People think therapists have perfect relationships and that’s not true. Yes, we have studied theories and acquired tools but we are also human which means we have our own stories. Just because we coach people with relationships doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with them ourselves.
In the last decade, I’ve been in two long term relationships, a few short term relationships, lots of dating, a long stretch of no dating, and more dating. I’ve been in fulfilling relationships, not so fulfilling relationships, catfished, rejected, confused, pleasantly surprised, present, in my head, open, narrow, and conflicted.
But through this journey, I’ve had some revelations. And I would like to share them with you. Partly because they may help you but mostly because I just need to get this shit out.
1. Love is not a battlefield. Your head is.
Yes, love can feel like tip toeing through a forrest of explosives and that’s probably what Pat Benatar was feeling when she wrote the song. But ultimately it’s everything in between our ears that gives us that experience. Our thinking, wiring, definitions, triggers, insecurities, beliefs about ourselves, all formed from our story which includes previous love experiences. The destruction is real but where it comes from is not love itself. It comes from us. Toxicity doesn’t come from love. It comes from a lack of self awareness, tools, and the dynamic of the relationship. Jealously doesn’t come from love. It comes from our own insecurities. Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions based on feelings instead of facts doesn’t come from love. That’s comes from our cognitive distortions. Love is not a battlefield. Your head is. If not your head, their head. Or both. But it’s what’s happening in our head that creates the feeling like we’re in a war zone. Be aware of your thought patterns and question what’s truth, what’s distortion, and what’s residue from your past.
2. There is no such thing as perfect.
We all want the perfect partner. If that’s your end game you’re going to be playing the game forever. No one is perfect and you know this. But we keep searching for perfect and it makes us judge and dismiss people and miss out on a lot of what ifs. I’ve learned to toss all my definitions, labels, and what I think “perfect” looks like. It will give you your ocean back. Or you’ll just be fishing in a small plastic swimming pool.
Yes, we have certain types that we gravitate toward. But it’s important to be open. Chasing “perfect” will only give you the same experiences. Because our definition of perfect hasn’t changed. It’s the same one we’ve been clenching onto since college. It’s time to toss that shit. There is no growth or evolution in same experiences. Give yourself a new experience by deleting “perfect” from your vocab. You are looking for something you haven’t be attracted to before. You are looking for new, fresh, different. Because in that window there is learning and revelations and discovery. That’s what love is about. The new. Not the repeated.
3. Dating can be fun.
Put the tomatoes down. Overall, dating sucks. Yes, I agree. But it can be fun. Really. It’s possible. I’ve been there. It happened to me! Not for long but I felt it. Dating can be fun with the right mindset. The greatest mistake people make with the dating process is having expectations. We meet / swipe / DM / Skype / facetime someone and suddenly we’re filling in a lot of blanks and imaging what they’re like, what they would be like in a relationship, in bed, around our friends, and we’re just setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Expectations create giant cliffs that you will fall from if they are not met. And chances are, they will not be. So instead of expecting, focus solely on the excitement of meeting a new person, hearing a new story, trying a new restaurant, seeing a new museum, movie, whatever, and if there’s chemistry and attraction, that’s extra. But if not, just having a good fucking time. Be grateful that someone wants to get to know you and spend time with you. Dating is not about finding your soulmate. Dating is about hearing new stories and having new experiences. Detach everything else.
4. If someone is unsure about you, it’s never worth the investment.
Relationships are hard enough. If you have to convince someone to be with you, what do you think that would look like? When someone is unsure about us, we naturally want to convince them to want us because that would mean we are worthy. We are wanted. We have value. But we’re not thinking about what the relationship would look like. I’ll tell you. It will be short lived. I’ve learned to stop chasing people. It never works out. One person is constantly seeking approval and validating while the other gets bored. It burns out like a candle. I’ll meet you half way, until we build something then I’ll swim the ocean for you. But I won’t build something on ambivalence. And you shouldn’t either.
5. Love is peeling an onion, not biting an apple.
The first layer is not love. That’s infatuation. Skin. Lust. Connection. Chemistry. Butterflies. All the possibilities of what something could be. Love doesn’t happen until layers are peels. Until you see all sides of someone and accept them, embrace them, and choose to love them.
We’re all looking for the thing in the the bottle, the “you just know” feeling. But feelings alone don’t build healthy lasting meaningful relationships. We have powerful connections with certain people and that’s great. I think that means something. But there needs to be more and more is discovered not found. This means it takes more than eyes meeting across the room.
