When most people think of love, they tend to picture it as it's represented in pop culture: love is the emotional equivalent of sunshine and rainbows, laughter and light, that amazing, imaginary feeling of floating on a cloud.
But if you think of love as you've most likely experienced it, grounded by an often cold, hard look at reality, love is a bit more … complicated.
Sure, we also have those love-moments when everything feels completely blissful. But those moments are also intermittent, temporary, sprinkled throughout life in unexpected ways. Most of the time, love is messy.
The only way to deal with the complicated, difficult nature of love is to learn to accept it. And it's through that learning process that you will reach an even deeper, more authentic experience of love.
There's relationship love…
I love my husband, but his lack of organizational skills drives me crazy. Perhaps it annoys me more than it should. But the feeling still exists, and so I have to deal with the discomfort. I love my mom but we're fundamentally and culturally different people. I can feel disconnected from her, even though I am her child. I love my kids but sometimes wish I could escape motherhood.
Then there are the things we love…
I love to write, but sometimes have nothing to say and feel frustrated as a result. I love the rain but only if I'm warm and snuggly inside with a cup of tea — and sometimes, I'm out on the street doing errands without an umbrella. I love tomatoes but only the heirloom kind, only in the summer, and only if they have a sprinkle of sea salt on top. Otherwise I can't stand them.
You get my point. Love is messy, complex, sometimes incomprehensible, and difficult to manage. Love is like a pomegranate: every drop of sweet fruit must be painstakingly extracted and separated from those pesky seeds.
In my experience, trouble abounds when you try to make love fit an intellectual ideal that you create before actually allowing yourself to experience the feeling. The truth is that this will inevitably fail, and you will find yourself dwelling in negativity — be it disappointment, frustration, anger at yourself or others, or plain old despair.
But there's a secret: accept imperfect, messy love as such, and it will miraculously expand. Suck up the nectar and spit out the seeds with pleasure. There's love in this very process.
Here are a few ways this can apply in daily life:
1. If you notice something negative, find the positive counterpart.
Everyone has good qualities. Everyone. Focus on those and let the other qualities come along for the ride, because they're attached and you've got no choice, after all. When we fixate on the negatives in people, we not only perceive others negatively, but we cause ourselves to feel bad.
Think about the difference in how you feel when you smile at someone, and appreciate them, as opposed to when you feel angry. Seeing the best in others is a simple, small choice with a great return. When you magnify the positive, you'll bring out the best in both others and yourself.
2. When in doubt, forgive.
Self-love is the messiest of all. Each of us has a complicated relationship with ourself, and we often are most judgmental of ourselves when it comes to questions of external measures of success. But who cares if you didn't graduate summa cum laude, can't stand on your head, or if you have a zit today.
You're awesome. Just as you focus on the good in others, focus on the good in yourself. Remind yourself of at least one admirable quality about yourself every day. Whatever reason you find NOT to love yourself, forgive yourself for it and move on (easier said than done, but it's worth a try!).
3. Ditch the path of denial, and follow a different one.
Just as the "move on" from above takes a bit of self-discipline, even though it's an act of tender self-care, knowing when you're in denial of something takes discipline, too.
You know best about yourself, so don't use that intelligence of yours to try and fool yourself. If you want to travel the world but are holding back because your significant other doesn't want to go, find a compromise or just go and hope for the best. If you hate your job, stop drinking wine every night to drown your sorrows and make a plan to change your career.
Real love is a big ol' pot of awesomeness — and heartache boiling over. But the best approach is to try your best to keep things simple and accept it all in stride. Remember that love is all around, warts and all, just put on a smile and keep on loving anyway.