Why Real Love Is Hard Work

rainbow loomA month into our relationship, my now-husband asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I didn’t hesitate.

“As a nun in a third-world country doing missionary work,” I said.

“Interesting.”

Somewhere around that time I also told him it would be five years before I slept with him. It was the quickest five years of my life.

I had a few issues.

A few.

Major abandonment and rejection issues from a dad who left home before I got my first pimple. That warm fuzzy was compounded by a few bad sexual experiences in high school, which I’m sure I haven’t resolved completely because I blacked out and don’t know what happened.

This left me a relationship moron, someone who would freak out if a relationship lasted more than four weeks.

I still don’t understand how Eric calmed me down enough to enter week five, let alone pass 20 years this October.

I’m still awkward when it comes to love and sex and anything related to a relationship because, even though I have spent the last 20 years with a man who loves me unconditionally, I still feel substantial cavities in my self-worth that make it hard to trust and be vulnerable, to be naked without being self-conscious.

According to shame expert Brené Brown, “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” So I guess courage is what I need to pray for, even over love.

I often wonder if I would be so depressed had I chosen to be a nun in a third-world country or in some peaceful cloister—if family life is meant for people with more solid footing in the world. I spend way too much time fantasizing about an imaginary existence, like in the movie Avatar, where I can live inside somebody else’s body and be free and naked—completely uninhibited–as I ride those exotic mammoth birds. I cling to certain people, places, and things where there is an intensity that I mistake for intimacy.

Of course, the third-world country and the convent would be hiding places for me, an appropriate ducking spot for a person with my kind of baggage. The Avatar fantasies are cop-outs, as well. They merely flood my bloodstream with dopamine to provide me an escape from my reality, which is full of work.

“Love hunger … is the God-given need to love and be loved that is born into every human infant,” explain authors Robert Hemfelt, Ed.D, Frank Minirth, M.D., and Paul Meier, M.D. in their bestseller, “Love Is a Choice.” “It is a legitimate need that must be met from cradle to grave. If children are deprived of love—if that primal need for love is not met—they carry the scars for life.”

I think those of us with depression issues and addiction problems, or God forbid both, have to be mindful of this unmet need that is constantly fishing for things to fill the cavity in our souls or at least make it pipe down. We easily mistake the excitement of a new project or an infatuation with the lasting emotion that is love. And when the initial exhilaration dissolves, we’re left with an even bigger chasm in our hearts.

Hell, it’s difficult even for people without love hunger issues, depression, and addiction to recognize that doing the family dishes each night after dinner is love, that folding each other’s underwear is love, that offering to pick up a relative from an airport two hours a way in the middle of the night is definitely love.

Raising kids with a partner is not the adventure of missionary life nor is it the serenity of a convent. It’s definitely not the dopamine rush of flying—naked and uninhibited—on a cool, gigantic bird or the equivalent sexual fantasy. It is mundane and wearisome and maddening. It can feel like a nightmare from which you never wake up.

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but love is like a box of Rainbow Loom, the cool kit to make bracelets and necklaces that toy stores couldn’t keep in stock for months last year. If you work a little bit at it each day, you’ll have something beautiful before long. And that will outweigh the frustration you feel when you find those tiny rubber bands all over your house. If you let the box sit, the rubber bands are in place, but all you have are some fantasies in your head of how it could be if you did something else. You have nothing real, and your arms are bare.

Love is hard for me, but I am blessed.

I have a bracelet.

Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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10 thoughts on “Why Real Love Is Hard Work

  1. Every time I see your blog i feel your pain. I cherish your honesty & the way you express yourself. You are a seeker & a giver.
    It’s time to learn how accept love that’s given to you. Accept your life that you have now with your husband and children. Love your mother & forgive her for all the baggage’s she had to carry. It’s not easy being a mom.
    Maybe your father suffer from depression, he abandoned himself from his beautiful family. This was his loss as much as it was for the family.

  2. Every time I see your blog i feel your pain. I cherish your honesty & the way you express yourself. You are a seeker & a giver.
    It’s time to learn how to accept love that’s given to you. Accept your life that you have now with your husband and children. Love your mother & forgive her for all the baggage’s she had to carry. It’s not easy being a mother. Remember babies don’t arrive with manuals.
    Maybe your father suffer from depression, he abandoned himself from his beautiful family. This was his loss as much as it was for the family.

  3. I hear you. We’ve been married 51 years, and I still don’t feel loved. He’s damaged, I’m damaged…Who would have thought it would be this difficult ?

  4. Therese,
    Seems like you write a lot about my life – different script from yours, but similar plot, parallel. And you articulate it so much better than I. You’re coaching so many to learn, re-learn, understand, and find a better path.
    Despite my constant fear of poisoning my (adult) kids with my MDD, etc., and robbing my wife of the love, intimacy, and joy she needs and deserves, I still believe they would be worse off if … I went away.
    Much of the time, I feel as though I’m living in a “third-world country.” Your ministry is life-giving and life-saving. Please keep on keepin’ on. Thank you.
    Peace

  5. Help me Therese. I am sorry about your abuse as a child, I can relate. I am alone except for a few kind neighbors who feed me, no family, no friends except my shrink and a newbie therapist. i compare my life to those of a child abandoned since and left in an orphanage. Left in a crib without any human contact, no blanket, no hugs, no kisses, no warm, no nothing and that’s how I continued into adulthood. It’s taken its toll. I am ready to go. Please don’t let this happen to anyone. FAMILY PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE.

    Thank you for being a light and someone who has been able to get out of this……Remember me.

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