What do I know of love?
Hard to say.
I can tell you all about how I experience love, but I can’t tell you much about receiving it.
Yes, I have loved, but have I truly been loved in return? I cannot respond with a resounding “yes!” It’s more of an “…I sure hope not… I’m pretty sure love looks different from what I’ve experienced.”
A few years ago, I sat myself down and had a fairly raw conversation…
I had this thought in my head around how we typically form relationships: we identify a ‘relationship opening’ (much like a job opening) in our lives, figure out what we think the desired candidate requirements should be, then start interviewing candidates to fill the position.
A) we’re bad at this. We’re bad at defining requirements, we’re bad at interviewing, and we’re bad at figuring out where our relationship blank spots are.
B) we already know that the quality of our relationships has more to do with our happiness than the quantity or configuration of our relationships, so why are we still focusing on the latter?
When I finally recognized these tendencies in myself, I had to get real honest about it. I had legacy relationships that were only being perpetuated because they filled a position, not because they were healthy. I decided that I only wanted to create, foster, and nurture healthy relationships — regardless of type — from that point forward.
This decision changed everything.
I had friends who simply stopped coming around, and that was ok.
I stopped dating entirely — mostly because I was no longer “interviewing” potential partners, and I decided that a healthy relationship may evolve into a dating situation, but I didn’t want to design or define a relationship that way.
- My circle of close friends got really, really small, and my circle of acquaintances got much more relaxed and comfortable to be around.
- My interactions with people became even more “real” than usual.
- I also started wearing less makeup. Not that I wore a lot to begin with, but I no longer felt like it was necessary.
What followed were the happiest five years of my life.
I’m not saying that there weren’t any bumps over those five years, only that my relationships weren’t really a source of stress any longer.
We can blame other people for the shit they cause in our lives, but at some point, we also have to acknowledge that we’re keeping them in our lives… that, to a degree, we’re doing it to ourselves. And we can choose to stop.
So, what does this have to do with love?
Everything. At least for me.
Since I’m focused on healthy relationships of all kinds, infatuation rarely goes to my head the way it used to. I allow that initial wave to cool and pay attention to the ways we contribute to each other’s lives, how we interact, how we work together, how we react to negative interactions (which is incredibly interesting when you’re not actively trying to get into each other’s pants), how we handle stress, exhaustion, elation, change, monotony, celebrations, etc.
My directional focus has changed, too. Meaning, I no longer think about what I want someone else to do for me (attention, words, actions, etc.), but actively ask myself questions like, “how can I best contribute to their life today?” This changes my mindset in ways that I truly enjoy. Sometimes it means that I sit down and write cards to people that are on my mind, sometimes it means that I stop and buy flowers on my way home from work, sometimes it means that I bring wine and we just sit quietly and color for a while.
In doing this, in approaching interactions from a place of contribution instead of acquisition,… I also receive.
I know I have friends who are constantly contributing to a relationship and simply feeling drained, not fulfilled. There are a couple of possibilities for why this is: 1) approaching the contributing as a means of receiving (”if I do this, they’ll do that”) — it doesn’t work that way, though. Receiving is a side effect of being generous to someone else, but only if it’s not the goal. If receiving is the goal, that’s called manipulation (”I’m trying to get you to do that by doing this”). 2) this may simply be an unhealthy one-sided relationship. There are plenty of takers out there who will accept whatever you want to give without a second thought to what they are/aren’t bringing to the relationship. No amount of contribution will change this into a healthy relationship unless they’re meeting you halfway.
I only want and will only accept healthy relationships.
There is a lot of love in my life as a result.
More than I expected going into this.
One thing I didn’t really expect were all the questions I’d get about future relationships and expectations around marriage.
I honestly see this much more simply than I used to.
Allow me to explain:
Marriage is not a goal, but becomes and option if I’m part of a healthy relationship where that would be a positive addition. It’s that simple. I’m neither pro- nor anti-marriage (contrary to many of my fellow divorced counterparts), but just like not “interviewing for job openings,” I’m not looking to fill a position. That position becomes available should a healthy relationship evolve to encompass it. And I’m ok either way.
I simply want healthy relationships, in whatever form or configuration they take.
Thus far, this has resulted in almost more love, joy, and compassion than I thought I could handle.
With so much love,