginary crystal ball, and I was ready to ride off into the sunset into all my happily-ever-after, fairytale bliss.
The only problem with all of this is that I typically shared my unsolicited advice while single, avoiding love like the plague, or in a terribly toxic relationship.
I created unrealistic expectations in my mind that only set me up for one failed relationship after another, which I immediately justified as “one door closing so another could open” or promising my heart that “there are far greater things ahead than any we leave behind.”
As I’ve continued to grow and develop as a woman, a writer and a lover, I have learned a few things about true love and how skewed my perception of what it meant used to be.
I am fortune enough to be surrounded by so many amazing (absolutely imperfect) relationships that have allowed me to piece together a few secrets that no one (especially the self-righteous, naïve, advice-soliciting blogger I used to be) would dare tell you.
1. Love is not a feeling; it is a choice
I used to believe that when I found my perfect love, it would suddenly make everything else in my life perfect as well. I believed that love conquered all, and that one day I would meet someone who would change everything I felt, saw and believed.
This is simply not the way that it works. Being in love does not mean you won’t have days when you feel as though the world is ending and your life is over. Being in love does not mean you won’t be moody, grouchy, analytical of every detail and even question aspects of your relationship that self-affirming blogger girl would tell you marks a giant red flag.
Choosing to love someone in spite of these fleeting feelings is a constant, conscious, daily decision.
2. Lust fades, love stays
Butterflies, magic, stardust and rainbows are all great, but they all go away. Lust is present in the beginning of nearly all relationships, as it is what attracts you to someone in the first place.
Before you know it, butterflies in your stomach become taking care of him after one too many shots of whiskey, and getting dolled up for a dinner date becomes good morning kisses while sipping coffee on the patio with no makeup on. We are conditioned to believe that the former is better than the latter, but I believe the opposite.
Lust, chemistry and primal attraction are wonderful feelings, but they are just that: feelings. Love remains long after the clock strikes midnight and the magic fades away. Love is the ability to see beyond the shell in which someone is contained, and love them for the qualities they possess that would still be present if the whole world were blind.
3. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them
There are going to be times where you don’t really like your partner very much, but you still love him or her. In fact, love gives us the ability to see past all of the many annoying things that someone does on a daily basis.
Want to know the best part? This also means that someone loves you enough to put up with you even when they don’t like you at the moment.
No one is perfect; we all have our moods and our pet peeves and the things that make us unique. There will be times when you will look at your partner and think, “Why in the world do I love this person so dang much?”
When this question presents itself, stop and think about your life without him or her, and you will inevitably discover the answer.
4. Letting go of unrealistic expectations is the healthiest thing you can do for love
This is a really big one for me. I still struggle sometimes with wanting a storybook romance that makes all of the fairytales jealous. I set love on such a pedestal that I don’t think anyone stood a chance measuring up.
I still believe in love with all of my heart, but I am learning to accept the fact that I don’t get to determine the parameters for which love comes into my life.
It isn’t “settling” to accept the fact that true love takes work every single day, requires sacrifice and effort and does not involve finding someone who can read your mind and make every single one of your wishes come true.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations I had created for love allowed me to open my heart up to imperfect, jagged, pieces of love that filled spaces I didn’t even know were missing.
5. You are not your friend’s (or your sister’s/mom’s/neighbor’s) relationship
It is human nature to seek advice and consolation from loved ones when facing both highs and lows, but it’s imperative to remember that your relationship is not the same as any of the relationships around you.
I adopted trust issues after my best friend was cheated on, became a phone snooper when a girlfriend snooped and found exactly what she was looking for and I’ve convinced myself on a coffee date that all men must be the same.
Relationships have enough problems, struggles and limitations independently; don’t borrow problems from those around you. Along the same lines, everyone around you will always have the answer/advice/solution no matter what kind of situation your current relationship is facing.
Take these words of wisdom with a grain of salt. Follow your heart, but take your head with you, too. You are not him or her; he or she is not you and nobody really understands all of the intricate details of a relationship from the outside.
6. Love needs to be watered in order to grow
Just as much as loving someone is a choice, relationships must be watered and nurtured in order to grow into their purest, fullest, happiest form. Relationships, like anything else worth having in life, take work. This does not mean that you should be bending over backward and causing riffs in all other aspects of your life in order to make a relationship work.
Working on a relationship and making a relationship work are two completely different concepts. Life is way too short to spend it with someone you are simply “making it work” with. At the same time, it’s imperative to remember that you must protect and nurture your relationship if you want it to thrive.
