I spent four hours talking with my two best girlfriends about love. All three of us are at similar stages in our lives: finished with college, single, living somewhat on our own, semi-heartbroken, semi-in love, feeling the urge to wander.
The conversation happened on a Saturday morning at an outdoor cafe in Wrigleyville, each of us with different degrees of a hangover, all picking at the scraps of food left on our plates.
I’m not sure how the talking began, but my girlfriend started explaining this ‘soul connection’ her and her ex have. I don’t know what the hell a soul connection is, but it sounded beautiful, like something you wouldn’t want to lose.
“It’s like your hearts just know each other,” she explained.
And sitting there, I couldn’t understand how she could know and feel all this, yet not actively pursue this person. In fact, she was the one who had broken it off.
She said that the communication between her and the ex was the issue. They would go days without talking and he would justify it with, ‘Well you know I love you. We don’t need to talk every day.’
Now that’s the sort of thing that just pisses me off. I’ve heard that phrase before (one too many times). And if you ask me, I’ll fully admit to being nosy. I want to know not only the big things in my significant other’s life, but also the little things–-what’d you eat for dinner? who did you go out to the movies with? anything different happen at work? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. So listening to her explain her ex’s justification, I could understand why she was frustrated. There’s that part of you that just wants to know, just feels that if someone loves you they’ll want to talk, even if it is just about the little things.
She explained how even though she felt such a love for her ex, the type of love she’d never felt before, she knew she couldn’t be with him. For her, the communication problem was just too much to push off to the side. She knew the two of them weren’t meant to be because she couldn’t compromise on something she felt so strongly about. And on his end, he wouldn’t meet her halfway.
The conversation got me thinking. Love is a powerful thing. And it’s also difficult as hell. We give our hearts to another person, but we expect the same thing in return. The problem is, people love differently. And the hard part is trying to understand how people love, and to love them back, but also realizing when people don’t love you how you need to be loved, that matters.
I’ve grown up believing that love isn’t selfish. In fact, my best friend said it about her own situation–“love is selfless.” But I’m not sure I agree.
A selfless love means putting someone else’s needs before your own. It means moving across the country to be with your significant other, even if you’re settled in a place you consider home. It means putting your communication needs aside and giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. And I don’t know if I agree with that.
Listening to my friend explain how hard her breakup was, but how she needed to do it because she couldn’t forgo what she felt in her heart, left me with mixed feelings. I admired her strength, that she was able to walk away from what she wanted because she knew there was something better out there for her. But I was also pained, because I knew it killed her to wake up every day without the person she loved, knowing he was only a minute’s walk away, but she couldn’t talk to him.
I’m not sure if love is selfless. The first step to loving someone is to love yourself. And loving yourself is selfish. Loving yourself means knowing what you deserve and not being afraid to claim that. Loving yourself means staying planted where you are and pursuing the job you want. Loving yourself means not accepting bare-bones communication. It means not settling. But if everyone is loving themselves, no one could ever love someone else fully because there’d never be a compromise.
How can you truly love another person if you’re always wanting to love yourself, to honor your own needs and desires?
But reverse that, if you’re always trying to honor your significant other’s needs and desires, you’ll never pursue yours. Selfless yes, but unhappy.
At this point in the conversation, I leaned back in my chair and surveyed the cafe and everything else around us. Across the street was a playground. There were children screaming, a background noise that I hadn’t noticed before. To our left was a mother, grandmother, and infant. The baby was pale white with blue veins on his head and beautiful blue eyes. Being a mother is selfless love, constantly putting someone else’s needs before your own. But a child is dependent. That makes it different somehow.
“Love is hard,” I said. My friend was putting the leftover half of her sandwich into a to-go box.
“No,” she said, and stopped messing with her food to look up at me, “love is easy.”
I had looked away then, looked back across the street at the children. They were yelling and scrambling across the monkey bars. They weren’t heartbroken or worried if they would ever fall in love again. They were just content on existing. On playing with chalk and waiting for the next meal. They were simple. And they were inherently and innocently selfish.
“The act of love is easy,” I said, thinking of how simple it was to see a person, to feel strongly for them, to want to be by their side, to want to give them everything. “It’s loving that’s hard.”
We sat at that cafe for a few more minutes. I thought about that idea, the idea that love comes naturally, but loving, learning to love, learning to find the balance between give and take, a combination of selfish and selfless–-that was hard.
Maybe love is about being selfish when it comes to finding the right person, because you need to find someone who’s right for you. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll know you’re with the right person because you won’t have to be selfish. You’ll both be so selfless that somehow you’ll end up in the middle, both making sacrifices, willing and happy sacrifices, that you’ll both end up with what you want. You’ll want to move across the country for them, but they won’t let you. Somehow you’ll find a middle ground, and no one will be settling.
Perhaps love is difficult with the wrong person. It’s easy to love them, to want to be with them, to crave that soul connection. But loving them is hard because they’re not the one.
Who knows? We really don’t know.
All I know from sitting at that cafe on a Saturday morning, is that love has to have a happy medium. You have to be selfish about what you want, but more importantly about what you deserve. But you need to love, and never stop loving. You just have to stumble ahead, opening your heart again and again, hoping it’ll all work out, never giving up, believing in this ridiculously difficult, but beautiful piece of what it means to be human.
Republished on Thought Catalog.