Warning: Naughty language ahead!
Love is a chocolate bar left on the counter.
It took one hundred fuck-ups to finally rest in that realization, but the joy in its simplicity is immeasurable.
Why does love need to be complicated?
People are complicated, yes—the messy meeting of minds, clashing and melting together in chaos with every encounter. A crowded party is akin to a room filled with jigsaw pieces from multiple puzzles, jumbled about. “Hello, nice to meet you. Do my wants/needs/neurosis fit yours? Almost, almost. Let me try to make the fit.”
But why do we think love needs to be a struggle?
A person may fight to make two mismatched puzzle pieces fit together, and after a few painful moments those around will finally submit to the urge to smack them upside the head and yell, “Listen, dummy, don’t you see it just won’t work?” Yet the same person battling to keep a miserable relationship afloat receives more support the harder they work.
What is it about our upbringing that predisposes us to love a martyr? To believe that romance equals the volume of tears shed multiplied by the mass of passion? Perhaps we should blame Romeo and Juliet, Scarlet and Rhett. Definitely Edward and Bella. Spend your days sobbing, screaming, pining, and win the respect of others.
“They are so consumed by love,” ladies swoon, dreaming of the day that they, too, may be tortured by love.
“Ladies love a bad boy,” men nod, resolving to be more aloof and noncommittal on the next go-round.
I’m not judging, I’ve fallen prey to this misguidance in the past. A memory of my younger self scribbling into a journal floats to the surface, wishing for an Epic Love. The kind of love stories are written about. Those were my actual words. If I wanted an epic love, surely it couldn’t be easy, right? And so, I pushed aside the men who too openly professed their feelings, who too easily acquiesced to my whims.
I needed a challenge. I wanted passion.
When, later, I met a man who didn’t appear interested, who held his emotions close to his heart, like a dark and broody vice, my interest was piqued. He was a musician, writer, free-spirit…the very cliché I had unknowingly trained myself to try to love.
And so, I attempted to fit the pieces together. The more he held himself apart, the more I opened myself up to him. The more he pushed me away, the more I tried to show him why I was deserving of his affection. Having no prior experience of love, I told myself the small fluttering of anxiety in my chest and stomach were the butterflies I’d heard so much of. The walls he kept to guard his inner thoughts served to make rare moments of emotional intimacy seem even more meaningful, more deep.
A calm person by nature, I was shaken when he began yelling in my face, hands flying to emphasize the words I’d never before heard directed at me. Bitch. Fuck. The fluttering in my chest and stomach became churning, coiling ropes of nauseous acknowledgment that maybe, perhaps I had been wrong when I thought I had recognized love. When he calmed, he explained apologetically that his yelling was proof of his passion; he couldn’t contain his emotions when it came to me. He would try harder to let me in. I was good for him. So I ignored the warning in my gut, and resolved to try harder as well. After all, love is work, right? Was I a quitter?
As I pushed myself to become the person he said he wanted, I lost pieces of myself.
Like chipped china, I became dull and used until, one day, I didn’t recognize myself. I found myself anticipating his mood swings, preemptively apologizing for things that could possibly anger him, including my concern about another woman’s belongings left in my car or where the money from my bank account was disappearing to. “You’ll be so great someday,” he told me once, in a rare good mood, “like wine. You’ll be better once you age.”
Eventually, there came a day when I stepped in front of the bathroom mirror and saw nothing.
My body felt hollow and light; I could float away and no one would notice. For a moment I allowed myself to float…to feel myself slip away entirely…and instead of the relief I expected, I felt terror. I gripped the counter in panic, knuckles paling with the effort, and forced my eyes to focus. I was not that diminished and dull woman with the downturned mouth. I was not her. IwasnotherIwasnontherIwasnotherIwasnotherIwasnother.
Fuck what other people would say. Fuck the lies I had told myself about the relationship I tried to force. This was not love. This was not passion. It was a mental game of cat and mouse to fill someone’s thirst for drama.
Drama. That’s what I had mistaken love to be tangled up in.
If Epic Love was dramatic love, count me out. I would rather be alone forever than caught in an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. I wanted to be whole again. And so, I picked my dignity off the floor, dusted it off and swallowed it whole.
Disengaging myself from the mess I had helped create was easier than expected. When the pieces don’t fit, it is a relief to stop pushing and just enjoy breathing again. I stopped hunting love like a starved lioness and in return it came, softly and hesitantly, to me. I learned to love myself. The way my ears stick out when they’re not covered by hair, the giant dimple on my left cheek, the embarrassing sleep-puff sound I make when I’m really tired. My desire to make others like me, my anxiety when they don’t. Acknowledging all the pieces of my personality, even those I wasn’t proud of, allowed me to rule them rather than be ruled by them.
The more I got to know myself, really looked at myself, the more my heart filled with compassion. With love. I didn’t need someone to complete me, I had no void.
When Epic Love finally showed itself, it was not dramatic or tearful. It was simple and joyful; the easy and satisfying click of jigsaw pieces.
I learned that when love is not forced, but nurtured, it is the least complicated of all things. It is a flame that is fed by numerous immeasurable acts of kindness.
It is in the respectful meeting of minds, the give and take of thoughts and ideas. It is in the gentle rub of his thumb across my wrist, in the spot I once casually mentioned calms me and makes me sleepy. It is in the breakfast he cooks when I’m coming home exhausted from nightshift, the love letter he sends through the post even though he lives within walking distance. The way he gazes at me after he bites my lip. The surprise chocolate bar left on the counter for no reason other than I’m on his mind and in his heart.
Author: Gwendolyn Mayhew
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Sean McGrath/Flickr
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