I remember how wonderful I thought our fights were. It’s so embarrassing to look back on now, with enough perspective to see just how terrible the whole situation was, but it’s true. At the time I thought there was something truly magical in our uncanny ability to turn every little interaction into either a seething bout of passive aggression, or an all-out war of words designed to make the other person hurt as badly as possible. I looked at the time a dispute over the proper way to dry dishes turned into me crying in my car outside of a McDonald’s while listening to talk radio just to feel the company of friendly voices, and I saw a passion that only the two of us could ever understand or create.
“We fight hard, we love hard,” I thought. “We know how to push each other’s buttons. We’re made for one another.”
Even as I would see my friends’ whole bodies tense up when the two of us started to make cutting comments while out at a bar having drinks, I would dismiss it as a problem on their end. They just didn’t understand us, they had never experienced something that was so emotionally charged. (This was probably an accurate assessment, it should be said, it just wasn’t a good thing. The fact that they had never been with someone who was the equivalent of an explosive chemical combination meant that they should have been pitying me, not the other way around.) And their warnings about our increasingly dangerous, borderline-abusive behavior always fell on deaf ears. We were Bonnie and Clyde, us against the boring, emotionally stable world.
It’s so easy when you’re in the thick of things to mistake constant distress for passion. After all, it’s exciting. It has that all-important Newness Factor, in which everything keeps changing and your partner’s intentions are a moving target to which you never feel perfectly entitled. While the placidity of a healthy relationship — the nights spent comfortably side by side, the errands run on Saturdays, the tedious decisions made as a team — can seem like emotional suicide to someone who is drawn to chaos, the constant mind games of someone who is terrible for you will always keep you on your toes. It gives you a charge, a feeling of precariousness, something to look forward to. And when you’re immature and physically attracted to the person, there is no more potent a recipe for desire.
But desire is not love. Lust is not love. Hell, in many cases, even passion is not love. These things are simply the sparklers which sizzle and pop and go out relatively quickly (if only to be found again at certain points in the relationship). But love is a much more stable thing, a thing of sacrifice and compromise and understanding that the person you have chosen is a real human being with needs and feelings and a daily routine that you must fit into. I would label our tumultuousness as love because it made me feel something, but the truth was that without our constant explosions, there was nothing to hold us together. We were made “great” in my narrow mind by our ability to get a rise out of each other, but once we had simmered back to our resting temperatures, we had very little interest.
It should also be said that being with someone like this also makes the both of you measurably worse people. You push one another’s limits of cruelty, of malice, and of passive aggression. You make love into a competition of who can take the game further and still come back to apologize. The goal becomes seeing one another’s blood boil only to take the pitiful pleasure in bringing them back to reality. When you emerge from the fugue state that is an emotionally abusive fight, you look at the verbal blood on your hands and realize that you are capable of saying things to another human being that are only meant to hurt, and that you never know when that beast is going to be brought out of you again. It is now only lying beneath the surface, waiting to be provoked into action.
There is nothing romantic about codependence, or about pointless arguments, or about turning every disagreement into a battle that no one can win. There is something very romantic, however, about the patience and compassion it takes to love another human being in a healthy, routine way. For someone to be able to wake up every day and depend on your presence and your empathy, for them to know that your fights — while a necessary part of life — will always be fair, that is love. It is not glamorous or unpredictable, but it is love. And perhaps it’s passion, too, even if we can only recognize desire when it’s burning our whole life along with it.