Real Love vs. Convenient Love

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“Yeah, I think I got one.”


One time, I was in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and out loud I asked, “What is this?” It was a sponge.

I say this because everything below this line is how a girl who has lost a lot, and lived a relative amount of life, and navigated through pain and passion, sees love. But, also, I’m 25 years old and sometimes ask questions with answers that end in “It’s a sponge.” Take what I say with a grain of salt.

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I had a friend comment this week on the fact that he didn’t comprehend how I was able to take such average life moments and turn them into sentences in an essay that say more. The answer? I don’t see average.

I see the way he slowed down his pace when we were walking on a trail, just so that his wife wouldn’t walk alone. I see the way they talked life in the front seat of the car and the stolen glances between them. I noticed what he said - “Ugh we’re wearing matching hats” - but I also noticed how he said it - with a smile and the confidence that this is what being on a team looks like some days.

After a long day of work, and a photo shoot we were just embarking on, they didn’t need long letters to remind each other they were on the same team. Two matching hats, it was their jerseys.

We navigate love in such unique ways. Often expecting partners to be these perfect cutouts of everything we need in life. Except, they’re as human as the people we see reflected in the mirror. They have flaws and shortcomings and moments of doubt.

They have sensitivities and traumas that need to be dealt with and triggers that are land mines we didn’t even know existed.

They have moments where the answers to questions are “it’s a sponge” and moments where the answers to questions are “the speech is in Italy.”

We get lost. In love. In life. In our careers. In moments of heightened passion where it’s sex against walls. In moments of tender love when it’s tears side by side on a comforter from Target.

We love. It’s the one drug that I welcome into my life because there are few things that get me as high as a stolen look or a hand squeeze in the back of a cab. It’s familiarity broken into blocks of average moments, that maybe we don’t notice, but that we definitely feel. It’s walking into a Duane Reade to buy allergy medicine and feeling really anchored because you know who your partner is at the end of the day.

No one is perfect. I’ve left much to be desired as a partner at times, but when a man looks at me and all he can see is my heart and how I show up, it’s all that matters.

A few months ago I read The 5 Love Languages and it did for me what my friend said it would, it helped me see how real love isn’t a single language with a single alphabet. It’s layered, it’s intentional, it’s a choice. It’s moments of broken down faith that pour as much cement on a healthy relationship as moments of pure laughter do. But you can’t get one without the other, at least not in a relationship that can persist beyond the initial high and fantasy of love. Love that is convenient, that bends to your desires, that is rooted in an unhealthy power dynamic, that fleeting infatuation doesn't persist it disintegrates under pressure and under the weight of reality. It leaves you always reaching for more because you didn't have anything to begin with. 

There have been so many moments in my relationships - romantic and otherwise - where brokenness sat between us like a frame that was shattered into a million pieces. You’re left wondering that if love looks like a shattered frame is it really love?

This then spirals to: if love looks like a partner who doesn’t understand every corner of my passions, is it real love? If love looks like fights before big days, is it really love? If love looks like being able to shut down all emotions when fear creeps through the door, is it really love?

I’m naive and twenty-five, so I say, yes. It is really love because love is a choice and a challenge. It’s waking up every morning and deciding to invest your time and feelings into someone who is as fractured as you are. It’s understanding, deeply and truly, that none of us has arrived when it comes to relationships. We are all works in progress, trying to not step on cracks that we should maybe be stomping on.

Is your biggest fear that he’ll leave because you let yourself break down in front of him? Break down in front of him, that’s real love.

Is your biggest temptation that someone else will be able to navigate certain topics or environments easier than your person will? Find someone who can talk about it, then ask yourself who you still prefer to go home to.

Is your biggest reality that you have to produce, do, achieve, in order to have love reciprocated? Stop producing, stop doing, stop achieving, look at who and what remains. That's real love. 

Being in love is the feeling and foundation for a relationship between two people. Loving someone involves just you. It has little to do with what the other person does or doesn’t do, and everything to do with the way you interact with the person and your surroundings as a whole.

Loving someone makes you fearless and more afraid than you have ever been. It makes you want to bubble wrap your person and take away any shovels they use to keep digging deeper holes, mistakes they keep repeating. It teaches you to trust and have faith in someone other than yourself. I’ve navigated my entire life having to depend solely on myself and my judgement, to be able to let go of the reigns and let someone else be the adult and guiding light at times, that’s love for me.

When I talk to my friends about relationships and partners, I do so with a deep understanding that we all have our own personal values and boundaries. I’m fortunate to exist within a group that understands love that stays and love that knows when to leave. They’ve taught me more about boundaries and expectations than anyone else in my entire life. Because through example and action we tend to learn more than through words.

When my friend and his wife walked back into the home they’d created for themselves that evening, they had a routine. She was letting out pets, he was making sure cats that weren’t supposed to get out stayed in the living room. There was a flow and ease to the way they interacted with each other that stole my breath away. To my eye it was effortless, and seamless, and like a dance.

To them, it was probably closer to a reminder of the moments of bumping into each other that taught them how not to, it was probably fights in the middle of the night that found them in the dark and kisses in the morning that brought the light. It was becoming and showing up for each other when no one else understood why they would. But they probably saw it. They knew what they were working for.

A night of letting out pets and keeping others in, without bumping into each other.

Hard work. Staying. Showing up. Being yourself. That’s love.