Love is a Bowl of Oatmeal

Originally published on The Huffington Post

***

One of my favorite authors, Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, says that good love is like a bowl of oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal? How unromantic, you may say. How prosaic, you think. Love should be an ice cream sundae with cherries and sprinkles on top. Love should be a decadent Italian dessert. Oatmeal? How depressing.

In our romance-addicted culture, this concept rubs many people the wrong way and often elicits questions like: Where’s the passion, the drama, the excitement? Isn’t love supposed to make me feel alive? Isn’t it supposed to fulfill my every need, even needs that I didn’t know I had?

What Johnson means is that love is not the cure-all that we set people up to believe it is. When love is true and real, it feels warm and sweet in your soul the way oatmeal feel warms and nourishing in your belly. It just feel good. It’s not over-the-top, heart-stopping romance – the stuff Hollywood is made of. It just works. It’s nice. It’s good. And it might not work all the time, but for the most part, the two of you connect and click in a special way. And, because this doesn’t happen every day, this is something to appreciate and celebrate.

Many of the problems that people encounter during their engagement and early years of marriage is that the reality of their relationship falls terribly short of their expectations. Because of a culturally-induced brainwashing that creates a set of unrealistic and fantasy-based expectations, many people expect love to look and feel a certain way and are painfully plagued by a mental list of shoulds: I should feel in love all the time. I should want sex all the time (or at least 2-3 times a week). I should look as happy as all my friends look on Facebook. I should feel sparkly like the sprinkles on top of my ice-cream sundae. But ask any couple married over twenty years and they’ll tell you that the sprinkles are not what you base a marriage on. They may shimmer in your daily life as a result of a sweet kiss or a satisfying conversation, but they’re not the foundation of a marriage.

So what is healthy love?

Let’s start with what love isn’t.

Love is not…

… infatuation. A relationship may start as a feeling in a burst of excitement and passion, butterflies and fireworks, but this isn’t real love (and it may not start this way, which doesn’t render the relationship any less worthy or viable). Eventually the flames die down and then the process of learning about real loving begins.

… an answer to your problems or the missing piece of your puzzle. The only person who can rescue you from your challenges is you. The only person who can create your sense of aliveness and wholeness is you.

… fitting into an image from a Meg Ryan rom-com or People magazine.

… unwavering certainty that you’ve met “the One.”

… scintillating conversation every time you see each other.

Now let’s explore what love is.

Love is…

… action. When you truly love someone, you learn what their love language is and make efforts as often as possible to express your love in the language that your partner can receive. For example, if your partner’s love language is physical touch, you can say “I love you” all day long, but nothing will communicate your love as effectively as giving your partner a hug, a shoulder massage, or a kiss.

… a choice. We choose to take the risk of loving. We choose to practice opening our whole heart to our committed partner. We choose to break down the fear-barriers that try to convince us to run. We choose to challenge the false beliefs and unrealistic expectations propagated by popular culture that says that you must be 100% certain that you’re with the “right” person, “the one”, your soulmate. We choose to commit, and through the commitment we allow ourselves to unfold into a lifetime of learning about love.

… work. Real love may ask you to extend yourself for your partner in ways that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. I can already hear the outcries, “Love is work?! That’s crazy! Love shouldn’t have to be work.” And I can hear the comments from the long-term married couples who will say that love isn’t work. But if we understand work simply as effort, perhaps the outcries will quiet into understanding. Can a long-term marriage truly sustain and thrive without effort, without each person working to put themselves into their partner’s shoes and practice empathy and compromise? I don’t think so.

… an opportunity to grow and learn about yourself. Love asks you to extend yourself for the sake of the other. Love invites you to open your heart even when your habitual response is to shut down or withdraw from fear. Love pushes you to your edge, and on the projection screen of your partner’s face, where every fear, insecurity, and old wound will be reflected, you will be asked to take full responsibility for your pain, and through the willingness to feel this pain your heart will open to the joy of loving.

