We are inundated with millions of messages saying what ‘real’ love should look like, feel like, act like. Turn on the computer, scroll through your newsfeed, browse through images, read books—the idea is everywhere—that true love should behave or be presented a certain way.
We fall victim to these words and pictures because they pull at our heartstrings. They remind us of what we deserve. They carry the heaviness of what we’ve lost. They inspire us to search for better. They keep us grounded when we’re feeling lonely. They empower us to keep looking for love in its greatest form.
But what if these messages don’t really speak the truth?
What if love looks different for all of us? Based on our individual experiences and situations and people we entangle with? What if love isn’t simply summed up in a two-sentence graphic, in an image of couple holding hands, in a 4 x 4 pixelated screen?
What if real love isn’t about finding a perfect person, or meeting ‘the one’ by a certain time, or discovering someone who totally changes himself/herself to be the person you need? What if that’s all total crap? What if you’re actually missing out on real love by believing these silly lies we take to heart because they’re in pretty script or powerful language or bright colors?
Real love is messy. It’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s complicated. It’s heavy. It’s not being asked to change who you are for someone. It’s not asking someone to change him/herself for you. It’s not easy. But it’s still beautiful.
We read so many messages about people ‘changing,’ and how ‘the one’ won’t have to change because they’re perfectly right for you, or about how that person will change, for you.
But the one thing we forget is that as humans we are continually changing. And this isn’t a bad thing. The person you fall in love with won’t stay that same, static individual for the rest of his or her life. You’re going to grow together; you’re going to grow apart. They’re going to form opinions and have ideas and you are too, and the challenge and excitement of love is learning how to shift, sometimes in different directions, but still shift together, as a whole.
But never in that change should it be about you. Just as your growth shouldn’t be about anyone but yourself.
Love is not asking people to change. It’s not about finding someone who has changed, will change, or is changed enough to be perfect for you. And the reverse is true; someone who loves you shouldn’t demand that you be a different person in order for the relationship to work. You shouldn’t be required to shift yourself on behalf of someone’s feelings, perspectives, or affection towards you.
You should change, not because you’re being asked or because someone else thinks it’s good for the relationship, but because you, inside yourself, wish to be different.
There are so many things we read about ‘she changed for him,’ or ‘he became a better man for her,’ etc. but these messages are damaging. They’re suggesting that who the person was before, was not enough. They’re implying that one person in the relationship was the ‘fixer’ and the one who changed needed to be fixed.
And that’s not how real love works.
Love is not a power play, not roles and dynamics and shoes you must fill. You don’t need to become something better just to have someone’s affection, even if the other person’s intentions are pure. And you can’t make someone change for your reasons, or even the right reasons—an individual changes because he or she wants to. For themselves. Not for you.
For some reason we’ve been led to believe that real love is about an imperfect person becoming perfect for someone else. A player changing his ways. A broken woman becoming whole. Two people learning fixing and healing one another. But that’s not real, or love.
Love is not about fixing because as people we are covered in cracks and faults and will never be fully ‘fixed,’ especially by another person. Love isn’t about using someone to fill the empty spaces. It’s not about relying on someone else for the healing you must do yourself. And it’s not about trying to make someone become something different, something better for you because you feel you deserve that.
Sometimes people need to find their way on their own, and perhaps the timing isn’t right. Perhaps they need to find themselves. Perhaps you need to seek your own answers. Perhaps you have to stop believing that love looks and acts and feels a certain way.
Love isn’t perfection. It isn’t two people requesting one another to change so that suddenly everything makes sense. Love doesn’t make sense. Love is complicated and chaotic and authentic and flawed and strange and wonderful.
And it’s about time we stopped taking in the words of the world and started creating our own definitions, simply based on the way we mess up, the way we shift together, the way we learn and grow as we move through every day. Imperfect, raw, and real.
Marisa Donnelly is a poet and author of the book, Somewhere on a Highway, available here.