The first part of this post appeared on Instagram this week. I’m expounding upon it here.
Real love is available love. It’s not the chase. It’s not drama. It’s not longing. It’s not the kiss at the end of the movie or finally snagging the one who got away. Real love is here-and-now, human, messy love. It’s two imperfectly whole people committing to sharing and creating a life together – a life that will include as much heartache as joy. It’s the commitment that matters.
The commitment to wrestling with the fear when it shows up, as it will.
The commitment to repairing after ruptures, of which there will be many.
The commitment to saying “I don’t know” more than “I know.”
The commitment to prioritizing connection over being right.
The commitment to taking space when you need it but always coming back to say, “I’m here.”
The commitment to renewing the choice to show up every day, if not every hour.
Real love is vulnerable love. Real love is learning how to say, “The story I’m telling myself is…” instead of attacking, blaming, or withdrawing. The key phrase in that last sentence is “learning how”, for very few people know how to communicate with vulnerability naturally. When we don’t grow up witnessing and receiving emotionally vulnerable communication it’s difficult to know how to respond when we’re hurt, so we default into the primitive responses of blame, attack, or withdrawal. The commitment is to learning over time – by which I mean years, decades, even – how to respond with softness. For the first fifteen years of my marriage, I failed miserably at vulnerability. It’s only in recent years that I’ve become more adept at it, but I still fail all the time. The commitment is to growing, not to perfection (which doesn’t exist).
Real love triggers unhealed fear and unshed grief, for it’s only in relationship with an available partner that we feel safe enough to peer into the sealed off places of psyche and begin to bring the hidden pain to light. We don’t necessarily choose to do this healing work; nobody in their conscious mind would choose to break open the defended heart. But real love says, “It’s time now. It’s safe now.” If you don’t understand how fear works, you’ll mistakenly take the projections literally and run off with the first thought-baton that says, “This must mean I don’t love my partner.” You will do this until you learn about real love and begin to reverse engineer the projections, arriving at the core of fears of “not enough” that live at the root and need your tenderness in order to heal.
Real love is a reflection of your life, like a mirrored pond, which means that if you’re bored in your life you’ll be bored with your partner. Real love isn’t an elixir that lifts you out of discomfort, pain, or emptiness.
Real love invites self-love, but it’s not dependent on it. We often hear, “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.” I disagree. It’s through real love that we learn not only how to love ourselves but also how to love another.
Real love is interdependent, not codependent, which means that you depend on each other, you lean on each other, and you hold each other through life’s joys and challenges, but you don’t expect the other to fill you up or rescue you from your pain.
Codependence says: I am responsible for your emotions and you’re responsible for mine.
Interdependence says: We’re each independent but we depend on each other for emotional support.
Real love is a safe harbor amidst life’s stormy seas. Real love can be stormy at times as well, but at the core is a safety that feels like home.
Real love can tolerate rupture. In fact, the repairs that occur after ruptures are how healthy relationships grow stronger. We will mess up over and over again with those we love. We will hurt them. We will shame them. We will drop them when they reach for us. This is what it means to be human. But in real love, we will also repair, over and over and over again. We will learn through the ruptures so that we hurt each other less and grow more loving over time.
Real love can tolerate messiness and shadow.
Real love is a choice; it’s not a feeling or a fantasy. It’s not always easy, and it might not “feel” the way you’ve been culturally conditioned to expect love to feel.
Real love includes fear in all forms, including irritation, boredom, doubt, and ambivalence.
Real love is a bowl of oatmeal: warm and nourishing in your soul.
Real love is a pair of mallard ducks floating on a creek in spring.
Real love is the only kind of love worth fighting for.
Real love is a blessing and a true gift.
Real love is why we’re here.
For an in-depth roadmap of real love, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course.