For the Love of Love

I have to start by saying, wow, I am no expert on the subject of romantic love. That said, I am deeply interested and invested in the loving relationships that occur between all kinds of people, be they mothers and daughters, siblings, great friends, teachers and students, collaborators, partners, and more. From my long interest in cultivating healthy relationships, I have learned one really powerful thing that I often find myself sharing with friends when we are discussing romantic entanglements, and I think it’s a key to fostering healthy long term partnerships. 

Like all the best things, this is way harder than it sounds: BE WHOLLY HONEST ABOUT YOURSELF. Be honest about your thoughts, your feelings, your wishes, your needs. 

You may find yourself with someone so wonderful by your side, and think that you should be able to make it work at all costs. Movies, shows & fairy tales have strongly put forth the message that the work of cultivating a loving relationship is just in the finding and (proverbial, thank goodness) nailing down of a desirable person. We learned it from most Disney princess movies, where the heroine or princess is found by a hero or prince, and they decide to marry her. Her task here is just to be findable. 

I was deep into my twenties when I entered into my first serious relationship. I had been patiently, enthusiastically dating and looking for that *spark* for several years at the time, and I felt confident that I could hold my own and make my needs known. I was sure I wouldn’t compromise or make myself small to impress. When I met my now ex (love him, all best wishes), the spark was there! The ease of conversation was there! We fell into regular dating, and ultimately a committed relationship, pretty effortlessly. Big Cinderella vibes. I learned early on that just like Prince Charming, this guy had dance moves, and he wasn’t afraid to use them. He was so much fun, and he made me feel special and hot. 

Even from the start, even with all the stars in my eyes, I think I saw from early on that there would be a lot of barriers to a long term relationship with this man. Our backgrounds were very different, and both of us were comfortable with what we knew from home, so it wasn’t always easy mixing with each other’s family and friends. Early on I referred to myself as fat in conversation with him, and he rebuffed my comment, saying I wasn’t fat, I was healthy (I’m fat and healthy y’all), then went on to tell a story about being cat fished by a fat girl - but “don’t worry you’re nothing like her!” His idea of a fun Friday night involved light conversation and heavy drinking, and mine involved light snacking and heavy conversation.

I saw all of these things and more but I was infatuated and excited so I didn’t really let myself think about them. I never talked to him about my size again. I was quiet and compliant around his family and friends when we spent time with them. I drank a lot more than usual, and I didn’t probe (too much) when he said “nothing” was on his mind. I was just waiting for him to like me enough to make me feel more welcome with his family, to want to open up more and revel in a night of deep conversation the way that I do. I waited and waited and I kept my mouth shut as much as I could muster (honestly I wasn’t exactly a church mouse but you get it). 

As our relationship began to come apart, I fought harder and harder for it. I cried more and more when he cancelled plans for a shift he “had to take” last minute at work, I begged him to tell me more about how he felt, I pleaded with him to sit and comfort me when I was sad. To his credit: he really tried to bend to my wants. He hated when I cried, but he sat with me and stroked my hair and said it would be okay. He wanted to go out after work, but he would stay in watching movies with me if I was too tired. We had so much love for each other. I was warm and he was cold, and we showed each other new things, and we had a lot of fun a lot of the time.

Where am I going with this? I learned something really really huge here and I want to share it. I want everyone to know it! I tried so hard to fit into a box for this person, and it felt so completely like the right thing to do. I think he was trying to fit into a box for me too, honestly. The spark was there, the mutual appreciation was there, and per Cinderella, that’s all it takes to make it work. I know that’s bulls**t, but in practice, I was leaning into it. I thought it either had to work out and end in marriage, or he had to wrong me and break my heart. Those were the only endings I could envision for us. 

How sad that we are taught to look for the end of everything all the time. Lately I find the joy of love is in the here and now, in the moments that my lover looks into my eyes, the sigh of relief I let out when he says he’ll do the dishes so I can keep playing animal crossing, the imagining all of the fun adventures we might have when Covid life is over. 

My first relationship didn’t end in marriage, and it didn’t end in heartbreak. The here and now wasn’t sparking joy for either of us anymore, and we decided to end it. We expressed our love for each other, we voiced our sadness that it couldn’t work between us, we promised to stay friends. Just like Ari, I’m soooo f**king grateful for my ex. He helped me so much to see the lesson I’m rambling my way towards right this very minute:

Someone can be so good and kind and hot and wonderful, and they still don’t have to be your match. You can’t change your shape to try to fit into someone else’s box - it will be so uncomfortable in there. Most importantly, you don’t have to trap someone in your box, nor do you have to toss them out of it with anger. If you have explored and enjoyed the sparks and the mutual appreciation, but found it not to be quite right for you, you can simply open the box and let that person out. This may make you feel like a failure, and it may make whoever you are releasing feel really sad, angry, defensive, etc... this is hard. Be strong. Don’t feel angry at that person for being wrong for you, be glad that they  were brave enough to show you who they really are. 

Never let yourself be squeezed into someone else’s box. If you find it to be a good fit, go tenderly and of your own free will.  Only give of yourself if your paramour is also giving of themselves to you, filling YOUR box. 

Don’t try to hide something about yourself for fear that it will scare your lover away. Tell them your truth often and early on. Consider it a kindness if they can admit they don’t, cant or won’t accept it, and part ways. 

This one is cheeeeeesyyyyy but it’s damn true: it will be really hard for you to be loved by someone if you don’t love yourself. If you think you are unlovable, you are likely to be highly suspect of people who see it differently. You are likely to end up belittling that person when they express their admiration for your glory. 

It’s okay to be on a journey here - I actively practice self love and compassion and my partner is working on meeting me in that space. I remind him of what is lovable about him all the time, in ways that speak to HIM. For example, he seems to glow when I tell him how easy he is to get along with, and that’s why all his new co-workers seem to like him so much. As someone naturally shy and standoffish, this is something he’s worked on a lot himself, and now I’m trying to give him that positive reenforcement! Self love doesn’t happen automatically, it takes work and can be learned and taught. 

I came at this post from a place of thinking about what I wish everyone could see: you (yes YOU) are lovable just as you are. I’m not suggesting you don’t need to grow or learn, only that you are LOVABLE just the way you are. If you are working on yourself, the people who love you should celebrate that journey with you. If you are an introvert, the people you love should cozy up inside with you. If you love to dance, the people you love should queue up your favorite song for you. If you are HIGH MAINTENANCE (the horror!), the people who love you should be able to reach a bit higher to meet those needs. If you expect that level of caring, I bet you are ready to give it right back to the people you love. It is of utmost importance that you are ready to give back what you expect to receive. If you can surround yourself with loves and lovers who accept you as you are, who nourish your spirit, and for whom you are so happy to do the same, you will give yourself so much grace, ease and abundance. 

I invite you please to turn your thoughts away for a moment from the hateful, ugly, racist, dark events that consume our news cycle. Let yourself bathe in thoughts of self love, and let yourself be loved fiercely by the people around you. 

Please remember:

You are worthy of love right now
You are worthy of love right now
You are worthy of love right now


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