Joan was a vibrantly beautiful 70-year-old with piercing blue eyes and brilliant white hair—I had the pleasure of meeting her on the sunny shores of San Diego last year. During our conversation, she bragged to me about 40 years of romance with her husband. Naturally, I asked the question, “How did you keep the spark alive?”
She stroked the side of her face and looked at me, eyes alive with memories. "We never stopped dancing," she said, lips curling into a smile.
Her answer floored me. Could love really be that simple?
I'd known couples who'd gone to counseling for years and couldn't manage civility, let alone sustainable happiness. Yet here were Joan and her husband John, madly in love after half a century together—all because of their happy feet. The golden couple discovered instant chemistry on the dance floor and built a meaningful life on the joy of a shared passion.
"We never stopped dancing."
That four-word response puzzled and inspired me. After seeing so many divorces and miserable couples, I figured love was complex: that happiness in a relationship was the product of a higher alchemy most people just weren't cut out for.
But I was wrong. Love is simple, and Joan and John were proof.
Lifelong love is simple if you follow one rule:
Most people get romance wrong because they look for someone else to fill the void that only dancing—or whatever it is that makes you feel alive—can satisfy. This places a fatal condition on the relationship: I'll love you just so long as you make me happy.
But you can't make anyone happy except yourself. And you're the only one who can.
Every time partners fail to encourage each other to do exactly what they love, the relationship dies just a little more, and a little more. The dance morphs into an ugly knot with no room to dazzle or create. Within a year, or a few years, lovers have often lost their joy. And usually, they blame the relationship for their misery, because their feet—those individual parts of themselves that bring them joy—have atrophied. Then step and repeat, again and again, always wondering why the relationships don't work out.
What they don't realize is that most couples who don't make it in a relationship are unhappy because they weren't in love with life to begin with—because they haven't found their dance. At least, that was the case for me. My life was a series of tangled, toxic relationships before I finally had the courage to get out on the dance floor and find my own groove.
How I learned to dance:
I was labeled a hopeless romantic for the first chunk of my adulthood. But I wasn't a hopeless romantic; I just hadn't taken responsibility for my happiness. I'd think joy was waiting for me in the next girlfriend, or the next, or maybe the tenth one after that. But after so many heartbreaks, I couldn't ignore the glaring, neon, beat-me-over-the-head fact that nobody besides me could make me happy.
I finally had to accept that I would only be happy once I took true responsibility for a life I could love.
I feared that responsibility for a long time. I thought I was incapable, so I willingly gave the responsibility to beautiful women I thought, hoped, prayed would take care of me. But the more responsibility I forfeited, the less capable I felt, the more dependent I became, the more resentful I grew, and the less lovingly I acted.
My girlfriends became enemies instead of lovers because they distracted me from loving and living my own life. And I was responsible.
But, try as I did, I couldn't keep doubling down on the same mistakes…I hit rock bottom. When I split up with my last girlfriend, I experienced withdrawal that I characterized as the emotional equivalent of a heroin addict going cold turkey; it was torture. Depression, anxiety, existential crises—the whole bit. I couldn't put myself through that shit again, so I took as many years off from dating as it took to become a whole and happy me, to pursue my writing career, to start dancing.
After weaning myself off the delusion that a heroine was coming to save me from myself, I learned to love my life. It was hard and scary and lonesome, but I learned how to make good decisions that made me happy. Now I get to support other people's happiness doing exactly what I love, on my own terms. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
I'm not looking for a girlfriend because I have no reason to look. I'm happy with me and I'm kicking ass doing what I love. When I've found my wife, I'll know it because she'll be my best friend. She'll share my passions and my rhythm. She'll challenge me to be a better man.
But I won't depend on my wife for happiness because when I meet her, I'll already be dancing.
If you haven't found your dance, find it now. Take as much time as you need. And if you have found it, prioritize that. Do it for yourself, share it with the world, and have faith that you'll meet someone who shares, values, and supports your passion. If you want a lifetime of love, all you have to do is find your dance and keep dancing. Simple.
Now go and shake that thing.