I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written about how “Love =/= Relationships." I’ve commented on it, cried about it, been straight up angry over it- but I never examined it, thought about it practically.
Why is it that, even with so much love, so much affection for someone else, and the best intentions TO manifest that love (in a relationship), so many couples end up hurting each other? Losing themselves? Becoming who they “aren’t,” separating, becoming strangers, or even hating each other?
It’s tragic. So tragic. The mistranslation of good intentions, to me, is one of the most heartbreaking things to experience, or even to witness. How can something so inherently “good” become so bad for people?
So I started to think about what “love” actually is. I’d always thought that if I could feel so much “love” for someone, a relationship will be second nature. Yet sometimes, love isn’t enough. Sometimes, more often than we’d like, love fails.
I put this thought on hold.
During this holiday break, I’ve been reconnecting with a lot of old friends. Which has been almost overwhelmingly fulfilling and enjoyable- and the answer to the question I put on layaway, came to me slowly. Disguised as instinctual “empathy.”
What we overlook about empathy, (and love,) is that there is an undercurrent, a deeper phenomenon that is implied, required for these feelings to exist:
In order for you to feel for someone else, you have to know them. Otherwise, what is there to love?
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My friends from my younger days have a unique bond, and are very very special to me. Since our high school spanned from 7th to 12th grade, we closely shared 6 years of our lives, then stayed connected with annual traditions and catch-ups and all the digital communication 21st century technology allows for. In short, we’ve been friends, good friends, for 11 years and counting.
11 years is an arbitrarily short or long time, but in proportion to the total number of years we’ve been alive, it’s significant. I would say it’s enough to claim that we know each other pretty darn well.
But I never appreciated this. Or even noticed it. Then when I started obsessing over the question of "Why love isn’t enough," I started to recognize when it was enough.
It’s enough when it’s based off genuine understanding.
During our “Holiday Sleepover” (yes, we’re early-20-something-year-olds who have slumber parties), we go around in a circle and do our “Catch-Up Session.” Basically, update everyone else on the major categories of our lives: School/Work, Love/Relationships, Friends/Family (We all care deeply for each other’s families. Like I said, we grew up together.)
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Here’s what I realized DURING this year’s Catch-Up:
1. I know these people. I know them from the ground, up. I knew them when we were 12, I know them when we are 23.
2. No matter what anyone is currently doing, or has done between the times we were in contact, I still know them. Updating each other on the details of our lives is for curiosity and interest, adding to and decorating the “them” I already know.
3. I love these people. Truly. The reason that time apart nor whatever they did during that time shakes my love for them, is because of 1.- I know and love them for who they are.
When my friends told me stories of success, happiness, and triumph, I smiled and laughed with them. I celebrated and shared their joy.
When they talked about heartbreak, feeling lost in the world, family members who were ill, my heart wept for them. I sniffled and mourned and quietly prayed for them.
Then I realized.. That’s what love is. The foundation, the stuff that’s built over years of friendship and bonding and fighting and silly moments. Heavy moments. Quiet moments. Of conflict and resolution. Special events. Lazy days on the same couch. All the things that lead to me being able to confidently say, "I know you. And I love you."
People are like the compasses we used in geometry,
There is the point, “You,” where the compass pivots from. The “x”
And anywhere, in any given area of the 360 degrees you can go, as long as I know and love “you,” your center, the flexibility to say, or do, anything, be anything, will never change who you are. It will never change how I see you or how much I care about you.
The force that holds that center together, for us, is the strong friendship forged over a decade.
For families, the love for each other comes not necessarily from knowing every detail of every members’ lives, but the simple fact that you’re.. related. Blood. That’s the root of familial love.
Within an individual, to know yourself, you need to be in touch with, and develop, continually, your ideals and beliefs and principles. And practice them. The more you are aware and self-assured of your personal schema, the more untouchable you’ll be to external influences. That’s your center. That’s your core. What makes you, uniquely, divinely, impeccably “You.” Nourish and protect it.
I like to envision people as trees. I’ve talked about this to several of my friends before, and eventually just sketched out my visualization:
That’s (roughly) how I see people. The 3 major levels to “know” someone. But I wanted to note how important the roots are. That’s the base of understanding. It’s the ‘x” where you plant your compass.
When it came to catching up with my friends, I realized they were just filling me in on the parts of their lives that were above ground level. But branches fall off. Leaves change colors. Yet the tree is still a tree.
The reason we feel like we’re “right where we left off,” is because who we fundamentally are in our roots, is understood to be unchanging.
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Within romantic relationships, we tend to confuse the trunk and the leaves and branches for “love.” We think that sharing parts of our lives, friend circles, participating in the same activities, taking cute photos, whispering sweet words before bedtime, constitutes love. Sure, they are all a part of it. Exchange of affection is one of my most favorite parts of being in love. Having someone experience things with me is so nice. But it’s not all love is.
I’m beginning to see that
true love for someone else,
from the roots.
And I’ve discovered, in retrospect, that my relationships that failed, hurt me, left me confused and disappointed in “love,” were relationships that had little or no foundation. The deeper the roots, the higher the branches- and we didn’t reach very far down.
I saw these guys, not for who they really were.
I saw them only in the context of our relationship.
Boyfriend first, Person second.
So any time they were hurtful or unloving, it dramatically altered the way I saw them or felt about them. I began to see good guys as bad guys just because they were a bad boyfriend.
Wheras, the few relationships where I took the time to know and understand the other person, I could see their mistakes simply as mistakes, and love them just the same. I could see the sweet things they did and appreciate them, but these things did not make or break the relationship.
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I admit I loved “love” too much. Too often, I wasn’t willing to do the work to know someone organically, from the ground-up; got overexcited and jumped the gun. Went for the fluttery feeling, the cute things, the shallow things. I built the relationship top-down, clumsily, prematurely, with no regard for who the person actually was.
I loved love,
I never even really knew “you.”
And this is why people change. How they become something they’re not. Because they lose sight of their roots, seeing each other only through the sensitive and critical lenses of a relationship.
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If I could narrow down all of the lessons I’ve learned in this past year,
I would say that most of the harsh, painful, heart-shattering feelings I’ve experienced had nothing to do with love, or the lack of it.
It had to do with my understanding of a person, or the lack of it.
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I’m not dismissing or minimizing the “love” I felt. The love other people felt for me. But I am determined to stay mindful of my approach to people and to relationships. I want to know and love people, in a genuine way. With no expectations or plans of pursuing anything beyond that.
It’s true- love cannot be forced. It has to come naturally, over time, through understanding- just as a tree grows from a seed. Even though you can’t see it. Even though that’s not where the fruit or flowers are. The roots need to grow. They’ll make all the beauty happen later.