I’m going to stray from my normal topics of grief and my “new normal” after the death of my husband, and venture onto a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind recently – our generation’s view of hyperbolic love and relationships.
I, like most young girls, grew up listening to fairy tale versions of walking into a forest and back out with your prince charming. The perfect man who just happens to fall right into your life at the exact perfect time, and it didn’t even matter if you lost your glass shoe! He would seek you out, and find you, and then the two of you would “live happily ever after.” The end! Hmm, “the end.” Those two words seem so insignificant to a young girl. She probably dreads them only because they mean bedtime. To a young girl, the end means that everything was perfect, and this hyperbolic love carried the young princess and her prince happily through life.
However, the more I contemplate “the end,” the more problems I begin to see with it. The end of a fairy tale isn’t even the start of a definition of “true love,” and what a true relationship actually looks like. The end of a fairy tale allows my generation and those after me to believe in the idea that “everything just works its self out.” That you don’t have to try in a real relationship. Our kids are being raised with lyrics such as:
“Life makes love look hard.”
Okay, I’m going to go all “rhetorical and AP Language” for a second. The word “look” here connotes a mirage, as if the action and feeling of “love” really isn’t all that difficult. That “true love lasts forever” on its own. No work required. Our future generations seem to think that relationships only require assembly, but never maintenance. “Look” implies the idea that people are fooling you into thinking that love is difficult. That it requires no effort to sustain. As if we all just walk around “in love” with someone, and the relationship just “works out.”
Then, of course, there are the songs that tell us to never settle for anything else than “Crazy” type love in a relationship. That one’s soul mate should not be able to “sleep or eat without your love.” That one’s entire existence should be wrapped up into another person’s. And before you begin to criticize me and tell me that my ideas are too extreme, just hear me out. That your “soul mate will always demonstrate his/her love by committing crazy acts.” Acts such as “declaring one’s love in sappy love letters daily, making you breakfast in bed at least once a week, singing love songs, and constantly posting about how in love they are with you on every social media site known to man.” As if the amount of love a person feels for another is in direct correlation to the “craziness” of the person’s acts while demonstrating said love. That the crazier the action the more love the person must have.
And so, generation “hyperbolic love” enters into relationships with unrealistic expectations and dreams, only to find, the person with whom they are in a relationship with is, wait for it…… “gah, they are human!” They aren’t a prince charming from a cartoon or a person in some random pop song that has a catchy chorus but no real depth or meaning to its lyrics. That the person with whom they have committed their time, love, and self to actually has real needs, moods, desires, and thoughts.
Then, our “generation hyperbolic love” has no idea what to do. So, they Google. And, what they find is just more love songs, “best case scenarios,” and they begin to think something is wrong with their relationship. I’ll go on record as saying that girls are probably more prone to this idea than guys; however, I think it happens quite frequently to both genders.
It seems our society thinks there is something wrong with normalcy and routine in a relationship. That when that stage of comfort is reached, the relationship should be terminated, and another sought after immediately. I beg to differ. I too entered marriage with my fairy tale dreams. My ideas that he would constantly sweep me off my feet, and I don’t think I was alone. What I eventually realized is that in my routine of normalcy, I was probably closer than ever before to J. Sure, spontaneous gestures, crazy ideas, sappy love letters etc, are essential to any relationship, but they aren’t the core of it.
The core of a lasting relationship comes with the trust it takes to allow someone to be close enough to us to witness our weird habits, to be a part of our routines. When you think about it, our routines are very personal. When truly witnessed they reveal a great deal about us. To allow someone to co-exist with us daily is a level of commitment. Where are the love songs about being a part of someone’s daily lives? I’m no song writer, but surely we could incorporate cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, just sitting and talking at dinner, into a love song? I’m sure it would be a chart topper in no time! Okay, probably not.
In reality, most people in my generation seem to view the routine parts of a relationship as negative, demeaning, and boring. I agree, washing dishes can be pretty boring, but the idea I’m getting at is, the people who are there for you day in and day out are the people who know you best. They know you at your deepest levels, and are a direct reflection of true love. I’ll admit, J never looked at me and said “wow, when you wash dishes, I fall in love with you all over again.” However, because we let each other into our routines, we knew each other. We were able to feel close to one another, even when we couldn’t find the words to describe our feelings.
Tweeting one’s love, or writing a sappy love letter and then posting a picture of it on Instagram, isn’t knowing someone. It isn’t an example of true love. While I agree, all relationships need a level of surprise to them, I just think we are creating a great injustice to future generations by demoralizing the idea of normalcy and routine in a relationship.
I’m by no means saying that you are only truly in love with your husband if you “wash his dishes, clean up after him etc.” Or vice versa for your wife. Nor am I saying there is anything wrong with demonstrating your love in these manners, instead, I just feel that the idea of “hyperbolic love” is a dangerous one. One that is at the root of wrecked relationships.
Many of my former students have expressed their shock at the idea that I would want to “quit teaching” in order to honor my husband this year. In their minds it seems that maybe my “duty” of honoring him was up when he died. This saddens me to think that they live in a world where relationships aren’t fixed – just ended. That once a level of comfort is reached, one should find a new more exciting relationship. Instant gratification. They often ask me if “I’m going to remarry,” or when “are you going to start dating again?” At first, these questions shocked me. I found them too personal to discuss, and often times I found them disrespectful. And, then, as I always do, I began to question why they felt so comfortable posing these questions. And my mind kept returning to the idea of instant gratification. That in their world, when a relationship ends, they seek another. They rarely provide themselves time to reflect, learn, and grow from said relationship. That in the end, it seemed natural to them that I too would have the same desire for instant gratification.
Well, my dears, instant gratification will never allow you to experience feeling safe in a relationship. It will never allow you to feel as if you know the other person’s soul. Those types of feelings come with day to day living, conversations, chores. These are how you truly get to know a person, and they are, at least in my opinion, one of the definitions of true love.
After the death of J, I’ve realized that there are innumerable ways of defining true love. That in the end the two people in the relationship define it; however, my fear is, with our fairy tale ideals of love, people never really allow themselves to get to this point of definition in a relationship. When we become bored, we throw away the person, detach our feelings, and immediately move on. We never stop to learn anything, and therefore, we make the same mistakes over and over again. And in the end, we allow Disney, Taylor Swift, and so many others to shape our definitions of love. In doing so, we are missing out on so many amazing experiences – if only we would just let the other person in. Instead, we build more and more walls until we don’t even know our own selves.
And while I don’t need people to validate my decision to take the year to honor J and his sacrifice, I do feel that in doing so, it’s just another way to speak out about my beliefs. That while, maybe I’m not teaching in the classroom this year, instead, maybe I get to teach life lessons instead. My salary will be no where near the level of Taylor or Disney; however, the rewards are much sweeter. In the end, even if my actions don’t help anyone else, I know what I’m doing is what is right by me. I know its a direct reflection of my definition of true love.
*I’m sure many of you disagree with my opinions here, and they are just that- opinions. You are each entitled to your own.*