Love. It is the one thing in life that we all need, search for, hope for, ache for, and even sometimes in our fear – run from. John Lennon said it best, “All You Need Is Love.” Martin Luther King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” From a spiritual perspective, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). The Dali Lama notes that, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
If love is essential to all aspects of life, why is it so hard to see it when it arrives before you? I recall a time when I thought all I wanted was a relationship with a man who truly loved me, yet I did many things to get in my own way, and prevent love from flourishing in my life. Bob Marley stated that
“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.”
Bob Marley has a point here readers, is this the type of love we wait for, search for, open our hearts for? Or do we settle for less? There is a fine balance between not settling for a lackluster love and holding our standards so high that we miss out on a life-changingly incredible human being to share our lives with. For me, I knew love existed, I knew it was possible, but I wasn’t sure it was possible for me. I was afraid it wouldn’t or couldn’t possibly work out. Somewhere, somehow, I got the impression that love was this fairy tale that only existed in the novels I read, or the movies I watched. How does it really exist? Can two people really spend their lives together and remain in love?
I now know that fear is a dirty little four letter word that brings on many reactions. For some it may create an energy to move, to get away, to act; for others it may paralyze and stagnate action. Understanding how fear works for you will be instrumental in changing the outcomes you want for your life, especially when it comes to love. In my experience, I found myself attracted to men that inevitably were a break up waiting to happen. There was the one who put me down to make sure I wouldn’t leave to find someone better, as though he were doing me a favor. There was the one who was emotionally unavailable, who “had never been in love.” Like I was going to be the one who made him fall in love, the one who “changed” him [eyes rolling @ myself]. We women love a project! There was the smooth talking, hot guy, who cheated, but I didn’t want to admit the facts. There was the one who was soooo…amazing, well – until I found out he was married! Then the one who was perfect, except, I just didn’t feel the same way about him. I was making an effort though, right? I was trying to find love, well, wasnt I?
It is easy to “put yourself out there” – or that is what we tell ourselves when we get into a relationship – when subconsciously, we have no intention of it ever working. We tell ourselves and others, I am going to give this guy a shot, maybe he will be the one. We have the best of intentions of opening our heart, of really trying, and then that dirty little four letter word rears its ugly head – FEAR! What if he finds out who I really am? If he gets to know the real me, could he really love me? Or, okay…as long as I am perfect and compromising and beautiful and easygoing all the time, he will have no choice but to fall madly in love with me. He will see how awesome I am and fall head over heels! Then everything will work out like in the movies, the happily ever after!
I have to stop to shake my head…seriously? What is my problem? Looking back, I realize…none of those things EVER worked! It was easier to get involved with a project, or someone who had issues because then I could end it, or we would break up before I really got hurt. Ultimately, it was about protecting myself from the dreaded “D” word. There have been a lot of divorces in my family. My dad was never around, and growing up without a dad is something I never wanted for my kids. Don’t misunderstand, I have no bad feelings toward my parents. They loved each other once, and when they didn’t they did what was best for them, they split up.
I don’t know what would have been worse, growing up with parents who hated each other but stayed, or the divorce? I do know my young life shaped my romantic view of life, relationships and love, but no one is responsible for my current situation but me. We are not the sum of our mistakes, we are the evolution of the lessons learned. I have had the opportunity to get to know myself better, know why I react to certain situations in the manner that I do, and understand how fear – especially fear about love – causes me to push away love. I was able to change by gaining a new perspective, by pausing, by feeling – yes…it is true, actually feeling my feelings! It can be hard, pain and anxiety aren’t the most exquisite experiences, but by being uncomfortable and embracing those feelings, and exploring further, I think and act in a healthier ways.
So, how do you define the difference between that lackluster love and a life-changingly incredible human being? How do we know it really is love? How do we pick a new four letter word to run with? I will speak from my experience, then share a couple of stories from couples who have spent a lifetime together.
My story, well it isn’t fluffy or direct, but the end result is love. I found myself at age 29 in a yet another relationship with someone who just didn’t fit. They were fun, and pretty nice, but the intimate passion and love that I feel now had never been tapped. It was my 29th birthday as I mentioned, and I was tired of dating. I felt like Charlotte from Sex and the City, “Where is He?! I’m exhausted!!” Instead of analyzing everything, and why this one didn’t do this or that. I let go. I made a declaration. I prayed aloud, and spoke words to my future. For as long as I can remember, I have been a firm believer in envisioning what you want for your life, but I did not grow up in church and wasn’t a regular attendee. Still, I felt it necessary to hand it over to God, I said, “I am going to be married in 18 months. It may not be to this guy (the person I was in a relationship with at the time), but God, I give it you.” And so, I let it go. I stopped worrying about the relationship. We broke up amicably 6 months later. And one fine December day when I was still 29, my hubby found me! We were not married by my deadline, but we were engaged, I honestly believe when you let go of the things you fear most – in this instance being alone without someone to share my life with forever – your brain has time to relax and organize around what you really want. Such freedom! With freedom comes authenticity. I was free to be who I was, no longer worrying about how to impress someone. People gravitate to those who are genuine, to people who know themselves, to those who are free to enjoy who they really are.
