We all want true love.
But what is it exactly? According to every romance novel I have ever read, it’s this:
A partner who has all the goodies. They are funny, strong, communicative, creative, soft when we need someone to lean on, and yet strong enough to support us through difficult times.
They invite us to see their family because they are still great friends with their siblings and have blissful respect for their parents. They enjoy and are able to forgive our family.
We want our partners to think we are strong when we lose our temper and find our emotional instability endearing. They hold us close until we find calm. Somehow, no matter what we say, we are forgiven without discussion and all hurts have dissipated, magically.
They celebrate all significant birthdays and holidays, remembering that perfect thing we saw when we were shopping two months ago on our vacation, and calling the shop to have it sent just in time. They know what kind of flowers or chocolates or other favorite things we like, and they surprise us from time to time by sending them to us at our workplace for all our co-workers to admire.
We are looking for true partnership. They remember to ask us before making plans, are neat in the common spaces of our home, help with the cleaning without asking, and even organize projects from time to time. They anticipate when we might be upset at something that happened and check in accordingly. They have lifelong childhood friendships and are social butterflies when invited out. They can get messy and build stuff and fix anything, which they always find time to do for us, and yet look fabulous in a suit, which, of course, they have.
It all sounds so romantic. And it’s a description of true love I actually think is possible.
Then what’s the problem?
The problem is that while true love is possible, and lovely to experience, how most people anticipate that this kind of relationship will become a reality is unrealistic. This is partially because they don’t have the skills to navigate what’s required and expect the other person to bear all the responsibility to make it happen.
The imagery of the archetypical Knight in Shining Armor comes to mind. “They” will save the day.
Most people who are caught up in the romantic version of what they think a healthy, happy relationship is hope that the other person will just magically be able to do these things. This results in the partner being held to a standard of relating that they likely don’t have, and likely neither does the partner wanting this from them.
It is the magical thinking of romance that often gets in the way of developing true love with another person. Because true love takes a great deal of time, attention, work, self-awareness, compassion, and amazing communication skills. Basically, love is a negotiation—and that doesn’t sound romantic.
But this is only half the problem.
The other half is that while we long for this, I’m guessing most of us no longer think its possible, given our own life experiences, and we’ve resigned ourselves to enduring mediocre (at best) relationships, even though we still yearn for something different. And this builds more and more resentment inside the relationships that we do have.
Here’s the good news: true love really is possible. Simple really. And this is how we get there:
>> We have to unlearn our long history of out-sourcing our happiness.
>> We have to develop our communication skills.
>> We have to increase our self-awareness and connect to the values and needs we want to meet within our relationship so we can effectively implement #1 and #2.
Perhaps it will help to hear my own story. Like many others, I was a hopeful romantic, yet helpless in my communication skills.
I met the person of my dreams and within two years we called it quits because of all the trauma and drama we experienced when together—despite the attraction and absolute shared reality we enjoyed so much.
My story is not unique. It was (and still is) so surprising to me that despite giving up, we found our way back, committed to the steps above, and if you met us now, you would likely not believe our history. Only those who “knew me when” know of the struggles I experienced with Steve when we met. And if we could make it happen, so can anyone else.
Allow me to elaborate on the process.
Modeling our deepest relationships after what we see in movies often relieves us from the fact that we are responsible to meet our own needs. We outsource our happiness, we think others complete us, or that when we find that perfect—or close to perfect—someone, then we can be happy.
This, of course, is romantic—it’s just not true. It leads us to a lifetime of trying to control others’ behavior, which as we likely already know, is not an effective strategy for a life of ease, harmony, or delight. It’s the kind of thinking that sets us up for exhaustion, disappointment, and resentment.
Another unfortunate reality is that we’re often attracted to “what love felt like” when we were growing up. This means that the person or people we are attracted to will likely bring the same energetic experience we had when we were young, whether we liked it or not, because it feels like love. And if we find someone who offers us something different than that (even if it includes what we actually want), they won’t be attractive to us at first glance.
The good news is that a bit of self-awareness, mindfulness, and good communication skills offer us and our partner what we need to re-wire what we learned when we were young. We can create amazing relationships if we put in just a bit of intention and time.
In this day and age of swiping left (or right?), or deciding on the first date and pretending for way too long (meaning we don’t show up and tell the truth), we often don’t give ourselves the chance for this kind of connection. We just keep trying another person and finding the same issues—leaving us thinking we will never find true love.
Romance is not the enemy of true love. But we do need to re-define what romance means.
I’ve learned that by becoming super-aware of why we want to be in relationship (and what needs we are hoping to meet), and adding some patience and commitment to those touchstones (rather than any particular person), we might just find the person who can fulfill our hope of true love. And if traditional romance is part of that picture, then surely we can ask for what we want and our person will be happy to show up and provide that in our life.