There are three, and only three, rules to dating and to loving.
- Love is a feeling, and love is also a choice. You need both to make a relationship work.
- People’s actions matter infinitely more than their words – their words are a guidepost, and a test they set themselves. Your job is to see if their actions match up to their words.
- Who you are outside a relationship is exactly who you should be in a relationship.
And that’s it. Everything else is detail.
- Love is a feeling, and love is also a choice.
Most people have felt the feelings – you know what they are. The flutters, the wanting to be around someone, the smile that lights up your whole heart – whatever it is, you need it for there to be a relationship. But for a relationship to work long-term, both people also need to make a conscious choice to sustain, nurture, protect, earn, and trust that feeling – and the person that’s causing you to feel those feelings. And if one of those people fails to make this choice – and yes, ambivalence about choosing someone is a failure to choose that someone – then the relationship will not work. I am learning there are some people in the world that are extremely naive about this because for some people , such as myself, having the feelings is the choice. I’ll say that again: when I have the feelings, I have always instinctively just chosen the person. Of course, both people need to do this in order for the relationship to work, and, as it turns out, there are people for whom having the feelings does not mean they will choose the person – at least not right away. And actually there are good reasons as to why: The choice part of love boils down to if you can see yourself with this person, if you can see your lives blending in a way that will be positive for both of you, and if you can both fit within the needs and boundaries of each other’s lives. Love has to be a reasoned choice because everyone deserves to choose what and who are best for them – and you can’t know that with just the feelings. You have to see if values align, if values that don’t align can be worked on, if there are irreconcilable differences.
You also have to see how much – and I mean this – how much of a coward both people are – and you have to see how selfish and greedy both people are. This is one of the weirdest things I had to learn – because if there’s one thing I am not, it’s a coward. I go for what I want. I do what I want. I answer to my inner conscience, my compass, my soul. Not everyone has this built into them instinctively. I am also generally not a selfish person – I can’t in good conscience use someone else’s affections for me and passively agree to being the object of someone’s affections if I don’t have feelings for them. I get nothing out of such an arrangement, and I would feel genuinely weirded out and bad if I just took someone for granted, or if someone wanted much more than I could give them – but some people love the security of someone who will do anything for them – at least for a little while. They love the ease of it, because greediness is a trait that lends itself easily to laziness, and the paths of least resistance. They are not fighters. They are go with the flow types. They are chill. They will wonder why you are not chill. If you are this person, lackadaisical in your approach to people, relationships, love, feelings, consider quickly that people as they age will lose respect for you because nobody has time for your bullshit anymore.
Love is not “chill”.
Cowards and greedy people will take what you give them – they will happy to be the object of your affection, but they will never find in themselves the capacity to choose you, of their own volition. They are incapable. They may have the feelings of love, but the feelings will never be enough for them to make the choice to love, because to a coward, no feeling is as salient to their life as fear. Greedy people similarly will never ever prioritise someone else’s feelings – because why would they? They are selfish. They will prioritise their own ease of experience at all costs – whether they mean to or not.
But here is where I learned from a greedy coward I dated – love has to be a reasoned choice at least partly based in calculating fear, and risk. There is nothing wrong with a little fear. I generally don’t feel fear – I feel thrill and heartbreak, but rarely have I ever felt fear – but fear is important. Pain is important. Hurt is important. You need fear, pain, and hurt to tell you what your boundaries are for being treated well; these are the things that tell you if someone is good for you or not. It sounds simple. It’s not simple. It is also extremely simple and possibly more simple than you think. You can’t overthink fear or pain or hurt, but you have to listen to those feelings when they come up.
And then you need to be brave. You need to be brave when those feelings come up and check in with the person you are seeing and ask: “I’m a little nervous. Is this going somewhere or isn’t it? I feel things are maybe off because I don’t feel you’re choosing me – I feel like we’re going with the flow”. Bravery is about standing up for the boundaries you know you deserve – despite the fear that this person may leave. You must value your boundaries and standards for good treatment at all costs. This is part of how love is a choice – and should be a reasoned choice. Everyone deserves to assess another person’s qualities before signing up for a relationship with them – everyone deserves to see exactly what they are signing up for. Everyone deserves to meet someone who meets their standards of good treatment.
Here’s where shit can fuck up:
a) you can be an idiot like me who never makes a conscious decision about who she falls for – you can just choose a person based on the feelings and almost nothing else. Bad idea. This means you have no boundaries or standards – or very very very permeable/porous ones that shift routinely. It means you do not know what you want, not really. It means you risk a lot of things – including projection of your needs onto someone else, feeling someone else is the answer to your problems, feeling that someone choosing you will fix your life for you.
b) you could be a greedy person who wants the ease of sexual or romantic attraction that is going to go nowhere- this offers temporary joy that is nowhere near the kind of soul commitment/bond/whatever thing you may be actually too afraid to seek out. If you want short term bullshit that’s fine, but that might get old at some point
c) you could be a coward. And. This is so difficult for me to begin empathising with because I have fallen off so many emotional cliffs and recovered that the option to never approach the cliffside has only just recently begin occuring to me. And here is the beauty and tragedy of the coward: he will never know true love if he doesn’t change his ways because true love is stepping off that cliff – and flying. But he also is very very very keenly aware of his vulnerability. He knows or thinks he knows what he can and cannot survive. And maybe he cannot survive vulnerability right now. Maybe he cannot choose anyone but himself because he is in a place where he values fear, always, over love, always.
Here is the solution to all these fucked up situations – and they follow a common theme. See if you can find it:
a) if you are an imbecile like me who falls for someone without thinking consciously and well about how that someone is treating you fucking fix it. Literally, only you can. ONLY YOU can decide your boundaries for yourself, and your standards for good treatment. You get to assign every motherfucker that comes your way a fail grade, and every angel a pass grade, but you need to start assigning grades like a damn homeroom teacher in high school. You have to start. If you don’t fix it, people will notice very quickly that apparently for you, just “Anyone” will do – and no one wants to be anyone to someone they are considering as a special someone.
b) if you are a greedy/selfish piece of shit but you want true love, understand that you will sometimes have to make a choice. You will. You will simply have to make a choice to be there for someone, to actually put in effort, because love is not the easiest path – it is a path that demands you choose someone. Otherwise people will leave you. Who can fix this? Literally, only you can. And you should ideally do this and know this before fucking over someone else.
c) If you are a coward – and I smile writing this, because it’s hard for me to respect this trait, but I remind myself that yes, I have fallen for cowards because they offered other many beautiful and precious moments to my life: if you are a coward, you have to know what you stand for. You. The deep you. Not society, family, friends. Not norms, and whatever authority you answer to. Maybe some combination of things. You have to know what you will fight for, what you will stake a claim for. Love is vulnerability -but it is vulnerability protected. You have to get to a stage where you are comfortable with your own vulnerability enough to see if someone else will protect it – and if you can protect theirs. If you are a coward, you will let a thousand true loves go by, without ever acting on your feelings – such a date would be devastating to me, chronic cliff jumper, but I get it – you’ve never gone over even once.
So you don’t know if you will survive.
I can’t promise you that you will, but being fear oriented as you are, you know what you need, and what your boundaries for good treatment are. Use those wisely. And then? Work on being brave. Literally, only you can.
If you don’t, people will leave.
And that’s all folks, for Rule 1.