Going through my break-up with Joel has been a battle against the ocean—some days the waves are small and easy to climb over, others feel like I’m being crushed and pulled under by the riptide. I must have searched for something to help me cope because, without consciously telling it, my Pinterest feed flooded with “single and strong” quotes like this one:
She said, “I was so busy trying to make something work with someone no matter how much it was hurting me…So consumed with not wanting to let go; to the point that I forgot that the point of being with someone was to be happy. Why hold on to be miserable?”
I pinned it immediately. But when I typed the last line into the description I felt a ping of doubt. Is happiness really the point of being with someone? As I navigated to my saved pins and clicked delete on this one I realized, I don’t agree. Relationships aren’t about happiness, that’s a side-effect that comes from two people practicing love. Relationships are about love.
Although I didn’t want to be single, I know there’s a reason for all this. I decided to take a step back and take some time for myself. In the space that opened, a question bubbled:
What is love?
Outside of family, friends, and fur-babies, the strongest instances of love in my life came from Joel and Kevin.
I haven’t talked much about Kevin because 1) it was a long time ago and 2) it’s really embarrassing. Like reeeally…
High school relationships have the same expiration rate as celebrity marriages. Kevin was my first longer-than-a-month, high school boyfriend.
Kevin and I met over MySpace, the OG social-media platform/reality killer, and became friends my Sophomore year of high school. We started dating my Junior year, and I spent the entirety of summer break glued to my phone and Skype video chats.
We called it love and it felt like love. The butterflies, the smiling for no reason, the unshakable highs. We planned out a future together, a future where I followed and supported all his dreams. I didn’t mind. It made me happy to be wanted, to be a certain part of someone’s future.
Finally we met in person Spring Break of my Senior year. He proposed. I said yes. And two kids with too many hormones and untethered dreams got a little too close. And then?
A month later we broke up.
Sort of. Kevin kept me in his back pocket, and I loved him so I stayed there. We had what you might call an open relationship: he could see other girls and—when they turned out to be crazy—come back to me, and if I hung out with a guy I was “cheating.”
Clearly, my life is not a pretty fairytale. And you might wonder, can anyone really be that stupid/desperate/pathetic?
This routine continued after high school and into my first year of college. It lasted a whole year until Joel pulled me out of the downward spiral. He showed me the insanity. He saved me.
Since Kevin and I had a long-distance relationship I couldn’t break up with him in-person. (Oh darn.) Late one night I sent a final text and Kevin and I were done. Joel was 1600 miles away at the time, but he stayed with me on Skype’s video chat until I fell asleep. Despite the cruelty and absurdity of my relationship with Kevin my heart still shattered. My pillow was soaked with tears when I woke up, and I curled up in the shower and cried the next morning(s). I still remember that pain, my first heart break, as the most excruciating in my life.
On a scale of 1 – 10?
Love with Joel was different. Yes, there were sparks and fluttering butterflies, but those faded after awhile. About 4 years in, the relationship switched. Feelings became habits. Passion became deliberate choice. I was worried, “Did we still love each other?”
Was it actually love? In both cases I think yes, there were times when love appeared but it was contaminated with lust, infatuation, and fear. With Kevin love often meant dropping everything for someone, wanting their best, and providing relentless support for their dreams. With Joel love was pushing the other to be their best, supporting and learning together, and striving for clear communication.
In both relationships I let love define itself.
Sometimes love defined itself as something good, like passion and encouragement, but letting love self-define also created self-hate and heavy chains that I’m just beginning to break.
Now, single after 11 consecutive years of being in some sort of relationship, I want to make sure that next time, it really is love. So I’m defining love first.
Deep breath…Here we go.
Love is practicing patience, showing kindness when arguing, not always bragging about my day but actively listening. Love is not lusting after someone else’s marriage or relationships in TV and books and wishing is was mine. When—not if—there’s a problem love does not run to family and friends first, but strives to work out issues in private. Love will not speak badly of each other to others. Love always protects. (Sound familiar?)
Love is also being honest when I’m hurt instead of stuffing my feelings under the bed until I can’t stuff anymore and it explodes in a bigger mess. Love is finding pleasure in doing things the other person likes. Love means taking care of the body, inside and out, so you can experience more together. Love is setting screens aside to take time to intimately learn the soul.
Love is daring to ask life’s big questions and seek answers together.
This is an incomplete definition, but it’s a start.
Just before Joel and I broke up my friend loaned this book to me. I used to cry every four paragraphs but now I’m able to make it through a couple pages before tearing up. Today I read a passage that struck me, not to cry, but to pause and consider where I want to go from here:
“Notice also what you want to do—how you handle your heart. Are you shutting down in anger? Turning to food? To others? What is crucial is that this time we handle our hearts differently.”Captivating, pg 121
This time I’m defining love first, before I have a relationship on the horizon. This time I will wait for the love that I defined to find me, I won’t force anything or jump too soon. This is only possible because this time I have true patience knowing that God already loves me in every way I need, and I will remind myself of that as many times as needed.