… a risk. Love says, “Risk everything that you are. Risk everything that you’ve known. Risk the safety and familiarity of  your safe, single life.” Because when you choose to say yes to love, you render your heart vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. Most of us construct elaborate defenses as a way to avoid taking this risk, even going so far as convincing ourselves that we must walk away from a loving, wonderful, honest relationship when the truth is that we’re too scared to take the risk of loving.

… why we’re here.

58 comments to Love is a Bowl of Oatmeal

  • Isabella

    Sheryl,
    Can anxiety change feelings all together? Or is it just blocked?

  • Isabella

    Even when I am calm I think negative things and then ill start believing its true cause I still don’t feel the feelings and I know that the anxiety caused it all. How can those feelings get unblocked Sheryl?

    • Mindfulness, Inner Bonding, my e-course : ).

    • Huia

      Hey Isabella,

      I remember being in this space SO well. Those feelings of anxiety and overwhelm used to stop me being able to breathe properly. It is possible to move beyond this. I just celebrated my 6 year wedding anniversary. Sheryl was a great place to start for me and also leaning in to what I was feeling. Allow that feeling to be there as much as you want to run from it. It is legitimate and needs your attention so that it can give up bothering you and move on.

      Good luck and good love to you
      Huia

      • Isabella

        Good for you Huia! I keep telling myself that I can get through this since other people have. But the thoughts and feelings become so strong I can’t help but think it’ll lead to a break up. Even when I am calm and the feelings aren’t there it hurts me so much! My boyfriend is everything and more that I always wanted. It’s like I don’t know what feelings are real or not anymore. When I cry it makes me know that I love him. I just want this to go away its been three months already. I know things take time, but I am a very impatient girl. I feel heart broken.

        • Patricia

          Isabella,

          I feel the exact same way . Even when im in a calm state i don’t really feel what i’m expecting at all
          & it makes me think maybe is not anxiety because im calm at the moment and i still dont feel what i need to be complete!!
          Sounds familiar?

        • Patricia

          You ARE NOT ALONE!!
          You found a new buddy haha
          We will get thru this . I was feeling miserable yesterday but before i go to bed i always read a lil to go to sleep in a good mood atleast.
          You guys are ALLLLL EXTREMELY helpful!

  • Isabella

    How does anxiety block feelings?

  • dontworrybehappy

    I love your post and I love how it ends!!

  • Kim

    A wonderful summary of everything I have been learning from your e-course. So helpful!

  • Leslieglade

    Thank you so much! This post is great. Having just recently come out of a rough patch with relationship anxiety this article really resonates with me. I’m learning to just slow down and enjoy the small (wonderful) moments without always being 10 steps ahead of myself. I’m learning to stop searching for the hot fudge and sprinkles and just enjoy the oatmealy goodness right in front of me. It’s pretty sweet in itself! 🙂

  • Sophie

    I love this! Thanks Sheryl 🙂

  • Andrea

    Brilliant and beautiful! Thank you time and time again Sheryl.

  • Alison

    Beautiful Sheryl!! 🙂

  • Andie

    Hi Sheryl,

    So I’m 5 weeks away from marrying my perfectly imperfect oatmeal man and it really wouldn’t have been possible without your blog and your book. It has been such a journey to get here, starting with a proposal which triggered the most overwhelming anxiety I have ever felt, I was physically ill, I couldn’t sleep, eat or stop crying. My fear was telling me to run, my heart was too confused to argue and my head was trying to rationalise and play tiebreaker. And then I Googled “engagement anxiety”………. and I have never looked back. You talked me through my doubts and forced me to look at the root of my fears, which turned out to have started well before I ever met my husband to be, in the failings of my parents marriage among other things.

    I cherish the oatmeal love my fiancé and I share because it is real, and the excitement comes when I think about the future we have to look forward to based on a stable, loving relationship.

    I wanted to thank you for your book, I don’t know if I would have ended up here, comfortable with my cold feet and embracing my anxiety as a chance to grow, without you.

