Why Real Love Is Hard Work

This post is from my archives.

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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8 thoughts on “Why Real Love Is Hard Work

  1. dear Therese,

    That was simply awesome.

    Mistaking intensity for intimacy…ah yes, many many times.

    For all you do, all my gratitude. Know that you have made a huge difference in one person’s life and therefore isn’t this you being that nun in a third world? You are that nun honey. Having a mental illness is like living in a third world.

    Love and Light,

    Monika

  2. Therese, thank you for this beautiful post, and all the others you wrote. Your writing is a blessing. I love what Monika wrote above too. You are all that, we are all that. Thank you!
    Marie

  3. I also married an amazing man who gives so very selflessly through an amazing love which still staggers me. 31 years in July!!! St. Therese matched us up. 🌹

  4. I just started the day by reading your article here – it made my day – thank you. I really enjoy your words – they are uplifting, comforting and inspiring. Thank you so much.

  5. Hello, Therese.

    What an AWESOME post.

    Thank you so much for being so honest and vulnerable in sharing the very deep traumas you have experienced in your life. Some of them, I am familiar with in my own life experience.

    I am an ex-nun. I had been both in an “active” community helping the poor and then a few years later entered a monastery.

    My first community was amazing. I still keep in touch with them. However, I left because the violence in the area began effecting us. At that time, many of the people there were hostile to us. In fact, the sisters eventually had to relocate.

    A few years after this community, I entered a monastery. It was the worst several years of my life. The person in charge was not whom we thought she was. I had even tried to escape, but we were in a remote location. Long, long, LONG story short: I ended up with Complex PTSD as a result of the horrific experiences in this community. The “person in charge” was defrocked and ex-communicated. Some of us wanted to bring her to a criminal trial, but some “key players” backed out. That’s all I’ll say about this very traumatic experience for me.

    Since then, my once seemingly “happy go lucky” hasn’t been the same. HOWEVER, my trauma has given me a very deep inner ocean of understanding and compassion for the suffering I see all over the world. Oh, I didn’t come by this when I was first “free”. It took years of therapy, suicidal ideations that almost came to fruition and more. It also landed me in a mental health hospital where I met the realest most awesomest people I had ever met before – my fellow hospital mates. There we were with all of our pain, suffering, traumas, egos, loves, hates, manipulations, fears, confusions AND our hopes, our loves, our dreams. I think that’s where I was finally broken open…by these beautiful people who kept me real.

    Ah, that’s just a little bit of my experience. I suppose what I wanted to say is that a monastery or cloister or religious life is no guarrantee for happiness. But neither is anything else in life when you think of it. We’re humans and sometimes we cause sufferings and sometimes we experience sufferings. Currently, I’m really working hard on sending light and love to my former abuser because I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve realized (and remembered some things she alluded to) she suffered too. And I’ve come to find that sometimes people externalize their sufferings and inflict that suffering on others. (Don’t we see that on a regular basis in the news.)

    Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t justify what perpetrators do. However, given the great focus on revenge and what it’s done to our society, I see that revenge no longer works. Maybe a criminal trial would have landed her in prison, maybe not. Maybe it would have done her some good, maybe not. My life experience to date though has taught me that ultimately that would not have freed me. I’m learning forgiveness. And that has been the toughest lesson for me yet. I’m not there, but I’m working on it. Wish me luck!

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