November 19, 2014

What Love Isn’t.


For the last two years, my anniversary with my partner has brought heavy emotions, along with thoughtful gifts, sweet notes and more love than most could handle.

There has also been a bouquet of yellow roses—one for each month we’ve been together. Roses are my mother’s favorite flower, and for that reason,will always be my favorite. Some may see it as cliché but it has moved my soul each year, more so than the one before.

A visual reminder of our partnership never goes unnoticed.

I spent most of this morning plucking off the now drooping blooms and peeling them away from one another. Somehow, in my much younger dating days, I felt the need to keep every petal of every flower that was ever given to me. I dry them out a week or two after delivery, lay them with care on the kitchen counter, and wait for them flatten and crinkle into beautiful, tiny memories.

It does not matter who sent them; it simply matters that they were sent.

I used the petals collected from my first love as the precursor to walking down the aisle to him, ten years ago. I remember thinking no one would notice the amount of genuine care that went in to keeping these trinkets of young love intact—I stepped lightly, in worn out Chuck Taylors and a dress that was a size too big in a church I hadn’t attended in a long time, to a man who bought me those flowers over the course of our four-year courtship.

No, I didn’t think that gesture would keep our relationship alive for the four tumultuous years that followed but I did take that day seriously. But now, there are moments when I wish I could have those petals back. I struggle to remember why we took that step when we were so young, and why we grew apart, not together.

Those petals represented our relationship and thinking about walking over them, crushing them, now seems an epic foretelling of our short-lived marriage. I learned so much, but lost a lot, too.

Love is a funny thing.

My partner reminds me of that, directly and indirectly, every single day. Our relationship has been a bit of a roller coaster—a non-traditional start coupled with a four-hour car ride between us for the majority of our two years together created fertile ground for disaster.

There were moments when I wanted to run and I’m sure he felt the same. But we’ve arrived here, together, albeit with a few additional emotional scars and few more gray hairs.

This morning, as I gently dismantled two dozen yellow roses on my tiny kitchen table, in my tiny quiet apartment, tears ran down my face. For a moment, I felt sad for all the times I had gone through these exact motions—for partners who were not him.

This time of year always forces a bit of reflection on love and loss, which for me, seem to go hand in hand. I start to think about how different things could have been over the years and how much hurt I could have saved myself—and others—by knowing what I know now.

A relationship expert I am not but I have an extensive and messy sample set from which I can extract relationship data. After my first marriage ended, I spent time making the so-called rounds—dating men who no more knew me than they knew themselves.

I chased and I chased and I let go and I chased some more.

A few were worth my time and most were not, but through all of it, I learned what level of risk I was willing to take in a relationship, and for what reward

Through all the flowers and anniversaries and arguments and break-ups, I’ve been able to bring a new perspective to my current partnership—and it has changed just about everything.

A relationship is not giving up everything for another; it is not consistent sacrifice, nor is it martyrdom.

Sadly, I was drawn to men who believed that’s exactly what being in love meant—giving up only in order to get something in return. I was used for my bank account, my network, my bleeding heart.

Whatever I had, I would gladly let them have.

And each one took it, without gratitude and without hesitation.

I ended up taking from them, too, more than a fair share—and more than I could emotionally handle.

I thought, for a long time, that this is what I was in for—in the uncomfortable universe of relationships and dating.

I prepared myself for disappointment and resentment and that’s, not surprisingly, what I was given.

I fought to find someone who would, at a minimum, make me laugh as much as they made me hurt—I was certain I would be able to handle the bull-shit moments if there was some level of balance between the crap and the good stuff. I’d be able to get through the nasty arguments and my feelings of complete worthlessness.

The cheating wouldn’t matter and my desire to step out on them would subside. I’d learn to love through the manipulative pain they put me through and they’d learn to love me through mine.

Those moments never came.

I ended up more broken after each separation and would simply move to the next willing participant in my somewhat desperate search. I didn’t know what I was looking for—some days, I still don’t.

But I do know these things, now.

Relationships are risky, because loving is risky.

We give our hearts with the hope the recipient won’t crush it, won’t confuse it, won’t manipulate it. But what we forget, sometimes, is that we are entrusted with the same responsibility for the other.

I spent quite a bit of time being angry at those who let me down—that subsided once I realized I had done exactly the same thing, over and over and over.

No relationship is a fairy tale but not all relationships create suffering.

I’ve been in the camp of believers that wholeheartedly feel if there is not constant work (interpreted as arguing, doors slamming, voice raising) the relationship isn’t going to last. Unless there is a constant debate or a struggle or a fight, there isn’t enough passion there to keep things moving forward.

That, my friends, is complete bull-shit.

But it took me some time to come to terms with that love nugget. I know now that passion is not embedded in debate. Instead, a relationship that works is one where there is mutual respect for the other’s heart that they chose to give to us. They trusted us with taking care of it—if we don’t honor that, we shouldn’t be there. Period.

My current relationship is no fairy tale, but it is honest and raw and at times, emotional; it is uplifting and respectful, all while our differences, our time, and our convictions are respected. Above all else, it isn’t judgmental and it is far from suffering. It isn’t simple but it isn’t as difficult as past relationships. I’m grateful for that.

The roses he gave me this year will go through the same loving process as the others—our relationship, on the other hand, will not.

Because knowing what love is, is just as important as knowing what love isn’t.


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Author: Melissa Horton


Photo: Kathleen Franklin, Flickr

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