When I met my current boyfriend – my soulmate, my rock, the absolute love of my life – I wasn’t too impressed. At that point of my life I had dated pretty much every kind of guy on the spectrum (sorry, mom and dad) and my standard had been set pretty high already. Meeting him was the beginning of my happily ever after, I just didn’t know it yet. For the time being he was just another dude among a pool of people without anything really setting them apart except my level of indifference.
What changed is a whole bunch of little things that are necessary for a successful relationship, which hit me all at once. Now, looking back, all of this amalgamated into a cluster of requirements I wasn’t aware of until hindsight came in, 20/20. Almost two years of dating later, I am happily settled with the choice I’ve made, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
This is why love exists, why it’s good for you, and how to make it permanent. My name is Sanam, I’m 20, and I’m about to give you some ~love advice~.
What is Love? Why Do We Need It?
My beautiful, stunning, lovely best friend, who deserves the world and then some, tells me that she has lost faith in the idea of love.
“I believe in love” she writes one night on Instagram, “as in love for my family, my friends, etc. I have very pure dedicated love for those things. But romantic love? I don’t think it actually exists [sic.] it’s a construct. Something we believe in to make ourselves feel better.”
What shocked me was the utter finality of her words. Every one will have an opinion about relationships, even those who do not partake in them, but love is certainly not a construct.
For her and any other naysayers, which a 2017 poll by statista.com says makes up about 13% of the population, here is why the 87% rest of us think true *romantic* love exists.
I’ll start with me. Falling for my boyfriend was a bit like a roller coaster: it was very steady and slow at first. I teetered on the edge for a little bit before I realized it was too late, no backing out now – and then I fell, and screamed the whole way. Not in a scared, terrified way, but in an excited, exhilarated way. The ride has leveled out since then, but I know I’m not getting off.
The reason why I instinctively know this is because he ticks boxes that not only fulfill what I want, but what I need. Every relationship’s success is based off of the priorities you have going into it and moving on.
The “love” I initially envisioned was eternally romantic, one that made me feel alive and satisfied and happy for the rest of my whole life. I wanted someone who would take me in their arms and make all the troubles go away, validate my pain, and make me feel wanted.
The harsh reality is that I’ve had love like that before, and I grew bored of it pretty quickly – hell, he grew tired of it quickly. Anyone can put you on a pedestal, but not just anyone can see your flaws, your ups and downs, and still choose to love you even when it’s hard.
I know now that love isn’t just roses and dinners and cuddles. Love is mutual appreciation, acceptance, and support. The difference between my boyfriend and other people I’ve dated is that not for one second did he try to “fix” me. I thought that’s what I wanted, but I quickly found empowerment in the way he pushed me to be independent rather than dependent. When I’m being unreasonable, he has never indulged me, never humored me – he has always been firm, understanding, but also really encouraging that I figure it out on my own. He doesn’t try to take care of everything for me, but he doesn’t abandon me either. He gives me the space and support to pull myself back up and grow.
This exact idea is perhaps why people don’t find love, or think it’s real. Love isn’t about depending on each other. It’s about supporting the other one as they continue to grow, change, and blossom.
There’s also no shortage of choice. Loving someone is not just about choosing them once and settling, it’s about choosing them over and over and over again, two, twenty, even fifty years in the future. I can’t imagine I was very easy to love, but he found it easy. It’s because he was firm in his choice, not just accepting me for who I am, but choosing to love me and understand me even when he really doesn’t feel like it.
Again, I’m lucky to have found that so early in life, but I think a lot of people miss out on the chance because they don’t realize what they need. We are focused only on what we want. We love conditionally.
Conditional love is not love. It’s selfish.
How do you love someone unconditionally?
In a 2017 article posted on Psychology Today, Krystine I. Batcho describes the common image of what true love looks like, including “support without expectation of anything in return, compassion in difficult times, quality time together, being told you are loved, feeling special and appreciated, and being forgiven for something you did wrong.”
Batcho’s definition of romantic love is exactly what people are always vowing to do at weddings – to love, unconditionally. No conditions, no “only ifs” or “as long as yous”.
There are no conditions, we make the choice to love and respect the other even when we really don’t want to. This is imperative. Let’s talk about the first part of the image Batcho is describing here.
“Support Without Expectation Of Anything In Return”
There’s this idea that if your partner does not accept every single little thing about you, then girl, leave him. You 👏deserve 👏 better 👏 than 👏 that 👏
This is very… ideal. It would be cool if this was a real thing. But girl… it isn’t.
I’ll put this in perspective for you. Do you think you can be 100% supportive 100% of the time? Do you think you will have the energy to always be completely present for another person and be okay with that?
It’s easy to say yes, but life happens. I would be naive to presume you can always always be there for another person. There will be days, weeks, even months where you can’t spend yourself that way, because you might have a lot going on yourself, positive or negative. With this in mind, is it realistic to expect this same thing from your significant other if you realistically can’t do that yourself? If so, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. You will be inevitably disappointed at some point, and if those expectations don’t change, the relationship will get rocky real fast.
