What is Love?

Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more… 

Those of you who read my blog (I hope there’s a few) know that I like to overshare and not much is off-limits. This includes throwing myself out there as an expert on the L-word, despite being almost 40 and happily single. It’s only because I’ve gotten it wrong so many times that I can be audacious enough to think I’ve figured a couple of things out.

I’ve also curated an anthology called Letters to My Ex which has given some insight. Thirty women from around the world shared letters to an unnamed ex. As you can imagine, they vary greatly: some are loving and poignant, some are regretful, apologetic, but many tell a story of an incredibly high price paid for love – where the woman has put her own needs, wants, health and happiness a distant second to her partner’s needs, wants and happiness.

It is something I see around me all the time. “I’m so stressed, I would ask <insert partner’s name> for help but it will just make him angry – it’s easier to do it myself.” What is being said here is: my stress matters far less than that of my partner. I matter less than my partner. I am not free to speak.

As a woman who took the long, difficult road to learn that she matters just as much as any partner she accepts into her life, let me share with you an abridged version of my love life history over the last few years (please bear with me).

A few years ago, I met a man a little younger than me who I decided was the most awesome, kind and funny individual on the planet. My heart said, “something isn’t right” but my head said, “don’t be silly, look how nice he is to everyone. Look how nice he is to you!” I had a feeling he wasn’t faithful, but ignored it. I constantly felt uneasy and uncertain but tried to convince myself all was well, that I was the problem – I was being insecure. Naturally, I couldn’t address anything because I didn’t want to risk making him unhappy… (Oh, and by the way – yes, I was right).

Then, I went out with an awfully verbally abusive person who saw my light and decided to destroy it. I’m not sure why. This is a side note because I don’t feel like I learnt much – except that sometimes you can believe yourself to be “stuck” with a person who treats you terribly, when you’re only stuck because you keep telling yourself you are. Sometimes part of you hangs around because you think pain is better than nothingness.

I came to my senses and let go of that person, only to bump into “Mr Right” almost immediately. A little older, initially no attraction – but a great soul and a gregarious,  affectionate nature. I decided being older than me he was much wiser than me. He decided the same. It was great – I was treated like a Goddess, but only when I was the person he wanted me to be. Should I be too emotional, ask too many questions, be any form of “too”, all love and communication would cease and be held for ransom until I apologised. I started disliking myself for being anything less than what this “great man” wanted. I started telling him I’d try to change, to box my feelings in, so that he could be happier. Thankfully, that ended (although I wasn’t thankful at the time – utterly destroyed).

Then I made a friend. We became better and better friends until we somehow became a “something”. He provided me the space to be who I am. It felt like I could breathe again and share my “peace” with someone else, rather than give it away for the sake of love. I had a profound moment when I realised it’s OK to be imperfect, that I’m not a steaming pile of shit who needs to be different to make everyone else’s lives better. That said, he made me want to be a better human anyway – because he could “see” me. The more space you’re given, the less space you need.

That relationship was not forever either (timing, different life-stages, kids yada yada), but the mutual respect, friendship and love is. Furthermore, who says a relationship with an end date is “unsuccessful”? What a load of garbage; what a ridiculously high expectation. I know so many people in unhappy unions because they want a “successful relationship”. Time and success do not directly correlate!

Many of you understood all this far sooner than I did – but I think poet Nayyirah Waheed puts it best:

things. that should be asked
often. in every type. of relationship:
how is your heart.
is your breath happy. here.


3 thoughts on “What is Love?

  1. Louise Allan says:

    ‘The more space you’re given, the less space you need.’ My new favourite quote.

    I’m happily married—and I emphasise the ‘happily’. We’ve been together for over 26 years, over half of our lives, and to keep the relationship healthy over that time, both of us have had to change our behaviour at times. There are things we’ve both done to each other that weren’t very nice, and we’ve caused the other to feel pretty shitty at times. If I told people some of the things I’ve done, they’d probably say, ‘I wouldn’t have put up with that.’ And he could tell similar stories and get the same response.

    But we don’t like hurting each other, and deep down, we both know we’re good people, so we’ve tried to change our hurtful behaviour. It’s been a bit bumpy at times, nothing where we’ve ever been tempted to separate, but certainly periods where one has wanted change and the other hasn’t wanted to.

    I can’t stand the thought that I’ve hurt my husband, although I know I have, and I know the same goes for him. The thing is, we’re human and we’re imperfect, and we’ve both behaved badly at times—selfishly and immaturely. But I’ve learnt, in the process of this long relationship, that I’m capable of change and so is my husband, and that’s a good thing. I’ve also learnt that when someone tells you what you’re doing is hurting them, it doesn’t mean you’re a fatally flawed person. It just means you’ve got to stop that behaviour.

    This isn’t a lecture on how to have a happy relationship—it’s just some thoughts I felt like expressing after reading your piece. Writing about marriage isn’t easy, especially because it might be hurtful to someone you love. But maybe I will one day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Denise Mills says:

      Absolutely. It’s about sharing space with someone, isn’t it? You are allowed to be an imperfect human and so is your husband – you just try to do your best for each other.

      You wrote: “But we don’t like hurting each other, and deep down, we both know we’re good people, so we’ve tried to change our hurtful behaviour.”

      That’s the foundation a good relationship has to rest on, isn’t it?

      I care for you. I respect you. I will sometimes get it wrong but I will do my best.

      Not: I love you when you are exactly what I want you to be.

      The latter is what I once tolerated and confused with love. That is not love, it’s simply ownership.

      Liked by 1 person

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