I write a lot about the power of fear and the work of relationships. I write about this to help people learn about the tricky ways that fear manifests in intimate relationships, which helps them to identify fear more readily, thereby diminishing its power. We chart how fear shows up in our minds and bodies, call it out on the mat, and thus begin the work of releasing its stronghold over our ability to show up fully for our intimate loved one.
But what I don’t write a lot about is what you can expect to feel when fear starts to loosen its grip. Is it realistic to feel the butterflies and ecstatic longing that we’ve culturally come to identify as the hallmarks of being in love? No, but it’s realistic to expect something so much better.
What are the qualities of real love?
Real love is two open human beings being willing to stand naked and vulnerable in front of each other and swim in the warm and comfortable pool of daily love together.
Real love is joy. Real love without the prongs of fear in the way feels easy and effortless. Real love just is, and it’s in its simple “is-ness” that we find the hum of joyful connection that we’re all longing for. It’s not thrilling. It’s not always exciting. But it’s a sustainable joy, like a quiet and beautiful melody that underscores your life.
Real love inspires us to focus on giving more than getting.
Real love, especially when we’ve had to climb over boulders of fear to get there, feels like the victory of standing at the top of a very tall mountain.
We feel humbled by and grateful for real love. We recognize that it’s a gift and a privilege. We don’t take it for granted, and with the awareness of its preciousness, words and actions of appreciation tumble easily off our lips like gems.
Real love feels safe. We trust that our partner has our back, and we act in ways that show our partner that he or she is a priority. Partners in real love have a foundation of trust that creates a pillow of safety. We rest on this pillow of safety, and often use it to find our wings to fly. The love and trust that a safe relationship offers inspires us to rise into the best of ourselves and to bring our gifts to the world.
Real love isn’t ecstatic in the way our culture defines ecstasy. It doesn’t fill up all of our empty places and it doesn’t bring the aliveness that characterizes the infatuation stage of a relationship. Even in the happiest of relationships, we’re still left with ourselves, and we still must learn to fill our own well and tend to our own pain.
If real love is so easy and effortless, why is it so hard to sustain? Because real love includes tremendous risk. We’ve been hurt, and our hearts record each hurt with perfect accuracy. Enter fear. Fear is designed to try to keep us safe from the risk of love. And once fear enters, everything changes. Fear colors perception. When fear is in the driver’s seat of our hearts, we see ourselves, our partners, and our world through fear-eyes. Through fear’s lens, the world looks gray and our partners look less than appealing. Where the first stage of falling in love opens us completely to a kaleidoscope of feeling and a cornucopia of experiences, as soon as fear enters the picture the movie-magic stops dead in its tracks.
But when we learn how to challenge fear, real love takes the reins and we see clearly again. Our partner’s face shines with the beauty that lives in his or her heart. He radiates goodness. She sparkles with kindness. This isn’t fairy tale love; rather, it’s the magic the arises when we clear out the cobwebs of fear and pain and old stories and unrealistic expectations and find ourselves standing in the original garden of our true nature. And with real love at the helm of the relationship we can tend to our painful places and empty spots with greater tenderness.
While real love isn’t the stuff of Hollywood, there is bliss there: the bliss of clear and clean loving. There is, in fact, the deepest joy you will ever know, the joy that comes from finding that place in you that can trust and be trusted, that can know and be known, that can love and be loved. There is the joy when the inherited fear – the fear that is not yours but was funneled into your sensitive soul from generations past – sifts through you like sand, and you find yourself willing and ready to let go of anything that stops you from loving.
It’s up to us to do this work. We must take the actions that crumble the fear and allow us to swim in the current of good love. Are you ready to loosen fear’s grip? Are you ready to step fully into the arms of your loving partner, to become the stable, safe base for him that he likely is for you? If so, I would love for you to join me for my sixth round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner. The program begins on Saturday, June 20th, and this is the last week to register.
I will end with this: I’m still learning about the relationship between love and fear. I’ve carried layers of fear so deeply in my body that it still exacts its claim and prevents me, at times, from fully loving and being loved. The work, I believe, isn’t necessarily to break free completely of fear’s hold; I’m not sure that that’s possible. The work is to name it for what it is, to see it clearly and not mis-assign its appearance by taking it as evidence that you’re with the wrong person so that you can slowly, over time, over many years perhaps, live in freedom.
I wrote this poem one year into my relationship with my husband, at the very beginning of what would be come both my personal and professional work: deconstructing the beliefs and expectations I had absorbed about love, grasping fear’s power, and sharing what I learn with others. I am still finding out about love, and I imagine I will for years to come. For a lifetime, in fact, with the beautiful, beloved man I’m lucky enough to call my husband by my side every step of the way.
Real love takes nothing.
It is an endless waterwheel that
creates light from the
simple falling of
drank of me,
sucked blood and life
from my bones.
They fed until I
dwindled to nothing and
gasped at the edge of the forest for
one deep breath.
But not you,
who asked only to part my mists and
meet the flesh woman who lives here.
Not fairy or goddess,
but a woman
ready to meet a man
and find out about love.