Thursday, April 28, 2011
"How do I know I'm in love?"
It's always been my role in life to be the bent ear, the person to call when advice or objectivity is needed. Though the requirements of such a role can be exhausting at times, for the most part I've taken the job willingly in order to share some of the hard-earned perspective I've gained in my life. In this role, a friend who often seeks my advice asked me a seemingly simple question yesterday via text message: "How do you know when you're really in love with someone?"
I'd been asked this many times before, requiring several minutes to at least explain the complications and flaws of the question itself, but yesterday was different. After hesitating only briefly, I responded with the first thing that came to mind. It was a stream-of-consciousness idea that was so direct and profound it surprised even me, and continually so because the more I think about it today, the more it feels right. My response was this: "You know you're in love with someone when you are content within yourself and happy alone, yet know you would be happier with that person complicating your world." Now keep in mind, I'm single and have technically been so for quite a while. However, with the experiences I've had, both firsthand and by viewing countless successful and failed relationships, I knew that what I told her was perfectly accurate to describe the reality of what being In Love is.
Let's make things clear, Lust is easy. It's primal, raw, and emotional, no real thought or over-analysis required. Any animal can thrust. It's our very modern concept of having a soul mate that is at the heart of why Love became so much more complicated, starting in the twentieth century. Even up until the 1950s, the idea of having your spouse be the perfect mate, "The One," was still not universally accepted and often considered a bit silly. It wasn't until the 1960s, when free love made it socially acceptable to be casual and irresponsible about love, that the concept of searching until you found your perfect match really came into vogue, yet was still not any easier than it is today. As a society, we've almost completely lost the very real notion that making a commitment to love someone day-in and day-out takes compromise, sacrifice, and a lot of hard work. I've known many couples who married young and divorced shortly after. They always lamented how hard the reality of it was, how average things like taste in tooth paste brands, paying bills on time, and which family to spend holidays with made things harder than they ever imagined. These people were in love with the concept of love. It never occurred to them that their spouse was a separate entity with a personal set of likes and dislikes that not always corresponded with their own. They expected the wedding ring to officially sanction their love, never realizing that "happily ever after" was only the beginning of the story, not the end of it.
There is no prince on a horse and no fair maiden that needs rescuing. People don't fit into tidy little types that easily filter through on dating websites. The right person may be short and chubby and have horrible taste in clothes, their music may grate on your ears and you may never like the same movies. But people in a stable relationship can tell you: when it works, it works. There is no truly perfect person out there; finding someone to sincerely fall in love with is just a wonderful and mysterious confluence of events. No amount of thinking, worrying, or praying is going to make that person's arrival in your life occur any faster, if at all. Making a commitment to truly be in love with someone, to want to share your life with someone, is not easy. If it were, the lifetimes spent on these complicated emotions, documented in our culture's countless films, books, and songs, would be unrecognizable to us. Nor is it easy to conclude if and when we are finally and definitely in love. The old adage rings as true as any other answer: when you know, you just know.
Simply put, being in love is a choice. The people I know to be honestly in love are happily miserable and choose to be so. I've known former frat boys that spend sleepless nights tending to their sick kids so their wives can sleep. I've seen ex-party girls enjoy rushing home to make their husband's favorite meal while still thankfully able to get household chores done. These are not roles you dream about as children. Most of these people have constant frustrations of monetary and familial requirements which precede each of their individual hopes and goals from an earlier age. Still, every day, those people kiss their significant others goodbye and head off to a job they probably don't like. Though they are groggy and worrying about how they are going to pay the mortgage this month, all they can think of is the contentment they'll feel when they come home in the evening to the person they love, even though they'll probably get yelled at for forgetting something at the store. There are no romantic comedies about being this In Love. There is no television show centered around a loyal spouse who reliably does the dishes every night, no romance novels praising the couple that makes lunches for their kids before getting to bed at a late hour. These are the unsung heroes from the Battle of the Sexes, but these are the ones who have won and are winning. Being in love like this can sometimes look embarrassingly easy to the outside observer, but it is worth all of the hard work. In my opinion, this is the kind of love we should all be seeking, the kind that challenges us to be the best of ourselves. These are people who know they are in love. These sad, miserable bastards have my respect, my appreciation, and my envy.
To read more about Modern Relationships, check out issue two of my publication, NSFW Magazine.