    Fan for life,
    Andie

    P.s Next stop, birthing a new mother!

  • Victoria

    This can at the perfect time for me. Often I question my upcoming marriage because of my misguided ideas of live. I find myself comparing, questioning , and analyzing the things that I know make me happy. How can I work in my day to day life to break this habit? Thanks for your guidance and support!

  • Catherine

    I love this too!! Perfect timing and the ending made me tear up.

  • Steph

    Hi, Sheryl!

    When you said “it feels warm and sweet” or “it just feels good”, I cannot fully put my finger around it. Though I have been able to manage my full blown anxiety attacks, I still do not feel completely connected with my partner. I admire his heart and I’m in love with it, and yet I feel like I am admiring him at a distance. However, I want to be able to learn to love him in the long run.

    I think I might still be mixing the “warm and sweet” with romantic love. What does that really mean?

    Ever grateful,
    Steph

    • Nat

      Hi Steph
      I (think) may be doing the same thing. Except in my panicky state I try to think about him in hope that it will get better (because in my head, my partner should make me feel good if I’m feeling down, right?), except it never does, and I start connecting the bad feelings to being about him instead.. I am also in a bad place mentally, as we are currently in a long-distance relationship, and I was struggling before I went away, and it definitely hasn’t gotten better since (soon two months), and I am also struggling with feeling connected. What do you associate with being connected?

      Best,
      Nat

      • Steph

        Hi, Nat!

        Now that I think about it, I’m not so sure. But most of the time, I wonder what people mean by “we just connect”. Core values-wise, we do. I’m not sure if this is enough though or it’s too cerebral. To be honest, I’m still getting used to having a mature, “real” love type of relationship. My past ones were all romance-based (except for my first wherein i tried to control) and the last one was particularly harmful for me due to the rollercoaster nature. In my present relationship, my guy has been steadfast. No ups and downs; no frills. Unlike my previous experiences, my guy and i did not really have a romantic, “butterflies in my stomach” start. The change really brought out my anxiety (i’m thankful for the experience though since it led me to this wonderful community and started my healing process). I’m really still trying to figure out everything about real love and since i have been feelings-based before, i’m uncertain about how to determine “connectedness”.

        What about you? How do you determine that “it just works”? Or is this really a feeling, too?

      • Brianna

        Nat, I too start to think of my boyfriend when I get panicky, except it never works. It leads me to think bad things and makes me get even more anxiety because I believe I shouldn’t be getting anxiety when I think of him. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with him,but this anxiety is not letting me enjoy him.

        • Nat

          Hi Steph! I can relate to the core-thing, I think. My boyfriend and I didn’t have that butterflies phase either, we just talked really well and bonded that way, and I had thought he was really cute and smart from the first time I ever met him. I try to create situations were we can connect, or joke about things that I sense he will pick up on, and we try to create our little universe together, where I can sense that “it just works”. I also find it easier feeling connected the days I’m not anxious or down, which is not very often these days. So yeah, to me, it is also still highly “feelings-based”, which I am trying to disentangle myself from, because honestly, I don’t even trust my own feelings atm. Best wishes to you 🙂

          Brianna: I know, it’s so frustrating! My anxiety set in within the first few weeks of the relationship, and have been there ever since. It has gotten worse as the relationship developed, but I still feel what I think is love for him at times, and have kept going even though it’s tough. However, it has also forced me to deal with my emotions on a scale I never imagined before, and hopefully it will lead to healing. Because it just feels wrong that one’s partner becomes an aggravating factor in one’s anxiety, but everything just becomes intertwined in one’s head and it’s hard to differentiate “what feelings goes where”.

  • Maria

    Great information. I’m going to put it to good use. Thanks!

  • Jconley

    This article was simply refreshing. Everything written put a smile to my face. Thank you, Sheryl, for continuing to allow me to learn about myself and real love. A bowl of oatmeal, what a great concept! Well written, thank you !!!

