Almost all of us are wondering: how the hell do you do this dance called love?
It sure ain’t easy. I’m not here to bullshit you. Looking around, other than grandparents or perhaps even your friends’ grandparents the ones who’ve been together for forty, fifty years, we have few great role models of a life of loving a partner. You and I both know the celebrities we pay so much attention to don’t know any more about love than you do, and in many cases, they probably know less. The great loves of literature and myth seem quaint when compared to modern twists of fate like Tinder. All of our relationship experts and sexperts offer heaps of conflicting advice — they’re basically a confusing mirror reflection of the diet industry. And of course, there are the billion dollar industries built on helping you find love. And let’s say you do find it — we’re all still embarrassingly bad at keeping it alive and kicking, based on rates of divorce, Facebook data, and all the sad tales of woe I read online penned by confused men and women.
Some say love is all around. The Beatles promised us all you need is love. I like to think love is the glue holding this whole crazy parade of humanity together; otherwise, without it, we’d wander far from each other and spread out like a useless coating of people covering the skin of the planet. There is no physical sensation that compares. Love feels crazier than skydiving high on a cocktail of hardcore dugs. That swell of love, that feeling whether it’s orgasmic, romantic or platonic, that’s the best it gets here on planet earth. Lucky for us love is everywhere like air or Canadian tourists. You can feel and share love with anyone.
Obviously, most all of us want to hold out for that write your lover’s name on the sky sorta love affair, what cynics would call an idealized partner. But some of us find them. I’ve met husbands and wives I couldn’t believe were real people. I’m serious. I was like this is a joke, right? No one finds a wife like her – do they? And even then, when it seems like their love story is made of fairytale dust, love can get lost in the shuffle of setting suns. Love is free, love is everywhere, love is everything and love is all you need, but it still ain’t easy to do the love thang with an upright walking ape. And it seems like all the pop love songs in the world aren’t getting the message across. Sometimes it feels like, WTF, love? Why you gotta be like that?
Now, I’ve never had kids so I can’t speak for myself, but parents I know tell me about the love they have for their child. The strongest feeling they’ve ever experienced is to love someone more than themselves. I have to take them at their word. I mean, I know they might lie about their kids but I doubt they’d lie about the feeling. Not all of them, not all in the same way. So there’s the love of a parent for a child. And let’s not leave out the fact some pet-lovers would argue their love is no less than that of mother for child. I recommend we just take ‘em at their word. (I have no time to answer angry emails from incensed dog-lovers.)
So for the moment, setting parents and pet-lovers aside, I’d argue that romantic love, the bond between partners almost deserves its own word. It is different. We all know you love your father different than your dog and different than your cousin and different than your housecat and different than your partner. Yet, for the English speakers of the world we have but this one word. Well, I’m not so full of myself that I’m going to offer any suitable replacement. I’d never mistake myself for Shakespeare. Which means, for now, let’s keep to tradition and we’ll call all of these various expressions: love.
The handy thing about doing that is, if we look at them all as variations on love, they all become analogous, and you can learn to better love your boyfriend by paying attention to how you love your sister or your housecat. If we’re using the one word for all these expressions of that bonded feeling, it makes loving one just like loving another. And using our pseudo-scientific deconstruction of this analogous nature of love, we can zoom in and focus on the common process of love. Boom! Shit just got real, son.
So, what can you learn from loving Miss Champers that’ll help your better love Eduardo? You ready? This is the simplest love lesson you will ever hear:
Love is a constant negotiation based on learning how to love your partner while at the same time showing them how to love you.
You are both saying to each other: Teach me how to love … and I will teach you how to love me. This must be done every day.
With the coming of each new dawn we awake from the mini-death of sleep, and are reborn, if you will, as a new person. Not like brand new. You know what I mean. Like, if you’ve ever had a really shitty day and you tell yourself: if I can just get through this and get my head to my pillow… and then you finally do and when you wake up and you feel like a whole new person – yeah, like that. Reborn and refreshed.
