Happily Ever After Is Bullshit
we have many “the ones” in our lifetime. Every person you have loved was “the one” at that time. “The one” is the person you consciously choose to love today. Not who you used to love, could love, or wish you could love. It’s who you are choosing to love right now, as hard or easy as that is. Once you choose to stop loving that person, he or she is no longer “the one.” It’s that simple.
A thriving, healthy, sustainable relationship is built on more than goose bumps. Notice how all Disney movies end at the wedding? You don’t ever get to see the part where five years into their marriage Cinderella is yelling at Prince Charming to just “pick up your dirty socks and put them in the damn hamper”—for the hundredth time that week. Ending the story at the wedding keeps us from seeing the messy human reality of long-lasting relationships and the real work they take.
Why is it important to look at it this way? First, let’s boil down what love really is. At the end of the day, love is a daily choice to be emotionally responsible to someone. If you’re not emotionally connected, it’s not love. It may be lust or convenience or an arrangement or a way to avoid being alone, and if any of that works for you, that’s fine, right? But it’s not love.
There are always two people in a relationship. It can’t be one person being all in and committed to making things work while the other is phoning it in or disappearing every time they get uncomfortable. So ask yourself if you are doing more or less than your 50 percent. What would it look, sound, and feel like to even out the relationship workload?
Love Like It’s Going to End
To love like it’s going to end is a reckoning. A reckoning with the undeniable reality that life ends. That none of this is promised. That I can live until I’m 100 and die peacefully in my sleep, or I can walk outside and get hit by a bus tomorrow. If I knew, without a doubt, that tomorrow was my last day on Earth, then how would I want to love today? Not just live, but love. Because loving is living.
So many of us live our lives in the past or the future. We struggle with loss of control and the unknown, and so our minds are constantly trying to plan ahead, to get in front of the existential feeling of dread deep in our psyche that we truly do not know what will happen tomorrow. Living in the future (in the promise) creates anxiety, while living in the past pulls us into depressive states and lower frequencies.
There is a reason why mindfulness and meditation have finally gotten the scientific support they deserve. When we strengthen our ability to stay present through mindfulness and meditative practices, we pull ourselves out of the future and the past and land in the now. We enhance our ability to smell the fragrance of the jasmine blooming in the spring, our ability to notice the vibrancy of the colors in the sunset, our ability to feel an actual warmth in our body when our child laughs or our partner gives us a look from across the kitchen.
The individual moments that create joy and yet are the ones we so often miss because we’re moving too fast and worrying too much about the next thing. Love like it’s going to end. Because it is.
Swim Past the Breakers
None of the people you date will be bad or good, better or worse, but each will be different and worthy of exploring to see how well they fit with you and your expectations, needs, desires, and goals. As with people, you don’t get to an understanding of the nuances of a job without asking and digging. Some of the information is offered up front—here it is, take it or leave it. But some of it, like workplace culture, needs to be dug up, experienced in the heat of the moment.
Things are feeling pretty good between you two. A month in, they come to you with feedback about how something you said the night before felt really dismissive of their feelings and, honestly, a bit condescending. Your face gets hot. You feel the defensiveness rising. You pull in. Inside your head you’re thinking, “They don’t get me and my humor. Red flag. I didn’t mean to be condescending, I was just being me. I was joking. We’re obviously not meant for each other.” This is a breaker.
You have two choices at this point: You can say “screw it” and stumble back to shore, coughing and sputtering out the water that the breaking waves have inevitably shoved up your nose. Or you can think, “Oh, this is interesting. This person is telling me that something I said has hurt their feelings and I’m getting defensive. I notice how hot my face is getting and how I want to lash out and make it their fault rather than apologize. I wonder what that’s about. I’ll try to understand before being understood. Try to understand before being understood. Try to understand before being understood. Let me sit and breathe for a second until I can get myself a bit more grounded. Then I’ll ask them more about their experience rather than reacting out of fear and defensiveness.” This is when you center yourself, cough the water out, push your hair out of your face, and dive under the next wave in order to get a little farther out into the calm water.
Each time one of these moments presents itself to you, you have a choice. To react like you always have, or to respond differently this time. Each time you respond instead of react, each time you pause and examine what is coming up for you—the why, the part you can own, the part you should maybe be speaking up about but aren’t—you are swimming a little farther past the breakers. Swimming past the breakers doesn’t mean, again, that you’ve found your forever person. It means you are practicing. You are using this moment in this relationship as a springboard for your inner growth, which is going to benefit you and any person you are in a relationship with.
