I have spent the majority of my teenage and adult years as a mindful observer of the dating scene. For the most of my college career, I played the role of the single friend that dished out (solicited) relationship advice and built her buddies back up after brutal breakups. Occasionally, I caught flak from friends and family for not experiencing enough of the dating scene first-hand. Apparently it’s a widely accepted notion that the only way to determine what you want and need out of relationships is to work your way through many of them yourself.
Sure, I’ve learned a few really significant lessons from my own dating experiences, but I’ve also taken a lot away from other people’s trials and tribulations. In fact, my friends’ experiences have taught me what I consider to be the most important lesson of all – that Disney movies, romantic comedies, and teenage sitcoms have really failed us. When it comes to establishing meaningful, enduring relationships, love is not enough.
Love connects two people. It draws them close to one another, causes them to care for one another unconditionally, and makes them lose sight of each other’s flaws. But love develops regardless of compatibility.
Two people can fall in love in spite of the fact that they are at two very different places in their lives. They can fall in love in spite of their conflicting life goals and values. They can fall head over heels for one another while ignoring one hundred red flags. And unless both partners learn to use both the loving and logical parts of themselves in tandem, someone is going to end up getting hurt.
I don’t mean to sound unromantic. Of course love is important. But many of my friends that have wound up deeply hurt in relationships by spending too much time listening to their hearts and too little time considering logic. Bear with me. Often, these people experience moments in which they question their long-term compatibility with a significant other, but ease their own minds with the, “love is all you need” mantra.
Unfortunately, there are cases in which love is not all you need. For instance:
- Someday you may fall head over heels for someone who’s simply at a different point in his or her life in terms of his or her career, education, or maturity level. Maybe someday your lives will fall into sync, but right now, one of you will experience the stress of having to catch up, while the other feels like he or she is moving backwards. You may care for each other deeply, but if your life circumstances are putting serious strain on the relationship, it might be time to let go.
- At some point you may meet someone whose dreams are just too inconsistent with yours. Maybe you hope to travel the world, to own your own business, and settle down later in life, while your significant other wants to stay close to home and settle down while he or she is young. It isn’t fair for either one of you to sacrifice your dreams or tailor your life goals to suit your partner. Someone will end up bitter and unhappy. Sometimes compromise can only take you so far.
- Maybe you’ll be one of those unfortunately people who falls deeply in love with a person whose values regarding religion, finances, and/or work just don’t match up with yours. It’s fine while you’re young, but you’ll run into major issues later on if you hope to get married and raise a family together. Better that you realize that now than 5 or 10 years down the road.
Ending a relationship with someone that you care deeply for doesn’t make your love any less significant. It doesn’t mean that you wasted your time on another person or that you were wrong to consider that they may have been your soul mate. It simply means that external variables got in the way. In fact, I hate to love this Elizabeth Gilbert quote because it’s sappy as hell, but it suggests something that most people fail to consider—even failed relationships are worth our time, because soul mates may come into our lives on more than one occasion. Gilbert writes:
“People think your soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”
So here’s my advice to you all: When you’re feeling your way through the first few months of a relationship, observe the other person and be honest about what you see. Your emotional connection to that person is incredibly important, but be honest with yourself about your long-term compatibility. Maybe you’ll be happy in the short term, but this person will simply end up being one of the ones that comes into your life to shake you up and teach you a thing or two about yourself. If you realize that your lives are bound to diverge, it’s best to let it happen early rather than holding on to false hope that love will magically solve all of your issues.
In the end, love is powerful, but love on its own isn’t enough.