Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stop Talking About "Real Love"

I've heard a lot recently about "real" love. According to a host of online voices, love can only be "real" under the following conditions:

  • lasts more than a year
  • can't be categorized as New Relationship Energy (NRE)
  • has withstood difficult times
  • happens with only one new person at a time

I don't mean that these voices say one of these conditions must be met. Most of them go for the entire list.

And this, friends, is complete bullshit.

"Real love," for you and your beloveds, is whatever you think it is. So you've been dating for a month and she's the most fantastic person you've ever met and you now can't imagine life without her? Awesome. That's real love. You've been dating a couple for the past two years and you all think it's time to move in together and share your home, family, and finances? Wonderful! That's real love. You just got over your first fight with your boyfriend and you're not thinking of breaking up with him, and you've never experienced that before and it excites you? Great! That's real love, too.

Love is whatever the people experiencing it define it as. And I'm beginning to think that people who say, "It's not real love until..." are insecure about their own feelings and commitments. Why else would they need to attack those of people they don't even know?

I challenge you to stop defining anyone's relationship that isn't your own. You don't know anyone else's experience. If you want to apply these bullets to yourself and your own relationships, by all means, go ahead (although you might want to alert new partners to your definitions so they're not taken by surprise).

But, just as you don't want others to judge the validity of the most important aspects of your life, you should stop judging anyone else.


  1. I agree -- that list up there is DEFINITELY bullshit. It's not harmless bullshit, either... it restricts a person's feeling of access to love, makes us feel isolated and not good enough. This article is also interesting along the same lines:

    I have real love for (and from) my friends. I have real love that exists between me and myself. And I have real love between me and my partners, whatever form that happens to take that's best for that relationship.

    I do think there's a cautionary lesson to learn about "it's not real love unless..." and that's when someone decides that "everything is real love, it's whatever I make it, so I will do all of these questionable things to attach myself to a certain person and make it so if something changes in our relationship I will be completely devastated." And I'll need to think about it so I can phrase it better, because wow, this paragraph is awkward. I obviously need an editor... <3

    1. I intend to address some of the "I define my own love and I use that to justify my bad behavior" issues later.

      I also mean for the focus of this particular entry to be about romantic love. Love for friends, family, and others in our social circle is also definitely real, but much more difficult to discuss in this context. (And what about people who are friends and sexual partners, but not romantic ones? Such a lovely gray area!)

      As for the article you link to, I may address that particular idea in a later post. In a nutshell, I don't agree with most of what it says. The author seems to think that "love" can happen just by listening to a stranger tell an engaging story. If this were the case, we wouldn't have so many words, songs, stories, and instructions for finding and keeping love. I don't think that love is fleeting or casual, and I don't personally feel I share it with random people who happen to cross my path.

      I understand the utility of realizing that connection happens in a moment with someone, and that you have to be able to recognize that connection when it happens with your lovers. But I would never "fall in love" with a person by watching them tell a story about their prom via a TV screen.

  2. Agreed. The article Megan quoted above is a good example. The main thing is that relating to certain other people brings up certain feelings and experiences that may or may not be worth having. Those things change over time, in sames cases in ways we can't control (like NRE running out) and in other cases in ways we can (like deciding to stay with someone or leave them or change the relationship.) All the hormones, feelings, psychology, parental issues, societal programming, etc., are all building blocks, and people have much more ability to make what they want of them than they think. On the other hand, there are things that we can't control in the process, like other people, that force us to be flexible and able to deal with change. Although I've been a big critic of the idea of commitment for a long time, the thing I've come to realize is that having both people agree to want to stay together in the long term greatly increases the chance that it will actually happen. All relationships go through periods where one or both people feel like giving up, and the only way to get through those periods and stay together is a previous commitment to stick it out. This fails to jive well with my almost religious level of devotion to the idea of letting relationships seek their own level, and I haven't really figured out the intersection yet. Megan's last quote is a good example of the potential perils of that intersection.