  • Rachel

    So incredibly helpful – thank you. After 2 years of marriage I still have anxiety, doubts etc – it’s usually due to the unrealistic notion that love is a feeling and when I’m not ‘feeling it’ there must be something wrong – these feelings come and go – I always eventually come back to a place of gratitude for marrying such a wonderful, caring man. Thank you Sheryl, after completing your e-course I learned so much about the true meaning of love – please remember how your work helps us all enormously.

  • Kimberly

    Hey Sheryl,

    Your words have helped me a lot the past couple of months. Eased my anxiety. Nevertheless I decided to (temporarily) break up with my boyfriend cause I felt too guilty about not being able to choose him 100%.

    We’ve both been crying a lot, but I feel that we both need to grow before we can fully commit. For now, I just need some time to sort out my anxieties, be more sure of myself and accept the crazy ideas and thoughts I sometimes have. I couldn’t do that ànd be together with him at the same time, because I was drifting further and further away from what I need. It felt more like having to please him rather than love. I want to work on that and maybe then find eachother again. Only this time, I’d be able to cope with all the stuff in my head.

    I probably sort of ‘failed’. Giving in/up and everything, but I was just empty and could not go on anymore.

    • There’s no such thing as “failure.” If you’re not ready to move forward with him but feel that you need to do this work on your own, that’s a fine choice. Many people before you have made the same choice and many have ended up back together. Whatever you choose to do, when you adopt the mindset of learning, you will see that there are no such things as mistakes, only opportunities for growth.

  • moniqa

    Great article. In the poly community we like to call it ERE (established relationship energy), as contrasted with NRE (new relationship energy). And I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the analogy of sparks to hot coals for comparing the two.

    I only disagree that infatuation need fade to find/build/practice real/lasting love. “Eventually the flames die down and then the process of learning about real loving begins.” The two are not mutually exclusive nor do they fall on an orderly and predictable timeline for many people.

  • J

    Great article Sheryl. Brought tears to my eyes too. I’ve been married about 5 months now. I doubt I would have been able to make it through our wedding without your course & continued articles. It’s good to be reminded of the truths you write about time to time. I am anxiety free most of the time now, but sometimes I fall back into my anxious self and return to your articles. I wish I understood my anxiety better so I could explain myself to my wife. I never can quite put my finger on what’s causing my distress. I would love to assure her that my anxiety will eventually go away for good, but I can’t say that with 100% certainty. Really it’s a leap of faith for both of us. Your articles and the testimonies of others help me feel less fear in this leap of faith. But it’s far from easy when I’m in my anxiety.

    I’m 99% sure (but not 100) I will get to a point where I can enjoy my oatmeal anxiety free eventually. Thanks Sheryl!

  • Isabella

    Sheryl, are there any free e-courses? Also, do you have a blog about how anxiety can block feelings?

    • I have free reports on transitions and other topics but no free e-courses. You may want to sign up for the 7 day free e-course on the Inner Bonding site at http://www.innerbonding.com as it will help you understand how anxiety can block feelings.

      In a nutshell, anxiety is a head response and feelings live in our hearts, so when you’re in an anxious state you’re stuck on the mental treadmill and the antidote is to make a conscious choice to drop down into your heart and let the painful feelings in. I described how this works in my recent post “Grandmother’s Roses”.

  • KD

    Action, choice, work, opportunity, risk. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    Today was one of those days where my wounded self wanted to throw in the towel. She surmised:

    “He’s such a [fill in the blank]. You know he’s going to irritate you FOREVER.”
    “You can do better.”
    “You know this isn’t right because you don’t feel X,Y,Z.”

    And why wouldn’t I listen to her when I’ve been conditioned to listen to her all my life? Hasn’t everything – from movies, to TV, to books and even trusted friends said “don’t settle for less than [butterflies, 100%, perfection].

    Well, because she’s wrong. My WS is wrong. She still believes that love is something that happens to you, instead of something you make happen, each day. Action, choice, work, opportunity, risk. REPEAT.

