As a society, we have made tremendous advancements in technology and medicine and communication, but matters of the heart remain as confusing and complicated as ever.
After 27 years on this earth, I still don’t have this love thing figured out. I’m not sure any of us really do. In some ways, it only gets more complicated and depressing as the years go by.
What comes with age and experience, though, is the benefit of learning what love is not, even as we grapple with the unanswered question of what it is.
That’s why our first love often hits us so hard — because we don’t have a clue what we’re getting into. We go in falsely believing love is this unending bliss, and we come out like we just went through a meat grinder.
“People think first love is sweet,” Stephen King wrote in his novel Joyland. “Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar.”
“What’s so sweet about that?” he asked.
From that first heartbreak to all those that inevitably come after, our senses become a little more dull and our eyes more open. We figure out what we don’t want in the future, and we discover that maybe we should have had a greater appreciation for what we had in the past.
These lessons are difficult and they make us more cynical, but we learn a little bit each time — at least some of us do.
Sadly, a lot of folks don’t.
Far too many couples remain in unhappy relationships because they think it’s what love is — or they just pity their partner too much and worry what a break up will mean for them.
Perhaps they’ve just grown so comfortable that they don’t want to rock the boat, even though they know they deserve better.
“Now’s not the right time,” they say.
Through this process, they sacrifice their own feelings and their own identity to appease another person. And in those brief moments when they do try to break free and seize their own happiness, they always end up scampering back out of fear or, like I said before, pity.
Here’s the thing about one-sided relationships like that: They are toxic and unsustainable, and they cause more pain than they’re worth. They tear you to shreds in the long term.
And as one of my favorite anonymous quotes reads, “If it’s destroying you, then it isn’t love, my dear.”
Love ain’t easy — but it shouldn’t be hard.
To be sure, love isn’t always a walk in the park. The most important things in life never are. But too many people mistake that to mean it should be a struggle.
It shouldn’t be.
I once asked my grandparents — they’ve been married for more than 60 years — what the secret was to their successful bond. They both looked at each other for a moment, then turned to me.
My grandmother said, “We had more good times than bad.”
And that’s really what it boils down to, doesn’t it?
The person you devote yourself to should not leave you in tears once a month. There shouldn’t be knock-down, drag-out fights — or empty breakups — every few weeks.
That cycle — a seemingly endless chain of borderline psychotic falling outs followed by I-guess-I’ll-stay-with-him-for-now makeups — is draining, and there are never enough good times in between to fill you back up.
In other words, it fails my grandma’s test. It’s not love.
Love isn’t a source of chaos — it should be the shelter from the storm.
There is no question that life can be a category five shitstorm from time to time. Some moments are an enormous struggle.
But in most instances, love should be the shelter on those stormy days — not the source of them.
If you’re going through a stressful time at work or a grueling course of study in college, the person you come home to each day — or lie down next to each night — should bring you a sense of peace and comfort.
They should make you laugh and lift you up. They should be there for you in a way that fills you up and doesn’t drain you. They should be the person you escape the world with, not someone you have to find an escape from.
Too many people have it in reverse, and they bury themselves in school or work to get away from the drama of their unhappy relationships.
Or, when the shit hits the fan every month or so, they turn to the people who actually do give a damn about them for advice and comfort, only to blow them off again when they decide to fall back into their old, unhappy pattern.
Which brings me to my next point…
Love isn’t alienating those in your life who do treat you right.
The people who love you most always want what’s best for you. When they realize you’re in a toxic or even abusive situation, they often advise you to get the hell out of it.
Certainly, we all get to make our own choices and face the consequences of our own mistakes, but we shouldn’t alienate the best people in our life in the process.
Door mats are made to be walked on, especially when things get messy, but human beings aren’t.
Instead of selfishly using other people as temporary escapes from our shitty and unstable relationships, only to discard them when they aren’t needed, maybe we should just escape those shitty relationships permanently and start treating the good people in our lives how they deserve to be treated.
Like I said at the outset, I’m not sure what love is and I likely never will be. This uncertainty has only grown with age. But I do know that it’s not worth it to stay with a person for any reason other than happiness, comfort, trust and peace.
Love isn’t easy, but if it lacks those basic elements on a consistent basis, it’s time to walk away.
Because enduring pain to remain in a chaotic, abusive and unhealthy relationship — all while alienating people who are much more worthy of your time — doesn’t make you a selfless person. It makes you a crazy one.
You can do better. You deserve better.
So stop hating yourself and make it happen. And until you do, just know that what you’re doing right now is not love. It’s madness.