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January 31, 2019

This is what real love looks like

Rupi Kaur writes about safety in Milk & Honey, “If I knew what safety looked like, I would have spent less time falling into arms that were not.” I didn’t think it was possible to identify with the pain of another stranger so much, that I had chills, but we all bleed the same, do we not? If I knew what love looked like, I would have spent less time falling into arms that were not.

I’ve written about counterfeit love and glam love, because you write about what you know. In the digital age of filtered stories, it’s easy to mistake recreation as love, because they look very much the same. Except for love is far more than recreation, if we care for it beyond visual shallowness. It’s not our fault that we confuse love with every picture tagged with #relationshipgoals, because in the digital age, that is how love has been normalized for us. Even some therapists, who apparently raved about having the best marriage, have a strange habit of inviting their (partnered) clients over for after hours wine via extremely filtered selfies, while maintaining a wholesome loving profile.

Said therapist charged $250 an hour to coach people… what, I don’t know. But she’s not unique in her duplicity. A lot of us are guilty of the same crimes, because we all aspire to love, and digital conditioning leaves no one behind. Are we what we pretend to be? I used to write. Except for today, I’m breaking new ground with a list of what real love looks like, because I’m finally fortunate enough to write about what I know. This list isn’t glamorous, and it’s not picture-perfect, but it’s every bit as real as it gets. Here it is, for free, because the best things in life are.

Real Love Portrait 1: Four months had passed since my fiancé and I had seen each other, so I surprised him by flying to the location he was working that day, after confirming that he was in that very city I was boarding my flight to. I had sent him various cues that I was flying that day, except for his brilliant mind thought that I was flying to the city he was based in, instead of the city he was working in that day (we both have rather unconventional jobs). As a result, and out of only a gut feeling that I was coming to visit (which was correct), he left work early to drive to his homebase airport, and stayed there waiting for every incoming flight from New York City. Meanwhile, I was mid-air, flying to his work location of the day — and I made sure that my flight destination matched where he was, before I got on the plane. Except for we both move quickly. So, I landed in the very city he had left 5 hours earlier, to look for me, and we ended up in very different airports…well, the surprise worked. Another 4 hours later, we finally were face to face. There was absolutely no logic for him to think that I was arriving to visit him in a whole separate city after I had confirmed he was somewhere else. But looking for logic, in love, seems futile.

The portrait of real love that day, was two people who are crazy for each other, who had spent a crazy amount of time on the road, just to be with the other person face to face for less than the time they spent on the road.

Real Love Portrait 2: Being in constant touch of one another, even though the quality of touch may vary. Communications is key in every relationship, especially in romantic relationships. Real love is having and building emotional intimacy. In the digital age of instant and 24/7 access, ghosting, in any form, is poor form, and most often than not, failure to communicate tends to be by choice, than by circumstances. It’s friggin 2019 in America, after all. My fiancé and I, we don’t show up as our best, more times than we care to admit, but we do show up. We do communicate. Sometimes, it’s a blurred picture of our surroundings, to show that we are alive and this is our life at the moment, or if we were feeling generous, we would send a photo of an arm, an ear, or any other body part without our faces in the photos, because I absolutely hate having my picture taken when I’m mad, and he seems to have caught on with the same habit. In real life, I never want to be captured in pain, so I never take pictures when I’m in a bad mood.

Real Love Portrait 3: Real love is choosing to practice compassion, to listen beyond the screams and see beyond the violence, to discover the internal world, that is most needing our love. Real love gives us a lens, through which we can look at fighting differently. Through this lens, we see fighting as an aggressive way of communicating pain and fear, and sharing fear manifests itself in different ways. Real Love powers bravery and courage to stay in this place of conflict, to truly be there to take in what our partner is saying to us. Fear itself is a daunting emotion, and the sharing of this, is even more difficult — for most of us, sharing fear doesn’t manifest itself in the form of making a pretty list. For most of us, fighting is one way; anger is another. Except for this kind of violence is not abuse — though for onlookers from afar, they may share similar superficialities, but on the inside, once we see through the fire, it becomes apparent that they are made up of very different things. This is an outcry — the intent is less about destroying who we are, than it is about making as loud a sound as humanly possible, to tell us the amount of pain that exists. The nature of this kind of scream is not malicious — it’s an alarm going off where love is most lacking. How do you treat a bleeding heart? Certainly, not with more daggers.

Real Love Portrait 4: Real love does not forsake. Real love isn’t immune to anger or violence, but it doesn’t live there. Real love doesn’t shut down. For prolonged periods of time, and time apart, it seemed like all we did was fight, and we both got ugly, and then we got tired. Tired of fighting, dying for love. So we didn’t break apart. On the contrary, these fights made us stronger. Because neither of us walked away. Real love does not forsake. Real love powers us with the strength to stay in conflict, instead of walking away. Strangely, the more we practice, the better it is we are, at staying.

Real love is being safe spaces for our partners, as much as we can. Real love is the ability to stay in unsafe places, and instead of going to war, choosing to transform them into safe places.

Real Love Portrait 5: Real love is showing up for the person, in every way possible, but especially in ways that they most need. Having lived on my own since a very young age, showing up has always been very important for me. Except for I had a very limited and literal definition of what showing up meant —  and by focusing on that very narrow definition, I failed to recognize that showing up could be expressed in more ways than I ever imagined. When we limit our definitions of common concepts to something so singular and narrow, we’re essentially making ourselves colorblind. Just because we can’t see the colors of a bouquet, doesn’t mean there aren’t flowers, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t stunning. It’s just that we cannot see it fully.

Real Love Portrait 6: Real love is giving compliments, when we feel like attacking. Concerning what is outside of our norm, real love is shifting our assumptions and judgements to curiosity and wonder, especially when it comes to anger and all its by-products. Real love is the decision to better understand our relationships with fear and pain — those of our own, and those of our partner’s, and to treat these wounds with compassion. Compassion, for those of us who are out of practice, may seem difficult to fathom, because the physical application of this virtue looks much less appealing than the idea of it. Considering logic looks good, but kills love, why not give this a go? It’s the most cognitively disonant advice I’ve taken, but it’s worked wonders —- when you feel like attacking, reprogram your response to shoot out a compliment. The results would make you addicted to this thing no one ever does.

Real Love Portrait 7: Real love sometimes looks like madness. Because real love isn’t governed by logic, and feeding it logic doesn’t seem to make it grow. In fact, the only way real love even has a chance, is in its defiance towards rationality. Because rationality is a calculus of conditional love; it cannot process what is unconditional.

A friend who has been married for 21 years offered this piece of advice that was passed on from his father in law. He said, “my wife and I spent the first ten years fighting, until her father warned us, that if we want to keep our marriage alive, we simply have to let logic die.” Between love and logic, we can only hold onto one. They chose love, and have been happier with each growing anniversary.

Real Love Portrait 8: Real love is still choosing to have this madness, because something about it transforms us, elevates us, and leaves us feeling better than the numbness we’ve chosen to associate with before. Something about being face to face with this madness is enlivening. This madness, once you’ve experienced it, makes you never want to go back to numbness, or wishing you were sedated again.

Love, if it can make us fall, it surely can make us rise, because real love is stronger than any pain or fear or the sum total of all that wounds us. This list isn’t pretty, but it’s an honest portrait of what real love looks like, in its raw, unfiltered form. The kind of messiness and madness I never would think to label as #relationshipgoals, except for putting it out here, just might contribute to a more accurate image of what real love looks like, so we can halt the toxic cycle of comparing and despairing, so we can arrest the self-defeating habits that fail our relationships.

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