    Great article, Sheryl!

    P.S. – what kind of oatmeal are we talking here? I tend to think my love has a touch of maple & brown sugar in it. 😉

  • DGL

    This is very liberating: fear blocks, love opens to more love:)

  • Brianna

    Can overthinking cause feelings to permanently change? Or is it still blocked due to anxiety?

  • Brianna

    I need help! I was doing good, but then I wake up so empty. There are no feelings in me and then the anxiety starts. Does that mean I don’t love my boyfriend? Nothing feels right, I don’t see him the same way. Its like I don’t know what I want anymore, but at the same time I know I want things back to the way they were. I want to feel that love and I want my boyfriend and I to be happy! He is everything and more I ever wanted in a boyfriend. I hope to marry him one day, but things don’t feel right. I feel like maybe I want to breakup, but then I’ll start crying. I create breakup scenarios in my head. I know this was all caused by anxiety and over-thinking. I don’t know what to do anymore! HELP!

  • Karen

    Reading what some of you are writing is soooooo bringing back memories. I have been married 6 years now, but prior to that I postponed my wedding for two years while I got counseling and worked on my anxiety. I don’t know what I would have done without Sheryl’s book, though. Without it, I don’t think I would be married today because it explained what I was going through. One of the biggest issues I had was getting to the point of realizing that my feelings weren’t a “sign” about what I needed to do about my relationship. Instead they were pointing to issues within myself that needed exploration. I felt like I was two people – one that wanted to get married (but in the worst anxiety was barely visible), and the other that wanted anything but getting married. As a result, I constantly thought negative things about my fiance, then I would think how horrible I was to think these negative things about the person I was supposed to be looking forward to marrying.

    For me the real issue wasn’t the tropical shirts my fiance (now spouse) wore, even though I still don’t like them, but the fact that deep down I thought I would totally disappear if I got married. So of course I was afraid!!! And of course my anxieties told me every negative thing about my fiance possible – I didn’t want to disappear. And of course, this was buried under a load of guilt because I wasn’t ecstatic at what was “supposed” to be the happiest time of my life.

    I am really, really happily married. It’s not perfect; I’m not perfect; he’s not perfect. But it is more enjoyable than I thought was possible.

  • Isabella

    What does it mean when I’m with my boyfriend, but don’t feel the same? I just look at him with a blank expression, nothing feels right, I just miss how I use to be. I know I wouldn’t feel like this if the anxiety didn’t come. Every time I tell him how he is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m the luckiest girl in the world I start crying. I don’t know what to do anymore.

  • Brianna

    Sheryl,
    Even though I know the root to the anxiety and the anxiety has diminished a little, I still feel numb and don’t have the loving feelings. Everything still feels weird. Is this normal?

  • Coral

    This is something I realized, and it hope it will help some of the ladies and gentleman who struggle with anxiety in their relationships.

    When you’re overworked, exhausted, angry with your friends, sick of hearing your family argue, stressed about money, etc. do you find yourself trying to wreck the one thing you have the most control over–your relationship? It took me a long time to realize but one of the reasons that I get so anxious and wound-up about the “I should break up! Right? Right??” impulse is that breaking up would give me a sense of control when other parts of my life are uncontrollably painful or insane. Remember, don’t wind yourself up about your partner when other things are in the way. It’s hard to do but don’t wreck your relationship when other parts of your life are difficult.

    Just my 2c for the day. 🙂

    • Dave

      I really believe that this is why my girlfriend broke up with me. The reasons you give are almost identical to what she was/is going through. I’m hoping and praying for another chance at love with her.

      • It’s sadly so common, Dave. Perhaps send her the article.

