Longevity has always been really important to me when it comes to relationships. (I mean, interpersonal relationships generally, not romantic relationships specifically.) I want passionate friends who I can happily live with and love for the rest of my life. I want deeply loving friendships that last until death and continue to grow stronger and more meaningful over time. I want commitment from my domestic partners. I want loyalty from every friend I love. I want to know that if I love someone, that person is still going to be in my life 30+ years from now, still connected to me, still caring about and loving me—just as I expect myself to do for them.
I’ve had discussions with people of all ages online about the topic of relationships (not just romantic ones) ending in break-up, and I’ve often been at odds with many of them. I see a severed relationship as a failed relationship. Something went wrong, and that’s why it dissolved. I define “successful relationship” as one that lasts happily until death. People who disagree with me believe that a relationship’s success is based only on how well it served its purpose however long it lasted. They also argue that a relationship that is unhappy but continues is not successful at all, which I agree with. To me, both happiness and endurance define a successful relationship. To the people who disagree with me—and there seem to be a lot, particularly in my age group—happiness in the moment is the only thing that defines whether a relationship was a good one or a successful one. Commitment and loyalty aren’t important or necessary to them.
These people likely don’t understand why I place such an emphasis on longevity. If they knew me personally, maybe they would ask, “Why do you care so much about your friendships and partnerships lasting forever? Why don’t you just let go of that need and be satisfied if you get something that’s good for a couple years and when it ends, just get a replacement? Why can’t you be happy with a bunch of pretty good short-term relationships instead of a few long-term ones?”
Simple. I want long-term, committed relationships with friends because I want unconditional love. When I commit to someone, I’m not committing to the relationship itself so much as I’m making a commitment to love that other person no matter what happens. Staying with someone, a friend or a partner, is about loyalty, sure. Loyalty’s important. It’s a great character trait and one that I want to possess. But more important than loyalty, more important than keeping a promise or commitment for it’s own sake, more important than anything is love.
There are only two kinds of love: conditional and unconditional. That’s the bottom line.
Conditional love says: “Do what I want you to do, make me feel good, and then I’ll love you. As soon as you quit behaving yourself for me, as soon as it’s not effortless to feel good with you, I don’t love you anymore.”
Unconditional love is: “I love you. Not because of anything you do or say or feel. I love you because I choose to love you. I love you because love feels good to me. You don’t have the power to take my love away, nor does any event in our relationship.”
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to love someone when they’re acting the way you want and giving you everything you want and when nothing challenging is going on in your life or theirs. It’s easy to love someone when everything around you and between you is going smoothly all by itself. It’s easy to love someone when all you do is have fun together. It’s easy to love someone who’s loving you all the time, just the way you like.
But the love you feel in those circumstances is not unconditional. That love doesn’t require any focus or effort of you. That love doesn’t even necessarily coincide with loyalty or commitment; you’re there loving that person because it’s easy to do so, not because you’ve chosen to be loyal or committed.
Unconditional love is proven through the testing of it. And I’m not just talking about commitment or loyalty in times of trouble. I’m talking about loving someone when it requires your focus, your will, your deliberate intent, your commitment to the feeling of love—not just to the relationship agreement. I’m talking about appreciating another person’s positive aspects and their presence in your life, even when they’ve said or done something you don’t like. I’m talking about forgiving someone when they hurt your feelings or make a mistake. I’m talking about deciding that you’re going to feel good, about yourself and them and the relationship, without asking them to change or behave differently. I’m talking about deciding that you’re going to look at them and feel love—not just say the word, not just intellectually think you love them in the abstract—but feel the emotion of love, because you want to. Not because they did something lovable.
And I’m talking about staying tuned in to that emotion of love, even when something difficult happens in the life you share with the other person. This is especially relevant to primary partnerships/domestic partnerships. When you are someone else’s main source of support, when you’re really in this life together—financially, physically, emotionally, etc—unconditional love keeps you there even when you’re both facing a challenge that makes it harder for you to feel good on a daily basis. Anyone can bail when shit hits the fan. Bailing’s easy. Leaving the problem with your friend is easy. Moving on to someone else who’s in a better situation is easy. Staying and making the best of things and being happy with your imperfect circumstances requires love. Your love, your positive focus. Not your partner’s or anyone else’s.
If you’re young and figuring out what you want or if you don’t have any interest in long-term primary partnerships or you’re not yet ready to commit to somebody, that’s all well and good, but if you do want a long-term partnership of some kind, you need to realize that there is no perfect person, there is no guarantee of a problem-free life or problem-free partnership for anyone on the planet, and your happiness is not dependent on anyone except you. You’re not going to find someone who’s flawless, who’s always well-behaved by your standards, who never makes mistakes and never challenges your patience. You’re not going to ever find a relationship that’s sunshine and rainbows all day every day forever. You cannot prevent challenging things from happening to you or any other person in the future, so you aren’t going to meet someone whose life is guaranteed to be always smooth and easy and comfortable that you can effortlessly participate in. None of that shit exists.
