Adult Relationships: Loving Well?

 Image Credit: Dylan Spitz

Image Credit: Dylan Spitz

Lately here’s a question that I can’t seem to run away from — what does it mean to love someone well? 

I put the question on like my warmest coat every morning and sit in it. Zip it up to the top and let the warmth of possibility just drown me. To have someone love me well, what a novelty, what an experience. What a fucking joy. I've sat in it before, so I know what it feels like. I've missed it. So I let myself pick up the mantle. Jesus, loving myself well it's been a revelation. 

It's been day after day of compliments, of encouraging my own growth, of standing in my own power. My brown eyes have seen what it is to be loved well. My heart has felt the fireworks. There's no going back now. There's no settling for anything less. 

The kisses, the opportunities, the new beginnings, the joy, they've melted into my definition of romantic love. One I explore often in rooted ways because the fantasy of love is great, but the reality? Jesus, what a fucking joy it is to be kissed by lips that tell you stories and secrets and whispered laughs on tip-toes. 

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“Adult relationships are rarely, if ever, portrayed with the intricacies that actually exist in adult relationships. Instead, we’re sold castles in the sky of what love is supposed to look like and how two people are supposed to meld together.” 

The words are from an essay I wrote in December. One that’s been sitting in drafts for too long, for no good reason. Paragraph after paragraph speaks truth to the hype-reel that love is perceived to be. Truth to bullshit. Truth to bullshit.

Mostly though, it speaks to my definition of love, one that scares hearts or empowers them. A la Ed Sheeran, "the good and the bad end up in the song."

“Weddings are bookended by love songs that speak of eternity but give no indication on how to navigate the actual meandering roads found in committed, long-term relationships. There’s no talk of pride and how it’s rarely a question of “do I love or do I not love?” but instead a question of “do I choose my pride, my independence, or do I choose to love them well?” during the most trying moments.” 

For months I invested in learning what loving someone well means, then there was navigating the consequences and benefits of loving someone well, and now I’m taking the time to sit and really consider — what does it mean for someone to love me well? 

Turning the focus inward left me wrestling with a lot of truths. You can have someone love you and not love you well. You can have someone love you well, forget how to love you well, then love you well again. All are not mutually exclusive. Those walks along the river, the wind making my nose cold, they reminded me that the old adage is an old adage for a reason — God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason — because at the end of the day, we don't love someone well by only loving them how we would like to be loved, but by also listening without ego to how they ask to be loved. 

To get to that point though, we need to do some sitting by ourselves. We need to be able to answer questions like, "What do you need from me?" with honesty and with tangibles. My list, learning about myself, it's the most grounding journey I've ever been on. To choose to invest my time in this has been the biggest gift I could have ever given myself. 

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Because the truth is that I nurture people, but very rarely have I taken the time to nurture myself. The deeply ingrained part of my personality has always demanded of me on behalf of others — to show up, to fill gaps, to parent those who I did not birth. But, in the silence, I learned that the same part of my personality leaves way too much room for manipulation, for misinterpretation. So I've reeled in the quiet and let it teach me about love. 

I took in how warm and safe I felt in my own coat, chose that experience, and invested in learning how to default to loving myself well before self-sacrificing for the sake of someone else's salvation. 

“There’s no talk about how ‘do I choose my pride, my independence, or do I choose to love them well?’ sets us up for failure and resentment because we’re not meant to choose. Falling in love should be the process of getting both of those realities to coexist.” 

I still choose to love others well and unconditionally, but it's way more intentional now, way more rooted in a joint experience. Because I love well, but I love no one more than I love myself. I've just always known that you learn more from a relationship, reap more of its benefits, when there are boundaries but not walls. When the relationship is anchored in prioritizing each other, you both win in exponential ways when it comes to personal growth. 

In understanding what I need out of relationships, I’ve learned that the silence, the one that can sometimes feel like drowning, can actually be its biggest life raft. It can pour into someone in more impactful ways than a mountain of comforting words. It's in that quiet where saving each other and loving each other become synomous. It's where your own lived experiences inform how you can love others back into existence. I know how to bring someone back to earth when the panic attack finds them in a fetal position and unable to breathe because I've been in that limbo before — where only a hand squeezing mine, their voice breaking through the consuming emptiness in my brain, and their warmth countering my coldness, can remind me that I'm still alive.  

“We don’t openly acknowledge the friction that’s born when falling in love finds itself up against the independence we were raised to cherish above all else.

When castles crumble (because they crumble) there’s no one talking about what rebuilding looks like.

These are the crevices we don’t dive into, because they’re riddled in fears, in moments that we don’t give our partners because parenting them and loving them sometimes feel so intertwined, and in turn so does punishing them. We’re ashamed, and also aware.

There are layers to relationships that when unearthed feel like red flags that you’ve done something wrong, when maybe they’re just indicators that love sits here and surrendering isn’t something to run away from.

Between him and I, our points of references are nonexistent, our friends’ opinions were suffocating, strangers jumped in with bad intentions, my gut told me to turn towards each other, his sense of survival pushed him in the opposite direction. So we did the only thing we knew how — stood in the aisle of a liquor store and asked each other which $13 bottle of wine would be better.”

I am in a habit of breaking cycles. The relationships I grew up in, they were molding, but also lacking in many ways. I didn’t know how to argue in a way that kept love in the conversation, so I sat in therapy and learned. There’s a list in my head of what I feel I need in order to be loved well, right next to it? The number of shots I’ve taken for every time toxic masculinity reared its head and left me wondering how it’s possible that me expressing my needs or my feelings somehow turned into a criticism of them. And, honestly, the same applies whether it’s a romantic partner or a girl friend. 

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What does it take for someone to love me well? 

I have a thing for secret handshakes over secrets. Companionable silence beats out trying to silence me. Loyalty, respecting boundaries and privacy, are in a fight for top 3 on the list. Laughter tends to lead to as much heat and clothes on the floor as rooms full of candles do. It does it for me when a man doesn’t take away my God-given space to be angry, because it reminds me I can take up space as a human being and not just when I fit the “good girl" bill. 

“There’s nothing about loving someone that you get right on the first try — that’s what a lifetime of getting to know someone is supposed to teach you, how to evolve your way of loving them. Because the infatuation and ‘blissfully in love’ feeling only lasts for so long, after that stage fades, you’re left with two individuals who are eagerly trying to protect their independence and also profusely in love. It calls for surrender. If you’re Christian, you may ask for God to intervene. If you’re human, you curse and ask yourself how love is supposed act. You see stubbornness and pride from miles away — in the way you assume that his refusal to do something he knows matters to you may be his moment of rebellion, his sign in the air that he’s still free to do and move as he pleases. As if that was something you were challenging.” 

How do you know you’re loving someone well? 

I haven’t loved someone well for long enough to be an expert on the topic, but I know it involves showing up in quiet ways at times. There were days when there was more love shown when doing laundry than when making out. A hand squeeze in a Florida elevator that spoke of belonging translated love into a physical reminder and added to the ways I loved well. It's those moments that don't make it into essays, but that lives are built on.

For me, I know, above all else, that someone has loved me well when they never challenge my right to speak my truth and to write the words (good or bad) because they accept that my words, they belong to me. 

“As soon as we actually do both surrender the same shit gets done just in a nicer way.”