6 Unexpected Lessons I've Learned in Love
Love is an ever evolving learning process. Love is never stagnant, and is always deepening in profundity. Like the universe, love can feel like it was born from a time before time, and is constantly extending into unknown infinity. As spectators, people often only see about 5%-10% of a couples relationship. The rest takes place out of sight to the public eye - in the unspoken glances and touches that speak poetry to each lover. It is built in the mountains and valleys of a land only visible to the two spirits in love. It is sculpted from a marble slab into a work of art from the streams of tears, and the cycles of distance and connection that ebb and flow between two hearts.
I am not an expert in love, but I am certainly a learner. I am continually learning about what it means to love and be loved and what it takes to really grow, and fortify a long term relationship. I have a long way to go, but even this far, I have learned an abundant amount in the realm of love. Last weekend, Christian and I celebrated our 6th year anniversary of being together and we reflected on the journey our relationship has taken thus far. When I met Christian, I was on the edge of turning 18, and a freshman in college. Honestly, I had never dated anyone before, and was not looking for a relationship. As fate would have it, I sat across from him in the cafeteria during orientation and talked about the most insane things I could think of - like how there are aliens on my family’s ranch in Colorado and how I believe in ghosts. I was so nervous, but despite having total word vomit, something must have worked. He waited outside a freshman orientation event to get my number, and from then on we couldn’t get enough of each other. We would each “accidentally” run into each other and spend hours just listening and talking to each other. When I was with him, time would fly like I had never experienced before. We fell hard and fast into the euphoric world of being in love, and everything around us seemed to completely fade to black. In our world, we built forts, stayed up all night until 8 in the morning, and unpeeled the layers of each others history. He was the first person I ever met who matched my level of curiosity, and I was enamored not only with who he was then, but the obstacles he overcame to get there. Falling in love was effortless.
The months passed, and summer break came before we could even blink an eye. We lived across the country from one another, and had to return to our respective homes - Minnesota for him, New Mexico for me. It would be our first time spending time apart from each other, and Christian was going to be studying abroad the next fall - lengthening the distance even more. On our last night together, we saw fireworks paint the sky with every color of the rainbow, built a fort, and stayed up until sunrise one last time. That morning, he walked me to the train station, and we had to say goodbye. I didn’t want to part. I didn’t know what would happen. Would our love just live on in that sacred moment of time? Would we be able to continue our relationship despite the distance? I felt like I was being violently ripped away from the most joyous aspect in my life. We kissed a long good-bye, and the minute I boarded the train, I burst into the kind of tears that could fill the ocean. It didn’t cease for more than 24 hours, and even now when I think back to that moment, and recall those feelings, my heart wells up once again and I feel a little stream roll down my cheek.
Looking back, I see that moment as being the initial marker for learning that building and sustaining love is the hard part. Our love entered a new stage, a new period of growth. We visited each other when we could, and luckily reconnected easily back in college, but from that moment of first letting go it felt slightly different. That harsh memory of saying goodbye the first time left a deep cut that I built a protective wall around. The wall mostly came down during the school years, and I could feel us unveiling new layers of our relationship, that continued to move us forward. We were maturing, but we were still in a stage where we could have a blast a college parties together, hangout, and see each other every day. Yet each time we had to leave one another, I felt the wall go right back up. When Christian graduated, it was the most difficult. That was when we entered two continuous years of long distance and so far it has been the most challenging period our relationship has ever faced.
During this period, there were moments where I felt like I was holding on by a thread. We loved each other, but sometimes the distance felt too great to bear. Part of my heart wasn’t completely open. I was trying to guard myself from any hurt that could happen. Beyond that, we were each trying to navigate life after college which, as anyone who has experienced it knows, is essentially a dark existential crisis. Between juggling our jobs, personal challenges, and sustaining our relationship, there were times when I questioned if I had the strength to keep going. I was at one of the hardest points in my life, experiencing the deepest period of depression I ever had. I was getting only three to four hours of sleep every night, taking classes, working two-to-three minimum wage jobs, and having crippling anxiety every day. I was lucky just to be breathing.
