I was asked to write an article on love. Write an article about the most elusive of elusives, about a heart wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma… okay… I can tackle this.
And I’m not talking about just the seasonal, temporary “whatever happened to them” or “has-been homecoming queen with two toddlers and six months of unpaid child support” kind of love. I am talking about true love – spellbinding, “rock you beyond your foundation to the core of the very earth, fireworks and symphonies” kind of love, “Penny Marshall directed starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, soundtrack by Christopher Cross” kind of love, “grow old together and get a kick out of when you absent-mindedly put in each others’ false teeth” kind of love.
Write an article about that kind of love? Well, why not? I’ve never taken the easy road in love, so why would I take the easy road to writing about it? Because O Magazine didn’t care to have my opinions. That’s why. Duh.
In the novel Still Life With Woodpecker, Tom Robbins poses the question “How do you make love stay?” One of his several strategies suggests you wake love in the middle of the night and tell it the world is on fire. Proceed to the window and take a leak out of it. Return to bed and tell love to go back to sleep, that everything will be fine. He promises by following this advice, love will be there in the morning.
While appearing to be a flippant answer to a dynasties-old dilemma, Mr. Robbins is a brilliant philosopher, and I doubt the proximity of this tactic to a true and correct way to make love stay is unseen by him.
Now: I am just a woman. I have no degree in Lovanetics. I did not graduate Magna Cum Love from the Harvard School of Amorology. The most influential credit I have to back up my advice is that I’ve had many a tragic relationship - and learned from them. From the Austrian diplomat whose heart I broke to the steamboat purser who cheated on me with my best friend to the one-legged bass player whose fake leg I kicked out from under him, I took meticulous notes through it all, and while I may not know how to make love stay, I think I am pretty qualified in presenting a guide to make love not go away.
Follow these ten sometimes-not-so-easy steps, and I can guarantee that love will not go away, or at least if it does leave, you’re better off without it.
Step #1: LOVE YOURSELF.
I know it sounds cliché, but if you have a problem with bumper sticker dogma, stop reading now or swallow it. I don’t care how group therapy it sounds, it’s true. If you hate yourself, you’re going to pick someone who hates you. We find people with whom we have things in common, so if you have no self-respect, you’re not going to fall in love with someone who respects you, no matter how handsome, pretty, rich, classy, sophisticated, funny, smart they are. THAT person will be on the sidelines as “just a friend” who will drive themselves mad wondering, “Why does she love that guy who spends the gas bill money on pot when I can give her love, affection, health insurance and a baby?” And to that guy, I say – come on down from the cross, pal – we could use the wood. She doesn’t want you because you’re too good for her. Eventually you will wise up and realize she’s right. Stop wasting precious time.
STEP #2: DON’T PICK A JERK.
Now that you’ve dealt with the fact that dad didn’t hug you enough, that mom tries to sabotage everything you do because she is jealous of your daring spirit and selfishly mourns her own squandered youth, now that you’ve read Dr. Phil and realized you’ve given yourself the “lonely” label because it was so delicately, tragically poetic, now that you’ve come to terms with the fact that this person is not the last 8 failed, selfish and unfaithful partners, but a new individual worthy of trust… keep in mind that while you have dealt with your issues, most of us haven’t.
We are, for the most part, a jumble of childhood baggage bumping into each other. Some of us simply refuse to be loved. Some of us can’t trust. Or give. Or listen. Or sympathize. Or keep their genitalia off of or out of strangers (or friends, for that matter). Some people are truly incapable, and sister, brother, you cannot change them. I REPEAT: YOU CAN NOT CHANGE THEM. Think back to the old analogy – you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If you deserve silk, splurge for it. If not, stop whining about your pig purse. It’s your own fault, and your friends don’t want to hear it.
STEP #3: STEP UP.
Take responsibility. If you do something thoughtless, take responsibility. That’s likely all you want when your partner does something thoughtless to you. You just want them to say, “That was wrong of me. I’m sorry”. And, men, saying you’re sorry is not a sign of weakness – it’s not even an admission of guilt, necessarily. Get over your John Wayne-isms. His real name was Marion, and he walked like Liberace shot with a tranquilizer gun, for chrissakes. Hardly the barometer for machismo.
STEP #4: LISTEN.
Not just hear. LISTEN. I can’t even get off on this one, or I’ll go on forever. If you can’t tell them their feelings back to them more concisely than they can tell them to you themselves, shut up and listen until you can. For as long as it takes.
STEP #5: FEELINGS ARE FACTS.
My boyfriend has three children, and will often have to cancel last minute on me because something has come up that he has to deal with at home. Now – logically, I know it’s healthy that he takes his responsibilities as a father seriously. I know if he put our date first and neglected the needs of his kids, he wouldn’t be a man I wanted anyway. Still, sometimes I feel like I’m being shoved aside. Then I feel like a jerk for being so selfish. Then I think a selfish child-hater like me doesn’t deserve a great man like him, and it spirals downward … Until I tell him. And he’ll listen, then he’ll tell me, no, it’s not logical, but you feel what you feel, and those feelings are real. And I’m sorry you feel that way. And then suddenly, I don’t feel that way anymore. And we lived happily ever after – for another day.
