People talk about falling in love as if we don’t have a choice as to when or where we fall. But we do. Friendship is the key to a lasting love, right? So why aren’t we trying to fall into friendship first?
The “falling in love” model of romance is misleading anyway, because love is something that you nurture. It’s more like gardening and less like a booby trap.
To be fruitful, both gardening and love require preparation and commitment. Our relationships can only return what we put into them.
What We Need to Create Lasting Love
If plants need water, nutrients, minerals, and oxygen, what inputs might your relationships need? Everything that goes into making a lasting friendship. Those elements are called virtue.
Every character trait that contributes to resilient love falls under the umbrella of virtue: faith, patience, honesty, kindness, perseverance, integrity, generosity, courage, discipline, and responsibility are all required for relationships to grow. And all of these nutrients are things we need to first provide for ourselves unconditionally.
Unfortunately, most modern lovers turn to artificial inputs to help them stay afloat for as long as possible. Instead of building virtue, we often look to our partner’s chemical cocktails to provide what we need. The attention, sex, and praise will protect us from the rough winds of life for a while, but superficial solutions are not stable.
Preparing Yourself to Love
Master gardeners know how to keep weeds away. They build up strong soil that can support a wealth of plant life, effectively choking out weeds with robust, rich resources. They know that chemicals only affect the symptoms, and over time, actually weaken the soil’s ability to fight against the elements.
If your love is a garden and you are the gardener, the goal of a relationship is to build, so cultivate the most beautiful garden possible, so weeds, like feelings of jealousy and inferiority, simply have no room to grow.
It’s hard to create anything beautiful while constantly battling foundational issues. It’s hard for an architect to build a house without a floor, and it’s hard for a gardener to produce flowers with lifeless soil.
If you’ve fought foundational issues throughout your relationships, you are probably the missing elements of virtue. Virtue, like discipline, integrity, selflessness and courage, will give your relationships the strength they need to stand on their own, allowing you freedom to grow beyond.
Questions to Help You Grow
We grow virtue by questioning what is normal and striving for something better. Here are some practical questions to help you grow beyond your comfort zone:
1. Am I planning for something beautiful, or planning against something ugly?
2. Am I growing so much beauty in myself that I can freely grow in a relationship? What personal areas could I work on to give my best self to a relationship?
3. What needs of mine have I left unmet? What insecurities do I have that will prevent me from loving unconditionally? Am I willing to face these fears with playfulness and hope?
4. Are my friends challenging me to be more responsible, more creative, more adventurous, more selfless, and more generous? Do my friends inspire me to love courageously?
5. Do I choose relationships to challenge my highest growth with another, or do I fall into relationships for comfort and security?
6. Is becoming a better person a daily requirement for me?
7. Do I think I’m capable of growing in love for a lifetime? What sacrifices have I made that would indicate this?
8. Will my relationship standards attract a resilient and virtuous person to grow with? Or will they allow anyone who shows affection?
9. Am I willing to sacrifice passing pleasure to grow a lasting love?
10. Am I willing to prune habits that don’t serve a lasting love?
11. Am I willing to question society’s relationship norms in order to grow?
12. Am I willing to endure the discomfort of change to build a brighter future?
13. How great is my commitment to playfulness and a joyful life?
14. Have I learned to accept myself unconditionally?
Your relationships will grow to the extent that you plan for them and give them space. If you want them to be resilient, build your soil with equal parts virtue and bravery.
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Daniel Dowling is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His writing focuses on personal development and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and FitBit. He studied sociology and anthropology at New Mexico State University.