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I have sat up wide-eyed with my mouth agape many a bleak night wondering what the hell love actually is.
Is it avoidance and succumbing to the fact that I should just be alone because my partner will constantly disappoint me?
Is it the tumultuous up-and-down throes of codependency?
No and no.
I have come to see there is something more, something delicious. Seeing this has not come easily, but that’s what makes it so precious.
For I have searched and failed. I have loved and lost.
I have looked in the wrong places and the right ones. I’ve been confused and triggered. I’ve been heartbroken, yearning, sometimes mean, and often frightened, blaming, and downright dismissive.
It has hurt so much.
And yet, despite the aching, beautiful mystery of it all—we can peer inside the deep, emerald pools and see the thirst we all share:
We want to be loved. We want to love.
But it can be scary. Unmistakably vulnerable. Raw. Euphoric. Sweet. And all of those things at once, like a constantly turning kaleidoscope sparkling with every color imaginable in a ray of sunshine.
Lately, I’ve been learning about psychobiological approaches to love. Maybe that doesn’t sound sexy, but it is.
Stan Tatkin, a therapist and expert on attachment theory, says that the main purpose for pairing up is “survival…the need to feel safe and secure in the world.”
In an uncertain and often scary world, this makes so much sense to me.
So maybe it’s not the fairytale we’re after—but a sense of safety.
We want to be known.
To be seen.
To be held.
We want to taste the true nectar of togetherness.
So often, we skirt fearfully on the outside of love’s edges, or maybe sometimes, we dive in. But it’s not the fantasy that keeps us—no, it’s a deeper and more primal urge:
We partner up to feel secure.
And I think that when we know that, everything shifts.
The purpose of our relationships shifts. It becomes not just about fulfilling our own needs or about meeting the inflated expectations of a glossy, ridiculous fantasy—it becomes more selfless. In a way, it becomes more of an adventure, too.
It becomes the devotion to the question: how can I help my partner feel safe and cared for? And vice versa.
Love is a dance, an effort, a cherished resting spot—it is to perch on that great, sandy couch of togetherness and watch the waves come in and out.
It is good days. And bad days. And every day in between.
It is returning again and again…and again, to each other.
It is having the strength to speak with gentleness and compassion even when we’re scared or mad or uncertain.
It is having the courage to reach out and hold your partner when they’re scared or mad or uncertain.
It is “I hear you.”
It is “I am here.”
It is figuring out solutions to problems together, in ways that work for both of you.
It is the little ways of reaching out. A text, an e-mail, a phone call sprinkled throughout the day.
And for sure, if you’re like me, some of this feels immeasurably hard sometimes. It takes a lot of bravery.
Perhaps love, then, is not this grand, glittering thing.
Maybe it is so much cozier, like basking in a sunshine picnic with our beloved, as the warm, comforting earth holds us and our skin soaks in the nutrients that are necessary for us to survive as we eat plump strawberries and laugh at bad jokes.
And yes, Hollywood has done a great job dressing love up in a dopamine-drenched delusion. But at the core of it, the crux of it, love is biological and psychological—and so deeply mystical, embodied, and soulful.
We want to feel secure.
Yet, there’s only so much security we can achieve by ourselves.
And heck yes, I’m all for being empowered and independent—but we forget that we’re human. We need each other. We are social animals. We are mammals, after all.
We are not meant to do life on our own.
And it’s not just that being with another brings us happiness, it brings us deeper into ourselves—our souls, our hearts, the richness of our creativity. It exposes our wounds and our wonder. It supports us to thrive. It teaches us how breathtaking connection can truly be.
And yes, it’s f*cking vulnerable.
It’s when you’re crying in your underwear because you just had the worst day, and your love looks at you, takes your hand in theirs, and says: “I’m here. We’ll figure this out together.” It’s how those words immediately makes you exhale and feel better, in the most tender, all-encompassing way—because they’ve got your back.
And you’ve got theirs, too.
Love is wonderful. I don’t think we say that enough, because we are predisposed to look for threats, for what is wrong, for those hidden red flags. And yes, we want to have our eyes open—absolutely!—we should never, ever put up with things that are truly not okay.
But let’s remember how good love can be, too. How healing. How sweet.
Love is like pressed flowers, as they dry and became delightfully aged, like a fine wine.
So if the purpose of a relationship, on a psychobiological (and I think, magical) level is safety:
How can we help our partners feel safe?
How can we invite them into connection when they are sad or angry or scared?
How can they support us when we are sad or angry or scared?
How can we become a team?
How can we learn what soothes each other?
How can we collaboratively create a bond that is thick and ripe, resilient and true to the bone?
How can we speak up and tell them what’s bothering us—and take that risk to leap into the lands of vulnerability?
When we feel safe, we reveal ourselves. We have permission to be weird, passionate, soulful, and real. We are invited into a fuller, richer expression of who we are.
With all I’ve learned in the past few years, the great mystery of love has become a bit less blurry. Less complicated. It comes into focus, in a way that feels plush and sweet.
Love is about creating a safe space for ourselves and our beloved in a world that is often so fast and cruel.
Love is a place of beauty, a respite from the craziness of this life.
And sure, love can be challenging sometimes, too. So we must generously create enough softness to help ourselves and our beloved.
And it takes effort—from both people.
If I could tell you one thing, it would be this:
Yes, it’s okay to need someone to lean on sometimes.
That’s the biggest thing for me. I don’t have to do everything alone.
I am not superwoman.
I am tender and human.
I am grateful for the man who stands, strong and kind, by my side—and cheers me on during the good days and catches my tears in his hands on the bad days.
I know how to be alone, which is why it feels so good to be in a partnership now.
Please don’t forget, in our culture that promotes a do-it-all-yourself kind of independence in glossy letters everywhere:
It’s okay to need someone to lean on.
We don’t have to meet all of our needs by ourselves. It’s really not what we’re designed to do. We are not superheroes, we are delightfully vulnerable human beings.
We are made to be interdependent.
We are made for together.
And in truth—that is what makes us strong and radiant.
It makes us smile in a way that ripples out and reaches our fingertips and toes.
And it reverberates right through our hearts.
“If partners don’t understand that their principal function is to keep each other safe…they will trivialize the meaning of their partnership and lessen the likelihood of creating a strong, interdependent relationship.” ~Stan Tatkin
Resources for creating more sweetness & safety with your love:
Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin
We Do by Stan Tatkin
The Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges
Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
“Your Brain on Love” (podcast) by Stan Tatkin
Learn About your Attachment Style (quiz) by Dr. Diane Pool Heller