Take time to reconnect, show appreciation and grow together. All too often I see people living parallel lives; merely coexisting with their significant other.
While it’s important to continue to grow and develop individually, it is just as important to grow together and strengthen the bonds that brought you together in the first place. The grass is greener where you water it, and love grows fullest when watered on a daily basis.
7. Dirty laundry does not belong anywhere other than a laundry basket
Social media makes this concept very difficult, as many people are conditioned to turn directly to a tweet, status or hashtag to declare their feelings and emotions at any given moment.
I had a wonderful conversation with an older couple in which the woman told me that she had a conversation with her daughter when she was having marriage issues. “I just don’t get it; you and dad have never been in a fight in your 40 years of marriage, yet we seem to fight all the time. What’s your secret?”
The woman replied, “Honey, dad and I fight when he leaves the milk lid unscrewed, swears in front of the grandkids and forgets to turn the AC off before leaving the house. We’ve spent the past 40 years fighting. The secret to our marriage is the fact that the fight starts and ends exactly where it belongs: between us.”
I love this concept. Life is not always going to be rainbows and butterflies, and relationships will inevitably face rough waters and bumpy roads. A disagreement between two people is much easier resolved than a disagreement that involves social media and screen shots of conversations.
It’s easy to want to declare your emotions and anger to the world when you are feeling hurt or vulnerable, but learning to turn to one another and to work on discovering the root of the problem will lead to a much more healthy resolve. Plus, it’s no fun having to defend a mended relationship that you just got done slandering via social media.
Keep your dirty laundry in your laundry basket and learn how to sift through it together.
8. Sometimes you don’t “just know” and that’s okay
This is another concept I continue to struggle with. I always believed that I would meet someone and instantly know he was my soul mate. I have heard people say, “when you are with the right person, you will know,”more times than I can even count, and I spent a lot of time letting people pass me by because I would meet them without having an instant connection.
I know that part of my heart will always be a hopeless romantic, and I am okay with that, but I am also learning that sometimes falling in love isn’t fireworks and ringing bells and jumping from airplanes without looking below.
Sometimes love is a quiet wave, slowly kissing the shore and sneaking back into the vast blue ocean. Sometimes love is friendship caught fire, a well-deserved second chance and a resting place for your heart when you find yourself caught in a storm. Sometimes love has been right under your nose all along.
I still believe that when I find my perfect love, I will “know” in a sense, but I am learning that for everything I know, there’s a parallel that I don’t know and that’s okay. Sometimes love isn’t having everything figured out, but, rather, finding peace in knowing that you have someone by your side that you enjoy discovering the answers with.
9. Your life is not a movie
There are two outcomes in life: the way we think it should go and the way it actually ends up going. Movies, social media, online articles and Hollywood dramas set a precedence that does not align with reality in any sense.
When we encounter struggles or hardships, it’s almost human nature to think of the ultra-romantic way our significant other SHOULD handle it. Don’t let your relationship “should all over itself. Your relationship may not make a very good screenplay, but life has enough ups and downs and sometimes a relationship is best when served on solid ground.
Allow your relationship to grow and develop without expectations set by others. Keep in mind that even the most romantic and sexy movies end (usually in 90 minutes or less). Your relationship has the potential to be a lifetime of sweet moments dipped in a heavy dose of reality. Treating your relationship with movie-worthy expectations with inevitably result in a not-so-happy-ending while the credits roll.
10. Love takes time
Last, but certainly not least, please remember this: love takes time. We live in a world where we want something, and we want it now. I’ve learned that the faster something catches fire, the faster it is likely to burn out.
Be patient with your heart. Be patient with the hearts around you. If you see potential in someone, allow it to transpire naturally, without forcing expectations and timestamps all over it.
Men often take longer than women to open up, and it can be frustrating to feel like you are progressing much quicker than your partner. Please remember that just because someone doesn’t love the SAME way you do, it doesn’t mean they don’t love with all that they have.
Patience is a characteristic that I feel many of us neglect in so many aspects of our lives. It’s important to not only be patient with our loved ones’ hearts, but patient with the heart beating within our own chest.
We have all loved and lost, been hurt and scared, and we are all choosing to put one foot in front of the other in an attempt to love again. Be patient with your feelings, be patient with your emotions and be patient when giving your love.
Let yourself give love. Let yourself be loved.