It’s out there, waiting. Hiding. Sometimes we look for it, but we try too hard. It can’t be forced because love has requirements of its own. Love is not a missing person, it’s a set of conditions that makes viable relationships possible.
Love is like the soil that allows our plants to grow. With the right ingredients they can thrive. Just pouring water on the plant, but taking the soil for granted, will not keep the plant alive. The plant will die, even if it perks up from the watering at first. We might say that the fact that we are looking for love makes it impossible, because we will project our feelings onto people and misinterpret their signals. When we’re dying of thirst in a desert of loneliness, faux love is a cruel mirage.
We have confirmation bias when we are seeking love. “They smiled at me, so they like me.” “I feel drawn to them so they must feel the same, and if they don’t it will make me suffer.” “They are what I need to feel whole, no matter how little we actually know about their parts.”
The deepest kind of love doesn’t abide by the ‘opposites attracts’ rule. While some couples start off well because they “complete” or complement each other - and some even survive - the chances they will grow apart are high. People change. Circumstances change.
For love to find us, we must be ready. Some of us are ready in early adulthood but many are not. Knowing what readiness looks like can be the difference between a hot, short-lived relationship or a warm, slow burning, enduring one. Here are some checkoffs for you to consider:
Know your bottom line. Basic values must align, or you won’t respect your partner. You can’t know what their values are without serious conversation. This should start before an attachment is formed - even the first meeting is not too soon. Also be aware of the context in which you meet. Bars and parties are conducive to phoniness. Factor that in. Make the second meeting in the daytime if possible.
Yes, the “C” word again. Listen carefully and be provisional by saying “it seems to me” or “in my opinion” a lot. That way you don’t broadcast your bottom line too soon, and it invites honest sharing. Ask clarifying questions if you are not sure that you understand.
It’s become a catchphrase already, but it’s important. It means being self-aware and other-attentive. Reading body language can help but check it out other ways. Trust your gut but verify, because it isn’t always right. It’s just trying to tell you to ask the right questions. It’s especially useful to pay attention to what they say about previous relationships. If the stories are too one-sided it could be a red flag.
There are gender and upbringing differences. (Even same-sex relationships can be gendered). No person will always align with all your views or choices. These differences are hard-wired, so either accept your partner as they are, or hope that time and experience will change them. There’s nothing wrong with hoping, but there are no guarantees either. It will take even longer if you push it.
The more self-sufficient you are the more you can be objective about choosing a partner. The downside of self-sufficiency is that those dependencies can sometimes hold couples together during hard times. Ideally, we would not depend on a partner for survival, but we could depend on them to enhance our lives.
Early on you may discover things that frustrate you. Don’t accept what you can’t tolerate, but if you can, wait for the right time to deal with less urgent matters. In confronting partners, timing and tone is essential to have a chance at resolution. Don’t fight or flee, just wait until you both seem to be emotionally ready. If you partner can’t ever discuss the issues, you may already have the answer you need.
If one of you will be moving into the other’s domicile, then negotiate how space will be divided and what will be mutual space. Don’t assume anything. This is especially true about personal space. It also applies if you move into a space that is new to both of you.
When you are forming a relationship, and even after, don’t make promises you can’t keep. ‘I will never do this or that’ statements only cause you to lose faith in each other. Saying “I will never leave a mess again” may not be realistic for some people. It would be better to say something like, “My idea of a mess may differ from yours. I am aware that you don’t like that, and I will factor it in, but I can’t promise that I will always remember.”
Another important aspect of healthy relationships is that they accommodate growth. To maintain that attitude, couples need to share their aspirations and frustrations. Remember, you cannot make another person happy, but you can sometimes bask in the happiness they find. Taking the journey together can be wonderful, but it means carrying twice the baggage and you will need to fight the impulsive urge to cry, “Are we there yet?”
Even when a good relationship is established, feelings of love will wax and wane. Love can sometimes disguise itself as boredom. But boredom is the highest compliment you can pay to another person because to be bored, you must be in a safe space. If conditions are right the relationship will outlast the boredom and love will reveal itself once again. Incognito to vivid in the blink of an adoring eye.