Q. I have found a lovely partner, and we’re very happy. However, we have very different view points on an issue that’s bound to pop up: love. He has had partners in the past, some for a year or longer, and has never said the words “I love you” to anyone but his family. He believes those words should only be said to the person he is going to marry, which I respect and admire deeply. I have and don’t mind saying it. My partner has said I can say it when I’m ready, but I don’t know if I should or what to do about it exactly. I have the highest respect for him and don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. What should I do?
A. I must admit, I meditated on your question for quite sometime, unsure of what actually to say. I rolled it around my mind like play-doh, letting it swim to the front of my forehead when grocery shopping or showering, mulling over what would seem like a good enough answer. I stared at the question on my computer, drinking that third cup of day old coffee, hoping that by ritual and sheer will and want itself would bring the “right” answer to come out, that tricky bundle of words that would allow for a situation where everyone walks away clean.
I will tell you now, I may fail you in that aspect.
We all have different opinions on love. Love is a battlefield. Love is a bitch. Love is all you need. Love, love, I believe in love. So simplistic, and yet, so much harder than we think. Love is the stuff of inspirational quotes on keychains and Pinterest-style wedding plans. If we go by face value, love seems daftly easy, something that should just happen naturally, without any roadblocks, hitches, or doubts – like the sprinkles to a cake that has yet to even be made.
Frankly, I still consider myself a stumbling student when it comes to the nature of love. Certainly I have had my share of saying “I love you” to boys who definitely did not deserve it or saying “I love you” because my heart felt ready to burst with excited fervor and passion, or worst, an “I love you” that really meant “I am so alone. I am so sad. Please do not go.” I know almost next to nothing about love, true love, the stuff that is tested over and over, like a raw nerve waiting to be snapped. I’m not sure most people do. We seem too frightened, too scared. We refuse to wear those deeper, darker wounds proudly on our shoulders, because the world is not exceptionally kind to people like that. We have certain ideas and comparisons, we flaunt divorce statistics and “our needs,” hell, we even imbibe in tales of happily ever after, even when we know that after happily ever after is dotted with a period, something still comes after that. I’m sure it’s enough for whatever higher power universal presence is witnessing to send laughing to tears or hitting its metaphorical head against the wall.
But love, just because I or you or whoever, don’t know, doesn’t mean there isn’t an investment in knowing. If you come down to it, love really is the only goddamn thing worth having in this lifetime, and I say that as a once have been or continue to be a financially cash-strapped, in need of a job /thing/ monetary object person who has had their fair share of negotiating with the universe for a way to pay the medical bill or fix the car or to fill some need that defines the nitty gritty of existence of being here. You know: the shit. But love? Love is the antidote to that shit. Love gets us through the nitty gritty. Love might be the only valid option we got in the short time we are here on this flying heap of dirt in space. Do not underestimate it. Do not deny it.
And, I don’t just mean romantic love, though that is the matter that makes up your case. I mean love as an action that requires you to open your heart to others. I mean love as going beyond what we understand of it and doing so fully. I mean the stuff that requires deep patience and understanding and working through a muck of feelings and emotions and bad breath and flaws. Love, I can safely conclude, is not a solitary act. This, however, is what your partner seems to assume, that love is reserved for “that one”, you know, the perfect, princess fairy tale and answer to all things. But what of you, my dear? That I wish I could answer with ease, much like giving you a map that points you from A to Z. But I have no direct map. I have no drawn out plan of how you may do this. I do, however, have six small pieces I have kept close to my heart over the many years, some which I’ve always believed and some which had to hit me over the head with all the blunt force of a mugging to finally and really, understand.
1.You must try. If you do not try, you cannot fail and you cannot succeed. You fail when you keep love bottled in, when you play it cool. Playing it cool is for people who wear their emotions like Forever 21 jeans: easy to dispose of and easier to purchase. Playing it cool is for people who are scared of being “needy,” that scarlet letter A for most women everywhere, a gendered stamp of disapproval. The truth is, my sweet, we are all needy. We long for tenderness. We long for acceptance. All of us. If someone tells you they do not, they are a liar. So try. Try with all your heart.