Remember, LOVE IS NOT A TRANSACTION.
Sometimes you have to love and not get any in return. Sometimes you have to support the other and be left alone on your own. It’ll make loving someone really hard sometimes, when you feel like you’re putting in more than you are getting, and if that is consistently the case, maybe that relationship is not for you and you need to move on. You have to discern the difference – is this person unable to support me back, or are they incapable of it right now?
It sounds depressing, but think of it as really empowering.
You are your own person, you can support yourself. There have been times when my boyfriend has loved me despite the fact that I was ungrateful and unwilling to depart from my own perspective. But he persisted, even when it was really hard for him.
Because I love him too, I recognized eventually that he was being supportive even though I was being unreasonable, and so when he needed me, I chose to love him even when it was hard, because I know he does the same for me even when I don’t realize it.
“Compassion in Difficult Times”
You should be able to give someone the benefit of the doubt because in order to truly love a person again and again and again, you have to recognize that a day, or week, or month does not define a person. Everyone has periods of difficulty, or distance.
Are you both willing to understand and love the other despite having to put your own needs and desires aside for a little? The answer to that will tell you whether or not you are both capable to choosing to love each other.
That being said, I am absolutely not saying that you should support your partner and stay with them if they do not do the same for you. If you feel as if you are the only one willing to make these choices and they are not, maybe they’re not your person. Years ago I had a boyfriend who absolutely supported me and understood me despite the hardships I was going through, but by the end of that relationship I had realized that I was just not willing to do the same for him.
Leaving him was the best choice for both of us, because it meant that he would go on to be free to find someone who IS willing to do the same for him, and I could as well. Evidently, I did.
Chemistry is important beyond the honeymoon phase.
“Quality Time Together, Being Told You Are Loved, Feeling Special and Appreciated”
My parents had a long distance relationship for years before they got married. Despite being an ocean apart, they made sure to communicate on the regular, make time to talk, and visit each other as soon as they were able to. I think their long distance was actually what brought them closer, in a funny way.
They always made it a priority to have quality time, to tell each other they love each other, and make the other feel special and appreciated. They made the most of their time together, and even when it was super hard and they didn’t feel up to it, they still made sure they talked.
They made the choice to prioritize the other’s happiness over their own satisfaction. Gratification didn’t come immediately, and it was super hard for a long time. But the reward – a long, happy, fulfilling marriage, was incredibly worth it in the end.
Commit to date nights! They’re fun, you reconnect, feel some thrill. Be adventurous, take some risks, journey. BE together, and soak up every beautiful moment of it.
Give each other the time to miss each other. Some space came make time together feel a little more special too – my parents make it a point to go on solo trips every now and then, to get some time as individuals when they’re around each other a lot, and to also feel the fireworks of being reunited after a little while. Healthy balance is key.
There’s no point in being with someone you don’t want to be around.
And Now The Hard Part: “Being Forgiven For Doing Something Wrong”
My boyfriend has always, always been understanding. He always tells me what he thinks, with a loving but firm hand. He will tell me his perspective, and even if I don’t in the moment, I do eventually understand it too. Most of all, I am willing to genuinely apologize when I do something wrong, and he will forgive me. I have done the same as well. I am compassionate when he is being difficult, and I tell him how I feel.
This came with practice. I feel a lot happier and secure in my relationship when I don’t feel the need to protect my pride, and he feels the same way.
When I am mad at him, I still love him endlessly, the same way as when I might be mad at my parents, or my little brother, or a dear friend. I love them, I try to fix it, I listen and I communicate my own concerns, and eventually that openness brings us closer together. The priority is to resolve the issue, not make a point. That’s a golden rule with any relationship in your life, not just romantic ones.
We have never had a real disagreement, or “fight” as it were. We’ve only ever had discussions, some more serious than other, but our voices never raised, we listened, we thought about what we said. If I or he feels like the discussion is veering, we take a break and come back to it when we’re ready to.
I firmly believe it is because we have both practiced maturity, recognizing the other, valuing each other, and always, ALWAYS respecting each other even when we’re upset.
There’s no room for pettiness, name calling, or bringing things up that are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
Recently, I was mad at him for no real reason. I don’t know if it’s because I was just stressed about other stuff or mad over something so small I had forgotten what it was about. I told him I was mad for no reason, and he didn’t react the way I wanted him to.
Remember my best friend? I told her about how I felt guilty I was mad at him for no reason, and upset at his response. I expressed the desire to apologize to him, and my beautiful, wonderful, incredible best friend expressed her own opinion. She advised that I don’t apologize, but that I ask that he apologize instead.
I had no desire to do so. I didn’t feel the need to demand an apology for something he probably wasn’t even aware he was doing. I know him well enough to know that he would never react to something badly on purpose.
