Love is … people have finished that statement with a plethora of words meant to define it, but there is no magical word or phrase that sums it up. It is much too big a concept for that. It comes in so many different guises, and in this instance we’re only talking about romantic love. There are a million kinds of love out there, and there have been billions of words written to try to explain them all, but most fall much too short, just as the words that follow here will.
But that won’t stop me from getting in line with all the others throughout time that have attempted it, so for no good reason, I am writing a little thing on love. I don’t know why, but then again, I’m not sure why I write any of these weird little ruminations about anything. Best not to question that while I question every other thing that has ever existed. And don’t worry, while it may get bleak, I promise you I will not leave you in a bad place. I never have, I have always found something redeeming in everything, on every little journey I take you on. You just have to have faith, you’re in good hands. Oh well, for better or for worse, here we go again ...
Relationships with other people are at best frustrating. The problem is, everyone sees life from a different perspective, so no one sees things the same. You sometimes meet people and their viewpoint on a certain subject might just happen to intersect with yours, and you think you found a kindred spirit. Then ten minutes later they spew some ridiculous bullshit and you look at them like they're an idiot, if not on the surface, then inside your own head where you keep most of the looks that would get you in trouble if you showed them to the world. Others have that same look when talking to you, you just don't see it most of the time because they keep it on the inside too. We all slip once in a while, and that face leaks out, but most of the time the other person is too wrapped up in themselves to even notice your incredulous look of disgust.
Then there’s the people you meet that have several things in common, and you think you've found your soulmate. You're in love and all seems right with the world. You see each other and go on about those few things and the sex is great and life feels like a fairytale.
What follows is usually a slow decline, in the coming weeks and months you find more and more things you disagree on. You overlook them at first, after all there are so many important things you have in common, what are a few minor differences? Soon though, all those small differences pile up and they eventually outweigh the good and everything turns to shit. You find reasons to break plans, and you start daydreaming about an imaginary someone out there that's better suited for you.
Sounds pretty bleak, huh? That's life though. Every single person lives life on their own terms, and most of the time those terms don't match up with anyone else's. That's why relationships are hard. No two people see things exactly the same, and most people think that their viewpoint is the right one. It's not so bad if you're talking about a casual friendship, where you see the other person once in a while, usually when you are participating in a shared interest. When it's a romantic relationship, where you see the other person day in and day out, and most of your experiences are shared, it can be suffocating and excruciating. You can choose to ignore it, but it will build up over time and eventually you're going to erupt, and that won't end well.
Most times though, relationships just peter out, not with a bang but with a whimper. Then it's on to the next one to play the game out all over again.
Don’t forget that everyone comes with their own personal baggage. A lot of people have been burned before, and they have walls up and defenses set, expecting it to happen again. It’s hard to enjoy the present when you’re constantly reliving the past. Those are just the people that have had some minor upset. There are millions more out there that have had serious shit done to them, horrible abuse that you can’t even conceive of. Those people need a lot of extra love and attention, and if they haven’t worked through any of it on their own you are probably not going to be able to fix them. Most likely though, you will try, if there are enough things you like about them and the sex is good.
You are going to put in a lot more than you get out though. That is true of most relationships. One person always seems to be doing a lot more than the other. Ideally you want everything 50/50, but that will never happen. Some people are givers, and some are takers, and there is a sliding scale between every pair of people in the world, and it is never in the exact middle. That’s okay, like life nothing in love is ever perfect, and it will settle into a rhythm if both people are fine with it. If you find yourself keeping track of it, you’re relationship is doomed, I’m sorry to say.
There are so many things that breed discontent in a relationship. Things you don’t even notice until long after they happen sometimes. Most of the arguments you have with people aren’t even about the thing you think that you’re arguing about. The brain is amazing, but a lot of the amazing shit it does is not exactly beneficial to you or your lovelife. It can store some little perceived hurt for a long time, letting it fester and then have it come out at the worst possible time. Your brain seems to be sabotaging you all the time, especially when it comes to love. Just one more thing to battle on your way to happiness.
What's my point? I have none, really. Just that life is a series of relationships between people that in reality agree on very little no matter what they tell each other or themselves. When you factor in that we all have vastly different life experiences, different values and viewpoints and cultures that have conditioned us since birth, different joys and different traumas, so many fears small and large looming over us, and the fact that half of us are a different gender than the other, it's a wonder that any two of us can get along at all.
Maybe that's the thing that binds us all though. Maybe we are all different, and that means that we are all alone, living in our heads and feeling like there is no connection out there to be made, and that terrifies us more than anything. We don’t want to believe that. We can’t. Human beings are social animals, we need each other. We hate isolation, maybe not for awhile, but soon it gets to us and we need others. So we try again, and again and again, until we get it right or we become so damaged by it all that we just give up forever. We soon realize that to have that love, that togetherness, that connection, we have to compromise on what we feel is right. We have to ignore that impulse to show the look on our face that says we can’t believe what just came out of the other person’s mouth. We have to learn to lie to them and ourselves.
They are small lies, and we can live with them. We have to if we want companionship, there’s no way around it. That’s why even the best relationships carry a little bit of resentment, because we all know that we have to sacrifice a little bit of who we are and what we know to be true, a little bit of control. It is a fine and delicate balance to achieve, and even harder to maintain, and we often punish ourselves when we can’t pull off this near impossible feat.
Sure, you can have bad relationships that go on for years, based on one person’s guilt and insecurities and the other person’s selfish and manipulative nature. Those are going on all around us, and some of us are probably in one of those relationships right now and don’t even realize it. These relationships are usually doomed and have lasting repercussions for at least one of the participants. I think you can guess which one.
