Writing about love is daunting. It really is. To paint an accurate illustration of the way I felt when I first began tackling this topic, I ask you to envision me: a skinny, uncoordinated white girl measuring all of 5’3″, facing off with Shaquille O’Neal on the basketball court.
The entire scenario is silly and farcical, and that’s exactly how I felt trying to form accurate conclusions about love, a force that’s much like a giant on a basketball court. It’s towering and intimidating and has the capacity to undo me. But the challenge was intriguing, so I couldn’t say no.
As I started brainstorming everything I’d learned about love over the short 30 years of my life, I quickly recognized that in pondering the mysteries of love, I was actually placing myself in the company of others who had sung and written and theorized about it. As I listened to their music, read their novels, and watched their films, the insights I gained helped shape my own. They bore witness to my experiences and gave voice to feelings I couldn’t otherwise articulate.
Here are 30 things I see differently about love now that I’m 30 years old, as told by my own musings, and quotes from book, movies and songs.
Make a list of things you want in a partner — but don’t let it rule you.
It can be helpful to make a list of things you want in a romantic partner, and it can be equally helpful to throw that list away. Love asks that we remain open, and always ready for surprise.
Love doesn’t require perfection.
“There were so many presumptions that I’d allowed to be built into my own mind about what a wife should be. I thought she should be a show-stopping cook and a brilliant entertainer, a nonstop quick wit, a wild thing in bed, an effortless nurturer… but if I can be honest, my grandmother was none of these things and she still enjoyed one of the most legendary lives and marriages that I’ve ever seen.” —Kristine Gasbarre, How to Love an American Man
“In generations past, there was far less talk of ‘compatibility’ and finding the ideal soul mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for. In other words, some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner.” —Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Learn to let go.
“The more I let people be who they are, instead of cramming them into what I need from them, the more surprised I am by their beauty and depth.” —Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines
Men aren’t that different from women.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t buy the idea that men and women come from different planets. We both live here on Earth, and in spite of a few rudimentary differences, such as personal interests or ways of approaching the world, I see more similarities between the sexes with every year that goes by.
Even the toughest of men have a soft spot somewhere on the inside.
Take, for example, the words of Charles Bukowski, who wrote extensively about booze and whore-mongering, and then one day wrote this:
“There’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out but I’m too clever,
I only let him out at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
Then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
And we sleep together like
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
you?” —Charles Bukowski, “The Bluebird.”
Love requires courage.
Love is worth the pain.
“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor, into the season-less world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” —Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Don’t hold back.
“I’d been afraid to really connect, fearing that I was dealing with someone who wasn’t as great as he appeared, or that my beauty and its need to share itself could be rejected. In the end, isn’t the result the same? Whether he was good or not, I held back, and now I don’t have him.” —Kristine Gasbarre, How to Love an American Man
You have to love yourself before you’ll have the capacity to love others.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” —1 Peter 4:8
Adjust your focus slightly.
“General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there — fathers and sons; mothers and daughters; husbands and wives; boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.” —Hugh Grant, Love Actually
Love is an investment, so choose wisely.
You shouldn’t always follow your heart.
My heart doesn’t always know what it’s talking about and shouldn’t be the final authority.
“After a while, I figured I was in love, but I kept my fingers crossed when I said it, in case I was wrong.” —Jillian Lauren, Some Girls
Letting go is hard to do.
Know when it’s time to let go of someone you care about, and then be brave enough to do it.
Love isn’t perfect; sometimes, it’s destructive.
You can’t change him.
“We may as well say goodbye because neither of us will ever be any different from what we are this minute.” —Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt
Loneliness is a part of life.
“When I get lonely these days I think, ‘So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.'” —Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Go slow and put others first.
Don’t be an emotional prude.
“I don’t want to be a sexual prude. But I wonder if by pretending that sex is emotionally and morally no-strings-attached, a person becomes an emotional prude. An emotional prude uses sex to escape the commitment and vulnerability required in genuine relationship.” —Tyler Blanski, Mud and Poetry
Love is forgiveness.
It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.
It’s OK to be single.
“We confer a lot of status and respect on people who are getting married. But there’s nothing inherently more responsible or more admirable about being married. I’m thankful to be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary this summer, but at the same time, I have a fair amount of friends whose marriages are ending — friends whose weddings we danced at, whose wedding cake we ate, whose rings we oohed and aahed over but that have been taken off fingers a long time ago.” —Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
Love is worth it.
My dad always told me that some of the hardest things in life would also be the most worthwhile. I’d say that describes love perfectly.
Give love instead of seeking it out.
“Love is an action. It is something I aspire to bring to the world, rather than something I feel that I am owed.” —Jillian Lauren, Personal Interview
God is love; the biggest, best and most overwhelming kind.
“God is an experience of supreme love.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Love is everything.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” —1 Corinthians 13:2
Our sense of love is heightened in moments of sorrow.
In the final moments of your life, you should think of love.
Love is real.
“Relationships are, alas, beautifully not bound to my theories about relationships. They’re better. They’re real. They follow no formula.” —Tyler Blanski, Mud and Poetry