February 7, 2022

Let’s Stop Believing that Love must be Painful.

We’re all suckers for happy endings.

And it seems we love them most of all when they come at the end of all that excruciating loss and heartache and struggle and sorrow.

When the love that was fought for comes out in the end. When the two who were destined for each other end up entwined against the world that sought to destroy them.

And what’s not to love?

In our own lives, harrowing as they may be, we find a great hope, I believe, in seeing all that goodness prevail. It warms our hearts and lifts our spirits to see it enacted that the thing we want most—true, honest, and blooming love—can emerge victorious at the end of the bloodying battle.

But I think we may take it too far, and I worry that in seeing the scars of others, we glorify our own struggle. We form a cult around our suffering and demand of ourselves that pain is love’s prerequisite. Then we mix in our own secret self-loathing, and this idea, that we must suffer if we are to love, becomes something difficult from which to break free.

And you don’t have to look very far to see it. It’s in our media. It’s in our music. It’s in our minds as much as our hearts, that good love is worth fighting for—worth sacrificing for—and so we sacrifice our well-being for a love we want even in circumstances where the love we have is disastrously unhealthy.

Think of the forlorn lover who can’t leave because they can so easily see their manipulative partner’s potential. Or think of the one stuck in a relationship with no passion because they remember how it was once, and want to come back to that one day. Or think of the way we glorify the notion of the one that got away and enable years of longing in the name of persistent love.

These glorifications of pain and longing are toxic. Not because there’s no such thing as a love worth fighting for and not because good love won’t ever require sacrifice. It will. Good love will demand very much of us indeed. But it won’t do it always, and it won’t usually do it at first. Life’s trials will come in time, and when they do, the best loves will bolster our staying power with sturdy arms and open hearts.

No, the glorification of lovesick emotional labor is toxic because it seems to imply that all love is pain and that there’s nothing wrong with being miserable in our relationships. Let me tell you, these are the words of the oppressor. These are the words of the patriarchy used to quiet men and women into settling for something that is economically and societally advantageous but disastrous for the well-being of individual human beings. Industrial capitalism thrives off of stable family units, and the emotions of it all—the happiness of it all—be damned.

But what about the way we feel, right now, in the relationships we hold? I’ll tell you, that’s worth something. It’s worth a lot. It’s everything. We deserve to be happy.

Here’s the most important thing I can say on this topic: fulfilling love is possible. Gentle love is out there. There are people out there waiting for you who will find you and love you and hold you and cherish you and never make you second-guess whether you’re important to them. There are people out there who will wrap your heart in finery and lace and keep it close to them always, and they will teach you that there’s such a thing as easy, heart-swelling, magnificent love that does feel like flying and doesn’t require you to destroy yourself to keep it in the air.

There’s a lover out there who will carry your best interest alongside their own, value your opinion, and nurture your insecurities such that you can actually heal them. There are loves out there that heal more than they hurt.

There are loves out there that heal more than they hurt. Let that sink in.

And this isn’t a plea that you ought never to settle or that your king or queen is out there, because nothing is perfect, and I believe that sort of thinking and talking leads people to overlooking their own areas of necessary accountability.

A good partner will show you, lovingly, the places where you also need to grow. But as you are on the road to becoming the sort of person who can build and maintain healthy, happy relationships, it’s worth you knowing that the relationships that cause more pain than gain are worth letting go of.

And as you do that difficult and dirty work of releasing what isn’t serving you, it’s helpful to remember that simple, easy, happy love can exist. It is out there. It rests in the arms of the person who loves you for who you are and who you can become. It dwells in the comforting warmth of their embrace as they wrap you up, fears and insecurities and shortcomings and all of it, and tell you they love you.

It’s in the way they honor your boundaries and express, lovingly and compassionately, their own. It’s in the gentle kisses meant purely to remind you that not all good things fade with time. They may change—sure—but they needn’t die slowly all the while.

And, of course, all of this is easy for me to write, having now found the person in the world who treats me like they care deeply, who loves me in my darkness as well as my light, and who has shown me, at times against my own disbelief, that there is a way to love that feels glorious. I’ve found my person and so it all seems simple—that love can be good and pure and that it really can feel like flying.

And I remember before I found this and how I thought that love must probably just demand of us a certain melancholy—a certain resignation to a lackluster happiness. I was in the cycle.

But I’m not anymore, and I have to tell you, the right one is worth waiting for and the best love is worth working to grow into. But it should never hurt and it should never make you feel small and it should never test you or push you or pull you beyond what the whispers of your heart deem safe.

So as we embark on another trip around the sun, and as we approach the holiday of love, let us remember to celebrate the good loves, the holy loves, the unconditional, joyfully original, soulfully medicinal loves.

Let us learn to recognize when what we have is not that. And lend us the strength to set off in search of it on faith alone, when necessary.

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