When I was in my undergrad, I took a Psychology course on interpersonal relationships. My professor discussed all kinds of relationships, from siblings to friendships, coworkers to parents. We discussed marital and romantic relationships in great detail. During one class, we were talking about the difference between “loving” and “being in love”. Some people contended that there was no difference. Others people equated “love” to two 70 year olds on rocking chairs and being “in love” to a Hollywood romance – those fleeting moments of heady excitement, lust, novelty, and need.
I sat quietly throughout the discussion, writing in the notebook I always carried with me. I realized that I knew it; I knew the secret. I knew what being “in love” was, how to identify it, how to track and measure it, and most importantly, how to apply my formula to real relationships to find out why some succeed and some fail.
I presented my idea to my professor at the end of the semester. He told me he would read it, and told me I was most likely crazy. He believed there was no formula, at least not one that was waiting to be discovered by a random undergrad with questionable fashion sense. I smirked internally, sure that I’d covered all the bases. I asked him to send me an email if/when he found the flaw in my thinking.
The email I received from him instead asked me if I’d considered honouring in Psychology.
These are the discrete steps to being “in love”, which happen in order (for the most part). Five steps. Only five. And that can be the hardest part of all.
If you don’t want to get it on with them, then you’re headed for small “l” love rather than big “L” Love. True Love either begins with attraction, or it happens after you’ve grown into each other a bit. If it just never happens (like if you find yourself fantasizing about someone every single time you’re physical at all) then you’re not going to find Love there.
This is the most cliché, and probably the most difficult component to being in Love. Every person spends a lifetime building walls around those things that are too precious, too delicate, or too disgusting to be seen by the world. Each person in the relationship must take the plunge – and risk drowning in regret and embarrassment. We must risk judgment, exposure, and complete vulnerability. Trust is the faith that the person you Love is worthy to handle your most breakable, most tender, purest hopes, fears, and dreams. Trust is believing them to be strong enough to withstand our ugliness, frailty, and weakness.
With trust established, honesty can thrive. Honesty is not a verbal act. It is not merely telling the truth, nor is it avoiding lying. Honesty in Love means reevaluating your bond with the beloved to be sure your motives are pure. It is the decision to live and think every moment of every day as if they can witness every action, know every motive, hear every thought. This does not mean you have to be perfect – but it means you have to be true, faithful, and real.
With passion, trust, and honesty in place, the next step becomes easy for many people. It comes as the reward for all the hard work you’ve put into Love. But there is a dark side to some people (myself included) that makes feeling secure damn near impossible. Until you can believe yourself to be worthy of Love, you will never be secure, and thus never achieve it. Once you find it though, the experience is as soft as a cloud and as strong as steel. It can be most keenly felt when falling asleep in your lover’s arms. It is what drives us to close our eyes during the perfect kiss and open them while making love. It is so, so worth it.
This is solely a job for the mind. It is the hard, rational, worldly, experiential counterpart – and the natural offspring of – security. It can be tangible, embedded in a ring; verbal, in the defense of your Love and rebuffing those who would interfere; or physical, in the simple act of remembering to pick up the milk. It is found as much in grandiose romantic gestures as in the mundane minutiae of life. Commitment is both the running towards your Love and the pulling away from all others.
If any of the components fail – or are never reached – the result will be a ripple effect, with none sustained for very long. Once solidly established – and constantly maintained – they are held in a beautiful, delicate balance; one that is nearly impossible to destroy.