If Not Love Then What?

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Six months before I got engaged my friend asked me if I wanted to marry my boyfriend now husband. I said yeah and she asked why. After five minutes of me explaining and no usage of the word “love” she looked at me confused and said…”and because you love him right?” I was surprised I hadn’t actually said the L word in my longwinded rant, but slightly more annoyed that she insistently needed me to. I did love and am in love with my husband very much, but love wasn’t why I married him nor why I wanted to at the time. Before him I’d been “in love” at least 3 times and claimed love more times than I can remember yet I’d never been married. Love simply isn’t enough to warrant marriage. So if not love then what? If love isn’t enough to equate marriage what are the other ingredients? 

    1. Get some life first.   The first time I fell in love I was 17. It would be another 14 years before I got married. In that time, I would start a business, quit a career, start a new career, get fired from a bad job, quit a few jobs, break a few hearts, have my heart broken a lot, go to Europe, finish grad school, and live in 6 different apartments. Marriage is like the 3-legged race, it takes so much coordination and frankly I wouldn’t want to do it when I’m young and clumsy, still trying to learn solo coordination.
    2. I’m so in Respect with you. Let’s face it, it is possible to be in love with someone you don’t totally respect or feel respected by. Think of any bad break up where you really dislike the person for things that were or weren’t said and done, yet you can’t quite shake the person because you are still “in love”. Love sucks sometimes. It’s not always good for us. It’s painful and masochistic. We find ourselves doing dumb stuff in the name of love. Respect on the other hand isn’t painful. When you truly respect and feel respected by someone it limits the “intensity of disagreement.”   My husband and I don’t always agree but I can’t in 3 years of being together name one intense argument. Hollywood will have you believe that screaming and breaking plates followed by passionate love making is how love should be. But damn, nice plates are expensive and glass is hard to clean up. I’m good on all that.
    3. The Same Cloth. You’ve heard it before, “we’re cut from the same cloth”. It’s a little cliché but it has a lot of value. In 2001, I was in a World History class watching the trade towers fall on live CNN. We were all speechless and terrified unknowing of what to expect next. The next day the other shoe dropped as terms immersed that I’m still to this day afraid to type in a blog post for fear of getting on a no fly list. Anyway… high school got uncomfortable and prejudice and I found myself scanning for the other two Muslims in my high school class of 800+. Now some 15 years later we’re in the height of Black Lives Matter with almost daily accounts of blue on black murder. Late at night we lay in bed watching breaking news with deflated chest, the news is almost all bad, scary, violent accounts. We hold our breath waiting for two things, was the attacker Muslim? No, first sigh of relief. Now was he black? Second sigh. I hear his return to breath and he hears mine. Neither of us has to explain out loud the gravity of that first breath back. We know. And had the outcome been different, we also know the gravity of what that will mean for us each at work tomorrow.
    4. I’m not “in need” of you – So many times when I said I love you in the past, what I meant was I’m in need of you. And the reverse was true also. I need to be needed. It’s why I became a teacher. I get joy out of being needed and then providing for others. The problem is that it can become exhausting or even devastating if you don’t feel appreciated or feel like you are getting the return on the investments you make. Three months into dating my husband I realized he had never asked me for anything tangible i.e. money, website creation, marketing videos…..yes these things have happened shamefully lol.   But more importantly I hadn’t felt the need to shower him with the intangibles i.e. confidence, reassurance, security, etc. He was a really confident man who was spending time with me simply because he enjoyed my company, not because he enjoyed my ability to nurture and build his ego. Simply put he didn’t need me in any capacity. He was fine before me and would be fine after me. But in not needing me, he was able to want me. This was new for me.
    5. What Makes Sense – One of the hardest things to do is to say “I love you but this doesn’t make sense”. I see this in my friends quite often and I saw it in myself many times. What really sucks is when a relationship doesn’t make sense and deep down we know it but won’t admit it. It hurts even more if the other person will admit it before you have admitted it to yourself. ex: “I love you but I’ve always wanted a partner who will drag me to church.” “I love you but I don’t want kids.” Both practical and fair examples. Why not address it rather than getting married and then having fundamental problems later?
    6. My Type Isn’t You – “I love you but I always saw myself with someone who made more money…was prettier/handsomer….taller/skinnier….etc etc.”   Insert whatever “not good enough” expression of your liking. This is really messed up, but it’s also honest and informative. The fact is, a request for you to be more “attractive” as defined by someone’s standard or have a different body type, or even be more successful or financially lucrative is an expression of a type. If you aren’t that type, don’t try to be. Trying to be will make you feel inadequate. I’ve spent many too many nights listening to that Lady Antebellum song “Wanted you More”.   I didn’t understand how someone I loved so much who was totally my type could say to my face that I wasn’t there type only made worse by their attempts to change me. So I changed my type….

My type became someone who:

  • had lots of life adventures in their past and was ready for the coordinated 3-legged race
  • respected me immensely and was equally easy to respect
  • was cut from the same cloth
  • wants me but doesn’t need me
  • practically makes sense because they want similar things in life
  • identifies their type as me for better or worse

And then I got married. I love my husband, but I almost find it belittling to say I married him for love. If I’d married for love I would have been married at 17 and then another 10 times or so.  I’m that silly lactose intolerant girl who loves ice-cream and pizza then breaks into night sweats and ask why’d you let me eat that. And I get it, loving and making bad food decisions isn’t quite the same as loving someone and walking away. Walking away from someone you love or think you love is painful and difficult. But words of advice from the other side love or relationships don’t need to hurt. Healthy relationships give you more life, they rejuvenate you and add happiness not pain to your world. Healthy relationships feel like the first outdoor recess after a long winter.

Love as defined by pop culture and media is too painfully intense and overshadowed by lust, loneliness, self-doubt, passion and fear for it to guide anyone in making one of the biggest life decisions. So yes, search for love and marry for love but make sure there’s other criteria.

What criteria do you have for love, marriage and healthy relationships?

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