Love, for me, has always been complicated. As a youngster, I always thought my first love would be for keeps. That the first kiss meant the deal was sealed forever, and the relationship was locked in for life. But real life is not a movie. It is definitely not a fairy tale. Different plans were charted out by forces beyond my control. Plans that would, at times, suck the soul out of me.
I have had the privilege of experiencing intense, passionate, illogical romance. The type that makes you forget the world around you and causes you to stutter and act foolish in your partner’s presence. It nudges you to write cheesy poems and bestow embarrassing gifts. You go to great lengths for the person to ensure they understand the value you bring to their life. The type of love where the self merges with the other and all boundaries and individualities diminish. On the flip side, the sort of young, inexperienced affection that cajoles you into tolerating mistreatment or disrespect and threatens you to compromise on your values just so you would stay confined to that perpetual dark zone. Your mind conveniently wants you to romanticize your forgiveness. “These things happen in love,” it protests, and you continue to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
These love stories of mine never (thankfully) lasted.
An ex once told me it’s better to be in a relationship with someone who loves you more than you love them. It acts as an effective self-preservation mechanism. When you are neck-deep in love, you kind of understand this theory. Minor disagreements tend to hurt, even if your partner is not at fault. Too much love can suffocate you. What else would explain us becoming overwhelmed by our own emotions to the point of no return? But how much is too much love? That’s subjective.
Deep love can often hurt because the level of emotional involvement is more. To step back and think logically is implausible, especially when all you want to do is cling to the person for dear life and unabashedly consume any space that exists between the two of you. It may be why many of us hang on to toxic love because, in a way, we are addicted to the person. Our love-struck system cannot tolerate being apart from the one we adore, even if we know the person is detrimental to our health. We longingly look out for our next “dose.”
Experience teaches you that some level of detachment is required to preserve your self-respect. You cannot merge yourself with your partner so fully that you lose your common sense along the way. “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you” is the new mantra. If you ignore this life hack, you lose.
Love has the power to keep you in a chokehold. All the chemicals in your body work harmoniously to prevent you from escaping this sea of love that, at times, is more adamant about drowning you than keeping you afloat. “You need them,” your mind justifies. “You won’t be able to survive without them.” Sometimes, you wonder why your own system is working against you. Why can’t it produce fewer chemicals and give your brain a chance to defog at least twice a day so you get some leeway to make rational decisions?
Often, some intensity imbalance is required to balance a relationship. Ironical, isn’t it? It’s never 50-50. Fighting for that 50-50 is when the balance goes haywire. Your whole focus is on whether equality is being maintained. A 40-60 is good enough, where each partner is mature enough to take the lower percentage of the deal, depending on the situation. But maturity is scarce, often leading to one partner compromising more than the other, accumulating bitterness in the long run.
I am in a proper healthy relationship at the moment, which feels different. Does he love me more than I love him? I am not sure. It feels equal. But less intense than any of the previous ones. It feels more mature, where things are discussed rationally, and no disrespect or insults are thrown generously into the air. We talk like proper adults with our negative emotions in check. For someone so used to an overflow of feelings, war of words, and flurry of insults, this silent, peaceful lull feels refreshing.
I can’t help but wonder if age and experience have a role to play in how he and I feel. He confided in me that he used to have no control over his words or emotions in his 20s. He used to be an angry young man, possessive, and naive. This contrasts with his current version, a wise man humbled by his own life experiences. It may be why “first love” is unique. Our emotions are intense in our formative years, and age has a way of watering them down. It is not that the love we experience later in life isn’t true. It becomes more guarded because you subconsciously filter your emotions through the lenses of your previous relationships. You learn your lessons, and you get better. But some of the dreamy rawness gets lost in the process.
If you are happily married to your first love, you might not relate to this post. But those who have had some failed passionate relationships would understand this feeling of being “in love” but also knowing the person isn’t right for you. The agony ends up changing you and even your future relationships because nothing molds you more intricately than experience. We are a sum of all the experiences we have been through, and each of us has a different journey that we have carved out on our own. It is understandable, then, why the concept of the “ideal relationship” may vary from person to person and may evolve over time. What I feel about love now is drastically different from my 20s. Earlier, I used to prioritize PDA and gifts. Nowadays, I prefer the subdued kind.
Do I miss the passion and cheesiness of my earlier relationships? Sure. But they have also taught me to step back and feel gratitude for the security and peace that comes with a healthy, respectful one.