If you haven’t noticed from reading over my blog, I write a great deal about romantic love. It is something that interests and intrigues me like few other subjects. It is an emotional state like no other in that it can persist for such a long time and change us so completely. It is a root emotion, in so much as it spawns so many other branches of emotions in it’s growth and expression.
From love comes happiness, contentment, joy, excitement, sadness, jealousy, longing, and sometimes even hate. The entire spectrum of emotions is captured in the many stages and manifestations of romantic love and it is perhaps because of that great mixing pot of confusing feelings that so many myths have been brought to life and persisted in the name of love.
Romantic love is a beautiful expression of our being and, as such, it should be pursued with a recklessness of heart and mind. But I would like, as I like with all things, for that pursuit to be reasoned and if we are to do that we need to first debunk some dangerous myths about love that will ruin our chances of ever keeping it.
You Have A Soulmate
This idea of a soulmate was spawned from Plato’s Symposium, where the character Aristophanes relates the tragic myth of how we each came to be separated from our other half by the angry lightning bolts of Zeus. It is a such a beautiful allegory that has spawned a mountain of absolute horse shit ideas about the pursuit of love. This myth has co-opted our language of romantic love and turned our pursuits of it into “merging” and “finding the one” and other nonsense that has us holding out for some ultra special person that is only for us.
Let me be very, very clear about this myth. You DO NOT have a soul mate! You do not have a special, only-for-you, “other half” out there in the world and you should not be looking for your “other half” as a means to complete you. No one is going to fill you up, not in the way that you want them to anyway. You are already complete and if you don’t feel that way it is because you do not yet understand what it means to be complete.
You want to know what you should do instead of wandering around looking for your soulmate? Get into your own head and figure out who the fuck you really are and connect the pieces of your heart and soul so that you feel complete alone! I am not reinforcing the old adage of learning to love yourself. I think that aphorism is bullshit anyway. I know that I am never going to fully love myself. And I am ok with that. It doesn’t mean I can not love another fully. Because I know that what love really requires is not that we come to love ourselves but that we come to know ourselves. In that aphorism is the real power of true romantic love.
If you really want to find something close to your “soulmate”, then you have to know what’s is in your own soul. You need to know what values you champion and what virtues you esteem. You need to know what the good life looks like to you and in getting clear about that, about the whole of who you are and what you would like your life to look like, only then you can go out and find someone that mirrors those values and virtues and ideas about life. And only then will you find something that resembles a soul mate. Not because they were destined to be with you, but because you attracted each other through your common pursuits, values, and interests.
I am not saying you go out and find a perfect copy of what you desire in this world, but at the very least you should find a compliment to yourself, as that is what a true “soulmate” looks like. But you are never going to be able to do that unless you do some deep internal digging and figure out who you are, what you value, and what you want your life to look like.
True Love Is All About Passion
As the beginnings of love come with an overwhelming flow of intense passion and romanticism, we often feel like that is what the entirety of what love should look like. We believe that all of love should be surprise flowers and romantic dinners and intense sexual relations. It is portrayed that every moment should be a firework explosion of enviable desire and connection. True romantic love is not that, though.
Yes, romantic love should always have moments of passion. Moments of poetry and beauty that swim in your head and moments where you catch yourself with a smile for no other reason than you are thinking of your beloved, but it can’t all be that. This idea has been the catalyst for so many relationships ending before they had a chance to truly become something with depth and meaning.
Passion is easy. It doesn’t require any effort. It just happens. It is like getting sick. You are suddenly struck with something that you did not have before. And it overwhelms your body and your mind. But that feeling is going to fade. I can promise you that. You will learn things about your love that deflate that sense of passion in your every waking moment. Your beloved shits and it stinks. Your beloved doesn’t always look like an angel. Your beloved is a human being with flaws and pains and a million tiny cracks that need to be handled with care and concern and passion isn’t the right tool for that job.
And that’s ok. You can’t sustain the intensity of passion, anyway. It would burn you to ash. What you should realize and work towards is sustaining moments of passion alongside the moments of pragmatic romanticism. Work on a controlled burn of your heart. You need to realize that real romantic love, a real relationship, is just as much about those soft, subtle moments of connection as they are about the intense moments of passion. When you can get to that understanding you will approach a maturity of love that most people never achieve.
You Can Be Everything To Someone
Listen, as much as we would like to think that we can be everything to that person that we love, we can’t be. We are going to suck at some things that your partner really needs and wants in their life and, if you expect them to have to get those things from you, it is going to be a really shitty experience for them and they are going to eventually resent you for forcing that on them. And poof, there goes your love.
The alternative is to just accept the fact that your partner is going to look other places to have certain needs met and you should want that for them. If you really care for their well being and happiness, as love should imply, then you should want them to have their needs met by any means necessary. Now, this could mean so many different things to so many different people but the key point here is that we should not seek to keep our love isolated from satisfying their needs with other people. We should be secure enough in the strength of our feeling for them and the strength of our relationships to encourage them to find their love wherever they need to find it.