Yet somehow we held on. We both knew that if we could somehow get past that point, it would all be okay. We knew the love we created was something special, a gift that doesn’t happen every day, that deserved every ounce of strength we had left so it could prosper. Christian ended his job that wasn’t working out, and unofficially moved in. We finally ended our long distance. On a train ride home to visit my family in New Mexico, we decided to move together to Minneapolis, and give our relationship the chance it deserved - to give it the chance we both wanted and needed. I felt that wall dissolve a little more, and my faith grew stronger each day from that point on. Once my lease was up, we packed the car and drove to Minneapolis. After spending time just reconnecting, and traveling abroad together, we took a huge leap and moved in together. It was the first apartment I felt at home in since childhood, and it was there that our hearts could heal the distance we endured.
We still faced hard times, but we were together. We were stronger. We made it through the storm. Our walls shattered, our hearts opened. Our relationship and love grew, grew, grew. We flew across the ocean to live in Italy together while Christian goes to graduate school. We got engaged. We are savoring every moment of this stage in our life, our love, and our relationship. When recently asked what point in life I felt best, I surprised myself when I said now. Being in this loving, committed, relationship, I feel nourished beyond anything I have ever experienced. I see opportunities on the horizon that I never allowed myself to dream of before - marriage, family, stability, emotional and financial security, a life filled with love. I know there will be hardships ahead, and that we are just getting started. But I also know that the time, love, and work we put into our relationship now will give us more strength and stamina to overcome those hardships. So for now, I just want to relish in this stage. This period of overcoming something heart wrenchingly challenging, and making it on the other side with tougher hide, but softer hearts. This period of digging deeper into love, and excavating new sites. This period of constant learning, connecting, appreciating, and loving.
As I am standing on steady ground, looking back at the mountains, valleys, rivers, and jungles Christian and I have traversed together, I see six lessons in love brightly illuminated.
1) Loving someone when life is sunny is easy, but loving someone when life brings earthquakes and hurricanes is more important. In the long run, loving someone when they’re at their worst is more healing and nourishing for the relationship.
2) There are times in love when you are not going to be the best lover you can be. Acknowledge your failures, but don’t dwell. The best thing you can do is wake up and give it another shot. Each morning you get another opportunity - use it. Give your partner the same chances, forgiveness, and grace. Remember, they are learning too.
3) Don’t get too attached to the falling in love feeling you first felt. Falling in love will happen an endless amount of times - it’s a gift that keeps on giving. But sometimes different versions of falling in love appear in disguised, unexpected ways. Each variation carries its own gift, lesson, and depth - it’s your choice to appreciate and welcome it into your heart.
4) Being in a relationship is one of the best things you can do for self-development because it’s like holding up a constant mirror to yourself. This means that whatever you are feeling about yourself will be reflected in your relationship - positive, or negative. In the same vein - love calls you to become the best version of yourself you can be.
5) Love offers opportunities for each of you to take the lead - it’s not a 50/50 game. There will be times when you are both so exhausted, so depleted, but one of you has to step up to the plate for the sake of the relationship - whether that’s something as big as keeping the faith, or as simple as washing the dishes. Learn when it’s your turn, and when to let your partner lead.
6) Love is generated - or as Christian likes to put it- love is a verb, not a noun. There will be times when you don’t feel like loving, or don’t have energy, but you have to choose to show love anyway. All of these actions whether they “feel” like love or not, accumulate and fill your relationship well. These actions lead to the feelings of love that we associate with falling in love - waking up in the morning enamored with how your lover sleeps, intimate touches, having rose colored glasses, and any other wondrous feeling you can think of. So keep loving, loving, loving, and bask in all the gifts that loving brings.
This list will keep growing and evolving as Christian and I continue to write and unfold our story of love. But for now, these are the lessons that have been carved upon my heart over the last 6 years. I hope they illuminate something for you as they did for me.
P.S. If you are not in a relationship, or want to look at this in a different way you can apply the lessons to self-love too :)