I met him face to face, apologized for being short with him for no reason, and expressed how I felt about his reaction. He was surprised, because like I had predicted, he hadn’t realized he had done anything wrong. He even laughed about it a little, which goes to show that taking little things like this too seriously can also make things more problematic than they really are. I knew I was being ridiculous, so I laughed about it too.
After talking, seriously and off handedly, we both made the agreement to be cognizant of how the other may be feeling when one or the other is upset.
I forgave him for being oblivious, he forgave me for being ridiculous, and we moved on stronger as a pair and more understanding of each other.
I don’t blame my dear best friend for her advice. It’s her instinct as my best friend to fight for me, and tell me what I probably want to hear, which is that I’m right and he’s wrong. But I know our relationship better than that. Being right or wrong is absolutely NOT what either of us are interested in. LOVE IS NOT A TRANSACTION. We have compassion and understanding for the other. We make the choice to listen, accept, forgive, and love.
Forgiveness is not excusing responsibility. My boyfriend will tell me if I’m being shitty, and I will check myself. I will tell him if I feel like he’s being insensitive, and he will check himself. We apologize, always. We always accept, and move on with the intention to change or at least be aware of our own part in the relationship.
Little by little, I’ve learned to love my boyfriend the same way I love my family.
Why Is It So Hard?
There’s this idea nowadays that breaking up is always an option. You certainly shouldn’t go into a new relationship with the expectation that you’ll be together forever, but I’d say that once both of you have decided that you will give this a real go, to really try and make things work, then breaking up shouldn’t even be on the cards.
As of November 2018, the divorce rate in Canada has been about 42%, and 39% in the US. That being said, marriage rates have also been going down, hand in hand with divorce according to studies done in the US. Marriage rates going down is not a surprise as people have been more and more open to not going the traditional route and just choosing to commit to life partnership without a marriage certificate, but even so, 42% and 39% are still really high numbers.
Time has a really interesting article that I cited above, called “The Divorce Rate Is Dropping. That May Not Actually Be Good News”, by Belinda Luscombe. Give it a read, it’s mostly impartial and really interesting.
The main thing I want to point out is that breaking up has become a very viable option for people in long term, co-habitative relationships that aren’t married. Essentially, “we can live together, and if it doesn’t work out, no harm no foul! We won’t have to deal with attorneys and alimony and all that other gross stuff that comes with marriage, breaking up will be easy!”
This attitude spells the downfall of many relationships.
It’s not healthy to go into a relationship thinking that if anything, you can break up. It makes giving up easy. I’m not saying you should never consider breaking up if the relationship is clearly not working out and is taking a toll, but if you think you can handle the ups and downs with a person, commit to it. Breaking up being an option at the back of your mind will always rear its head when it doesn’t need to, will make certain problems feel like the breaking point.
It’s harder to make the choice to love someone when just giving up feels like the easy way out. You might actually be cheating yourself of a potentially great relationship by having that kind of attitude.
Again, I am not endorsing staying together with someone when it’s clearly run its course. It’s an attitude that can effect any part of your life.
If you get a new job, it’s not healthy for you to think, well worse come to the worse, I can quit. You should go in with the idea that you will try your hardest to make it work, without thinking about quitting or getting fired.
If you get a pet, you can’t go into it thinking, well, worse come to the worse, I’ll just drop the animal off at the pound if I get tired of it. That’s not only cheating yourself out of a potential best friend for life, but it’s unfair to the animal.
When you and your partner decide to commit, then seriously commit. Make the hard choices, be compassionate, make time, be forgiving. Understand and respect your partner as much as you can. Even if you do end up breaking up, you can walk away knowing you gave it your all, and you’ve grown from the experience. It makes committing to the One™ come a lot more naturally when the time comes.
No One Is Perfect, Not Even You
Disney movies cut off when the princess and prince get married, and they apparently live happily ever after. It doesn’t show the hardships of their marriage. It doesn’t show the periods of misunderstanding, the riffs, the rockiness.
It also doesn’t show the giggles between shows, the hand holding under the table, seeing their kids grow up, growing old.
Can we be sure that all of these things happened for Cinderella, or Aurora, or Tiana? Does Rapunzel ever get tired of Eugene’s shit, is Nala okay with Simba partaking in polyamory as is expected in a lion pride? God, who knows.
Flaws come with humanity, and our flaws make us beautiful. Accepting each other, romantic or otherwise, brings peace and understanding. Is it realistic to have the perfect relationship? No. Everyone defines perfect in their own way.
But we love anyway. We make the hard choices, we fight, we grind, we set boundaries, we concede. We put our pride away, and become a family.
That is love. Happiness that persists through hardships. Compromise, understanding, compassion. We recognize what we need, not just what we want.
Romantic love does exist. Unconditional love is possible. It’s thriving, actually.
It just takes a certain attitude to achieve it.