The topic of love is something I’ve seldom felt brave enough to approach on this blog. How can one make any generalizations or draw any conclusion on this topic without sounding trite? Yet how can any truth-seeker avoid the topic that dominates so many of our thoughts for most of our lives? Perhaps each of us have our own love philosophy (whether or not that philosophy actually works very well for us). I’ve decided to share some pieces of mine.
Just like yours, my love philosophy has been formed through so many years of personal experience and observation of others. There is only one reason you should care at all what I have to say on this topic; I am proud to proclaim that I have been deeply in love with the same woman for 19 years. Sofia has been my partner for more than half of my life. We met at a ridiculously young age and have each grown through the years to become completely different people (over and over again) and yet have also grown closer at the same time. I don’t believe that this love is by chance and I don’t believe this relationship was found as much as it was made.
Let me try to describe our relationship only so that you can compare it to your relationship ideal. Let’s start with a core element of any relationship – romance. Yes, there is passion. Not all of the time, but there is passion. :-) We do expect each other to be excellent lovers, no matter how many years we’ve been together and how many thousands of times we’ve made love. I’ll spare you the details, but it is not unusual for there to be candles, lounge music or trip-hop, and sometimes there’s even incense burning. :-) I'm quite satisfied with this aspect of our relationship.
But obviously romance is only one part of any relationship, so let’s cover some of the others. I would say that we’re not annoyed with each other. Nothing she does really gets on my nerves and I never get that attitude from her either. Also, our relationship is almost completely open and honest. It hasn’t always been that way, but we’ve learned that anything less than honesty is something less than closeness. Dishonesty creates a void of silence. In that void we tend to feel loneliness. So we have become honest and open with each other even to painful extremes at times. Also, to the highest reasonable extent, we try not to limit each other’s experiences and opportunities for personal growth.
Then there’s the “functioning” part. I think we handle the business of life very well without allowing it to cause too much damage to our romantic relationship. We strive toward 50/50 equality in effort and contribution. We both stay focused on financial and career goals. We’ve paid for each other to attend university, worked together in business, built a home together, and have both worked from home for the past 6 years (which means we’re basically together 24 hours a day most of the time). We’re also raising a 20-month year-old and this isn’t really harming our relationship either.
I’m not saying there aren’t problems, that there isn’t occasional frustration, or that there haven’t been serious issues we've had to work through. But I am proud and fortunate to say that my relationship with Sofia is excellent, that we do work through our problems, and that we do love each other unconditionally. I think what I’m describing matches most people’s definition of a pretty great relationship. Did we just get lucky or are there specific ideas, rules, and ways that we approach the relationship that make it consistently work over all of this time?
When I listen to other people talk about love and relationships…when I think about some of the attitudes so many of us have and watch familiar patterns...I can see quite clearly how people sabotage their relationships. So many of us end up looking to the promise of the next relationship without learning anything from our failed relationships of the past and present.
In fact, most people sabotage their relationships even before they meet their partner. That’s because they aren’t looking for a human being; rather, a “human product” that meets certain criteria and behaves in predefined, desirable ways. While most women want long-term stability, most men want either a beautiful accessory or a second mommy to take care of them. In dating, women only pretend not to be thinking about a man’s money and status, his ambition, his desire to have (or not have) children, his ability to be faithful, and so many other traits that make up her version of a desirable partner. Men so often dishonestly play into these female tendancies for the promise of sex. In doing so they, too, fail to see the woman as a human being (as oppose to an object that is there to manipulate for selfish reasons). What can be built that starts this way? This phase, as blissful and beautiful as these beginnings are, is too often just a thinly-veiled and sometimes deceitful negotiation (though this is difficult to recognize through the beautiful haze of a new relationship).
Do most people date each other as human beings? Isn't it more like a negotiation for a role or job interview? How much effort is given toward working on and defining those things that will make a happy, successful relationship (whether intended as long-term or not)? How much effort goes to "qualifying people out" for arbitrary reasons? How willing are women to allow true honesty or are they scared to find out what a man actually has to say? How willing are men to be honest even if given the chance, and to allow women the chance to be honest as well? How can anybody bond and really connect if they can’t be authentic and don't fundamentally accept each other?
Are most single people judging their partners with a checklist or are they seeing their potential to change, grow, and build a better life through the right kind of relationship? Are they in the habit of disqualifying people from their lives through technicalities, or are they open to lovers as they actually are? Does the idea of love have a destination in mind or is it unconditional (at least conceptually)? Is love something to be created or something that is effortlessly found? Is the question more about what he/she gives you or what you give him/her? Are there two equal souls in this or are you negotiating what you need as an individual?
If two people who are attracted to each other are willing to selflessly and honestly look at each other and accept each other for who they are…if they are willing to change and willing to encourage each other to change…if they are willing to work through problems rather than running away from them…then it is only a matter of time until they achieve that relationship that is perfect for them. In this sense, the only way that a relationship can fail is if one or both of the participants choose failure by choosing not to accept, not work on something, not to explore, not to grow, and not to try. If you are unwilling to do all of these things in your current (and, yes, imperfect) relationship, you will not be satisfied with the ultimate outcome because it, by definition, will be so much less than it can be. And if you leave that current relationship for the promise of the next, your ultimate result will be the same if you do not change your mental models.
Of course I'm not saying that there aren't good reasons to leave someone: maybe he's not trying in the sense I'm describing, maybe you're not physically attracted to each other, maybe there's simply no way to find that life path that will work for both of you as a unit. But most relationships (whether intended as long-term or not) seem to stop short of even trying. People are so quick to emotionally jump out of relationships that they never really get in to begin with.
You might think that what I’m describing is too difficult, too unrealistic, and that you might become vulnerable to heart-break. You might think that such an approach would take you into some pretty scary territory. Of course you would be absolutely right to think this. I'll go further and say that, however difficult you think this would be, actually it is probably ten times more difficult than you can imagine. This is precisely why ideal relationships are so rare! Few are brave enough and strong enough to actually give what it takes in order to realize the potential that love offers us.
As amazing as that original spark was between Sofia and I 19 years ago, the truth is that our constantly-improving relationship was built, not found. It is a process of trial-and-error, but we have decided to give each other all of ourselves and will die trying to make this life together as great as it can possibly be.
Of course I'm only scratching the surface of this topic, so I'm curious if you'd like me to write more about love.