Love without Your Past
As you grow older and mature and have new life experiences, your perspective on what feels healthy should evolve as you do. The kind of relationship dynamics that felt good to you in your early twenties may not feel good to you in your late thirties. For example, friendships that centered on superficial things like shopping and money and drinking may have felt good and right to you in your early years, but those relationship dynamics don’t need to be acceptable to you today.
People who are stuck loving with their past are often confused to compare their current relationship to what they assume shouldn’t feel good and right based on their past experiences of things not feeling good and right. For example, a consistent and reliable romantic partner may have felt boring amid the chaos of your early twenties, when you wanted to move and change jobs and cities and try new things. So now, in your midthirties, because you are stuck loving with your past, you still assume you should be with someone chaotic and dangerous, even though you desperately want someone reliable. As you can see, you can sometimes unintentionally keep yourself from the kind of relationship you want because loving with your past imposes old patterns, definitions, and dynamics that don’t serve you today.
How to Fight without Fighting
Nonviolent communication, or NVC, was developed by the psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg. NVC works to bring us back into our natural state of giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, enabling us to lead from the heart. NVC connects us through empathy so we have more satisfying relationships. As Rosenberg puts it in the second edition of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: “It guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others”
It is not a communication tool or a psychological theory, but rather a way of life. That’s what makes it so powerful and sustainable. The NVC process has four components: 1) Observations 2) Feelings 3) Needs 4) Requests.
The observations component boils down to being able to reflect back what we are witnessing without evaluation or judgment—just the facts, if you will. The feelings component requires us to have an emotional vernacular in order to communicate how we feel about the observation we just reflected back. Needs, the third component, refers to our being able to then express the needs and desires that come from the feelings we have just identified. And the final component is making a clear and specific request around the need. These four components of nonviolent communication are practiced in both giving and receiving.
this process is not easy for most of us. We are not typically raised in a way that allows for healthy and open communication of hurt, desires, and needs, but with studying and practice we can integrate the four components of NVC into all areas of our everyday lives, not just in romantic relationships. Over time we begin to notice we’re engaged in a more open-hearted and empathetic flow of communication that allows us to live and communicate from a more authentic place.
What If You’re Not Feeling It Anymore?
In any relationship, you’re not going to feel it anymore at some point. Even if things are good and no one’s fighting. Even if you still get along great. Even if there is no anger, resentment, or eggshells. The longer you do life with someone, the higher the chance of natural drift and growing apart. This is the natural default.
One of the most damaging misconceptions about relationships is that you should always be feeling it. That love and attraction is a constant and if things dip for no apparent reason, that’s a sign that something is wrong. Yes, it could be. But it could also just be that things get boring and stale like a bag of chips left open. Sorry if that just made your face cringe, but that’s real life. It’s not the rom-com movie trailer we constantly play in our head and compare our relationship to. That’s called programming. And it’s unfair.
The reason why relationships are not a constant is because we are not a constant. We go through our own inner journeys. Daily. Besides external factors like pressure and anxiety from work, the direction of our career, our relationships with friends and family, parenting, investing in hobbies and passions, there are also internal factors, like our relationship with ourselves. One day we really like ourselves, who we are and what we’re doing, and the next day we don’t. Drift and “not feeling it” can come from our relationship with Self, not just from our relationship with our partner. There is an ebb and flow within each of us that directly impacts our relationship with others, especially our partner. And since we are two people who are each going through the ebbs and flows of our own internal journey, there’s going to be distance at times. If this distance goes on for long stretches, one or both of us can start having the feeling of not feeling it anymore.
If we don’t come back from that—if one of us ebbs while the other flows—and we both stay at that distance for too long without checking in (doing life alone), then yes, not feeling it anymore can become legit. Both people can drift too far to turn back and come together again, and feelings start to permanently change. But if we are both aware and we both respect and support each other’s ebb and flow, while continuing to hold hands, look each other in the eyes, and check in, drift and doubt can be totally normal and healthy. These periods can actually serve as a love rubber band that snaps us back closer together after being stretched, deepening the relationship.