So, at some point, you either decide that you’re going to be committed to someone you do love and stick it out when shit temporarily sucks, or you just never experience a long-term partnership. If you can’t be loving and loyal to another person even when it’s hard as fuck, you aren’t long-term partner material. If you’re waiting for someone else to please you all the time or most of the time and you make your commitment conditional upon that, you are not long-term partner material.
Having a happy, loving, satisfying, long-term partner isn’t about finding the perfect person. It’s about finding a person you adore who has flaws and bullshit you can live with indefinitely. Personal growth and improvement happens; human perfection doesn’t. The happy long-term partnership isn’t about bitterly resigning to the other person’s flaws or bitching about them until something changes. It isn’t the denial of romantic infatuation that goes, “This person is perfect in every way!” It’s loving acceptance that sounds like, “Yeah, I know my partner is weak in those ways, but that’s okay. Not a big deal. They have so many positive qualities, that I don’t mind the negative ones, and I’m not going to pay the negative ones much attention.”
And here’s the flaw in logic that all those people who say “leave unhappy relationships no matter what, commitment is bullshit!” fail to understand: being happy in a long-term, committed partnership or friendship is not about your partner pleasing you or life being perfect. It’s about you deciding to be happy. That’s all. The only thing happiness takes is your intent and focus. Sure, it’s easier to be happy with someone when everything’s exactly the way you want it to be, but when things are not the way you want, you still have the power and the capability to be happy anyway.
I’m not saying, “Stay in a miserable, unfulfilling partnership/friendship until you die.” I’m saying, “Find a way to be happy independent of the conditions and partner changing.” There’s a huge difference. Happiness is the only thing that matters, you should be happy, you deserve to be happy, but you don’t need anything or anyone to be a certain way in order to feel happiness. Most people believe that happiness is a reaction, so if something isn’t pleasing to them, they have no choice but to leave the situation and go find a better one. But we have so much more power than that—power to emotionally focus ourselves however we want, power to think better-feeling thoughts instead of wallowing in a negative loop, power to distract ourselves from conditions that feel bad, power to find the good in everything and everyone.
I want long-term partnerships and intimate friendships because I want to feel unconditional love for other people and I want to receive it from them. I want domestic life partners who I’m passionate friends with because I want the sweetness and fun and love of sharing home with them, and I want long-term loving friendships because I want to just keep mining them for more joy and more fun and more affection and more intimacy and more connection and more growth. I want my relationships to last forever because I want to love forever because love is the best feeling in the world. I want my life partnerships to last forever because I want to show myself and my partners that I can be unconditionally loving, that I can love them and be happy with them no matter what’s going on, that I can find the good in them over and over again.
I know that I am capable of being committed to my domestic life partners and my intimate friends until I die, regardless of the conditions. I know I am. And I want to do it. I am 100% serious, and I would never make a commitment to someone otherwise. Of course, I prefer it if my life and my relationships are mostly easy and comfortable and smooth, just like everyone else. But I’m not afraid of challenges in my partnerships or other friendships, because I know that I can feel love anyway, and if my partners and friends want to stay with me, I’ll never back down. I sure as hell would never abandon someone I love when they’re going through a tough time.
I’m not interested in marriage, the relationships I desire are nonromantic, but I want to say to my life partners and my other beloved friends (and really mean it):
“I love you, and I’m going to love you until I check out of this world. I adore you, just as you are. I take responsibility for my own feelings and my own happiness, so you’re off the hook there. I’m going to look for the positive aspects in you and in our relationship as much as I can, and I’m not going to ask you to change for me. I will always forgive you and I will always do my best to show you kindness and love and respect and I will promote your freedom and independence unconditionally. I love you so much that I’ll let go of things that don’t matter. I love you whether you have money or not, whether you have a job or not, whether you’re healthy or sick, whether you’re happy or unhappy, whether you agree with me or disagree with me, whether we’re together every day or not. I love you no matter what you look like. I love you, and I’m going to always make the best of everything and try to nurture positive energy between us, even if it takes work. And I will get bucked off the horse more than once, I’m sure, but I am not going to give up in a moment where I feel anything less than blissful love. If I feel bad, I’m going to find a way to make myself feel better, and then I’ll give you and our relationship my attention again.
And I want you to hold me to this unconditional love. I want you to remind me when I forget, that this is what I want and this is what I signed up for.”
So, do I think that people should stay in toxic, unethical, or abusive friendships and partnerships? No. Of course not. But there’s a difference between a rotten relationship and an imperfect relationship that challenges you sometimes. I refuse to live my life as someone who’s only committed to a partner or friend if it’s effortless to follow through with that commitment. If life wants to test my love and commitment in my partnerships and friendships, I’ll welcome it from the standpoint of wanting to master unconditional love. You never get good at anything without practice.