When it comes to love, people often say, “When you know, you know.” While I understand relying on one’s intuition, I’ve always found that explanation a bit – I don’t know – lame. This is LOVE we’re talking about, people. And although I agree with Fitzgerald who said, “there are all kinds of love in the world but never the same love twice,” I’m sure those of us who have experienced love can agree on its modus operandi: It’s enlightening. It’s crazy. It’s magical. It’s maddening. It’s soothing. It’s scary. And – perhaps most universally of all – it’s unpredictable.
Moreover, not all loves are extraordinary. Nor can they be. So if “you know when you know” that it’s love, how do you know that it’s extraordinary love? Well, it takes a little experience, a lot of patience, and a fairy godmother (OK, kidding about that last part…kind of).
I’ve been in love twice – just enough to substantiate Fitzgerald’s hypothesis. The first time around was, in short, a disaster. I was young (19) and desperate for some semblance of a Grand Love ™ (in other words, I’d watched too many rom-coms from ages 8-18). Blinded by my own desperation, I wound up with a man I barely knew. He was the opposite of me in just about every way possible. He wasn’t in school, he didn’t understand many of my interests, he loathed authority, and he had zero life direction. Likewise, he thought I was selfish, materialistic, and snobby (that was some of the nicer terminology he used to describe me over the course of our relationship). But he loved me and I loved his imperfect self back. Eventually, we both betrayed the other’s trust. We hurt one another beyond the point of repair. It was an unsavory end to an infectious – but doomed – love.
My recovery took a full year. It probably would have taken longer if it hadn’t been for my incredible support system. On one occasion, a friend literally picked me up off the floor on which I had been crying for hours. I was sad a lot. I drank heavily. I neglected my studies and couldn’t focus at work. The world had gone dark, and I didn’t know if the lights would ever turn back on.
When I began seeing a therapist for the first time in my life, I was skeptical. About three sessions in, I had my first breakdown/breakthrough. I wondered aloud, “Why wasn’t love enough?” She responded simply, “Because love wasn’t the issue.” At that very moment, the clouds of confusion parted and rays of light started to peek through. Slowly but steadily, she helped me put the pieces of my broken life back together.
During this time, I learned so much about both myself and the nuances of love. Most notably: it comes in many varieties. A fast love may be exciting but it will not be meaningful. A storybook love may be picturesque but it will not be practical. A whirlwind love may be consuming but it will not be long-lasting.
As for an extraordinary love? It is unusual, rare, and highly coveted. Finding it is only the first step, and maintaining it will require a lifetime of equally extraordinary sacrifice and selflessness. When you’re meant to be with someone, you’re willing to do the unprecedented for that person. Their well-being comes before your own. Their tears make your eyes heavy. Their laughter is a medicine for even your deepest of wounds. And yet, this level of interconnectedness is not a sign of co-dependence. Rather, it is a source of strength. Furthermore, taking the time to learn about your lover and their ambitions, dreams, fears, and interests should not feel like work. It should feel like an unfolding revelation. That’s extraordinary love: a revelation of the highest order. And you cannot be afraid of what is revealed, otherwise the love will fail. You either embrace this revelation fully or you lose everything.
Last year, after leaving my first full-time job, I was cocktailing part-time and convinced that my career was over before it had begun. It was a difficult time filled with endless anxiety and self-doubt. One day, my boyfriend sat me down and said, “When one of us succeeds, we’ll both succeed. We’re stronger together – as a team – than we are apart.” It was at this moment that I knew he and I have something extraordinary.
There is a quiet, yet powerful understanding between extraordinary lovers. It’s a sensation that transcends time or circumstance. It’s this permeating notion that no matter what challenges or curveballs life has in store, the two of you can and will get through it. It’s a collective determination to overcome any obstacle and celebrate every victory – that’s what makes a love extraordinary. There may be fear. There may be uncertainty. But there is never reluctance. There is simply a willingness to move forward and experience it all. Together.