Talk about how you feel, even if you know it’s not logical. And when your partner pushes through their own fears of sharing their feelings with you, don’t ever respond with “That’s plain stupid,” or “that’s just childish”. When I said “Don’t pick a jerk” did you instead pick an idiot? No – you picked a smart person. Because you have that in common. Don’t patronize your lover. They know their feelings are nonsensical, and yes, feelings are childish. But invalidating them will make your partner stop sharing and erode every ounce of trust you worked so hard to acquire. If you think what they feel is stupid, it means you don’t understand it yet. Go back and repeat Step 4 until it doesn’t sound stupid anymore.
STEP #6: GIVE WHAT YOU GET, GET WHAT YOU GIVE.
I told you this was going to be an exercise in bumper sticker-isms! But it’s imperative. Give. Give like there’s no tomorrow. Give time, attention, love, flattery, affection, silly trinkets. Give from the office and the club, give in bed and the kitchen. If it’s not being reciprocated, go to Step 5. If it’s still not being reciprocated, leave. You are obviously capable of giving a different quality of love than they are – find someone who can give it back.
On the flipside, don’t make unrealistic demands of your partner if you can’t give the same. Don’t demand monogamy when you know you’d drag his best friend into the bathroom at the slightest advance. Don’t ask them to support your demanding career when you can’t be supportive of theirs. Don’t assume she’ll watch the kids on Monday night while you go out with the boys for football if you won’t keep the rugrats out of the matches and pill bottles when she goes dancing with the girls on Friday. Bottom line: Love how you want to be loved. Lead by example.
STEP #7: LOVE IS A VERB
Love is not something you have, like a favorite piece of jewelry or an autographed baseball that you can take out of a box when you want to admire it. Love is something you do. Every day. Love is action. Let me repeat that. Say it slowly. Read it out loud. Love is action. It is leaving a voicemail when you know they won’t pick up, or a note in their suitcase when they’re traveling, or an encouraging text message to their cell phone right before a big meeting. It is cutting the cake so they get a piece with their favorite frosting. Love is carrying the heaviest bag of groceries in, it’s saying, “You’re so gorgeous” and meaning it, even though they’ve had three nights of insomnia. It’s bringing soup and juice when they’re sick… and serving it. Love is getting on top when they’ve had a long day, and letting them get on top when they want to feel like they’re conquering you. Love is listening, talking, confiding secrets and keeping them.
STEP #8: REAL LOVE IS NOT A ROMANCE NOVEL
Sleepless In Seattle is likely one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. Rosie O’Donnell’s character says at one point, “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.”
So, no, he doesn’t treat you like the men treat women in Jackie Collins novels. He doesn’t have glinting bronze pectorals or a smoky come hither glance that transforms your knee cartilage into gelatinous goo. Be careful ladies. You are not the spicy tempered, fire-tressed, buxom Nevada landowner’s daughter either. You’re a retail clerk at Claire’s or a 3rd shift waitress or an executive assistant for a well-respected law firm. And that’s fine. But go easy on the guy. No, he doesn’t have a horse, or a pistol, or spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle. But you don’t have a firm D-cup and lily-white skin or let him knock you around to induce a passion-filled submissiveness.
I’ve read romance novels before. Sure, there’s a manliness to those characters – but those books are also ripe with sexism, domestic violence, rape, kidnapping and a virtual absence of indoor plumbing. Careful what you wish for, sisters. You just might get it.
STEP #9: YOU'RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST GAME
Now men, this one’s for you. I have seen you hoot and bellow over what idiots those professional football players are. Most men are certified Monday morning quarterbacks. “You know what Starnes should have done when that 40-yard pass came at him from the 50 yard line, he should have faked a double-under-quadruple-pass to Washington. That guy’s gotta work on his defense.”
I have a problem with the fact that a man can put more energy into pinpointing where the losses happened in last nights game than he’ll spend on doing the same with the fight that ensued when he came in after the game, late, drunk, and broke with a dent in the right front fender. “You know what I should’ve done? I should have called when the game went into double overtime to let her know so she wasn’t thinking I was dead in a ditch, then I should’ve gotten a ride home with Washington. I gotta work on my defense.”
But since football is such powerful material for an analogy, let me say this, boys: it doesn’t matter to you that Starnes got his team to the playoffs in the last game by running a total 212 untouched yards for four touchdowns – all that matters to you is that he blew it tonight. And that thinking is no different than hers. It doesn’t matter that last night you helped the kids with their homework, made dinner and drew her a bubble bath. You blew it in tonight’s game. Your lack of focus cost you. It cost your whole team. Too many inconsistencies over several seasons, and trust me – if your team wants to win, they will consider trading you. Now… that being said…
STEP # 10: YOU ARE A TEAM
It may not always feel like it’s the two of you against the world, but in those times when your lover feels like the world is out to get them… let them know you’re on their side, on their team, and that the two of you, together, are invincible. See how quickly they begin to feel like there’s nothing the two of you can’t do, nothing that together, you can’t see your way through. Because feelings, after all, are facts. And a fact, by its very definition, is indisputable.
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