Happy Valentine’s Day!
“To say that one waits a lifetime for his soulmate to come around is a paradox. People eventually get sick of waiting, take a chance on someone, and by the art of commitment become soulmates, which takes a lifetime to perfect.” – Criss Jami, Venus in Arms
In Defense of Unromantic Love
Not your run-of-the-mill, love-is-the-greatest” type of Valentine’s Day quote, is it? But this is exactly what happened and is still happening to Martin and I. Our love story is nothing like the dramatic stories you read about in books or see in movies. No grand gestures, no feelings of despair at the thought of spending time apart, no overly romantic affirmations of undying love, no endless string of IG worthy snapshots and love letters.
Still, it is the greatest and most authentic love I have ever experienced. Not only my love for him but also for the person I am with him. So this Valentine’s Day, as any other day, I would like to advocate for a way to love that may or may not be for you but that has worked for us and kept us going even when times got more than just a little tough. A way that is more grounded in the realities of human nature.
Conscious love: What it takes for us
Conscious love, in our case, is neither “hard work” nor a stroll in the park. It’s commitment. I don’t mean put-a-ring-on-it kind of commitment. I mean a commitment to really know the other person and that has nothing to do with a piece of paper.
True romantic and conscious behavior to us looks something like this: we try our best to truly connect, to share our inner thoughts and feelings, to talk about our fears and our hopes for the future, to be vulnerable and say things that aren’t easy when we need to, and to show each other that despite everything we are all in.
Of course, we don’t always relate to each other that way. Our love has never been “easy.” This doesn’t mean I think love has to be hard. If you have found your love to be easy, then that is how it is for the two of you. But my romantic life was nowhere near easy before meeting Martin and I reject the idea that once the perfect partner comes around, I will suddenly be free of fears, self-doubt, insecurities and all the other things that mess with romantic life and miraculously live happily ever after. Or that the perfect partner will never do anything that hurts or disappoints me, repeatedly and often inadvertently. On the contrary, I believe that the right partner is the one who shows me my limitations, my weaknesses, and weak spots and the parts of myself I so want to forget and reject but somehow always resurface.
But there is a balance to this: The perfect partner also allows me to shine, to show off my strengths, supports me in living life to the fullest, and sees my chances and opportunities as his own more often than not. This is exactly who Martin is to me and I am forever grateful that we are on this journey with and for each other. In honor of Valentine’s Day and conscious loving, I want to share parts of our story and how we came to be.
Our Beginnings: Right person, wrong time
On our first date 5 years ago (which I initiated through a common acquaintance and Martin probably agreed to a little hesitantly), we talked about our dreams, about what excites us, what scares us, and what we believe love feels and looks like. Not all these visions were identical or fully compatible but they were real. When we met I learned that Martin had separated from his wife only a few months earlier. Throughout the entire evening, I felt an open but not a pulling energy coming from him. He was not looking for a quick fix to his pain, a rebound to get through this difficult time with. He was quite open about the fact that he was still processing the separation after ten years with his ex. He didn’t air any dirty laundry or bad mouth her, he just opened up about not being ready for something new quite yet. I knew then, this is a characteristic of a real keeper: A man who can be comfortable with his pain but who also takes responsibility for dealing with it.
I, on the other hand, came with my own baggage of course: fear of commitment, destructive relationship patterns, and lots of mistrust to fight against. But I also came with a recognition of these issues through a lot of self-study, a real confidence that love was in my future and that I needed not push for it or settle for a person who wasn’t what I was looking for.
After a great first date, I did the one thing I had never done before: I trusted in life. I decided that a man who was clearly still dealing with a painful separation was not a good choice for me to date at that point in time. Dating unavailable men was one of the worst ways I sabotaged myself and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Dating him now would only bring chaos and drama. Instead, I wanted to connect with someone who was as free as I was from their past lovers. Of course, we are never truly free as these past lovers are ingrained in our hearts but eventually, we can see them as a necessary part of a puzzle and not as a missed opportunity any longer. He wasn’t there yet.
So I told him to get in touch with me once he knew where the story would lead with his ex. I even told him that I thought a relationship of ten years is nothing to just give up on easily (which he wasn’t doing anyway). He wrote me a message, right after the date, saying he was quite surprised at how we connected and that he really enjoyed talking to me but nothing more than that. I wrote him back the same. And then I deleted his number. I knew that otherwise, I would find an excuse to be in touch and get sucked into this way too soon. I also knew he would be in touch once the time was right.
He contacted me about a month later asking me out to dinner. He said he wanted to tell me something. I agreed. We went to my favorite Italian restaurant in Bern, Luce, and I was quite nervous. I had not elaborated in great detail on why I wanted to hold off dating him and so I wanted to make sure he knew that by the end of this date. That I thought he was very interesting, lovely to talk to, handsome, and quite a catch, so holding off on dating wasn’t about him being wrong but more about me taking care of myself. But then the most amazing thing happened: Here he was, telling me how he respected my wish to wait, how he knew this wasn’t the right time, but that he wanted to make sure I knew that I had made an impression on him and that he thought there was something special in how we connected. He wanted me to know, that he was going to sort life out and that I shouldn’t completely forget about him if I could. He wanted to tell me that in person, then let me go back to living my life knowing he had not let a chance like that go by without opening up.
