Everything You Need To Know About What Love Is (So You Also Know What It Isn't)

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Everything You Need To Know About What Love Is (So You Also Know What It Isn't)

I’ve been in love, and I’ve been in love. I believe there are many different types of love — love that gets you through, love that hurts, love that teaches you valuable lessons, love that instills the same experiences again (because you didn’t learn from the first time).

And then there’s love that lasts.

Each type of love is equally meaningful and necessary for you to experience when it knocks on your door. To be honest, I think that’s the reason it’s knocking on your door in the first place: because it’s important for you to experience it. But that doesn’t mean you should let it move into your home.

To learn how to define real love, I’ve had to learn all the things it’s not. And it’s by debunking every excuse I made to justify why I stayed with the wrong person, that I was finally able to see love clearly and find the right one.

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In that spirit, here are six lessons I’ve learned the hard way regarding what love is (and what it’s not):

Love is not something that continuously occurs in three-month increments.

If all of your relationships last less than six months, you’re riding the tide of infatuation, not love. Also known as the honeymoon phase, infatuation marks the beginning few months of a new relationship.

No matter how great you are at reading someone’s body language or how much time you spend together, initial attraction says more about you than it does about them. It’s just not possible to fully know someone within a few months of dating. Real intimacy comes after the high of infatuation has passed and the whole person — weaknesses, flaws, imperfections and all — begins to appear.

That means that only once this phase has ended will you begin to learn who the person you’re dating truly is. And this also means that serial daters can be just as fearful of commitment as their chronically-single counterparts because neither party regularly experiences authentic vulnerability and intimacy.

2. Opposites may attract in love, but they don’t last.

The thing about compatibility is this: while there should be a certain level of cohesion between your personalities and lifestyles to begin with, compatibility itself is largely the result of time, experience and intimacy. You can’t possibly know if you’re compatible without knowing who the other person is. You can, however, have an idea of certain traits and characteristics you’d be better suited with than others.

Understanding one another, approaching social events with similar enthusiasm, having complimentary styles of travel, sharing similar educational and familial backgrounds: these are all characteristics of compatibility. So are experiencing the everyday trivialities of life together, over time and space.

Whether or not you’ll have a happy relationship is about the sum of all those parts and how important each one is to you. There’s not one key thing that will make you work; it’s about what you do with those differences that will set your relationship apart.

A loving relationship shouldn’t exempt you from personal growth.

So many people treat love like a trophy to display on their social media accounts and boast about to their friends. But love can’t be expected to fix you or solve your problems. In fact, treating love like a destination rather than a journey will end up being the root of many future issues.

Your relationship shouldn’t serve as an excuse. It’s not a reason to stop working on yourself. It’s not a justification for failing to nourish friendships or hobbies. And it’s certainly not fair to use your relationship as a crutch to avoid looking at yourself in the mirror.

Admittedly, if you can’t grow with (and while you’re with) your partner, you’re more likely to grow apart. And your life is about so much more than just being in a relationship.

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The most fulfilling love doesn’t require you to give up who you are.

If you have a solid sense of self and lead a fulfilling life before you start dating someone, there’s no reason for these things to disappear once your relationship status changes. Of course, some shifting of priorities is likely to happen, but your relationship should add to your life, not take away from it.

The irony is that codependent relationships not only deplete each person on an individualistic level, leaving them with an insatiable taste of neediness on their tongues, but it also threatens their mutual connection. When this form of assimilation occurs in a relationship, attraction and intimacy take a hit.

According to Esther Perel:

Too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen.

We fall for someone’s intricacies, likes and dislikes, hobbies and ambitions. If they give up who they are to disappear into us, it would only make sense that we wouldn’t see them with that same spark anymore, as they’ve chosen to let themselves go.

The right person won’t pass by you

When we sense that someone isn’t fully committed, we cling onto the notion that we can convince them to love us if only we act a certain way, or hide specific things about ourselves. If we do everything right, then they’d have no reason to leave us — right?

But all this is making the assumption that we can control others and how they feel about us, which is nothing but a grand fallacy. Other people’s feelings are not in our hands; our only responsibility is to be authentic versions of ourselves, and therefore attract people who actually like us (and not a role we’re playing).

Besides, wouldn’t you want someone to stick around for who you truly are, instead of who you pretend to be? You can only hide your true, full self for so long. With the right person, there’s no need to make things work, or make the most out of the time you have — because they’re not going anywhere.

The wrong time is just the wrong person.

Telling ourselves that the timing is wrong implies that if we’d just met sooner or later, things would’ve worked out. But there are a few core issues with this line of thinking.

First, it gives you false hope and something to hold onto. If the timing is wrong, then the quasi-relationship is left undone, avoiding any sense of closure or finality. It means that in a year, maybe we’ll try again and things will work out. Which leads me to my next point: saying something is “bad timing” implies that time is the only thing separating you.

Under this notion, you’re overlooking the fact that you’ve got a geographical distance between you, he just got out of a relationship, you’re both a little afraid of commitment, and then there’s the age difference…

Point being, a lack of commitment is a lack of commitment. It’s not the clock’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault, really — you may not realize it until you’re looking back, but there’s always a good reason why certain things don’t work out when you want them to.

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Shannon Leigh is a writer, hand letterer and curious cat from Northern Ontario, Canada. In her spare time, she runs @thegoddessrebellion and has recently developed an affinity for graphic design.

This article was originally published at P.S. I Love You. Reprinted with permission from the author.