If you think about feet for too long, they start to look really strange. Why do we have this other pair of hands at the bottom of our legs? Why is my second toe stepping out of line and acting like it’s the big toe? Who are these people picking up pens with their toes and how do we kick them out of our homes?
The same is true of love. Stay with me.
If you think about love for too long, it starts to look really strange. Why do we fall in love with certain people, but not others, even if that certain person is a really bad singer and likes anchovies on pizza? Why does love cause us to feel a previously unknown depth of emotion? Why does love sometimes trigger negative feelings too, like fear and anger?
We’ve spent a lot of time here successfully counteracting the idea that romantic love is everything, which you’d know if you’d been paying attention, Rachel. Self-love and the love of family and friends are incredibly important. I need you to keep the last ten weeks of wisdom firmly lodged in your brain, next to the memes and the Justin Bieber lyrics.
But it would be willfully naive of me to keep shouting about self-love without acknowledging that romantic love causes us a whole lot of bother too. Love is joyous but it’s also bloody hard work, because fully understanding and committing to somebody else was never going to be easy. Done right, it’s so worth it. Without it, we become empty, fearful husks so wrapped up in ourselves that we no longer know how to reach out a hand in the darkness to somebody else.
We all spend a lot of time fixated on our romantic relationships, which is painfully human and absolutely allowed. It’s okay to want to be held at night, to want intimacy and to want to share your life with somebody. So let’s fall in love, but let’s do it cautiously and realistically, as foretold in all the great romantic songs of old.
Think about the phrase “falling in love” for a hot minute. You don’t actively choose who you fall in love with in the beginning. It just happens, like tripping over your shoelaces and then trying to style it out. You can go on several dates or spend months with an attractive person of your gender preference and not fall in love with them. You can have lewd sexual congress with a person multiple times and not fall in love with them. So there’s something else.
Something which causes you to mentally slip on a banana and realise you’re absolutely besotted with the person sipping their coffee opposite you. It’s magic that I frankly don’t know how to explain within the framework of Realistic Love. Cynically, we can say it’s just oxytocin. Physical affection releases certain hormones into your blood stream which make you bond with your romantic partner. But it’s not just physical affection, nor is it a winning combination of personality traits and good looks.
Of course, love strengthens over time through shared experiences. That doesn’t explain the initial fall. So science can take a hike and come back later with some biscuits from the corner shop, while we all agree to call it magic for now.
Falling in love can be frightening. Especially if you’ve been hurt before. Especially if your brain has a tendency to work against your best interests and tells you to sabotage good things. Especially if you find it hard to work out what’s right for you. Falling in love opens you up to vulnerability like almost nothing else, because suddenly someone else has a huge role in determining your happiness. So how to deal with falling in love when you’re scared of the whole damn business:
• Whoa, slow down there, Road Runner.
I love Road Runner. I love the little meep meep noises he make. I love how cleverly he outwits Wile E Coyote’s incredibly realistic painting of tunnels. He’s a true hero and inspiration, but you don’t need to move at his pace. When it comes to falling in love, it’s really tempting to make it a spectacular nose-dive like the end of David Cameron’s political career. You need to exercise caution, or before you can say ‘ham-fisted’, you might also find yourself trying to convince people that you did not have sexual relations with that pig.
Love creates a positive feedback loop where we feel valued and special. It’s really easy to get hooked on those emotions without once stopping to reflect. You don’t need to rush things. If the person you’ve fallen in love with is worthy of your time, they will let the relationship develop at whatever pace makes you feel comfortable. You don’t have to put a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” label on your love if that causes you anxiety. You don’t have to be official on Facebook. You don’t have to get married because you’ve been together for three years. Love has to feel secure for both parties. Slowing down and communicating your fears are the first steps towards that comfortable place.
• Make sure you know who they are.
“What are you talking about, princess? Of course I know who I’m falling in love with: I know their name, the colour of their trainers and I know they drink beer”. Well, Beatrice, that’s not enough. You can fall in love with someone without knowing much about them, but it’s more sensible to try and build a genuine rapport of understanding with someone, possibly even a friendship, before walking down the sexy and romantic path together. It’s a good idea to get to know somebody in a variety of different contexts, for example how they act around their friends, how important their work is to them and how their past experiences have shaped their expectations of relationships. Then you can see whether this person shares your values too, which is fundamental to creating an enduring love.
• Here’s what love is; here’s what love is not.
Too many of us have unfortunately had experiences of love that turned out to not be love at all, but actually something resembling ownership, one-sided affection or even abuse. If you’re falling in love, it’s important to make sure that the person you love also shares your understanding of what love means, wants to support you and isn’t going to intentionally hurt you. There’s this bit in the Bible where they talk about what love is, people sometimes read it at their weddings and it’s well nice. For the haters who said my Theology degree wouldn’t come in handy, it’s 1 Corinthians 13. You can read that some other time. Here are my secular ramblings on how to love and how to be loved, to read at your wedding (PayPal me for the royalties pls):
Love is coming home. Love feels like when you’ve had a really tough day, walk through the door and there’s a lovely smell of lasagna cooking in the oven. You can take off your work shoes that you wear for the outside world, just wriggle your toes and breathe again. When you’re with the person you love, wherever you are, you don’t have to wear work shoes. You don’t have to wear any shoes at all. You can just be totally, unapologetically yourself and will know that you are accepted and wanted for exactly who you are.
Love will stand beside you and allow you to step forward and shine, smiling in the glow of your light without wanting to hide it away from the rest of the world. Love will challenge you and question you, not concede to your every wish, because love wants you to be better than that. Love won’t play yes-man. Loves knows you inside out, even when you aren’t sure of yourself. Love can make you frustrated or angry, but only because love touches you right at the core of who you are and sees beneath the masks you wear.
Love will worship your body. Love will delight in your energy. Love will wait patiently while you figure out your own journey and ride with you wherever it takes you. Love wants you to grow and will grow with you. Love will change you for the better, in the lessons of life that can only be won through hardship. Love will smile and laugh with you on the other side of every battle, as you stand on the bridge together and say “We did that. Now, what’s next?”
Next week we’re going to try something different, because I do what I want and you’re not my mom. I’ll be sharing some in-depth thoughts about mental health awareness in a potentially controversial way, oooh errr. Follow @G4RL_blog on Twitter to be the first to know, get the inside scoop on upcoming topics and also look at pictures of me wearing a Canadian tuxedo. There will be further site changes coming soon to keep enhancing this experience for everyone by fixing dead links and bugs, but for now there are smoothies to drink and Looney Tunes to watch. You can also follow G4RL on Facebook and sign up via email to get notified about new content as soon as I hit publish, before everyone else. See you next Monday!
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