On Love

This is my 22nd consecutive post! That means that after today, I have 8 more days of this daily writing challenge. Pretty proud of that. Today I want to write about something that has befuddled me for along time: “romantic” love.

Specifically, I have to admit that love isn’t what I thought it was! I have heard some ridiculously varied opinions over the past few years of what love should/could be. The one that really gets me, though, belongs to Lori Gottlieb.

Lori Gottlieb wrote this article in the Atlantic way back in 2008, then fleshed out the thesis into a full-fledged book: Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough. I read the book in 2018, and it shook me to the core. Not in a good way.

I was 23. I had been with my boyfriend for a little shy of a year. He was a drummer, and I was a songwriter, and we did wild things like trip on shrooms together and go jazz club hopping in New York. It was going well. We said “I love you” because we felt that way, and we were monogamous, but were we actually committed to each other? I didn’t even trust him to have a bandaid at his place if I accidentally cut myself, let alone trust him with my life. When faced with the decision to move back to Rochester and continue building our relationship, or stay in Boston and break up, he had to think it over for a couple of months. Meanwhile, I waited in agony for his decision, and almost broke up with him in the process. This was all very normal 23-year old stuff.

But then I read Lori Gottlieb. And I started freaking out. I was absolutely terrified by this idea that Lori casually called “settling.” In my mind, I was completely screwed. In my mind, I had to choose: do I want romantic, head-over-heels, obsession? Or do I want a partner who is basically a glorified business associate? And Lori’s opinion? Go with the glorified business partner.

Looking back, I’m not surprised that I felt scarred after reading Lori’s book. Here’s an excerpt from her original article in The Atlantic:

Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.

-Lori Gottlieb

So yeah. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? Choosing infrastructure over “true love”? I wasn’t obsessed with my boyfriend at the time. It was a calm relationship, not an exhilarating one. It gave me room to grow. But it was built on conscious decisions and choices, not on infatuation. Up until that point, I had been in MANY relationships in which I was completely infatuated. I thought that was where it was at. I would sacrifice all of myself to make the relationship run smoothly. I would stare at the person’s face while they slept and obsess about about having kids with them in ten years. My sense of self completely disappeared when I was with them. I felt I was destined to be with them, and felt a sense of connection so strong that everything else in the universe melted away when I looked into their eyes. I would match my breathing to theirs when we lay next to each other because the synchronicity felt so thrilling. Writing it now sounds creepy af and incredibly unhealthy, but that’s what love was to me at the time.

And because of all the movies, books, and culture I consumed growing up as a woman the US, I saw this obsessiveness as the pinnacle of romantic love. Wild passion and disintegration of self was true love…right?

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. None of these relationships could ever become sustainable partnerships. There was the Swedish chef who didn’t reeaaaally want to move to the US, when I didn’t reaaaaally want to move to Sweden. There was the Nicaraguan jewelry maker who was only in town for the summer. There was the wannabe writer who wrote really bad prose about fighting in Iraq, which he had never experienced first-hand. There was the drunk dishwasher who took shots of Jack Daniels before every shift. There was the boy who sexually assaulted me when I was a minor. There was the obsessed-with-himself film score composer who may or may not have had a colossal crush on John Mayer. There was the tortured genius who consistently told me I was bad at everything. I was fascinated by these people, and totally into them, but the relationships were not only unhealthy and sometimes abusive, but also built on intense, ever-shifting emotions. They were volatile, and would never give me what I really wanted: a traditional partnership. And kids.

So yeah. I stayed with the drummer, who I wasn’t completely obsessed with and who didn’t have a first aid kit, because he was kind, super attractive, intelligent, and earned my respect every day. We had a lot of potential for a really solid partnership. I’m still with him, and we’ve built a strong relationship together over the last few years.

Is he perfect? No. Am I perfect? Hell. No. Is our relationship perfect? Nooo. Is our relationship what I need and desire? Yes. I don’t think I’m stuck in a binary choice like I thought when I first read Lori Gottlieb: business partner or infatuation. Now I think love is somewhere in between, a potent mixture of trust, decisions, desire, and learning to get your head out of your ass.

As you can see, I don’t have any definitive thoughts on this topic, because it honestly confuses the hell out of me. My sister told me a couple months ago that she believes that she can manifest a partner who is 100% compatible with her. I asked her incredulously if she really thinks there’s a perfect life partner out there for her. She said yes. She just has to meet him at the right moment. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing if she finds that person. I hope she does!

In my experience, though, nobody is truly compatible with me. INCLUDING ME. I am not even compatible with myself!! It’s taken years of work to even BEGIN to integrate all of the disparate parts of myself. So am I missing out on perfect, or is my sister holding out for something that doesn’t exist?

