So I recently submitted an entry for an essay contest in the magazine “Real Simple” on how I first learned what love really is. While I don’t claim to be the best writer and I’m not sure there is much of a chance that I will win, there is a $3,000 prize, which would be VERY helpful for our lives, so I figured it was worth a shot and I figured I would share it with you :). Enjoy!
Love Refined by flames
He meets her in the most unexpected way. There is something about her…her eyes…her smile maybe? The mystery he feels in her presence? Or maybe it is the feeling that lingers on his lips from their passionate kiss before he could catch her name. He has to find her; he will do anything to find her. When he meets her again on the bus he thinks to himself, “This must be fate.” Even though all odds are against them, and divine forces are trying to separate them, they must be together, will be together, whatever it takes.
That is my translation of a movie I recently watched, a movie that held my attention and gripped my heart in an old, familiar way. This is how I used to picture love: an initial meeting that leads to an obsession; an urgency to seek out that person no matter the cost; a “love at first sight” mentality. Isn’t romance to feel so drawn to someone, so much chemistry and attraction, butterflies in your stomach, “sparks,” and a connection that leaves you feeling faint? The idea is enough to leave you intoxicated.
I’ve had that feeling before. I was attending a church service with a friend and could not help notice a very attractive man sitting behind us. As the service was coming to an end I happened to spill coffee all over the floor. Attractive man went and got paper towels and cleaned it up for me, which is how we ended up meeting. He asked if I had lunch plans, to which I responded, “Umm no but if I did they would be cancelled now!” Ok, so that is only how I responded in my head, not out loud, but nevertheless we ended up eating lunch together. Later that day he asked for my number. I was so infatuated by the intense attraction and the “romantic” way we met that as months went by of spending time with attractive man, I failed to acknowledge that we were not a good match for each other and I never quite felt I could be myself around him. I had this beautiful future planned out in my head of how he was going to propose and how we would spend our lives traveling the world together while never losing the intense attraction we felt. But, eventually, reality set in, my dreams came crashing down and we went our separate ways.
Throughout my life I have often sought relationships like this and, honestly, have had quite a few of them! They never worked out in the long run.
The first time I truly understood the meaning of love came through my relationship with my actual future husband. Jordan and I were friends for a few years with no romantic interest. Friends of mine pointed out that we were a great match but I ignored it because I didn’t feel that “spark.” One day a close friend pointed out something significant to me. She said, “You know, I’ve never heard you talk about a guy the way you talk about your friend Jordan. When he is happy or something good happens to him, you are happy and cannot wait to tell me about it. When something hard happens to him, you are upset and tell me about that as well. You have a lot of compassion for this guy.” I had never realized it before, but she was right – I had a lot of compassion for him.
As I became more aware of this in my interactions with him, I also became aware of a growing attraction. On November 11th 2008 we went on our first date, a year later we were engaged, and seven months after that I married my best friend. Our entire relationship taught me, for the first time in my life, what love really is.
How? Because the rest was all smiles and roses as we lived happily ever after? Yeah… roses covered in ash perhaps. Only one month into our marriage we had an apartment fire that left us homeless, living in hotels for 5 weeks. I remember the elated feeling at the altar when we said our vows. My heart was racing and tears rolled down my cheeks as I vowed, “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” The depths of meaning in that phrase reached further than I could have imagined and we tasted only a small drop of them in that first month. Eating microwave meals and takeout together in a small confined space with very few personal belongings while wearing one of five outfits that were not currently covered in smoke was hardly what I had in mind when I said, “I do.”
But it was through this non-ideal living situation that I learned to put myself aside and think for the man I married. It was a trying and lonely time and each of us were faced with a choice- we could sulk in self-misery and frustration while waiting for the other person to make us feel “happy” or we could learn to think for the other person: What are they going through? How can I make this a good experience for them and show them that they are deeply loved even when we have nothing and don’t know what is going to happen? So Jordan and I looked for creative ways to make the other person feel at “home”. One night, although Jordan was tired from long days and nights at work and wanted to crash, he took me out to a really nice dinner and I bought a new black dress to wear. Another night it would have been much easier to grab take out, but when Jordan came “home” from work I decided to make as nice a dinner as we could manage in that space- spaghetti with a bottle of wine (although we had to ask the front desk for a cork screw to open it!). We had to make it an adventure to help each other get through the experience with laughter. We tried to have fun together by taking advantage of the hotel pool, hot tub, buffet breakfast and complimentary glass of wine at happy hour.
Through this adventure with Jordan I have learned what real love is. Real love is not about a strong feeling, butterflies, intense attraction, desire, or even a sexy meeting. These things will likely accompany real love at times, but they are not defining characteristics. Real love is not about me and how I feel. It is when a strange transaction takes place where I exchange acting only for my own pleasure with acting for the good of another. Real love is not just about how the relationship makes me feel. It is also about how I can care for another person- how can I empower them and help them rise to their fullest, to be the best possible version of themselves? I have to step outside of my selfishness and genuinely want the best for that person. Real love kills the mindset of “What are my dreams and does this person fit with them or get in the way?” It creates a new perspective: “What are this person’s dreams and how can I help to make them come true?” A strange phenomenon began to take place as this perspective started to change my behavior. The more I would think for my husband instead of myself, the more I would feel…fulfilled.
Real love gives healing names to the object of its delight. For a majority of our lives, we search for purpose, validation and love. Along the way, we collect false names for ourselves. When things do not go as we expected, someone lets us down, or tragedy strikes we accumulate names like “failure,” “ugly,” “disappointment,” “unwanted.” We carry these names with us in deep places of our hearts that affect how we see ourselves whether we realize it or not. Real love has the power to give someone healing names. A woman who thinks she is plain or has an awkward body has a new name for herself when her lover calls her “beautiful” or “lovely.” The man who believes that he is a failure has a new name for himself when his lover calls him “successful” or “brilliant.” Real love occupies itself with the work of healing broken identity in the life of the one it has chosen.
Jordan and I are now expecting our first child – a daughter! Even through my pregnancy I have begun experiencing a whole new level of self-giving love. Although she isn’t born yet, I cannot wait to meet her, get to know her hopes and dreams and help her to pursue them. I look forward to walking through life with her, showing and teaching her real love – the love that her father, my husband, taught me.