A Look At Love

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With Valentine’s Day fast approaching I find myself frequently faced with tacky merchandise marketed to represent tokens of love. At this time of year I make a conscious effort to remind myself what true love looks like, and I can tell you this…

it does not come in the form of a heart wrapped in red foil.

Relationships take work. This has been the theme of the past year when chatting with girlfriends and talking about life. We are a mixed bag when it comes to love. Some of us are single, married with kids, married without kids, engaged, divorced, or in counseling. Not once have I heard the phrase, “Being in a relationship is supposed to be easy.” I don’t believe that this means being with someone has to take a toll on your heart and be a constant battle, but I do believe it refers to the dedication and tenacious commitment it takes to meet another person’s needs aside from your own.

I was recently out for coffee with one of my single male friends. We were talking about relationships and he said, “I’m waiting for the fairy tale.” All I could think to myself was, “For real?! You’re single, heading toward 40, and you still believe in the fairy tale?”

Waiting for a fairy tale relationship… most, if not all of the women I know, single and married, gave up on that notion a long time ago.

I thought this was an anomaly until I heard two other guys in their 30s say this. I was blown away. These sentiments did not resemble the nitty-gritty, tissue-ridden conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends. I find it interesting that some of the single guys I know are still waiting for a fairy tale relationship when most, if not all of the women I know, single and married, gave up on that notion a long time ago.

I don’t think that hoping for the ideal is wrong. In fact, I strongly believe in people chasing their dreams and becoming the best they can possibly be at whatever it is they hope to do in life. When it comes to relationships though, my approach is much more cautious, hesitantly optimistic perhaps.

A friend said to me, “You don’t make it to your 30s, still single, without having experienced a gut-wrenching heartbreak. At this stage in the game, we’re all slightly damaged.” I think for many people, that statement rings true. We all have our baggage, those places inside that still cause pain because we have not yet learned how to let them go.

The couples in my life display a varied mixture of happiness, struggle, heartbreak, and incredible friendship. The more I observe them, watch them participate in life together, the more respect I have for the complexity of relationships. I believe when two people find the secrets that make a marriage work it is no small miracle.

Fairy tales may not exist in real life, but true love sure does. I see it every day and it rarely displays itself in the form of white horses, flowers, hearts, chocolates, or love notes.

Love is... bookTRUE LOVE… exists in the wife who is seeing her husband through the physical devastation of cancer.

TRUE LOVE… exists in the spouse whose loved one returns from war tormented by PTSD.

TRUE LOVE… exists in fertility struggles for the couple that refuses to place blame and determines to keep trying.

TRUE LOVE… exists in bitter fights when careless words are thrown and apologies are tearfully spoken.

TRUE LOVE… exists in the comfort of a loved one’s nearness during the darkness of depression and loss.

TRUE LOVE… exists in the joy of children and the commitment to raise them in a dedicated partnership.

TRUE LOVE… exists when a wife loses her job and her husband encourages her to pursue her dreams no matter what it takes.

All of these are real life examples that I have seen lived out and been truly inspired by.

In her book “A Thousand Days In Venice” Marlena De Blasi paints a picture that has remained with me for years. She writes, “Living as a couple never means that each gets half. You must take turns at giving more than getting… there are seasons in the life of a couple that function, I think, a little like a night watch. One stands guard, often for a long time, providing the serenity in which the other one can work at something. Usually that something is sinewy and full of spines. One goes inside the dark place while the other stays outside, holding up the moon.”

Holding up the moon for loveHow hauntingly beautiful, to imagine the inner strength and patience required to be light and peace to the person you love when they need so much more than they are able to give. What a lonely place that can be, and what a responsibility, to guard another person’s heart at the expense of your own for a period of time. To me, this is what true love looks like. The fairy tale often lacks the depth of a love tested by fire.

One of my girlfriends who is married to a man I truly admire says that she has two phrases she repeats to herself about her husband when they face challenging times:

“You inspire me to become the best version of myself.”

“With you, I will grow and evolve in my capacity to love.”

She refuses to dwell on his shortcomings and displays the admirable quality of taking responsibility for the way she will react during a tough time by focusing on the value the relationship brings to her life. She “holds up the moon”.

There is a good possibility that Saint Valentine, were he here today, would be slightly shocked to see the holiday evoked in his name. He was a man who gave his life to the assistance of persecuted martyrs, eventually becoming one himself on the fated date of February 14th. The man displayed an example of the highest degree of love possible: to lose one’s life for something the heart truly believes in.

As the poet Ogden Nash rhymed, “I claim there ain’t another Saint as great as Valentine.”

Editor’s Note: We originally published this piece on February 12, 2013. Due to its overwhelmingly popularity, we wanted to share it again this Valentine’s Day.

Leah LaRocco, WYSK Lifestyle Contributor About Leah LaRocco, WYSK Lifestyle Contributor

Women You Should Know Lifestyle Contributor Leah LaRocco is a Long Islander who now lives in Franklin, Tennessee and works in the music industry for The Recording Academy. Her greatest pleasures include BBC drama, good British tea, botanical gardens, Betsey Johnson dresses, and playing with her two cats, Maddox and Myrtle. You can read more about Leah’s adventures in life and perspectives on people, places, and things on her personal blog Edges Like Sea Glass.

  • AJ

    Love means giving more than you expect to receive. One of my high school religion nuns told the class something similar to what Marlena De Blasi says, and I have never forgotten it. She said that true love means a commitment of much more than 100%. For me what she said meant that being in love requires a very deep “…dedication and tenacious commitment … to meet another person’s needs aside from your own”, just as Leah says. In other words, do not think that giving 100% of yourself is enough. You must continually give more, and if you do, you will receive so much more. Relationships do take work, and it is only with true dedication to the relationship and to the other person where we will find true love.

  • Guy from Hells Kitchen

    What a great article. Well written, she has hit the nail on the head. If more people felt the way she does there would less troubled marriages and fewer divorces.

  • Laura Brennan

    This article was such a pleasure to read. I really related to Leah’s beautifully written descriptions of relationships and true love. In my opinion, true love in the form of a healthy intimate relationship, requires that both partners are self possessed (or at least on their way with a good therapist-;)) , are flexible in many aspects of their way of life and are able to communicate with the intention to forgive or be forgiven. This might sound like a tall order when it comes to partnerships but after all partnerships are decisions. One really has to decide what he/she can tolerate, what is a deal breaker and what behavior can be rehabilitated within that relationship. These “rules” go both ways so both people need to be open and accepting of a partner describing painful flaws or hurtful scenarios. Let’s face it, life can be very trying at times. It is in these times that you rely on your partner for support to carry you through for “this too shall pass” always sounds incomprehensible in the moment. It is only after you have weathered the storm that it makes any sense. Hopefully, the person reminding you of this is your true love. I know that it is mine. Marrying my husband of 12 years was the best decision of my life. I am not sure how I came my decision but I thank God everyday.

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  • Fay

    This is a beautiful article in both content and form. LaRocco cites a book, A Thousand Days in Venice, which I plan to read.