On Love, Simply

The funny thing about relationships is that they’re never what you think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing.

Relationships are a terrifying prospect. Relationships are, for me, a finely tuned machine, something that only works when so many tiny moving parts click into perfect place. Relationships are the result of effort, careful attention to detail, and compromise.

The beginning stages of a relationship can resemble a series of interviews. You are on your best behavior. You are spontaneous, energetic, upbeat, interesting. You are a carefully packaged product, marketed just so. You find someone whose company you enjoy, and you begin a relationship. There are dates, milestones, so many adorable firsts.

Eventually, after months of careful consideration for the other person, you get comfortable. I don’t really do comfortable. For me, being comfortable is a sign that something really bad is about to happen. Comfortable isn’t a state for the long haul; it’s a transient time from which you’ll someday cull happy memories.

But comfortable is a very real state, and eventually, it must be acknowledged and accepted, because sometimes, comfortable is the very best state, with far more potential for permanence than other sorts of emotions.

Letting someone see your weird is another part of this alignment of relationship longevity. You get past the initial interview process, the fun stuff, the activities, the really “deep” conversations about things, and you’re left with the day-to-day stuff. Day-to-day stuff is far deeper than any sort of philosophical debate.

That’s where everything you think you know about your relationship changes. Somewhere in the comfort zone, when you’ve let down your guard, you stop and realize that you’re in it for real, that this is real. You’ve stopped analyzing every text message for clues about love or chances at a fifth date. You’ve stopped panicking over which outfit to wear out (because you don’t have to wear anything but pajamas to stay at home!). You’ve started somehow syncing up your lives, your routines, your meals.

Eventually, it’s “we” and “us” and errands. (Those aren’t the worst things, after all, despite what we’ve heard. Errands are my favorite part of a relationship. If you can run errands with someone, you can be with someone. It’s that simple.) That mindset is a gradual progression, whereas the actions tend to move as swiftly as they please. (Or is it the other way around?) The feelings of “I love you” come long before they are spoken out loud, hesitantly, anxiously.

The best relationship advice I ever got was from a friend of mine who’s been with his girlfriend for three or so years (which, to me, seems like for-ev-er). He said, “You have to wake up every single day and decide to love that person.” It’s an active, ongoing decision. I love that. An active decision to love someone is so much more than that fairy tale happiness we’ve heard so much about (but very rarely see).

When I told boyfriend this yesterday, he scoffed and told me that he hardly wakes up every day and thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll love Katie today, but I’m only doing this for Acorn.” I laughed, then tried to explain to him that how I love him is constant, present always, just a soft hum of normalcy coupled with that deep-seated sense of need for proximity. “It’s just there,” I said. He knows what I meant.

What it is that draws you to someone isn’t what makes you stay with them, but sometimes the pull is unavoidable and the attraction undeniable. That’s when you finally have to accept that there’s something more there, that the questions and the expectations of how you thought you’d fall in love must be thrown to the wind (a pinch of caution should go, too, even though that’s terrible advice). It’s a weird journey. Sometimes it happens overnight but sometimes it takes forever to fall into place.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this internal fear about relationships ending. Maybe everyone does. Maybe that’s a universal fear. Maybe every relationship will end. Columnist Dan Savage once said something about how you date people, you break up with people, you repeat the cycle over and over, until finally, you start dating someone and you never break up. That’s slightly comforting.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been evaluating my relationship, removing myself from the bubble of “us” for assessment (something I’ve also tried to quit doing so much). We’re seven months in (this time), and other than the occasional little bump, we’re doing quite well. When we started dating again this summer, I was determined not to engage in the panic that goes with new relationships (or the resumption of an existing relationship). But I did, a little. The over-analyzing, the careful consideration.

But here we are, months later. I am comfortable now. It caught me off-guard. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know what I was imagining when I started, and perhaps not having any sort of idealistic outcome in mind is the best thing. It’s not all magical, twinkling lights and rose petals and candles, but it’s real. I like that. This is the real. I like it.

I have loved him for a very long time. I realized it this spring. During our first fight, almost six months into dating, I spat out, “I almost told you I loved you last night.” I had been holding onto it for so long, I knew it was only a matter of time before it came rushing out.

When he finally told me, he said, “I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you, but now I realize there was no more perfect time than when we were in the oak bottom with the leaves falling around us. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And I knew he meant it. Now, every time he tells me he loves me, I imagine the day we spent the morning on a hill in the forest in Mississippi, not hunting, but just watching the leaves fall down around us. It was magical.

Life is that weird journey where you have to let go sometimes and hope for the best, or at the very least, a great adventure. Love is, for me, the very best adventure.

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