Learning to Love ‘Love’: Why It’s Not Always That Easy.
“Love is like addiction,” he says, as he leans against my shoulder, “Just instead of hurting you, it brings a world of good.”
And I get what he means. My husband: the ever-trusting, heart-wide-open, lover of my soul.
What I don’t tell him is that love has never been remotely addicting for me. It has been something I had to learn to first tolerate, then to like, then to let in.
Unlike him, wanting to love and be loved has not come naturally.
At times, this vulnerable, kind, no-strings-attached love has made me nauseated. Clawing the walls looking for the exit. Daydreaming about bohemian men who do not shower, or past flames who forgot me when I was still with them.
I’ve had to talk myself back into the game more than once, when running away felt safer. When my body, like the cocaine addict, craved another hit of chaotic romance that would make me feel alive, and gave me a vacation from the now for a while.
I spent all this time craving a life partner, someone I wanted to live every stupid and beautiful moment with. Someone who would terrifyingly witness the last living hours of my grandmother’s life, by my side. And when I found him: I wanted the fuck out. I was terrified.
This time I had something to lose.
It was easy being with someone who I knew wasn’t really for me. Actually it made me want them more. It was another world entirely to be with someone who wanted to be with me right back.
They say love is the easiest thing, and when you have it, you never want to let it go. But that is a lie. In reality, we are programmed to crave chaos, pain, intensity. Many of us struggle with getting to the point of attracting love or really wanting it, because the other stuff is so damn addicting.
We can blame the past. Stuff like sexual abuse, divorce, and a range of other losses we experience as kids, teach us to identify love with losing, with pain, with something gone missing, with secrecy.
We can blame society. We are programmed to think that chaos, pain, that the mysterious fuck-face who doesn’t remember your name, is somehow worthy of your heart. That the broody bad boy, with a propensity for alcohol and his own demise, is sexy.
We can blame the brain. The brain goes wild when it receives attention, and pouts like a child when that attention is no longer present. It craves that stimulus which creates the illusion of happiness, when it is not true happiness that is occurring. What’s going on is that is our brains are getting a nice dose of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin from receiving affection.
Get this: the harder we have to work for the attention, the bigger the reward (stronger hit of chemicals on the brain) and the more we think we are in love. (source)
We can spend all our lives finding the Why behind why we have not found love, or why we cannot keep it, or why at the end of the day we decide we really do not want it. We can bitch and moan to our friends for the umpteenth time about why some dude doesn’t love us back, or what a weird text message means. But it’s just a waste of the precious short time we’ve got left.
I’ve learned to get off the chaotic roller coaster of addictive relationships and let love seep slowly into the crevices of my heart. To no longer whine to a therapist about my heartache, or write songs about being left behind, and instead give myself the gift of loving someone who loves me back.
If you’re anything like me, you might need to learn to love love, and not some washed-up version of it.
How to love Love:
It is in the soaking in of someone without losing yourself in the process. It is in discovering who someone is without having to take on their worldview, thoughts, feelings. Not in a cold and detached way, but in the willingness to hold on to your dreams, passions, who you are beyond the relationship. And that is really weird. Especially if you have been used to fixing, helping, solving.
If you’re used to sacrificing yourself to have love, and becoming some kind of hybrid of your lover, holding on to yourself in the midst of love will feel scary and lonely. But when you have a firm hold on who you are and what you want (even if the other person doesn’t agree or won’t always come along) you can experience the reality of falling in love without losing yourself.
And that is the beginning of learning to love Love. For we can only want love when we know who we are and what we want. Otherwise we settle for anything just to have someone to call our own.
It is quelling those desires for danger, for loss, for a relationship having to be hard, by getting your partner to play out those roles in a safe honoring way that won’t have you crying to your mother for two hours the next day.
I sometimes half-jokingly tell my husband to ignore me, get really bored, be mysterious, and check his phone when I’m speaking to him. It turns me on in a way that I’m no longer demonizing or trying to fix. It’s better this way because I know it’s not for real, it can no longer hurt me, and simply gives me the illusion of the chase without having to go through the viral symptoms of experiencing it all over again.
Learning to love Love is simply making the decision that you’re done allowing anyone to derail your life ever again. Now your life is about really rocking who you are, instead of looking for someone else to rock it.
When I started dating my husband, it was the first time in my life I felt complete and whole, without anyone else.
I didn’t want anyone distracting me from grad school, from being totally focused on what I was creating in my life. I was no longer willing to focus on commitment issues from some dude. The goal of my life was not being wanted or needed by someone else. Instead, it was becoming a person that I really wanted and needed.
The cliche is true: when we love ourselves, like really love ourselves, and decide that we deserve to be held in our greasy-hair days and on the days when we have our shit together, we will attract love, for real. It will be the only thing that we decide is worthy of our attention and energy each day.
Yes, we might still crave the momentary escape that comes and goes like the wind, but at the end of the day, we fall asleep next to the person we know brings more joy to our lives than any momentary chaotic attraction ever could. And that, my love, is the most sexy thing of all.
Keep it sexy. Keep it vulnerable. Keep it true.
Nothing else truly deserves you.
Maria Palumbo is an empowerment coach, speaker, and a prolific freelance writer. A Master in Social Work, Maria combines her research and expertise in mental health with a raw spirituality and sexuality that inspires and heals. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, The WaySide Project, and My Wild Truth. She is also the Director and Founder of BodyLove Goddess photo shoot, a body revolution of self-acceptance that ignites a fire in women all over the United States. You can read more about her empowerment movement for women on her website.