This was not some miraculous snap my fingers and love fell at my feet story. There was definitely a bit more to it! See, it is no coincidence that I ended up in a Couples Counseling class the month after I met my future husband. I recall sharing about the new guy I was dating in class one day. I did not understand why he was in such a hurry to be in a relationship. I will never forget when my teacher stopped me mid sentence and said, “Wow, you are pretty tough on him.” I was taken off guard, I had to stop and think about what he was saying. In a counseling class, a statement by a teacher is never just a statement. So, I reflected on this. I paused more. As the class went on and my then boyfriend and I continued to date, I made a conscious effort to relax and just be me. He liked me – the real and silly me. Wow, I could just be who I was, no judgement! He did things because he cared. He encouraged me and supported me, not for any specific gain. He confided in me, even things that were hard to share. He trusted me. A few months in, I broke down and told him I was scared, that I really liked him, but this was all new for me and I didn’t want to run away. I asked for his patience. He was quiet, pensive, and patient. He gave me the time I needed.
And right there – in that moment, I knew he was different, and I didn’t have to push him away.
The relationship didn’t progress just because he was a great man and made everything perfect, like in the movies. It progressed because I looked at myself, and what I needed to do to change the way I looked at love and relationships. I needed to understand my fears, talk about them and resolve them in a healthy way. Thank goodness he was so understanding and didn’t say, “you are crazy, I’m out!” He may have briefly thought that I was crazy, but he didn’t get scared and run away. We have been married almost 3 years now, and it definitely is a journey. Love isn’t the thing that fixes everything, it is the glue that binds your marriage together. We get closer everyday because we talk to each other, not AT each other. We discuss the things that make us angry in our relationship and the world. We work together to build a life that we will both be proud of. We have an understanding of what we both want out of life, and we have agreed that in all things, we have the best of intentions for each other. It may not always feel like that in a disagreement, but it is our foundation, and it is what keeps us strong.
My Grandpa and Grandma were married for over 40 years before he passed away. One day, while sitting at my uncle’s wedding reception, I asked my Grandma how did she know Grandpa was the one? She said simply and resolutely, “He put me first.” See, they were married in the 50’s when the majority of women were homemakers and men were the breadwinners. My Grandmother was and has always been opinionated and has spoken her mind – that characteristic is definitely a family trait for the women in our family – and my paternal great-grandfather did not want my grandpa to marry this opinionated woman. He even tried bargaining him out of the nuptials. The offers made by my great grandpa paled in comparison to what he really wanted, to spend his life with his love. Grandma said it wasn’t always easy, but she always knew he loved her and put her needs first.
One of my coworkers recalled the events surrounding the beginning of her relationship with her husband. She met him when she was 16, and they discovered she was pregnant at 17. She was adamant that she would not marry just because she got pregnant. She did not want either of them to feel obligated to remain in a relationship based solely on the baby. He shared that he was head over heels and thought she was silly to wait, but she wanted to be sure. She did end up marrying him a few months after the baby came. They had three more children together and recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. When I asked her, how she knew he was the man for her, she said, “it was just so easy to be with him, he considered me in all aspects of his life before I was even sure I wanted to marry him.” He thought of her, adored her, made her feel special, as a wife and mother. They made decisions together, they found ways to communicate respectfully, which prevented resentments. They spent time together as a family and made time together as a couple. Amazingly, still after all these years they look like newlyweds. You can feel the electricity in the air when they are together, it is intoxicating to be around.
SHMILY (pronounced like smiley)
I heard this story from the granddaughter of a couple who spent over 50 years together. Their whole lives they wrote the word SHMILY on things and hid them from the other. When grandma found it, it was then her turn to write the word on something for grandpa to find. One time, her grandma unrolled a whole roll of toilet paper, hid SHMILY, re-rolled the paper, and made sure he got the last square that was inscribed with SHMILY. Her whole life, no one in the family knew the meaning. They did, however, have a deep understanding of the love these amazing people had for each other. At grandma’s funeral, her beloved shared the mystery word’s meaning. He also shared how much they had meant to each other, what a joy it was to grow a family together, and what the presence of this game had meant to him. He was sure she was buried with the sacred SHMILY. He sang the words to her as he placed the note in her hand, “See How Much I Love You.”
In closing, my hope is that when you think of dirty four letter words, LOVE doesn’t come to mind. As a counselor I don’t just sell the koolaid, I drink it too. I believe my life, my understanding of self, relationships and love would be vastly different if I had not been immersed in a counseling program when I met my husband. I had a girlfriend who attended the Couples Counseling class with me. She met her husband right before that semester too. They are also married now. There were many nights after class we spent counseling each other, asking those additional questions that needed to be asked, and confiding the most difficult things about our fears.
When you are in an uncomfortable place you do not want to be in, for any length of time, you have to get out of there! Right? Imagine you are at the edge of a cliff, you aren’t just going to stay there hoping you don’t fall over, are you? Of course not, you are going to back away from the edge. Or some of us may just jump in and enjoy the water! Why should we think any differently when it comes to our happiness or love life? The point is, do something, anything different from what you are currently doing. Take ACTION! Nothing can come from nothing. That may mean taking a class, reading a book, journaling, seeking prayer, or seeing a counselor. I highly recommend talking to a professional that can give you perspective, someone who can ask the right questions to help you find the answers within yourself.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. ~Lao Tzu