Every day you wake up washed clean of the mental grime of the previous day as well as most any good or bad feelings of the day before. Sometimes, just as your first movements of muscles occur, even before your foot finds floor, you might already be in a foul mood because of a nightmare you had. Other times you might wake-up cheery because you’re greeted by the smell of your partner on your pillow and coffee in the air. And then, as you well know, the rest of your day continues to influence who you are in that window of 24 hours.
Maybe you hear good news and it launches you into a place where you seemingly rain down positivity onto most everyone you meet that day, sprinkling everyone with some of that good feeling one gets when you meet a genuinely life-stoked person. Or perhaps, you get fired, your girlfriend breaks up with you on the way to school, who knows, and your day is a persistent shit storm that threatens to wipe some stink on everyone who comes in contact with you. As any toddler can tell you, some days are just better than others.
This see-saw effect of our days doesn’t usually alternate day-after-day, one day up, the next day down. Instead, we have days that measure all over the spectrum. And this creates patterns. And that’s for both you and your loved one, your life partner, your other half. This constant daily cycle of ups and downs for both of you paired with each night’s sleep making each of you into a new person at the start of each new day, makes it very hard to love another human being.
You may be thinking. Wait, I thought you said this was good news. Yes! It’s also simple.
We usually forget all about that sleep-new day-new person-life cycle craziness and instead, we tend to think of our partner like they were a fixed creature, more like a tree. Just like how the tree was there yesterday, it should be there tomorrow. And you love the tree. You give to the tree, you care for the tree and the tree gives back to you. Of course, you know at some point it will lose its leaves and then it will grow them back again, you expect things to change for the tree. But in this metaphor, the tree is seasonal. In real life, a human is daily.
You learn how to love a person with each new day.
I know you might be thinking: Well, Zaron, how the hell do I do that? That sounds like a whole lot more work than I wanna do every day. I don’t want a relationship that’s harder to maintain than a British car.
I know. No one does. No one needs that sorta aggravation. And I’d never toss that monkey wrench into your love engine anyway. To love your partner newly each day just means that you pay attention to how to love them, you ask and observe, and you do the same by showing them how to love you. You keep playing that game of growing together, lest you grow apart.
This doesn’t need to be done with words. You can love someone entirely in gestures and behavior. Love is a language of actions, attention, anticipation, caring, sharing and joy.
You pay attention to them because you like to, you want to and you love to. Also, it means you can be a better partner if you know where they are, what matters to them and what concerns them. You anticipate them by thinking about what is coming next for them. You care for them by following the thread of their life from what you know of their past through the moment you share with them in the present towards where they want to be in the future. And you share with them the time, resources, intelligence and warmth that will get them there. And their joy is your joy. This is how you love someone (or your pet).
As you do that, you also reciprocate by helping them love you, too. Now these lessons you provide aren’t a matter of a curriculum, or any heavy-lifting of emotions, or time spent in lots of conversations. Save those fun little chats for when you have real troubles. In the day-to-day, all you have to do is be open, honest and present. Let them know what you like, appreciate, and be confident to express what you don’t like and what you don’t appreciate. That’s about it. If your partner is worth your time, they can learn to better love you by remembering and using that information you willingly share.
Yes, to be so present, open and honest takes bravery. But not much. You’ll find your honesty breeds confidence. If you’re willing to confront an ugliness, to speak about something your fear to look at it or bring up in conversation, you’ll find you’re also strong enough to deal with it. And to be present means you must show up and be there where your body is. Don’t always bring work home on your mind and let it silence your dinner. Don’t be so quick to hop on your phone when you’re traveling together. Be able to sit together and talk freely, or just enjoy stillness together. But it’s the together that important. Be where you are. It’s so simple it sounds funny when you put it like that.
If you can find someone and do these few things, if you promise to teach them to love you and that you will constantly learn to love them, daily, that’s about a good a recipe for success in love that you’ll ever find. That’s it in a teacup.
And hey, if you’re like me and you don’t have a partner in your life, you can always practice this with your dog. If you pay attention to your four-legged partner and you know Roscoe likes turkey bacon better than other doggie treats – well, that’s a tiny act of love. I swear. That’s what I mean. That’s how it works. Love should be fun. And you’ll know you’re doing it right if thinking about them makes you feel just a tiny bit better than thinking about yourself.