I’m not a relationship expert.
Far from it. I’ve actually spent more of my adult life single than in a partnership.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m even any good at relationships. If I’m always going to spend my life fumbling around in them trying to make them work. (Anyone else feel this way?)
But as someone who looks for lessons wherever I can get them, I’ve learned that relationships are ripe with wisdom—if we’re open to seeing it.
Which is why I get annoyed when I see bad or unrealistic relationship advice floating around the internet. Relationships are complicated enough without wrapping them up in pretty, poetic words that aren’t true or attainable, at least for most of us.
I came across some of this advice yesterday morning. It’s romantic. It’s hopeful. It’s also the kind of quote that makes me wish words had a face so I could punch them in it:
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Why do we insist on convincing ourselves that love is only real if it’s easy, effortless? That love is only real if we don’t have to tell our partner what we want or need? If they just magically know?
Question: has anyone here actually been in a relationship with a full-time mind reader? Because I certainly have not.
But I have been, and currently am, in a relationship with a beautifully imperfect human. Someone who is still getting to know me and all my (sometimes understandable, sometimes over-the-top) needs and wants, even after almost four years together. Someone who knows what kind of beer and chocolate to surprise me with but who still struggles some days to communicate with me in a way that makes both of us feel comfortable and heard. Someone who doesn’t know every difficult or traumatic life experience I’ve had (because ohmygod who has time for all of that?) and therefore can’t always anticipate the kind of attention or support I might need in a given moment. Someone who entered into this relationship with his own view about how relationships work (because, surprise, there’s not only one way to “relationship”).
And even if we’ve settled comfortably into a relationship that has lasted for decades, the truth is that if we’re living, we’re changing, and sometimes that means our needs and wants change. How can we expect our partner to meet these new needs if we don’t have the kind of mature, uncomfortable conversations that clue them in to our new reality?
What I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) in my limited experience is that relationships require effort. And intention. And willingness. And discomfort. And hard conversations that happen over and over again. And a healthy dose of admitting when we don’t know what we don’t know. And then asking questions so we can learn. And then being open to hearing the answers.
Believing that “real” love and “real” relationships should be easy and effortless is why so many of us have struggled and are still struggling to create and maintain connections.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole quote isn’t bad. Some of it is even beautiful, like the idea of love being patient and kind, of it being friendship on fire. But sometimes fire burns slowly and smolders in a way that draws us in, and other times, fire flames out of control and burns down everything in its path. And frankly, neither option sounds particularly easy or effortless to me.
Instead of being on fire, I’d rather be in communication. In connection. In the scary, uncomfortable, potentially life-altering moments that prove my relationship is growing. That we’re taking the difficult steps to emerge from the fire, (hopefully) together.