Real love isn’t always rose and lavender, sometimes it’s a lot more like manure. But maybe loving the fertilizer is the secret of a lasting relationship.
Last week, as I scrolled through Facebook, taking in shreds of information about my friends’ lives and digesting ads the Facebook mind readers though I would click on, I came across a meme. One of the countless memes I see in a day. This one spoke to me. I can’t remember the exact words embroiled within the misty and romantic PhotoShop background, or the scrolling font lovingly depicting the sparse, strict edict of what must be a life lesson, but the gist of it I didn’t forget: real love means loving your mate’s filthy heart.
How easy it is to embrace a love shiny and new, to forgive all the oversights that happen merely from people being people: a lapse in memory regarding a dinner date, a birthday party or gift one’s spaced on, a slip of the tongue coated with an exhole’s name. Gasp! The little nuances that when you are first with a new someone, a person you are growing increasingly interested in, say, you willingly forgive.
During those young days of a relationship we all bend over backward to excuse the rudest and most piggest of all behavior, we laugh errors and miscommunications off, and we leave our burgeoning love comforted with soft rainfall kisses and the understanding we will always take them to be at their best. We will buy any excuse, no matter how steep the cost. How can we call that love? More appropriately, let’s call it baby love. Everything is rosy and creamy and lavender scented, it even smells hypoallergenic like all baby products. To quote a friend of mine from high school, “their little poos come out in a baggie with a ribbon tied around it.” Really.
Fast forward from this stage into the more mature and ripened phase you might be in now if you are in a committed relationship. Maybe you are married, or live with someone, and there are days you work so hard to merely tolerate that person, that you know darn well, and can prove, Your Honor, that never were there baggies and bows. This person is real, hairy, crabby, insecure, childish and everything you would never knowingly attempt to seek for your own. This person does not live in the fairytale books that you imagined as a child, unless perhaps, they played the part of the troll living under the bridge.
But here’s the spoiler, that’s real love. It’s filthy, dirty, vile, rude, galling. It hurts sometimes and makes you feel small and wrong and embarrassed. It doesn’t always bring out the best , but as long as it brings out a feeling, an evoked emotion of caring, as long as you are happy more than you are confused or sad, you’ve got love. Real love.
As a pacer runner who’s made a few laps around the track, I have had many moments to reflect on what makes a relationship work. I have given myself time outs, taken myself out of the game, to figure why my relationships failed and I blame Disney! It is not realistic to expect any “nevers” in a relationship or any “always” either, because you are shacking up with a genuine, flesh and blood fallible person who will get upset and irrational when playing board games, especially when you scoop Scrabble with the word “Zen.”
A person who sleeps next to you and appears to have gargled curry in the night, but no worry, they will still reach for that wet kiss in the morning. Real love is funny, hysterically amusing. And the concept of anything less than real, of the staggering stereotype there is any other, a perfect pearl of nurturing, of flawless hair and skin is flawed. But this is what we grew up thinking anyway if we had a good childhood and got lots of exposure to baby love.
At the first sign of organic emotion spouting from the person who is supposed to love you, do you panic? How many times do we suffer anxiety before deciding we don’t care about that person enough to stick around? Raise your hand if you’re guilty. See my fingers in the air? Waving around in the wind? I’m proud to have been a coward because it has brought me to here.
And this isn’t some essay with a gooey, saccharine ending. The story goes on, because the outcome of the story depends very much on where we decide to end it, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway. So is real love staying? Never allowing the “D” word to exit your clenched lips? Is real love shutting off your fight or flight instincts in the fieriest moments and squashing “poor me” monologues? Yes, but there’s more, one more sinful secret to reveal.
As a veteran lover and leaver, my observations point to tolerance. Maybe instead of idolizing flowers, romance and towering expectations, we should look deep into each other’s eyes and coo these magic words? “I tolerate you.”
I tolerate you because you are worthy, because the great days rise above ones where sometimes I feel lonely and irritated. I relieve you of the duty of being responsible for my happiness, because I tolerate you and I know it’s too heavy a burden. And if it is real, I am going to keep on tolerating you through the times when you can’t for the life of you, clean out the sink, or remember to shut the door soundly so the cat can’t slink into the room in the middle of the night to tap dance on the bed.
I tolerate you, because to not do so would hurt you and I care about you on the inside, how you are doing. I care about you more than I want to hurt you. And believe me there are times… I tolerate and accept you for being you, because you are good enough for me. Through sickness and your vile bathroom habits, through your convenient manner of balancing garbage on top of an overflowing pile, I tolerate you and your filthy rotten, dirty, scarred and somehow ideal heart. Just as you tolerate me.
Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.