If you've ever looked for "the one", you know that it's harder than it looks. There are so many love stories out there, depicting how Romeo find his Juliette, and how they get to have their happily ever after.
I have a problem with this fairy tale. Several problems, actually. First, if you've ever actually read Romeo and Juliette, you'll know that these star-crossed lovers kill themselves in the end, and lots of other people die over this lover's affair. You'll also know that the story happens in the span of a few days, and the couple is in their mid-teens. I don't know about you, but the people I loved when I was fourteen were not good for me and it was mostly the hormones talking. If you don't take the details of Romeo and Juliette as literally as I do, you still get a really messed up situation over a couple of people who don't know each other and really just wanted to bone. That's not exactly true love, is it?
Some people have these magical relationships, and if you still love/have married that person you were in love with when you were in middle school, I commend you. That is a commitment beyond anything I could ever imagine approaching. However, I also can't imagine that your relationship was all frolicking in flower fields, hearts, and candy-grams the entire time. That relationship was difficult, filled with a lot of compromises, rough patches, and growing pains between the lovely bits. That's the part no one likes to talk about when they write romantic stories, and if they do it's usually something basic like not communicating with your partner.
Writers never like to tell you the part where the lovers are not compatible because their beliefs are vastly different, or they aren't sexually compatible, or one wants to change their lifestyle/career and that's not okay with their partner. Several of my friends have come to me with these issues. One had "the perfect guy" who was kind of a coke-head on weekends but was perfect otherwise. Another didn't mind the fact that his girlfriend did drugs, but they were long-distance and he couldn't stand not being able to spend time with her. Others couldn't understand that just because someone is perfect for you as a friend doesn't mean they're perfect for you as a lover. My own father married his first wife because, in his words, " we had been together for so long it was the logical next step." Obviously, that didn't pan out very well.
I will fully admit, I'm not an expert in relationships, psychology, or counseling. What I have is an 8-year relationship that turned bad, lots of time spent looking for someone I could trust as much as that first relationship, and falling helplessly in love with someone whom I will have to see long-distance very soon. In addition, I have had the fortune or misfortune to have counseled many friends who are all making the same types of mistakes when looking for their perfect someone. In that time, I learned several things about myself and the journey to finding "the one" (whatever that actually means).
1. "The One" Doesn't Exist
Lots of people like to think that there is ONE person out there for you. There isn't. There are hundreds of people out there for you, and they will each bring something different to the table. If you've ever dated more than one person, you understand this keenly. Was lover A exactly like lover B? I'm sure they shared some attributes. Rarely do we deviate drastically from the people we are attracted to, but A and B were different. Maybe B was even better at some things than A because you learned to avoid some of the problems you found in A.
But in the end, you still ended up loving both A and B in some way.
For my own example, A was someone I met in high school. I had never dated before, never kissed, never anything. He was smart, liked philosophy, enjoyed good food and art, and liked to be a traditional gentleman (holding doors, walking on a certain side of the road, etc). The first date, we sat in a park with cranberry juice and talked about politics, religion, and space exploration. I was thrilled to find someone who matched me, even challenged me. I thought he was "the one", and he thought we wouldn't last three months. Eight years later -- after several breaks, long distances, and family issues -- we finally ended it amicably. We definitely had growing pains, and the last time we broke it off we knew it was for good.
I dated several people who couldn't match that. Lovers B and C were inadequate for different reasons. B was outgoing, a gentleman, great in bed, but also kind of racist (which was strange because he was a man of color himself) and liked me because I was Asian. He couldn't challenge me intellectually, and he was a bit immature. C was very different because I wanted to try other attributes. He was quiet, mature, cultured, and at first enjoyed talking. After a while, it was clear to me that he was stuck in his world, refused to budge or challenge me, and didn't care about anything if it didn't pertain to him. Sex was about the only thing that kept that relationship going, and after a while, I felt like his weekend call girl.
Despite how I may paint these men, I did love all of them in some way. I thought that I was going to marry A. B was exciting and fun. C was stable and reliable. It was not "true love" perhaps, but it was love and it would be a shame to discount that emotion as false just because A, B, and C didn't work out.
2. Relationships Are Hard Work
Imagine you and your lover/partner are walking down a road. At first, it's a pleasant walk. You enjoy each others company, make jokes, and the time passes quickly. Then, there's a rock in your path. You have a few choices on how to handle this rock.
A. You both go around your side
B. You both go around your partner's side
C. You try to move the rock out of the way
D. You ignore the rock and climb over it.
Now, imagine this rock is your first fight; your first REAL fight. If you decide choices A or B, this is a compromise on someone's part. You've learned to sacrifice in order to get around the issue, but you haven't solved the fact that it's still on your path. If you ignore it, well, it's still there. Whatever issue it is that caused this fight hasn't been dealt with. In fact, climbing over it sucks and you'll remember that ridiculous endeavor. Eventually, one or both of you will bring up that issue and it will cause frustration about the past.
What if you chose to move the rock out of the way? This is the hardest of the options because it requires compromise, patience, understanding, forgiveness, communication, and most importantly honesty and trust. If you are equipped with ALL of those tools, you can easily break apart this rock into smaller pieces, move the rubble out of the way, and keep going down your path knowing you can rely on that other person. This is the thing that strengthens bonds. And when another rock, or boulder, or mountain stands in your way, you can take on this challenge. It will never be the exact same problem that you face, but hopefully, you both decide that the relationship is worth working toward to take on the issue.
