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When I was a kid, I was obsessed with romance. I planned elaborate weddings for my dolls, memorized entire chapters of Jane Austen novels word for word and watched Taylor Swift’s music video for “Love Story” an ungodly number of times. I spent my whole life waiting for some otherworldly force to kidnap my heart and sweep me away.
Well, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’ve decided that romance is a scam.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in love. These are not the words of a jaded spinster who delights in the misery of others. Many of my friends are in happy relationships, and it makes me happy to see them thriving together. Trust me, I relate to Conan Gray’s “People Watching” on a spiritual level. Love is an incredible phenomenon—something the world needs more of. But, in my experience, it doesn’t look anything like the definitions we’ve created.
First of all, there’s a big difference between love and romance. We often use these words interchangeably, setting ourselves up to believe that “true love” is all sparks and starry eyes, and the depth of our connection is determined by the intensity of those sensations. While there is beauty in love, this definition completely ignores the hard work and commitment that lasting relationships require. Movie characters fight for love on the battlefield, slaying dragons and sailing across oceans to find each other again. Real people fight for love on the home front, addressing everyday problems together and respecting each other even when they disagree.
My first crushes were nonstop torrents of butterflies and bone-shattering infatuations that consumed every thought. Just glimpsing my crush in the distance would send me spiraling into a giddy, terrifying thrill, and even the slightest hint that my feelings were unrequited would warrant playing the same three breakup songs by Kelly Clarkson on loop for a week. But love isn’t supposed to feel like a hurricane; it’s supposed to be the peaceful eye in the middle of the storm. Humans aren’t designed to spend an eternity getting tossed around in a stormy ocean. Of course, we cannot simply forbid ourselves to develop infatuations—these feelings are natural and nothing to be afraid of. But we need to stop convincing ourselves that the beautiful whirlwind of romance is the type of love that can withstand a lifelong relationship.
While love is a crucial aspect of a healthy partnership, relationships cannot sustain themselves on love alone. Even the fiercest, most exquisite love requires communication, compromise and compatibility to succeed. Our romanticized perspective emphasizes the feelings that bring lovers together, but it doesn’t focus on the solutions we need to make sure they stay together. It may not be romantic to think about the pros and cons of joint bank accounts or work schedules, but these mundane things are the gray concrete basement that supports the breathtakingly beautiful cathedral. Just as humans need to sleep, bathe and eat in order to enjoy life, couples need to navigate the less glamorous aspects of their relationship in order to enjoy the spectacular moments.
Finally, as hard as it is to admit, romantic love cannot save the world. The movies always portray that anything is possible as long as we love each other enough. But love isn’t supposed to be a viselike grip that holds your universe together; it is the gentle embrace that welcomes you home after a long day of work. Regardless of whether you believe in an ideal, divine love from a higher power, the efforts of two flawed humans trying to connect with each other will always be imperfect.
I still believe love is a miracle—not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. Spending your entire life with one person is like playing an endless game of ping-pong. Sometimes there will be easy serves. Sometimes there will be tough saves. Sometimes the ball will drop. As we enter relationships, it’s our job to strive for love, but also to understand the complexities, limits and misconceptions about the goal we pursue.