I believe in romance. I don’t care how that sounds. If you’d asked me a year ago, when I was in the depths of dating hell… well, things were different. I believed that ‘better’ had to be out there, but I couldn’t see any tangible way to find it. It was a time when the only potential partners I seemed to encounter were the ones with ‘too much emotional baggage’ to really date, simply too cowardly to be vulnerable. Prospective partners fluctuated between entirely unavailable and actively quite problematic. I get it, though. It’s tough. The world is scary, everyone is time pressed… Plenty of us choose to be frightened over the possibility of discovering something satisfying, if emotionally risky. We all make our choices in this regard.
I have chosen to keep searching. And real romance was worth it.
This year I met someone, after years of singledom. A complete coincidence perhaps, but one which felt to me to have a near cosmic significance. The truth was that I had seen him once before at a distance, at a Meetup I used to attend. I remember thinking, “He is my kind of person.” This was from across a room, having never spoken. It was something about how he carried himself. I took note of him, but we didn’t pass by again at the group.
So when, on a late February day, my friend who runs the group said he was meeting someone for coffee and asked me if I wanted to come along, I was hit with a feeling I can only describe as the deepest kind of instinct. I knew it would be him. And lo and behold, who should show up? The man I’d taken note of from across a room. There he was. Finally, we had a chance to talk.
We spent time together, got to know each other, and now we are happily in a relationship. Sure, this story of our meeting would have no significance if he’d turned out to be wrong for me. Instead it feels profound — bigger than any one person can be, than any explicable reasoning can provide. That’s the nature of a great love.
I have written plenty about the pitfalls and traps of negative relationships — the kind that drain you, challenge you… But today I want to offer up something else. I want to share my observations about what makes for a truly beautiful romance and relationship. I want to share what contentment and love can feel like.
They are interested in the real you and vice versa
One of the most striking features of this relationship for me has been just how excited we have each been to discover each other — maybe this speaks to the nature of my previous relationships — but in this one I’ve had the freedom to really be myself and know that my partner wants to know that person, as I really am and not as he imagines me to be. He wants to see the real me, and I want to see the real him.
As a person who works in a creative career, I have found this challenging in the past, primarily because my partners have applied a notion of what ‘someone like me’ should be like. They assumed I was scattered or unreliable or someone with ‘creative moodiness’ or sometimes even completely incapable of logic. Just because I do a creative job doesn’t mean I don’t have my house in order. Many traits are assumed according to what we do— accountants must be dull, bankers must be materialistic, etc etc. All of which is crap. Even if there is a higher likelihood of someone being a certain way because they do a certain thing, it doesn’t mean that that is a shorthand for who they are. There’s still so much to discover.
You can call each other on your bad behaviour without fear or judgment
If you’re in fear of speaking up when your partner has done something hurtful, it’s a problem. Heather Havrilesky says it best here:
Attention, single people! If your date or partner treats everything that happens as YOUR FAULT ALONE, run the other way. Do not, under any circumstances, marry that person.
A reasonable partner will realise that it takes two to tango — not everything is your fault, not everything is their fault. If you’re too afraid to say what you feel because you know it will be a crazy drama, that’s not ok. Sometimes they do bad shit. Sometimes you do bad shit. But being able to just say, “Actually, that wasn’t great.” And explaining exactly what is troubling you, is the step forward you need to developing a really understanding relationship with someone. Not taking score, not obsessing, not manipulating, not judging or putting down — feelings are feelings, and you should be able to talk about them with the person you call your closest person, without it seeming like the guillotine is falling.
My partner and I are both fairly emotionally aware people — but where I tend to exert my emotions directly when I’m angry or frustrated, he sometimes needs coaxing to admit that’s what he’s feeling. There was a time when this felt like an incompatibility — like I was too volatile and he was deceptive. But quickly we realised that this was just a difference in communication styles, and instead we could just be honest about our perception of what had happened without making it a barbed personal attack. We can take into account how we know we each are, as well as what we need.
It’s hard to remember in a disagreement, but we do our best to ensure that if there’s a problem, it’s the problem under discussion, not who we are as people — it’s the behaviour that’s been bad, not the intrinsic nature of our partner. Much of this is to do with the fact that we both believe people can change, and that by giving the benefit of the doubt and giving the other person an opportunity, we can address behaviour.
A policy of no-judgment permeates from the most minor of sillinesses, the most passing of comments, through to the bedroom and through to the big questions. We make sure that an understanding of fairness, of listening, and of remaining open-minded, is always first. We don’t have to agree; we have argued. But there has to be a chance first, to listen and to speak, to think and to act.
You develop your own language and way of communicating
A clear follow on, you start to learn each other’s modes of relating and communicating information. You start to develop a language that both of you speak.
Empathy is a tricky one. There’s feeling for someone who has explained their plight to you, but then there’s the kind of empathy and generosity that I think forms an essential part of a very close relationship. That desire to assume the best and understand, to feel your partner before they have to be explicit about what they need. This develops with time of course.
My partner is an observant person, and it’s been quite new for me to feel that he senses if there’s a problem before I have to say anything. He is always asking questions, and so am I — we are always getting closer to understanding better. We step towards each other when things are tough, not away.
To quote the infamous ‘love languages’ for a second, I have to say that I have noted their truth in our relationship — we both highly value quality time and physical touch. We are affectionate people, and we like to do things like cook together, share a meal, talk deeply. We both need quality time and we know this. Of course we don’t both do things 100% the same — I’m more likely to give verbal reassurance of my feelings, and he is more likely to demonstrate using acts of service. Working out the needs of your relationship takes time but once you hit the rhythm, it feels wonderful.
You’re always open to adventure and discovery together
My partner and I sort of skipped a lot of the dating ‘rules’ — our approach to everything in the field of romance is spontaneous, so no ‘3 dates this and 4 dates that’ or anything similar. We just spent time together, asked each other a tonne of questions, and started to relish in the details of each other.
So our discovery of each other and getting to know each other has always been accompanied by adventure. We do a lot of different sorts of things — we happen to align on ‘openness to experience’, which for both of us is quite important. To others it might be less so. But by being open to newness, we are always excited to experience the world together. We are always exploring and learning, together. It complements the discovery and learning that I do myself.
You develop a rhythm; you can change it together
When two people start to co-exist, changes invariably happen. Your routine and their routine have to somehow align. And unless you are very magically almost the same person, this takes adjustment — it requires flexibility and generosity. You develop the rhythm that works for everyday life, if you’re able to find this way of coexisting.
With my partner, I am more myself than I have been with anyone. I trust him more, I am safer with him. Our rhythm permeates everything around us. We have our own way. Before him, I was a different person. So was he. I was more afraid, more inhibited, more insecure, too afraid to act on needs. My creativity seemed like something to hide. He was uncontrolled, erratic, less aware of what he needed. He seems to have been more at sea. We give each other balance, security, excitement. We want to develop, we don’t want to stand still. I have faith that we will continue to do so, together.
Love doesn’t solve everything, but it offers up so many opportunities. With him, I feel more capable than ever. I feel ready. I will continue to grow and be myself as best as I can be, and he will continue too — we’ll just both know the power of that other person, there to hold and to speak to and to confess to and to care for and be cared for by… We exist now in two worlds, this one and the one of our own making. That is the power of true romance.
Happy birthday to my S, I love you.