It would take several months before he got in touch again and asked for another dinner date. He told me that he was going to get a divorce and there was no reconciliation in their future. We then started dating, taking it very slow. We only had our first kiss three months later, having already spent a lot of time together and knowing this was going to be serious.
“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once [we soon feel ungrateful] or those who never allow us to kiss them [we soon forget them], but those who coyly lead us between the two extremes.” Alain de Botton, On Love
It wasn’t out of the desire to be coy that we took it slowly but rather because we could feel this thing was way too precious to just take a quick shot at it. It was the right thing for us at the time. Every couple has their own pace. We enjoyed the time it took us to get to know each other. Still, we only scratched the surface.
Tough times: When conscious love really kicked in
“Perhaps because the origins of a certain kind of love lie in an impulse to escape ourselves and our weaknesses by an alliance with the beautiful and noble. But if the loved ones love us back, we are forced to return to ourselves and are hence reminded of the things that had driven us into love in the first place. Perhaps it was not love we wanted, after all, perhaps it was simply someone in whom to believe, but how can we continue to believe in the beloved now that they believe in us?”
It’s not the early beginnings that define our love. It’s the hard times we managed together, the disillusionment of realizing the other person isn’t anywhere near perfect, the understanding that there is going to be a lot to get through together. With all the comfort that comes with someone hugging you, there is an inevitable sense of loss at the thought of it not being forever. Fears come up and insecurities feed arguments. In our four years together we have had more than one argument that we felt we may not recover from, more than one day of feeling completely at odds, more than one time when one of us just wanted to give up. As I said, it hasn’t been easy. But has it been less meaningful because of that? The one thing I know about our love is that we are committed to each other. Committed to growing together. I can tell Martin everything on my mind, for better or worse, and so can he. This is much less harmonious than we would like it to be, but it is also very romantic because it shows a real willingness to know the other person.
6 realizations about conscious love that help you navigate life’s biggest mystery
Alain de Botton puts the realities of a relationship in words rather perfectly when he suggests what things really foster love between two people (and no it isn’t buying flowers and a ring or getting it on all the time). He calls it romantic realism. In my definition, these equate to 6 realizations about conscious love that can help you navigate life’s biggest mystery:
- “realizing that we are rather flawed, and our partner is too, is of huge benefit to a couple in increasing the amount of tolerance and generosity in circulation;
- that we will never find everything in another person, nor they in us, not because of some unique flaw, but because of the way human nature works;
- that we need to make immense and often rather artificial-sounding efforts to understand one another;
- that it is normal that love and sex may not always belong together;
- that discussing money early on, up-front, in a serious way is not a betrayal of love;
- and that spending two hours discussing whether bathroom towels should be hung up or can be left on the floor is neither trivial nor unserious.”
(Alain de Botton, http://time.com/4354465/romanticism-relationships/)
For more Alain de Botton wisdom read here.
Sounds like pretty good advice to me!
De Botton goes on to say: “To be loved by someone is to realize how much they share the same needs that lie at the heart of our own attraction to them. Albert Camus suggested that we fall in love with people because, from the outside, they look so whole, physically whole and emotionally ‘together’ – when subjectively we feel dispersed and confused. We would not love if there were no lack within us, but we are offended by the discovery of a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we find only the duplicate of our own problem.” Alain de Botton, On Love
It’s once we started confronting our differences and weaknesses and really trying to make love happen despite them that we grew closer. It’s because of this that I recognize his qualities such as devotion, openness, real interest in my mind and soul, his willingness to accept and forgive, and his immense maturity as a person. He never made me feel like I was too complicated. He reads books about love and relationships, growth, and spirituality with me and we discuss them together. Everyone has their own list of things they are looking for in a partner. Emotional connection and a person to share my inner thoughts with were very high on my list. I have been blessed in that way with him. But we are far from the perfect couple, we sometimes fight unfairly, we disagree on some issues that leave us feeling upset, and we don’t get it on every minute or even every other minute. But we do make time for each other, make our love a priority, set intentions for our relationship and what we want to experience together. Then we do it!
So tonight, we are going to have dinner at Luce’s and get to know each other even more. Talk about life and love, how we came to be and how we can try to stay conscious for many more years to come. There will even be a little bit of romance, with a candle lit at the table and a nice dessert 🙂
Photos by the lovely @andrea_inspiratheque who during our stay at Biohotel Bergzeit asked us if we would do a photo shoot with her because we “look like such a sweet couple.” We were a little apprehensive at first because we’re not in front of the camera often and never as a couple. The pictures turned out great and really capture the different aspects of our love. Once again it shows that leaving your comfort zone reaps huge benefits 😉