My concept of love and relationships changed between the ages of 19 and 23.
Until I entered my second year of university, I’d believed in the romcom kind of love. You know the kind: two people in a big city are meant to be, they overcome hell and high water to be together. And of course, they each put the other’s feelings before their own.
Then came the culture shock of my first long-term relationship coming to an end, and before I knew it I was thrust out into the world without a safety net of “I’m flattered you’d like to take me out, but my boyfriend wont be very happy you see…” or indeed the security of knowing you’ll see the person you woke up next to again really soon (because it’s their cousins birthday party tonight and you’ve both been cordially invited).
Dating isn’t like Disney
Singledom is a strange world after you’ve been integrated into someone’s life for so long. Note I say strange – not bad.
I’ve shared many wonderful dates with boys and though I never take it well if they didn’t want to take it further, I don’t dread being alone again. I love being single and will stay this way without thinking twice about what I might be “missing out on”, because no one came along yet that I thought enough of – or that thought enough of me – to give it up.
What actually is love?
What did change after some experience after that first big relationship was my view of what love is.
As I met more people, made new friends and witnessed different situations, that aspirational romcom image started to melt away to reveal how hard it is to get a partner who fits in with real life. They (and you) need to slot into gaps between endless days and nights of overtime, parting with rent money before beer money and – the thing that seems most difficult of all for us to overcome – putting number one first.
In this thing we call reality, putting yourself first is so important because if you don’t, you really are no good to anyone.
Everyone will put number one first – and that’s a good thing
I think it’s this latter matter I struggle to come to terms with the most in the context of dating and relationships. Between great dates were run-ins with idiots, liars and in particular one terrible man who blew my life apart with unspeakable things. In one way or another, every situation imploded on itself through purely self-centred actions. Some of these are entirely forgivable, some not.
What might look like a brash carelessness to a burned lover is so often the other person’s way of trying to put themselves first. And you can’t forget that that’s allowed to happen – it’s almost always for the best. It might be for thinking space, it might be for peace or it might be through fear, but ultimately everyone is out to look after themselves. It’s just a natural instinct that can come across in the wrong way.
There’s a difference between being centred and being self-centred
My own biggest bug bear is someone talking at me with empty words – saying nice things for the sake of winning me over. When I find out later that that’s all it was, I have to take a step back and remember that we all put our utmost into saying the right things at the right time because we’re putting ourselves first and want to be admired. Would you give anyone who didn’t make you feel good a chance at dating? No. Neither would I. I just forget to take that stuff with a huge pinch of salt. Love grows out of actions, not impressive words. It’s worth remembering that. So until there’s proof that goes beyond a few throwaway text messages that this guy has good intentions, I try to make sure I’m as relaxed and mindful about the whole situation as I can be. It’s quite a hard thing to do.
Putting someone else first all the time does not work. You need to be in the healthiest frame of mind possible to keep a relationship afloat, and if you continuously only think of someone else with everything you do you cannot help but be hurt when they do something that you don’t want. Over the years, my vision of love has been changing completely. It is not is not running across fields in a slightly sheer dress with a gentle ballad for a backing track. Love is something beyond attraction and overflowing emotions – love is the person who is good company, and works around you in their own separate quests for happiness. No reliability.
And that’s the reality of it
This doesn’t sound like the grand ending lots of us want. But taking this on board is the quickest way to not keep the few people out there who can be damaging to you in your life for too long. There is only so much of yourself you should give to anybody. The right one will come along and understand that.
Cast that fairytale image aside now ladies – it’s misleading. When it comes down to it, this aint no Love Actually. The way forward is to love practically.
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