Love is about going through our layers together by experiencing the whole person not just parts. Leaning into life’s shit storms together, hands locked, learning, growing, fighting resistance, triggers, and sharpening each other along the way.
6. If someone wants to be with you, you will know.
So many people make excuses why they can’t be in something and those reasons may be true. But I’ve learned that if someone really wants to be with you, everything will go out the window. I’m not referring to people making a strong healthy decision to not pursue toxic relationships. That is a good thing and happens often. I’m talking about people who say they want to be with you but make a shit ton of excuses (not because they believe it’s toxic) why they can’t, like “I’m not ready for a relationship”.
Okay, fine even if you’re not ready for a relationship you still won’t cut the person off if you’re truly into them because we all want love and we know how rare connections are. So we go in the water, even if we’re scared or “not ready” because logic always takes a back seat when it comes to love. And yes, fear of intimacy is a real thing and people sabotage relationships all the time. We get afraid. We second guess. We hesitate. But if someone’s really into you, you will know. They will make some kind of effort. They will try. They will communicate. They will not run. Hide. Or ghost. So the next time someone says “I’m not ready”, what they’re really saying is “I’m not that into you”.
7. No one’s ever really “ready” for a relationship.
Relationships are like having children. You’ll never be ready ready. You just do it and make things work when you feel it. I mean what does being “ready” for a relationship look like anyway? I think self help books, relationship articles and seminars have created this false image of what your internal life should look like before you decide to love someone. The truth is, you don’t know when you’re going to met someone who blows your knee high socks off. Or maybe someone you already know who you suddenly see differently and have romantic feelings for. And from what I know about life, it comes when you least expect it or when you’re not “ready”. So what do you do, turn down at chance at love because you read somewhere you need to be at certain place to love? We are dynamic, always changing, evolving, learning, going through shit, falling down, getting up, getting hurt, healing, letting go, moving on. There is no such thing as ready. Because you’ll never be perfect. Because there is no such thing. So you just love as hard as you can with what you have. Like our parents did and their parents did.
Yes, the more you invest in yourself, the more you bring to the table. But that is an on going process that never stops. So ready doesn’t exist.
Love is a carousel and you jump on when you see the horse you want to jump on.
8. Hold love. Don’t grab it.
Someone once told me to hold love like you would sand, with two open hands. I love this metaphor and remind myself of it when I approach relationships.
Many grab love and it slips from their hands. Because behind grabbing is control and blueprints and definitions and judgment. People think grabbing love is what it means to love hard. But it’s the opposite. Think about love as a bird you’re trying to feed. Chase the bird and it will always fly away. The more you try to grab it, the faster it will flee. But if you just hold the food out, the bird will come to you. And the more it trusts you, the more frequently it will come. I think love is the same. It is not something to be grabbed. Love is about holding space. And in that space, it grows.
Grabbing love will always prevent growth. It sets off one’s fight or flight. It breaks trust. It makes people flee.
Don’t grab it.
9. You can always love harder.
First, you have to define what harder looks like for you. Loving harder doesn’t necessarily mean caring about someone more. Loving harder may mean giving someone more space. Loving harder may mean looking at yourself and your unhealthy patterns. Loving harder may mean acceptance. Loving harder may mean working on you. Loving harder may mean letting go. Loving harder may mean not giving up.
Ask yourself what loving harder looks like. A good place to start is are you giving or taking? Many believe they are giving when they are actually taking. If you are using love to make yourself feel better, you are taking. If you are using love to control someone, you are taking. If you are using love to fill holes in yourself, you are taking. Giving is sharing yourself with someone. Giving is coming in as a whole person. Giving is always looking inward first. Giving is accepting someone for who they are and championing their story.
10. Don’t stop believing.
We’ve all been rejected. We’ve all been hurt. We’ll all had our hearts shattered. We’ve all been in things that ended unexpectedly. That made no sense. We’ve been cheated on. Manipulated. Left for. And after a while, these experiences catch up with us and cause us to stop believing. Love becomes Santa Claus. Or a very hot stove we choose to stay away from.
But here’s the thing. What we believe will be the rudder of where we will go. This isn’t just with love. It’s with everything. Our beliefs determine our experiences. So, if we stop believing in our ideal love, we will never experience the kind of love we dream about. Love will just be an idea. A billboard. A commercial.
So, we must continue to believe, with every fiber of our being. We have to, if not for you, then for us. Because if we all stopped believing, love will become extinct and we will all just become empty soda cans.
Life is about love.
And love is what teaches us how to live.