This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Dear so sad today,
For years I couldn’t stop talking about how I just wanted a boyfriend. I was relationship-obsessed and was always having one-night-stands with dudes where I would get attached too quickly to someone and freak them out. Then I met my boyfriend and everything between us was easy. He was into me from the start and always called and texted and I was into him too, or so I thought. But now he wants us to move in together (it’s been about a year and a half that we’ve been together) and I am in panic mode. I just keep thinking is this it? Is this really it for the rest of my life? In a weird way part of me still wishes I was single or that I had met him a couple years later, even though that makes no sense, because I was kind of waiting for him my whole life. I’m attracted to him but I don’t want him in any kind of crazy or consuming way. I feel confused. I feel like I should be happier? Or at least more excited?
I don’t get it
Dear I don’t get it,
It sucks that fantasy isn’t reality. It sucks that the more actual time we spend with a person, the more they become, well, real.
It’s hard to get high off a real person. With a one-night-stand, we get to fill in the blanks of a stranger. We can project magical qualities, our unmet childhood needs, character traits we wish we possessed, movie tropes, romance novel plots, porn clips, video game heroes. There are so many empty spaces we get to fill with our imagination. It’s like attachment disorder Mad Libs. But as we get to know a person better, there are less blanks. We are forced to contend with the fact that they are human—not a magic wellspring of eternal potentiality and fulfillment. This can be disappointing.
I always thought that love was a feeling. All the art I admire tells me that this is true. I don’t want to read about a stable, committed relationship, wherein the protagonist and her love object text each other from CVS to say: u need anything? I want starcrossed, doomed, achey, melancholic longing. I want cliffs and moors, baby.
Likewise, I’d rather feast on crumbs than have a cake. When I’m served a German Chocolate cake, I know what I’m getting. But when I’m cobbling random crumbs together, it could be any cake. It could be the cake of my dreams! I’m basically no different than B.F. Skinner’s rats who pounded on their levers with more gusto when food was given to them intermittently than on a fixed schedule. It’s like I’m wired to crave unrequited love over constancy, adrenaline over equanimity, mystery over reality, because the former qualities get me higher than a steadfast, available, abundant, communicative, CVS-kind of love.
But what if love is not just a feeling, but a verb? What if love is a choice: an action we decide to take, rather than a spontaneous experience that happens to us?
When I think about love in those terms, I tend to value totally different things in a relationship. Suddenly, I’m no longer relying on another person to fill a vast hole inside me that could never be filled externally anyway, no matter how thrilling the short-lived adventure. I’m no longer seeking to be fixed, healed, rendered whole or distracted from existence by another human being. Rather, I’m thinking about what I can bring to the situation. It’s a shift in perspective that enables me to see the other person with new eyes. And maybe there is something sexy and mysterious about that kind of transformative gaze with a person we’ve known a long time. Maybe there is something sexy and mysterious about the cycles of long-term love: the way they flow, then ebb, then flow again.
Human beings tend to be grandiose about love. We want a cosmic answer: should I or shouldn’t I be with this person? We look for signs. We compare astrological charts. We see psychics. We wonder if there is someone else out there who we are really destined to be with. We worry about breaking up and we worry about not breaking up. We break up and we get back together.
But what if love is not so black and white? What if it’s always going to be a question of percentages: 63% love and 37% doubt, 57% this makes me happy and 43% I miss having sex with random people, 71% you’re good for me and 29% what was I thinking? In that case, there isn’t going to be a definitive answer—just continual shifts in perspective.
So, if you are waiting for a sign to move forward, you might not get one. But if you aren’t getting the same thrill from a committed partner as you once did from a total stranger, that’s probably not a sign that you shouldn’t.