We all have our own romanticized notions of what it will be like when we find true love. How it’ll go. What it’ll feel like. What he or she will look like, sound like, act like. Even kiss like. And every once in a while, we actually meet that person. There they are! In the bar standing next to us! Or down the hall at work! Or in the line at the bookstore! They’re perfect. Everything we imagined. And so we engage. And chase. And pursue. And assume our very best behavior. And fight for a chance at that perfect union we’ve imagined in our heads for so long. And sometimes it works! We get their phone number. And a date! And a second date! And sometimes it even goes a month or two! But then at some point, it runs afoul. What once seemed effortless becomes arduous. The perfect conversations suddenly don’t flow as easily. The shine has worn off the apple. It’s work, now. And who has time for that? And here’s where many a relationship come to an unfortunate end. Because the other person thinks it should only be constant magic. That anything else is merely a false symbol. But we still chase them! We want it back! We think of what we can do to possibly salvage this sinking ship. Should we change ourselves? Adjust our behavior? Change our whole personality? After all: this is love. Surely it’s worth sacrificing for, no? No, I’m here to say. It’s not.
Because there’s a big, horrible idea out there in the world of romance:
That if it’s not hard, it’s not real.
True romance must be earned, we believe. Struggled for. Barely survived.
If it comes easy, it’s wrong. Shallow. Too simple.
We must suffer for love. We must cry with certain regularity. Lose our faith time and time again only to barely regain it again.
I humbly submit that such a belief is the romantic equivalent of 100% grade-A bullshit.
Perhaps it comes from our culture’s puritanical beginnings. The notion that anything great is worth suffering for.
And while I agree that love takes work, patience and forgiveness, I don’t think it should involve perpetual, ongoing damage-control.
If the relationship you’re in takes constant, ongoing acrobatic maneuvers to keep it afloat, then it’s not a relationship; it’s a doomsday project.
Relationships, in general, should be easy.
If they’re taking a ton of work, a ton of the time, something’s wrong.
Chances are either that:
A) One (or both) of you is not a stable enough person to even be in a relationship to begin with, and you need to go off on your own to learn how to keep yourself perfectly happy with nothing more than yourself to sustain you. (And yes, I’ve been this person many times.)
B) One of you has unrealistic expectations of what the other is supposed to provide them on a regular basis. (And yes, I’ve been this person, too.) They think you’re supposed to keep them constantly entertained. Or wined and dined. Or sexually pleasured. Or emotionally rescued. Or financially bailed out.
Neither of which is sustainable.
Which is why I say the following:
Don’t chase the person you can barely hold on to when you’re at the top of your game.
Seek out the person you can be happy with even when you’re having a bad day. Or week. Or month.
Because those days will happen, many, many times over the course of a relationship.
And the person who’s only happy with you when you’re a superhero will not stick around when you finally become a mortal again and need them to be there for you, instead.
So skip the supermodel. The pursuit of own your personal Jessica Alba or David Beckham. It might be heaven for a week or two, but they’d probably dump you as soon as you failed to be the emblem of perfection for more than 2-3 seconds in a row.
That perfect pairing with the Mister or Miss Right we’ve all imagined in our hearts isn’t going to survive the endless ordinary days that real life is fraught with.
The person who’s truly right for you is probably cleverly disguised as the one you work with every day. Or the one who you’ve casually known in your circle of friends for five years. Who has seen you at your best and at your worst. And is still there, a big believer in your immense potential. And is probably an amazing kisser if you’d just give them a chance.
That’s the person it’s going to be genuinely easy with over the long haul.
So the next time you’re looking for the one, don’t look up on some stage or pedestal for some shining realization of your fantasies. Turn around and look behind you. At the person you might have overlooked. The person who is quietly everything you need them to be and more.
You just have to give them a deeper look.
* This essay originally appeared on The Good Men Project on 01/18/12