We realize it when we’re older: when we’re young we’re more interested in what someone has or does than in what they are. We want our partners to be attractive and sexy and successful and smart. That really seems like a great list.
Later, after a lot of hard-fought experience we want someone kind. Someone who will be gentle with us when we’re struggling. Someone who will genuinely see our problems as theirs just as they also want to share in our successes.
That’s the value of dating and breaking up. It feels like we’re failing; like maybe we’re lost or unworthy or we’ve chosen some other narrative to explain our repeated periods of being single. The longer it goes the harsher we get with ourselves because we presume that something’s going wrong. Meanwhile, more experienced people easily recognize that we’re just living life.
Yes there are childhood sweethearts that fall in love and stay married. But there will be challenges in that marriage just like any other. But the far more popular route is to date five to ten people before finding someone that we feel really comfortable with. As long as we’re okay with the waiting it works out fine.
Each relationship brings us something and it costs something. We’re just looking for the good fit between comfort and price. As callous as it might seem, togetherness is less like romance and far more like clothes that fit well. And sometimes we have to put a few things on before we really know how to respect the differences.
We all think our cultures haven’t brainwashed us. We always think that’s the other person. But it’s us. We want beauty and youth and sexiness and wealth. Of course those are things we can see but we don’t really experience anyone’s beauty as anything more than a visual experience. But things like kindness and compassion and patience are experiences we feel.
As we age, overall we care less about how things look and more about how they feel, and that’s largely because we come to realize that even the relationships that looked good from the outside were actually experiencing serious challenges on the inside.
These challenges can come as big events. It’s very hard for couples to survive the death of a child. Financial trials and infidelity can test people’s idea of for better or for worse. But the challenges can also come like a death of a thousand cuts.
It’s a slower death for those who simply feel disregarded or dismissed or taken for granted. After all, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Over time, people can start to quietly think resentful thoughts that lead to them to be indifferent to their partner’s suffering, and that can be a death knell for a relationship. When connection and compassion are gone everything changes.
Maybe we’re always messy and our partner has learned to live that way out of love for us. Maybe we’re always late and our partner has learned to live that way out of love for us. Maybe we’ve got a shorter temper, or maybe we get off the plan for the kids more often, but our partners have learned to live with those things out of love for us.
Maybe it’s us that’s very rigid and it’s our partner that must make significant concessions to simply be with us. Maybe we regularly lose our temper or pout or cause some other price to be paid. In good couples the forgiveness and gratitude flow both ways.
Bottom line, none of us are perfect. So if we want to know how much our partner loves us we should simply look to our own weaknesses. Because our partners will most certainly have had to accommodate for them. And as we mature we realize that is the sign we are loved; we are loved without conditions.
We also become grateful as we gain experience because we realize that while we were busy trying to get other people to be other ways that satisfied us, some of the ways we were being may not have been very reasonable to others. When we see that form of forgiveness is when we begin to take stock of the more invisible contributions our partners make.
If we share living space with another human being then we have a large impact on their life and they have one on ours. Rather than telling them how they could make ours better, it might be an idea to actually get a clear understanding of how much they give to us already.
No matter who we are, it’s an easy guarantee to point out that virtually all of us are getting a lot more from those around us than we’re taking into account. Learning to recognize those contributions can not only make a big difference in our lives, it can affect everyone we share relationships with as well.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.