What those who have found true love know is that it is not an experience of total fulfillment or enchanted whimsy (and feeling that way doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true love, either). True love is actually about meeting another person in their purest form, and cherishing what you find. It’s not something you discover by chance or fate, but something you cultivate. It’s one of the greatest tools we have to reach our deepest selves, and to share the joy of what we find.
1. You are equals. This is simultaneously the simplest and most difficult thing to learn. Oftentimes one partner either sacrifices or demands more from the other. When this imbalance persists, it leads to resentment on one end, and a sense of entitlement on the other. True-lovers realize that their feelings and needs are no greater, and no less, than the other’s.
2. You’re not lovers, and you’re definitely not best friends. You are family. So often we hear that the most successful relationships started out as friendships. But true-lovers know that their bond surpasses any friendship they could ever have, and that their physical intimacy as lovers is inextricably tied to it. They’re family because their connection runs deeper than loving each other and liking each other, than making love and laughing. They are life fixtures that could never be replaced.
3. It’s not about how much you laugh together, but how much you cry together. (I promise I didn’t get this from a fortune cookie.) True-lovers are willing to be vulnerable together. They’re beyond the “I can’t let you see me cry or think I’m weak,” mindset, and that openness to each other’s vulnerability is far more precious than anything else they share.
4. When you have ‘problems,’ you recognize it’s not something wrong between the two of you, but dissatisfaction inside yourself (or inside each of you separately) that interacts. Many relationships end when a set of problems just won’t go away, when partners aren’t willing (or even able) to adjust to the other’s needs. True-lovers know that the problem isn’t in their partners, but in themselves. Your needs and feelings are responses to the pain inside of you that’s seeking healing or recognition from your partner. True-lovers consider what inside makes them feel the way they do, and if their own demands are causing their partner reciprocal feelings of hurt or inadequacy. They accept their responsibility, which is the ground for forgiveness.
5. Communication actually is key, but only if it’s honest. Openly discussing your insecurities, past traumas, and little daily hurts allows your partner to really glimpse into your heart, and have an appreciation and respect for what they see there. Likewise, resentment is the root of all evil. When communication ebbs away, or holds back parts of the truth, annoyances build up inside and resentment is born. True-lovers know this is the wedge that is most difficult to unstick, so better to never allow it to form.
6. You cannot change the other, and you would never try to. So many people think they can change their partners, to mold them into the image of perfection they’ve imagined. True-lovers never do this, because what they love is their partner exactly as they are. Yes, there are flaws and frustrations (opportunities to grow together), but those things only add to the other’s humanness. Demanding that perfection is again a projection of the perfectness you wish was within yourself.
7. Things will change. Staying together is a choice, and it has nothing to do with romance or destiny. Romance is what we see in the movies, when the man runs in and proclaims the woman is his soul-mate and he could never be without her. That is not true love. In fact, this idea of love as a romantic destiny was thought up by troubadours cajoling their swooning, bored ladies. Romance is the stuff in stories, love is acceptance. As poet Kahlil Gibran said, love joins you but does not bond you. True-lovers recognize that they will change, situations will change, and their love will wax and wane, maybe even day to day. They know that staying together is a choice, and not predicated on falling in and out of that romantic, fated idea of love.
8. Your partner could never complete you, and expecting them to is not only selfish, but toxic. Again,cultural romantic thinking. Completion is internal. It’s painful, delicate work inside your own soul. To expect it from another will be the thing that destroys the beauty in what you have. It puts a weight on them they could never carry, nor fulfill. True-lovers know they don’t need each other, but their love brings them meaning and companionship in the present moment.
9. Nothing could ever break you up. Not because your love transcends all things, but because you recognize your lover’s true humanity. You accept the good and the bad, and when one side is more in play, it doesn’t make you forget the existence of the other. This is most important of all in discovering what true love is. True-lovers understand that everybody incorporates the duality of good and bad, because love, in particular, draws out the most extreme in both sides. When you have true love, you’ve seen your lover in their worst form. Maybe they cheat, or scream, or mock. But you won’t judge or blame, because the bad doesn’t blind you to when they comfort, support, and adore. When you come to know someone wholly, and accept their humanity as both special and flawed (and you still love them), then pretty much nothing could pull you apart.