Photo by Kate Kozyrka on Unsplash
You meet someone, maybe at a coffee shop. Or the gym. Or online. They massage you with their eyes; it feels better than sex.
Things are off to a good start.
They’re smart, attractive, funny. Really into you. So you trade numbers and start dating. Wind up having the best sex. Next up, merging social groups. Everyone thinks you’re a super cute couple. You hold hands all the time. A few of your friends even reveal their jealousy.
You begin thinking… Hey, this could be the one.
Something happens. They start acting weird around you. In my case, the one suddenly proposed a month-long hiatus. He brought up the idea casually, like he was asking for time off from work.
The next few weeks were going to be so busy for him, and he didn’t need distractions like a real girlfriend. See, he was rehearsing for a part in this indie film. Writing a screenplay. Planning a trip to New York.
He made himself sound very important.
If I’d known better, I would’ve called him out. Not in a mean way. But he was suffering from a classic fear of commitment. The truth was simple. I was all in, and he wasn’t.
A month off didn’t sit well with me, and I should’ve spoken up. Instead, I tried to give him his space — and it did nothing but devalue me in his eyes. I didn’t respect his boundaries, but kept trying to tempt him out for just one cup of coffee, just one drink. Could I come over for just one hour? It made me look and feel weak, clingy, and desperate.
After the hiatus, he dumped me.
We broke up on decent terms and stayed friends—long enough to watch each other ruin yet another relationship or two.
Finally, we accepted the truth about ourselves. Like so many others, we were trying to find love instead of make it.
But you can’t just find love, like it’s some precious stone buried in the earth. Or a lucky coin from the sidewalk. If you go looking for love, you’ll never find it — not even in the wrong places.
You have to make your own love. It’s more than just a euphemism for sex. Good love takes time and effort.
You have to have the right ingredients.
Anyone can date. Anyone can have sex. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready for an adult relationship. You’re just auditioning for one.
So how do you make good love? Here’s what I’ve managed to figure out, through lots of trial and error:
Figure out what you actually want.
So few of us understand what we’re really looking for in a partner. We seek out what we think we want. We don’t even know when we’re being honest about our expectations, or just settling.
Consider this truth grenade: you’re always settling. No single person out there will tick all your boxes.
You just need someone close enough to what you want.
That doesn’t mean anything goes. You still need boxes to check. Sit down and brainstorm a little. Go for a really long walk. Think about what actually matters to you—looks, hobbies, personality, maturity level, life goals. Decide on your deal breakers.
Remember that what you want can change. You have to touch base with yourself often. Outdated desires can fool anyone. Even after marriage, someone might decide they need something else. Internal honesty can save a marriage from years of misery, even if it ends in divorce—or on a brighter note, maybe a renegotiated, open relationship.
Take a good fit over a perfect match.
You don’t need a match, like all the dating apps say. You need a fit. We fall into this trap of deciding whether we want to date our opposite, or our twin. In truth, we really just need someone who gets us.
Someone who gets you doesn’t need to like all the same music you do, or read all the same books.
A fit goes beyond a simple list of compatibilities, into a feeling. When you feel comfortable around someone, something clicks.
You just know. That’s why we see so many unlikely couples out there. They’re satisfied and happy because they stopped treating love like something we can understand and compute with algorithms.
Sure, love requires a certain amount of chemistry. But that doesn’t mean you can understand it via the periodic table, or synthesize it in a lab. A good fit might not enjoy exercise as much as you, or have the same career ambitions. You have to just let go of your expectations and spend time with someone who makes you feel relaxed.
Lift up each other’s masks sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t matter if someone lists hiking and cooking as their favorite activities. People lie to themselves—and each other—all the time about their personality traits and interests.
Some of the people you date turn out to be the opposite of how they describe themselves. The “drama free” guy loses his temper when he doesn’t get his way. The free spirit turns into a real control freak.
We all tend to mask our personalities in social situations. We hide our flaws until we feel comfortable letting our guard down.
How someone acts when you’re alone together, that’s what counts. That’s the person you’ll be around forever.
