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When it comes to an answer to the meaning of life, philosophers, poets and songwriters—even scientists—all lean in the same direction: connection, as in relationships. The bonds we have with the people we love. So why, then, is love so damn hard sometimes?
Romantic love is complicated. In fact, it’s a good thing we don’t know how complicated it can be when we first feel it. Imagine, each partner in a couple has their own history, experience and expectation of what love will be, and then you add in all the stuff you don’t really know yet about the other person. Honestly, it’s a miracle any two people ever make it through a lifetime together. But they do.
I may have inherited my faith in romantic love from my old-movie-buff mom, who believed with every fiber of her being that deep and everlasting love was the true meaning of life—despite her own life-shattering divorce. I think it was her palpable faith in the concept that spilled over and seeped into my system.
According to science and statistics, only a fraction of people ever find their way to the deep, connected, lasting love that those philosophers and poets write about, a far smaller group than those who stay together because it’s too much work to leave, or who settle for better than nothing, or who choose to ignore a lost connection. Yes, the lucky winners who get to live love every day in a way that makes life more meaningful are rare. But it actually isn’t luck—it’s all a choice. Where we land, how we feel, how it rolls inside the love we live are the results of the choices we make.
How do you love the person you’re with? It’s not something we ask ourselves on a daily basis. We’re creatures of habit, preoccupied, distracted and caught up in our everyday lives. It’s not exactly on our list of things to do today: “Pay attention to how I love my person.” But maybe it should be.
We all have the same chance at finding our way to great love, the best love of our lives. It isn’t just for other people. It’s there for all of us, if we pay attention, push and find the will to want to get there. But it might take looking inside ourselves at the things we usually try so hard not to see. We need to consider how our backstory influences the ways we manage and cope—and how we might be ready to shift. Only we have the map to the inside, and it takes being brave to push ourselves to find what we can do or see differently. Is there anything we can do to better the bond? It’s human nature to want to blame the other person, but first, we have to look at ourselves. Sometimes we simply need to search less for what we don’t like.
Of course, love takes two willing participants. But it takes only one to decide to gun for something better, deeper. The genius of love is how authentically responsive it is—when one partner decides to change it up and move it forward, the other can’t help but return it, and the chance for greatness opens wider.
Love will always carry challenges, but it is our shot at something incredible, some of deepest meaning life knows. If we’re lucky enough to have a person, and courageous enough to see ourselves, all that’s left is to reach for more. Maybe wake up tomorrow and ask yourself, “How will I love my person today?”
About our expert
Single mom of three Liz Pryor is an author, speaker and advice expert who tells it like it is. Her books include What Did I Do Wrong? and Look at You Now. Her writings, talks, and advice can be found at lizpryor.com.