Love Lasts Forever
This myth is the hardest one to experience but thankfully the easiest one to forget. I think everyone remembers the first time they were faced with this myth in the flesh. The gut wrenching pain, the heart thumping sadness, the sudden hollow growing in your heart, and the sound of shattering glass as everything seems to break and crumble in your mind. You thought it would be forever. You thought that love was an eternity and to see it dissolve into an ice cold nothing is a pain that few pains can rival.
The reason heartbreak hurts so much is that when we enter into our romantic relationships, we are entering into a contract of sorts. We are entering into an agreement with an implicit end date of never, because our hearts are so tangled in the joy and excitement and nowness of our love that we can not imagine an expiration. Something about the initial stirrings of love make us believe that this is it. This is the forever we have always been waiting for.
But almost every love will expire, for so many reasons that are neither good nor bad. My concern is not to qualify the reasons we fall out of love but to get us to recognize that love does not promise forever. Love promises now and it should be approached as now because that is where the joy of it is. It is in those too short moments of togetherness that makes a love powerful and worthwhile and that is where we need to exist in it. Wanting your love to last forever forces you to hold onto it too tightly, to strangle it to submission, and what remains in its place looks nothing like love. It looks like captivity. Like a caged animal that we claim that we care for but never let out because we are afraid it will escape.
So, yes. That means you are going to love and lose many times in your life, if you are lucky. And every time you do so it is going to hurt like hell but in that hurt, if you pay close attention to where the pain is going and what it looks like, you will learn something new about yourself and about the direction of your life and you will jump back into that pool of love again. I promise.
Love Is Not Hard
No greater myth has contaminated the beautiful wellspring of romantic love than that created by Hollywood and its portrayal of love as something effortless. I am not saying that love should be a constant struggle of arguments and difficulties. What I am saying is that love – after the initial glow of those intense feelings wear off and the fading remnants of the smoldering fire you consummated are mere embers – takes effort.
You need to make time to be together despite your busy schedules. You need to tangle together your friends and families and deal with conflicting personalities and ideas from others about what your love should look like. You need to make occasional sacrifices. You need to give up something about yourself that doesn’t feed into the strength of your relationships. Not give up something important to your happiness but give up some things so that you can replace them with things that brings you closer together. All these aspects of love are difficult but necessary for a successful romance.
This means biting your tongue sometimes when your beloved does something a different way than you do. This means going to events you don’t want to go to with a smile because they are important to your beloved. This means holding back your beloved’s hair as she pukes her guts out because she is sick. It means helping her fight her battles that you think are silly or helping her chase dreams that you might think are impossible. It means doing difficult things that suck sometimes because in the long run they all add up to a collective strength and intimacy that immature love never approaches. All of these things add up to a love that is whole and lasting and none of it is easy.
The moral is, love is not easy. Anyone who tells you it is has never truly been in love. They have never moved into the more meaningful stages of romantic love that require effort and work to grow and flourish. The truth is, romantic love requires a great deal of labor and time and energy but if you do it right, all of that hardship is an investment leading to something greater than what it started as. You will move from that initial, unsustainable dopamine rush of passionate love into the more rewarding varieties of love that can last a lifetime.
Love Is All You Need
I love the Beatles, but they obviously don’t know shit about love. Despite what they claim, love is not all you need. You need so much more than that to make sure that the romantic relationships you have with people in the world are valuable and fulfilling and long-lasting.
You need respect, kindness, appreciation, patience, time, proximity and a million other small and large things to make your romantic love life a success. Thinking that because you have this strong feeling of desire and joy for someone it will be enough to weather the storms of love is setting yourself up for an amazing amount of pain, sadness, and failure.
The problem with this idea is that is trivializes all the complimentary work needed to create a fulfilling sort of love; a love that lasts over the ebbs and flows that are inevitable in a relationship. Your can not rest your heart entirely on the feeling of love in order to get the most out of it. You have to reach further into the uncomfortable emotions that spawn out of love and get intimately familiar with them and how they manifest in your life.
In that exploration you will find all the other things you need to make your romantic love a success. You will discover the foundation stones that need to be placed in your life together to make sure that what you have now will be standing 50 years from now. And what you have will surely be based on love but it will not be all you need to build a relationship structure that has longevity and strength.
Romantic love is a very real and wondrous thing. I do not dispute the power and force of it. It is beauty like no other when it comes into your life and it can be so magically fulfilling as to make everything else in your life just a bit brighter and a bit clearer but we have to be careful not to believe the myths of love if we are serious about making it last.
We have to be willing to put in the work to make our love successful. We have to be willing to let our beloved find what they need in others. We have to dig very deep into ourselves and discover what we really want from a partner and then understand that, despite all of our hard work, our love might still leave us.
All of these things are ok. They don’t diminish the magic of love. In fact, in understanding them, your experience of romantic love will be so much more rewarding and closer to the truth. And in that truth of love lies your opportunity to find something that actually lasts – a happily ever after that exists in something other than a fairy tale.