How do we know that we’re getting real love?
This question has been at the forefront of my life as a couple’s counsellor and relationship therapist for decades now. Love moves us, inspires us and shakes us in ways we don’t imagine. Love takes us to places we never thought we could go; just look at some “love quotes” that are easy to find:
“I look at you and see the rest of my life in front of my eyes.” — (Unknown)
“I’m much more me when I’m with you.” — (Unknown)
“I choose you. And I’ll choose you over and over and over. Without pause, without a doubt, in a heartbeat. I’ll keep choosing you.” — (Unknown)
“At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.” ― Plato
But if we look back on our love or relationship history we might see that we have fallen in love with three distinctly same-but-different types of lover (we fall in love, partly, with familiar faces as well as new ones).
So perhaps there is a kind of three stages or steps in our love life, where we fall in love with three different people who resonate with our personal development or the times in our life:
- Fairy tale love
You are young and either right out of high school or at least in your early 20s. You don’t know that much about life and love (how could you?) but you know about sex, Netflix and having a good time. This lust or chemical love fosters powerful and immediate feelings and you are giddy with the need to see your lover every minute of every day and post your romance on Facebook, Instagram and everywhere you can to announce and celebrate your love to the world; this, you are sure, will be your only love, your true love. But is it real love?
It tends to be an outward facing love that looks good for society’s sake but can be brittle and a testing ground for what comes next.
The fairy tale love ends, often with a bang and it can feel like the end of your life, but it means that this love as chemical love-naive and out of balance-is over, and you’re growing up.
- The love that hurts
This is the love that begins like a fairy tale but can quite quickly turn sour.
This love turns into manipulation and becomes secretive, untrustworthy and very soon makes you very anxious. It can be, for at least one partner, deeply selfish in its jealousy and for the other, wounding. It’s more a form of unhealthy attachment and you find yourself velcroing to a hurtful drama that you can’t find your way out of. In the end it becomes toxic.
You hang on and cycle on, hoping that the other will change, believing that your lover will see how much you love them and this love, your love, will be transforming. You hope, but in the end, you have to give up any hope and end it, realising that you are caught up in a cruel game of emotional highs and lows, like a relationship addict.
This teaches you, after your wounds have healed, what love is and what it is not, what you need and want from a partner and what you are not prepared to put up with and settle for. It feels like you have learned some lessons here.
Your self-esteem restored, you are readying for real love.
- Real love
After the first few months this love might not feel so giddy, so lustful, yet instead something else, something you’ve never felt before is in this relationship.
In place of the high school frivolity, the drama and the emotional highs and lows, in place of the control, the volatility and the unreasonable demands, there is a sense of…fit, a sense of stability and meaning, a sense of maturity and a feeling that this is the person you can truly trust and support; this feeling is mutual.
It feels like this is the life partner who will grow old with you.
This third love is not easy all the time, but nor is it expected that it will be easy; it will have challenges, but these challenges will be met as growth, not signs that something’s going wrong. You both pull together in this relationship, there is a definite sense of team, of mutuality. It’s adult love, real love at last.
And this is why we moved on and outgrew the rest. This is getting real love, isn’t it?