        • Dave

          This is a very informative site, Thank you Sheryl! After reading quite a few articles and looking at the comments it appears that the ladies/men were in and stayed in the relationship after coming upon your site. My question is what about the relationship where the lady has left? We were engaged, no red flags. It became evident months after the engagement (that she wanted), that stress was developing and she started to feel no love for me, and felt no love from the things i did for her. She said she has doubts about marrying me and would rather not be in a relationship,and end it now then be in an unhappy marriage. We were together 2 1/2 years and up until a couple months after the engagement we both were so happy and in-love.

  • Rosie

    Beautiful Sheryl!! Gosh I love your writing and blogs!! You always hit the true meaning!! Thank you!

  • lola

    Thanks for this post Sheryl! It is calming…and just what I needed right now (after watching a rom-com, of course!). 🙂

  • Havah

    This was such a comfort to read (again). This metaphor is very powerful because my partner and I ate oatmeal every morning for the last year, until we realized it was making us gain weight. I have a special, very delicious method for cooking oatmeal. I put raisins in the water as it heats so they get all juicy. Then as I add the oats I also mix in a tablespoon of peanut butter. When it is done I serve it with a tab of butter, a good sprinkling of brown sugar and whole milk. Sometimes even a garnish of banana, which really puts it over the top. I guess that is a good metaphor for my relationship. As much as it is just a mild good feeling, we also have the bells and whistles of laughter, creativity, good food, and a lot to talk about. Oatmeal can be a fairly rich concoction.

  • Jeff

    The most common source of problems in marriages is that the couple misinterpreted their mutual feelings of attraction as love. This normally results in the couple trying to keep up appearances after about 5 years, and wondering where the love went.

    It is important to know that attraction is an emotional feeling that may fade, while love is a promise that has little to do with attraction. If you are thinking of getting married, then please read “Attraction is a feeling. Love is a promise.” by Grenville Phillips, president of Walbrent College.

  • Sarah

    I am about to be married and your blogs are an inspiration – and for different reasons then many of the women quote when they comment here; you say the things I have always believed about love. You speak of the sane, rational, conscious choice that love is – the side of love I have repeatedly tried to get my friends and family to understand.

    I was in the process of writing my vows and I wanted help with some wording so I googled active love and love as a choice and I found this site. (My favorite line so far is, ‘I love you because I love you’!) Thank you so much for dispelling the myths and expectations that many women (and men) face as they try to understand ‘love’.

    I wanted to comment our ceremony reading is from C.S. Lewis and it speaks directly to this as well. Our wedding’s theme has become ‘Our Conscious Promise’ and I hope my friends and family will take note 🙂

  • Naya

    “Everyone always wants to know how you can tell when it’s true love, and the answer is this: when the pain doesn’t fade and the scars don’t heal, and it’s too damned late.” (Jonathan Tropper)

    Sheryl, I came across this quotation and I felt the need to share it with you and get your brief opinion about it. Is there any seed of truth in it? I mean, there you are after 3 or 4 years and you can’t forget about this guy that supposedly only saw you when you started dating someone else (that you’re still dating). Yet, you think about him, despite the fact you’ve never even dated him or anything like that, you’ve just shared a few words, but you thought how many similarities you have at that time and how handsome he was. What is this?

    • That’s a very pessimistic and false quote. Your thoughts about the other guy are not love at all but obsession, which is a way to avoid something else (most likely opening your heart to your partner).

  • Patricia

    It is ok to feel like you hate your partner after an argument and not have any simpathy towards him/her for a min after you get in a better mood??
    I feel so bad for feeling like this

  • Elizabeth

    Sheryl, this is a great post! It’s comforting to know that so many others struggle with the same issues. I can’t help but feel like my situation is different though… An 18 year age gap, 3 children and a manipulative ex wife, not to mention 1,800 miles of distance between us most of the time, and my head is spinning. One weekend visit I was head over heals, the next irritated and even repulsed. We ended up breaking things off two nights ago to try and gain some perspective, but I’m heartbroken. He thinks I should date other guys for a while. Part of me longs for what younger guys might bring, another part knows they could never measure up to him in wisdom and self-sacrifice. Will I ever be able to choose between these too contradicting desires? I’m so confused.