You have to look at the real person. And you have to show them you’re real self, too. The longer you wear your mask, the longer it’ll take to figure out if you want to build a life together.
You can only learn about someone one way—by spending time with them. Pay attention to how they act, not how they describe themselves, especially on social media. That’s just the person they want everyone to see, not who they actually are on Monday morning.
Don’t give in to sunk cost fallacy.
You know when something feels off. Maybe you don’t know why. Instead of wishing that away, you should confront it—even if that feeling pops up months into a relationship.
Too many people marry someone who isn’t quite right for them. They feel like they’ve invested so much…
They think it’s too late to start over. They’ll just stick with what they’ve got, because it’s a sure thing. Stop and think. Do you really want to be someone’s sure thing? That sounds like a shaky foundation.
We tend to think, “I’ve been dating this person for ten months. It’s too late to back out. What if I don’t find someone else?”
That’s the worst reason to stay—simply because you’re afraid of losing what you already invested. You only waste time in a relationship by staying with someone you know isn’t good for you. If they’re not, cut your losses. You’re cutting theirs, too.
Learn the love languages.
You’re making a face right now. Love languages? Sounds so cheesy. Maybe, but it works. Gary Chapman developed this concept a few years ago in his best-selling book, The Five Love Languages.
According to Chapman, everyone expresses their love in five main ways—words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, and quality time.
It’s not so mushy or complicated when you think about. Most bad relationships unravel exactly because a couple doesn’t ever get on the same page about how they convey their love.
You have to do three things here:
- Identify your native love language.
First, understand which language you speak best. That’s how you naturally express your commitment. Maybe you’re not always good at saying nice things, but you excel at doing them. Great, work to your strengths. Explain that to your partner.
2. Know what makes you feel loved.
Second, understand what you need from a partner. Words of affirmation don’t do much for some of us. We prefer quality time, or acts of service. You have to communicate that, too. Your partner might value their personal space. For them, quality time is a big sacrifice. But if you need that, it’s better to tell them than simply let resentment build up.
3. Learn all the languages.
Third, you have to acknowledge the languages you don’t speak well. Just because you suck at quality time, that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. You’ve got to at least speak all the love languages, even if you’re not fluent in them. Otherwise, you’re not participating.
Learn to reflect and communicate.
You’re both going to have shit days. You’ll say something hurtful, or want to, and so will they. It’s just a matter of time and circumstance. One of you will do something that shows complete disregard for the other.
One of you will feel unloved and unappreciated.
One of you might even feel like the other is acting like a jerk on purpose, just to screw with you.
It’s not enough to emote in front of your partner. You have to communicate. That means you have to stop and take stock of yourself. You’re feeling a certain way, but why?
How much does your current state actually involve your spouse, versus things completely outside their control?
You might finish each other’s sentences sometimes. You might learn each other’s body language and tells. That doesn’t make either of you a psychic. You’ve got to articulate your needs, and you’ve got to listen to theirs, and you’ve got to do all of that every single day—in a way that doesn’t make either of you a villain.
If you honestly start to see your partner as the bad guy, someone who’s no longer working with you but against you, then the relationship has ended. You might as well put a pillow over its face.
You’ve got to keep troubleshooting.
Love can grow, or it can die. It takes more than tips and pointers from any single book or blog post to make a relationship last. You’ll run into all kinds of problems, from the kitchen to the bedroom.
So you have to keep observing, communicating, experimenting.
Nobody ever reaches a day when you can just put love on cruise control and take a nap at the wheel.
Complacency poses the biggest threat to any kind of love. That’s when you get lazy and take them for granted. You stop talking about your problems and just suppress all of your little gripes. You pretend like things are fine, when they’re actually crumbling.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve just started dating, or if you’re ten years married. You didn’t just find your love. You didn’t order it on Amazon. You made it from scratch. Maybe you didn’t realize that’s what you were doing. But love never grows by itself, and it doesn’t just go away either. It’s not a thing. Just a word we agreed on that refers to this web we spin out of our own butts—strong yet fragile, infinitely complex, vulnerable to the elements, sometimes dangerous, and kind of beautiful when you zoom out.
As long as you’re not a fly…
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