WHAT 21 COUPLES TAUGHT ME ABOUT LOVE

“This can’t be right,” I mutter to myself.

The man across from me glances up in surprise from his double latte and Time Out magazine.

I cast him an apologetic look — one that hopefully says, “No, I’m not crazy. Just an out of work, single actress here for the cheap hot cocoa and free Wi-Fi.”

I glance down at the list I’ve just made in my boredom at a café on 45th and 9th:

NAME             TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP                            WHY IT ENDED

Nick                 Dating: 2.5 years                                               We were 18

Jason               Dating: 6 months                                              He was a stalker crazy man

Don                 Dating: 2.5 years                                                I wasn’t attracted to him

Ken                 Dating: 2years                                                     He was a condescending jerk who drove me insane

Larry               …                                                                             He didn’t respect me

Eli                    …                                                                             He didn’t respect me

Cliff                 …                                                                              I wasn’t attracted to him

Aaron              Dating: 2 months                                              He was married…surprise!

Ryan               …                                                                             He didn’t respect me

Brian               …                                                                            I wasn’t attracted to him

Tarrell                        …                                                                 I wasn’t attracted to him

Lionel              Dating: 1month                                                I wasn’t attracted to him

Sam                 1 date                                                                     He’s a liar

Daniel             Dating: on and off 4 years                              It’s complicated…

Matt                  Dating: 1 year                                                    He didn’t respect me, he was condescending and he drove me insane…

 

I put my pen down to breathe. I am in serious need of oxygen here. Seeing all of this in list form makes my bleak situation look even worse. I’m turning 30 next week. 30!

What am I doing with my life? I don’t have a job. My boyfriend broke up with me over the phone a month ago, and I cry every time that song by Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” comes on the radio….

Last summer, I went through one of the most horrible breakups of my life. No. Scratch that. Itwas the worst breakup of my life. After being friends for six months and dating for almost year, I fell hard.

I had been in long-term relationships before, and I wasn’t naive. Yet, after nine months, I was ready to take the next step.

“Finally,” I told myself. “Finally, I’ve found ‘it!’ I guess sometimes you just know, you know?”

Then I got the phone call: “I can’t do this anymore. Sorry.…”

*Click*

And, that was that.

My entire world flipped upside-down. I realized I didn’t have a life of my own anymore. I didn’t have any friends of my own. All of “our” friends were now “his” friends. I felt completely out of control. I questioned all of my choices. How could I have envisioned spending my life with someone who was so cold and unfeeling? How could I have trusted him? How could I have possibly thought that he was my friend?

When I was younger, I used to think about life in very broad terms: “I like this person. I don’t like this person… moving on.”

And when it came to my intimate relationships? Well, I just didn’t have time to dissect the intricacies that came along with loving someone. It was very black-or-white for me. Either I loved someone or I didn’t. Easy, right? Not so much….

As the years have gone by, I’ve realized how fortunate I was to have grown up surrounded by loving and committed relationships. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends… I grew up surrounded by people who honored their commitment to stay together. It wasn’t until I went through the dating scene in my 20s that I realized just how difficult it is to maintain a healthy relationship, and not give up.

10 years ago, I was in college and saw the film, When Harry Met Sally, for the first time. I have always been fascinated by relationships, so the interviews of actual couples interspersed throughout the film were more interesting to me than the film itself.

“Someday,” I told myself, “I’m going to take this interview idea and put it on a much larger scale. I am going to shoot a full-length documentary that includes all different types of people, regardless of race, age and sexual orientation! I am going to make a documentary about love.”

After my massively horrible breakup last summer, I finally set out to film my documentary. I was on a quest to understand what love was. I interviewed a variety of individuals including newlyweds, widows, couples who had been married for over 50 years, interracial couples, and same-sex couples. These people shared their stories of how they first met, what their first impressions of one another were and ultimately, why they decided to spend their lives together. These interviews were spun together to become, Me+You: Love & Other Various Emotions.

Me_+_You_Cover

The interview process was simple. I asked 10 questions and let people talk. Sometimes they would ramble on for hours. Here’s what some of the couples I interviewed had to say:

 tammyjerry

“There’s no manual for marriage. There’s no manual for raising kids. You have to rely on each other and help yourselves get through things. You’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to learn how to forgive.”