What if one or both of you decide that the mountain isn't worth the effort? Well, that's when you take a step back, admire your journey, and go off on your own. Perhaps it's just not the right time to approach this particular issue, or perhaps you're not sure how you can fix the issue. We're only human after all. Mistakes happen. It's only if you walk away and never learn from this that will hurt you. Understand exactly WHY this didn't work without blaming the other person. Blame causes frustration, anxiety, and anger, but it doesn't teach you anything.
If, one day, you both decide to take on the mountain, there's nothing stopping you. Just make sure you've both come back with lessons learned.
3. Some Things You Can't Compromise
This is the hardest one for a lot of people because this feels like the counter-argument to what I just said. Trust me, it isn't.
Some things you could NEVER compromise on, and you need to be a strong enough (and self-assured enough) person to understand what those things are. If you are not comfortable giving up major parts of yourself, your beliefs, your needs, or your dreams/life goals, maybe this isn't the relationship for you. Everyone's priorities and comfort levels are different, and YOU need to decide for yourself what your limits are. No one else can tell you.
I had a friend whose sex and sexuality were priorities to her, though it didn't define her lifestyle. Physical connection was important in all her relationships. As her friend, I was always greeted with hugs and a kiss on the cheek, and others would wrestle or spar with her on weekends. When it came to one particular lover though, she wasn't able to express herself. The sex wasn't stimulating, physical touches were limited, and her lover would get jealous if she kissed or hugged her friends. My friend should have ended it long before she did, and there were a good two and a half years where I counseled her to stop. Why did she stay? Her lover was a great companion. They liked the same things, had the same hobbies, believed in the same things, and thought the same way. It was only the physical intimacy that was lacking, but it drove her up a wall.
For some people, this would never have been an issue, myself included. I am not an openly affectionate individual, and spicy bedroom adventures aren't necessary for me to enjoy myself. If this was my scenario, while I'd definitely have a talk about the jealousy, I could compromise on just about everything else. But for my friend, this physical connection is so important to who she is, how she operates, how she expresses her love and affection. You shouldn't have to sacrifice yourself in order to make someone else happy.
I also want to make clear: sacrifice and compromise are NOT the same. Compromise means both parties give up something to gain mutual happiness. Sacrifice is one party giving up something significant to satisfy the other.
When you are just starting to date, you can't expect to understand what it is that you can compromise and what you can't. This takes time, and usually, it takes a lot of mistakes. However, your instincts will usually tell you something is wrong even if you can't identify it. Friends and family you trust can also smell bullshit, and when all of them are telling you to get out, that's usually a good sign to end the relationship.
4. Real Love (BONUS)
Let's talk about this thing called "true love" or "real love". First I want to say that there are many types of love. The English language does not have enough words to describe the kinds of love we feel on the day to day basis, and so we as English-speakers often get confused at what we're feeling. The kind of love we feel toward our family is not the same kind of love we feel toward our pet, or our friends, or our partners. It is not the same kind of love we feel over our favorite food or movie, or the emotion we feel when people support us.
I believe true love or real love exists, and it is something that can only be felt. Like anger or jealousy, you can't quite describe what it's like to someone who hasn't experienced it. I can tell you what love is not, however. It is not attraction, it is not lust, it is not desire, and it not completion. True love may seem like these things, and may even be the spark the leads to true love, but at its core, real love is none of these things.
Attraction is the easiest and often the most potent of sparks. "That person is really cute," often turns into a crush that leads to an initiation of a conversation."That person is hot and sexy and makes my loins go WOW," is also a potent spark. We are hard-wired to find people to whom we are physically attracted in order to perpetuate the species. Attraction and/or lust may lead to a closer relationship and even turn into love. Something about the other person inspired you to be curious about them. But this is not substantial enough to base a lasting relationship on. This is the same when you "win" someone. A person is not your trophy or some object for you to snare, and if you only ever look at someone's attributes you'll never see them for who they actually are.
If you are looking for "your other half", stop it. You are not an incomplete being, and you cannot find someone who will fill that hole inside you. It's not their job to make up for your inadequacies or fix you, and it's not your job to do that for someone else either. Don't try to "save" someone who isn't willing to put in some work themselves. Try instead to find a partner, someone who is equal to you.
For my own story, I am currently living with my boyfriend. We haven't known each other very long, but we both felt like it was the natural move. Our formal education is disparate, our life experiences are vastly different, our beliefs align beautifully, our humor is on point, we can share what we like and dislike (see My Boyfriend Makes Me Watch Ridiculous Movies), we want to travel the world, neither of us wants children (yet...?), we have the same values, and most importantly we want to SUPPORT the other person in whatever way can. I have more free time than he does, and so I can do things like make sure the fridge is stocked and our laundry is done. He makes sure I laugh every day and I can combat my depression. I struggle with my finances, and he struggles to keep a schedule. He needs to relax at the end of the day, and I need laughter and cuddles.
Lastly, there is trust and there is honesty. While I may not know every detail about his past, about his likes and dislikes, or what makes him angry and sad, he has earned my respect and trust. We established early on who we were, what we stood for, what our life goals were, and we were unyielding about it. We divulged our traumas and terrible secrets, and they didn't bother us anymore. The foundation of our relationship is solid bedrock. I can't wait to keep building.
I leave you with a message from Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. This had made the rounds on the internet a while ago, but it is worth listening to again.
The myth of "the one" has many faults, but that doesn't mean you can't find a love that fits.