It was a cold December day when I chose the comfort of my bed over the hype of another Silicon Valley Christmas party. I spent the evening browsing the catalogue of men on Tinder, wondering if my soulmate could actually be a finger swipe away. When M’s profile came up my heart skipped a beat. I remembered meeting him last year, and falling for his big brown eyes. So I swiped right and he did too.
We talked for hours over text, agreed to go to a Sufi festival in India together and promised to meet when he was back from NYC, a month later. Fueled by distance, longing for love and two intense personalities, our story escalated fast and by week 3 he dropped the love bomb.
I told my family, friends and anyone who wanted to hear that I found “The One.”
This is not a happily ever after story. When the day came to meet in person, things changed. M was not the sweet loving man he was through the screen. He distanced himself and within a week it was over.
I was officially heart broken.. and embarrassed, and turning 29. I could try to get over it and find another man, or pause, for once, and reconsider my approach to romantic relationships.
And so I decided to focus as part of the January Find your Passion Class on a passion project of a different kind: Revisit my beliefs on love, and write an article about my discoveries and submit it to the NYTimes. I took 100 days of romantic abstinence, researched relationships by talking to 9 couples who “work,” hired a relationship coach, read three books, attended two workshops and learned a thing or two.
1- The story is a story
I often fell in love with the fairytale story, not with what I was actually experiencing. Our society and culture, since we are kids, bring to the forefront the concept of “happily ever after.” Unless you are the 1% who is happily married to your high-school sweetheart, you are probably not going to have a Cinderella story.
Coming into a relationship with unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster, I came to find out. Seeking intensity in the dream of getting married, having kids and jetting off to the Maldives in reality is tempting. However, working with my coach, I learned that intensity is everywhere. I began looking for it in the present, in that first touch, the accomplice smile, the deliciousness of the first meal we cook together. What also helps in detaching from the fairytale stories, is identifying them when they arise, feeling your body, the vehicle to the here and now.
2- What you need is not what others need
I learned to find out what I really needed from a partner, not what my mom or friends need. For a long time, success was on the top of my list. The truth is, I could not care less if my partner was successful when compared to whether he was loving. I quickly came to realize that I was more concerned with what others thought than with how I wanted to feel.
In taking the time, and reflecting on what Jessica needs, I came up with these 3 characteristics: Kind, loving and curious. Funny would be a bonus. A tool I learned, at the dating by design workshop, is to write down the 20 things that you want in a partner, and circle the ones that are not influenced by others, then drill them down to 3, and come up with ways you can identify them in a person on the first date.
3- Romance is not love
Love is not in the Facebook photos, the big ring, the eternal promises and poetic statements. Love is in the details of every day. It is in the boredom of our lives. It is when you wake up with a stomach pain and your partner rubs it for you, it is when problems arise and how you respond to them, it is in the honesty and truth you live by every day. Love is acceptance of someone’s messiness. The details take time to be seen, and so does love. It takes time to build up.
Joe and Amy, a couple who has been happily together for 22 years, mentioned: ”For us love is the everyday little things. Yes flowers are nice, but what makes it work is how we sit with nothing to say or do for hours, and still be content.”
4- It’s not him it’s you
Relationships put your issues on the table, and there is no escape from them unless you choose to see them, acknowledge them and get to work on them. I had, for the longest time, blamed my failures in relationships on not finding the right person, or on a deficit in my partner. I had the choice to repeat the cycle with my latest heartbreak; call him an asshole and move on. Instead, this time I chose to understand why I attracted someone like him.
It turns out, my thirst for love and attention leads me over and over to desire intensity and immediacy. Identifying this issue makes me aware of when I do it, and helps me be open about it when I meet someone.
5- Virtual is not real
It is easy to hide behind a screen and engage in romantic relationships. You can sign off chat when the conversation gets uncomfortable, you can tell someone you love them over text and walk away from it the next day by blocking them. Depending on the means of using online dating, I learned that pursuing a relationship virtually for an extended amount of time sets you for a quasi failure. If you are single and tempted to get these dopamine boosts virtually, think again.
The New York Times' ‘Modern Love’ columnist, Daniel Jones says about relationships developing online:
One my biggest fears was not meeting the love of my life. After my passion project, I came to truly value the journey so far and being single. It has been a time where I have become self-aware, preparing me for a healthier relationship and hopefully a lasting one. Most importantly, I now know the real secret: You always have a choice, whether you are single or in a relationship, to blame the other for the difficulties and issues, or look within, and continuously work to accept, learn, grow and repeat. The truth is, you is the only thing you have control over. So next time you hit a roadblock, remember two things: 1) You have a choice, 2) Hollywood and Disney are lying.
Photos by Elle Wildhagen: www.ellenwildhagen.com