Many of us idealize love like its some lofty remedy for all of life’s problems. Our movies and our stories and our history all celebrate it as life’s ultimate goal, the final solution for all of our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overemphasize it. As a result, our relationships pay a price.
When we believe that “all we need is love,” we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. I mean if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?
The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations about what love actually is. These unrealistic expectations then sabotage the very relationships we hold dear in the first place. Lasting relationships require more than pure emotion and sky-scraping passion.
Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two do not always go hand in hand.
It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who doesn’t treat us well, who makes us feel worse about ourselves, who doesn’t hold the same respect for us as we do for them, or who has such a dysfunctional life themselves that they threaten to bring us down with them.
When I think of all of the disastrous relationships I’ve seen, many (or most) of them were entered into on the basis of emotion — they felt that “spark” and so they just dove in head first. Forget that he was a born-again Christian alcoholic and she was an acid-dropping bisexual necrophiliac. It just felt right.
And then six months later, when she’s throwing his shit out onto the lawn and he’s praying to Jesus twelve times a day for her salvation, they look around and wonder, “Gee, where did it go wrong?”
The truth is, it went wrong before it even began.
When dating and looking for a partner, you must use not only your heart, but your mind. Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, as the ski instructor from South Park once said, you’re going to have a bad time.
Love does not solve your relationship problems. My (what I would call) “first actual love” and I went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting. And every time we fought, we’d come back to each other and make up and remind each other how crazy we were about one another and that none of those little things matter because we’re omg sooooooo in love and we’ll find a way to work it out and everything will be great, just you wait and see. Our love made us feel like we were overcoming our issues, when on a practical level, absolutely nothing changed.
As you can imagine, none of our problems got resolved. Hours and hours talking on the phone with nothing actually said. Looking back, there was no hope that it was going to last. Yet we kept it up for four fucking years!
After all, love conquers all, right?
Unsurprisingly, that relationship burst into flames and crashed like flight 1301 on the JFK Runway.
The roller coaster of emotions can be intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion will eventually come and wash it all away.
Love is not always worth sacrificing yourself. One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.
But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?
In loving relationships, it’s normal for both people to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. I would argue that this is normal and healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.
But when it comes to sacrificing one’s self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s ambitions and life purpose, just to be with someone, then that same love becomes problematic. A loving relationship is supposed to supplement our individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If we find ourselves in situations where we’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior, then that’s essentially what we’re doing: we’re allowing our love to consume us and negate us, and if we’re not careful, it will leave us as a shell of the person we once were.
One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.
But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?
Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is “no.”
Why do we tolerate behavior in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?
You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.
But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.
Love is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is something everyone should aspire to feel and enjoy.
But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experience, it cannot be allowed to define us, our identities or our life purpose. We cannot let it consume us. We cannot sacrifice our identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment we do that, we lose love and we lose ourselves.
Because you need more in life than love. Love is great. Love is necessary. Love is beautiful. But love is not enough.