Most people have an idealized vision of love, and they will rail against you if you disagree with it at all. They label themselves hopeless romantics, as if they are proud to lie to themselves and repeat the same mistakes over and over. I probably fall into this category as well. As much as you hate hearing it, for most of us that’s what love is after all. An illusion that we can’t bring ourselves to admit is a losing game. In reality, if you want a truly long lasting and solid relationship, be prepared to bite your lip and spend most of it being annoyed. Love is like everything else in life, a lot of aggravation and boredom interspersed with a little joy here and there. We are conditioned more and more these days to expect life to be entertaining and full of instant gratification, but that’s not reality. We are going to have to get it through our heads that we should cherish the small parts of life that are fulfilling and joyous and just slog through the rest the best we can.
That’s actually a pretty good deal when you think about it. To have someone that you can count on, to give you unconditional love, to share in your triumphs and catch you when you fall, to tell your secrets and fears to, to stand beside you when life is hard and to fuck your brains out when times are good … and all you have to do is accept that there will be some dull spots, that sometimes you will disagree on something as silly as a movie or music or something on the news that doesn’t even affect your lives.
Don’t get me wrong, there will also be times when that other person lets you down in a big way. You will let them down too, don’t kid yourself. We are all human, and we all make bad decisions. Sometimes we make really horrible decisions, but that’s why you have unconditional love. It doesn’t mean that you’re a doormat, it means that you are willing to forgive someone you care about, even if it’s something that really hurts you. That’s why love is so hard, because no love, no matter how perfect, will ever be without these moments. It is so much easier to just run from that hurt, to blow it all up and start over. We throw love away everyday, just because we don’t want to face it, to stare our fear and hurt down and move past it, or to put our pride aside for the sake of another. We let it dictate our happiness all the time.
If you want real love, you can’t be afraid of pain, or disappointment, or the fear of losing control over some little(or big) part of your life. That’s not just true of love, it’s true of everything in life you encounter. Every single thing. For some reason though, we let it affect our relationships more than most other things in our lives. Perhaps because we are so afraid of losing that love, of being alone, because we have attached so many of our hopes and dreams on it. Unfortunately, like most things, the thing we fear becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Once we let fear take over, we often drive the other person away, or run away from them ourselves.
Part of the problem with love is that we have all these conditions put on it before we even experience it. We have all these rules and preconceived notions and we adhere to them. You get them from everything around you, your parents, your friends, books, movies, songs, a million things telling us what love should be and all of them leaving out the important parts. It sabotages us before we even start. If you have a vision of the perfect mate in your head, no one you meet is ever going to live up to it. You are doomed before you begin.
How will we even stand a chance? How can we possibly manage to balance all of these things, to keep all these plates spinning at the same time? I have no idea. Obviously I haven’t managed it either. We are all doomed to failure, over and over, until we simply give up or die. To wallow in futility and torture ourselves and the people we claim to love. That seems to be our only course, right?
Only it’s not right. There are couples all around us that have stood the test of time. Oddly enough, we often look at those relationships and scoff and wonder how they can even be together, why they would want to live like that. We think those couples are ridiculous simply because, once again, their union doesn’t match up with what we think love should be.
I know of quite a few couples that are in very successful, very long term and happy relationships. I too sometimes think to myself that some of those relationships seem like a nightmare. I don’t know why I think that. Do you know what those relationships all have in common? At times they don’t resemble in any way what I think a good relationship should look like. My preconceived notions projected onto others again. Every successful relationship I know of seemed at one point or another to be so far out there, so bizarre, that I couldn’t even imagine it lasting a week.
But they do work, and they keep on working despite what I think. So maybe I should stop thinking I know what makes a good relationship. Perhaps I should stop presuming I know exactly what love looks like. How can I find it if I’m looking for the wrong thing?
Let’s go with what I do know about it. I know it’s hard work, but everything worthwhile in life is hard work. I know it’s elusive, but isn’t happiness on any level kind of elusive? I know it requires patience, and caring, and sacrifice, but I see people demonstrating those qualities on a daily basis in a million different scenarios, so I know we are capable of it. I know it is full of twists and turns and the unexpected, but that’s all of life, and sometimes that’s the very thing that makes us feel most alive. I know it is full of shared moments and secrets and intimacy, full of smiles meant only for you, and holding hands and locking eyes and feeling like you are the only two people in the world. I have felt those things, I have breathed those moments in and let them fill me until I thought I would burst. I know it is about trust and depending and being there when someone needs you most, catching someone when they fall and picking them back up if you miss. I know it is about just seeing that one person from across the room and thinking that they are the coolest motherfucker that has ever lived and that they feel the same way about you. I have experienced all these things.
That’s the amazing, curative, magical wonder of love, and there is nothing else like it in the entire world.
It all comes back to the other thing I know though. It’s not all there is to it. There’s the pain, there’s the disappointment, there’s the long stretches of day to day life that can drag you down. You need so much patience in an increasingly impatient world. I don’t know how to balance those two things. I don’t have a clue. That’s what you and I are going to have to figure out. And when you figure it out, you have to hope the person you love has it figured out too.
I’m not going to lie, the odds are not in your favor.
All the good stuff is worth all the bad stuff though. It has to be, because we have no choice. We are never going to stop wanting it, because life is not worth living without it. Plus, we know we can do it. It’s been done before, over and over throughout history. There’s a reason why there are just as many love songs as there are songs about failed relationships. Same holds true about books and movies and any other art we create. They are two sides of the same coin, and it is spinning for eternity, never landing, never being one thing or the other. You can’t trap it, you can’t control it, you can’t dictate how it will behave. You can just try as best you can and accept that you may win or you may lose, it’s not only up to you. Love will push and pull us, lift us up and break our hearts, tear us apart and put us back together again, but it will always be vital and alive, and so will we as long as we keep trying.
© David Ferraris 2015