At the tender (ahem) age of 35, I find myself single and a single parent.
A lot of my limited and much needed social time with friends often leads to the conversation of love. Am I looking? Am I dating? What am I looking for?
I nod at their gasps of “love will find you” and “love will appear when you least expect it.” I watch rom-coms that portray the classic clichéd “happy ending,” and hear song lyrics promising a lightning bolt followed by instant euphoria.
Of course, I know better.
My take on love is changed. That doesn’t mean I’m bitter; it means I know better.
Love is a complex mix of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs, and I think that everyone has their own interpretation.
At its core, it’s a spark that is then nurtured into a devotion through protectiveness, tenderness, and a collective mutual respect for the other. Of course this has to be initially underpinned by an attraction, but we know this chemistry, whilst ever-present, often fades into the background as a deeper connection becomes more established.
Eighteen, 19, even 10-year-old me believed love had a timetable of events attached: You fell in love, you set up a home, you had kids, you got married…in no particular order (modern world and all)—but, these were fundamental steps and absolute benchmarks of the perfect relationship. That’s what being in love meant…right?
None of the above promises or equals love. None of the above is a guarantee of anything. It’s bricks mortar and a piece of paper; children, whilst a beautiful by-product of a relationship, do not come with an everlasting guarantee that their cofounders will stick together.
I see people who love each other every day who would not label themselves as “in love,” but that doesn’t make them any less devoted, or their love any less current.
With experience comes acceptance. I no longer look for the above. I no longer believe in lightning bolts or magic love spells. I do not believe in love at first sight. Lust, yeah. Love—no.
I do not believe you have to share a home, children, or a piece of paper with anyone to love them truly. I don’t even think being “in love” is enough—you just love.
And you must love without condition or expectation. Love and freedom are essential bed partners—if you love someone, set them free; that’s how it needs to be. Free to be whatever they want to be. And you need to be the same—connected, but independent. Dependence is the pursuit of the disappointed.
The basis of any lasting love is aligned values. How does this person perceive family? How do they treat their friends? Are they kind? What is important to them, and does it align with my own moral compass?
As a single parent, I have the added, yet most important value, of how they will influence and treat my children. So, this is key.
With experience on my side, love now sounds like: Have you eaten? Are you cold? How was your day? It’s opening the wine without prompt because of an expression on your face. It’s knowing when to wrap your arms around someone and then knowing when to let them fly. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, it’s safety, it’s home.
Love is shared laughter and lots of it; love is a comfortable silence. Love is a knowing look, an instinctive hand in times of darkness; it’s accepting the warts and all of someone because you are way past the need to impress. Love is patience, holding your tongue, putting the toilet seat down 1000 times—and not making a fuss.
Love is arguing over who will order the takeaway, and rock, paper, scissoring the decision who’s washing up. Love is telling them the truth, however much it hurts, and helping them overcome barriers. Love is a best friend, a confident; love is the person you want to call when the sh*t hits the fan, and the first person you want to share good news with.
Love is the keeper of your secrets; love is a motivator, a cheerleader, and your biggest truth-slayer. Love is fetching two glasses of water at bedtime because you know the other will want one; love is getting up to turn the light off.
Love is companionship and support. Love is growth.
Love is kindness. Love is acceptance. Love makes us stronger as individuals.
So how do we find love? The truth is—we don’t.
We develop love. We find lust, we find attraction, and we find chemistry. Love is not born instantly. Love is grown, nurtured, and developed. Love is hard work and two willing people who believe they can be better together than apart. Love is two people who are independently happy—together.
Now—translate that into a Tinder wish list.
So, in answer to my friends’ pleas for me to date online—I agree to some extent it’s a starting point.
But you won’t find love.
You will find someone you align with, and then if you are lucky—love will grow.
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