2. You must be honest and sincere. Do not promise what you can’t give. Do not tell someone what they want to hear. Speak the truth. Don’t play emotional footsie. Crack open your heart and lay the contents out on the plainest kitchen table, for them to see. When someone else does the same, do not react. Bear witness and make space for it. This can be very, very, very, very, very difficult but it very, very, very, very necessary.
3. You must surrender yourself to risk. That unlocking of your chest and cracking yourself open? It is far, far harder and more rare than many assume.It is also an action that has no guarantees. You must do it anyway. Risk is part of every great leap of faith. No risk, no potential gain.
4. You must be compassionate and empathetic. Real love, not the fireworks that fade after six months, is not the stuff of perfect moments or made for TV movies. Love is walking down into the darkness, witnessing the very worst and instead of fleeing, offering to hold someone’s hand. Love is showing someone deep empathy when they might not deserve it. Love is not being judgmental. Love is faith in the darkness, faith in the worst, mostly having a seed of faith that is so, very tiny, but so very alive. The world was never made worst by people being more compassionate or empathetic.
5. You must let go. Let all that shit go and I mean all of it. That shitty thing they did to you a year ago? That stupid thing they said one time? The way you think its supposed to work? The timelines of your friends marriages that pop up on Facebook inspiring the green-eyed monster that lives shamefully inside you? Let it go. Let go of assuming that love never means getting hurt. Let go of holding onto the hurt. Let go of all that shit and let yourself be healed by something bigger than bills and shit and work and all the crap that people insist make you a big fucking person that doesn’t really mean shit at all. Let go of expecting it will always be easy. Let go of being the best Pinterest bride ever. Let. It. Go.
6. You must know that steps 1-5 do not guarantee anything. The only thing you can control is the space between what happens to you and how you react.
Can I tell you a story? I was at a wedding recently. It was stunning, I really mean spectacular. I’d never seen two people so in love, so dedicated to each other, so ready to take on the shit. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But there was a late guest. Not like, sneak in the back late, but an obvious, dramatic, and purposefully late. One of the participants father showed up after the ceremony happened. Yea, that’s right, a father showed up late for no reason at all to the wedding day of his kid other than maybe to rub a thorn in a side or it tends to be a habit of his, I’m sure there are reasons as long as my arm. No explanations. No apologies. Nothing. Said dad is a man of serious money. Of stature. Of being a successful person. To him, there’s nothing wrong with coming late to such a day. He got there in time to talk business, to have a drink, to hang out and I don’t know, be there but not really be there.
It was the most pitiful shit I’d ever seen.
Here was a man who had everything, and I mean everyfuckingthing money could ever provide you access to. It was a shield to the shit, to the real world where not only did money excuse you from general bad behavior, but it rendered lifetime events semi-meaningless. I mean, what is love when you’ve got stature?
Seriously, what’s love when you can be cool, cool, cool, when you can just set cruise control and let the world do the work for you?
What’s love when you have all that money to comfort you on your deathbed?
When the weight of your heart is not defined by how much love you were able to carry for others, but by the regret of cutting off one of the most humanizing and magnificent experiences you get on this goddamn earth?
Who knows what the reason were. Who cares. In the end, the pettiness of such an action was rendered a side-note, a desperate plea for control, outdone by how much love was in that room, not only between the couple, but between them and everyone who was there for them. Everyone who chose to be there, to travel how much distance or to compromise or support or one of the thousands of other choices you make when you take love into your arms.
So playing it cool? Fuck that shit. Fuck it hard. Be honest with your love. Be so fucking honest and do not take one ounce of shit when someone dares to make you feel bad or uncomfortable for being able to talk about such a thing because they might have not found their own heart yet. Love likes to disguise itself as a “feeling”. But feelings my dear? They flee like ghosts, there one moment, gone the next. Real love is a choice. Real love is an action. Choose to love and choose to love with all your heart if that is what honestly lives there. Choose to love even though there are no guarantees and the road ahead is the darkest, most unknown road you have ever known. Maybe you will have your heartbroken into a million, shattered pieces. Maybe you will show someone that “love” is not something just reserved for whoever wears a white wedding dress. But the only way you will ever know, is if you crack open your heart, hold it in your hands, and take one step after another, down the dark, dark road.
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