On Soulmates

Are we meant to find our soul mate? Do we have only one, or are there lots? Is this just another idea for us to gather around, warm our hands against, and use to make meaning out of our relatively meaningless lives?

Here’s what the internet has to say on the matter (you can read the full articles by clicking on the titles):

Wikipedia:In current usage, “soulmate” usually refers to a romantic or platonic partner, with the implication of an exclusive lifelong bond. It commonly holds the connotation of being the strongest bond with another person that one can achieve. It is commonly accepted that one will feel ‘complete’ once they have found their soulmate, as it is partially in the perceived definition that two souls are meant to unite. The term “soulmate” first appeared in the English language in a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822.”

Ooookay. There’s a lot to unpack here. The thing that sticks out the most to me is that this definition stresses an all-or-nothing type of partner. You’re gonna be with this person for all of your remaining breaths, and you are not whole without this person. This is the definition of “soul mate” I encounter the most. It makes me feel nervous and confined.

Merriam-Webster: “1) a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament
2) a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs”


This is a really funny one. The thing is, I would never, ever want to be with someone who resembles me in attitude. I just wouldn’t. So, by this definition, would I not want to hang out with my soul mate? I honestly don’t think I could make it one day hanging out with myself (what’s that? I live with myself every day? Oh yeah. Well, I don’t want any more of me around. That’s all I’m saying).

The Atlantic: “Take the idea of romantic destiny, or “soul mates”—the belief that two people are deliberately brought together by unseen forces…Believing in soul mates is functionally the same as believing that if you get a certain job, achieve financial independence, or move to a sunny place, you will have true and lasting satisfaction. Nothing is more human than this belief, which keeps us hopeful in spite of our negative experiences. But it is a recipe for unhappiness. We cannot attain permanent satisfaction—at least, not in this mortal coil—and waiting for it will leave us disappointed over and over again.”

This realist view really resonates with me. It makes me feel like I have power in my own trajectory. I get a calm, contented feeling, knowing that a relationship will be sustained not by a mysterious, ethereal force, but by my own decisions and response to challenges.

Seventeen: “Wondering if your bae is the perfect match? Here are 18 signs that will help you know if you’ve found your true connection.
1) You just know it. There is no test that will help you determine if you’ve found your soulmate or not. To figure it out, you just have to know it. You have to feel it in your gut, that this person is the right one for you.


Alright. You know what? I’m tired of hearing this bullshit over and over.

One time, when I was 15, I caught sight of a super cute guy at a traffic light one summer. I had been driving around like a hooligan with a group of friends. Egged on by loud whoops from everyone in the car, I leaned out of the open window and asked this guy if he would marry me. He said yes. Then we pulled over after the light turned green and had a little wedding ceremony. I knew he was The One – in that single, summer evening moment.

I know that’s an extreme example. But we aren’t living in some masterpiece painting, where we work on a single painting for our entire lives, always with the same color scheme, the same brush strokes, always keeping an image of the finished product in our minds. Our lives are more like leftovers soup. We’re pawing through the fridge, finding the old broccoli that nobody wanted to eat, chopping up celery, throwing some chicken in there, and stirring it around, shaking various spices in, just improvising our way through this lumpy bullshit. And then, in the end, it’s fucking delicious. Maybe not in the exact way we thought, but it is!

Brides.com: “You might be wondering if you met your soulmate on a vacation, subway stop, or that time in the rain when a stranger invited you to share an umbrella—but didn’t realize it at the time. According to Dr. Tobin, yes, this is possible. “Everything in life is about timing. I believe it’s a matter of self-knowledge. When you understand that a relationship is not about control or the simple need of fulfillment but is essential to our psychological and spiritual development, then you’re open to the possibility of meeting your soulmate.”’

YES. Yes to this. I never would have thought that I’d have a full fuck-yes to something written by Brides.com, but there we go.

Here’s what I think: I think we have lots of soulmates. Not just one. I think a soulmate can be a romantic partner, a friend, a pet, or even a stranger who you lock eyes with on the street for a split second. Sue me.

I understand having a gut feeling about someone and following that. You make decisions based on your gut feeling, and you just keep doing the next right thing. I’m doing that right now with my partner, who I love deeply. What I don’t understand, and don’t accept as true, is the other part of Seventeen’s claim: that you just know it. Life is so complicated as it is. Sometimes I don’t know what to eat for breakfast. Sometimes it takes a little bit of recalibrating, rest, or space to be able to come back to my “knowing.” I don’t “just know” anything. And I don’t want to. I’m just here improvising.

Here’s one more article, in case you really want to delve deeper into the soulmate idea.

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