Lynne and Paul

There are things that we all bring into a relationship. I won’t say “baggage,” but it’s your “stuff” that you’ve accumulated over the course of your life. I’ll just say it: relationships are difficult! So you have to be willing to work and listen and understand.”

Eleanor and Gordon
“You grow and develop separately. It’s inevitable. Maybe every five or ten years, people need to check in with one another. Assess where they are going and if they’re going along together because you make some vows, you know? Sometimes it might be good to look them over once in a while.”
Hilary and JM
“We just accept each other for who we are and focus on all the good in our relationship. As weird and uncomfortable as things sometimes get, the good stuff is so much bigger and better than the bad stuff could ever be. We focus on the good stuff so the bad stuff never becomes big. We move on.”

I think the most beautiful similarity that I saw with every couple was the fact that they accepted one another for who they truly were — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Every couple I interviewed cared enough about the other person in the relationship to work on the relationship when times weren’t perfect. I learned that relationships are hard at times, but if you are willing to put in the work, the end result can be incredibly rewarding.

We are defined by our relationships and by the people we allow into our lives. Whom we choose to spend our time with is indicative of how we feel about ourselves. Whether married, engaged, dating, or even single, relationships mirror our basic needs — we all want to be loved. We long to be accepted by someone who will love us unconditionally, beyond our faults and imperfections.  This is a basic human desire.

This year, I started asking myself, “What does a good relationship mean to me?” I have loved. I have hurt. I have been hurt. I have learned to protect my heart. I have learned to cherish myself. And I have learned to let people go.

I am still searching for the right relationship, but I now know that I am deserving of a loving, healthy relationship. And a year ago, I didn’t think I was. I’ve realized that I don’t want my past relationships to affect my future relationships. And I am starting to leave my baggage behind.

HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY LOVE

We have all been there. We have all been with that person who brings the “crazy” out in us. We don’t know why we’re acting the way we are, but our actions and decisions are not rational. We are not ourselves. The relationship is explosive. Exciting? Yes. But ultimately, Destructive.

Can this type of relationship still be defined as love? Obviously it is unhealthy…but the love feels real. In fact, because emotions are almost always running high, it can feel more real than “healthy” love.

I recently read this on www.midlovecrisis.com:

“I will never tell someone else that they are not in love or that another person doesn’t love them. I have come to understand that love comes in two forms: healthy and unhealthy. But it’s still love. Unhealthy love tells you that you are not enough, that you will never find anyone else who will love you, that you have put in too much time and energy to find anyone else, that because of something you did, you deserve what is being offered.

Healthy love does not demand what it is not willing to do. Healthy love does not keep tabs on you, berate you, and attempt to control you. Healthy love allows you to feel like you are looking at yourself in the mirror. It allows you to be who you are, to be enough, to be worthy, to be deserving of happiness, and to deserve love, despite what you have done in past relationships, who you have loved, and the choices you have made.” —Kristen Crockett

I never thought of love in terms of “healthy” and “unhealthy.” I suppose I just assumed that the “unhealthy” love wasn’t love. But this makes sense in a way. Unhealthy love is still a form of love. It’s just unhealthy.

So, really, it is a fairly simple decision. And an empowering one: Do you WANT unhealthy love in your life? Do you gain anything from having a person in your life who makes you feel less than?

Lynne and Paul, Married 26 years

“There are things that we all bring into a relationship. I won’t say “baggage,” but it’s your “stuff” that you’ve accumulated over the course of your life. And you have expectations for your life: For your career and for your love…whatever. You have an idea of what you think those things are or what those things should be. But then you realize that it’s not just about you. You have this other person to deal with now too. And this person comes with his or her own expectations about life and love. So how do you negotiate that? I’ll just say it: relationships are difficult! We are different animals. And not just male and female. There are fundamental differences in all people because we are all coming from somewhere else. So you have to be willing to work and listen and understand.” 

Hilary and JM, Married 7 years

“We just accept each other for who we are and focus on all the good in our relationship. As weird and uncomfortable as things sometimes get, the good stuff is so much bigger and better than the bad stuff could ever be. We focus on the good stuff so the bad stuff never becomes big. We move on.”

Eleanor and Gordon, Married 56 years

“You grow and develop separately…it’s inevitable. Maybe every five or ten years, people need to check in with one another. Assess where they are going and if they’re going along together because you make some vows you know? Sometimes it might be good to look them over once and a while.”