Novels and films typically sell relationships as rewarding romantic journeys. Consequently, we expect our ideal partners to simultaneously intrigue us, protect us, and develop us, all whilst preserving their envious physique (or for the less “superficial” among us, their personality.) On top of serving as our emotional caretakers and partners in crime, our significant others also serve as status symbols, reminding both our friends and ourselves that we’re someone worth loving and—more importantly—someone who’s loved. And yet, at the end of the day, all romances, to include my own, come short of meeting these societal standards.
This isn’t to say that my girlfriend hasn’t developed or protected me; throughout these past four years—five come April 14—she has repeatedly gone above and beyond to help me through my darkest moments. I’m not a cruel cynic seeking to prove that there’s no such thing as serious romantic love. But what concerns me are the fantasies we chase: pretty pictures that deliver nothing but disappointment.
Most people erroneously believe that if they can find the “right” person, a relationship can grant them eternal bliss. Two realities render this dream impossible. Firstly, a relationship isn’t a prerequisite for happiness. Until you learn how to live contently with yourself, you will find yourself repeatedly disappointed by your significant others as they continuously fail to deliver the confidence you so desperately desire, a confidence only you can grant yourself.
Secondly, unless you believe in a higher power or spiritual notions like destiny, there’s simply no such thing as the “perfect person.” You’re not humanity’s sole protagonist; no one was “put in place” or “created” for you to “discover.” However, for those of you who refuse to abandon your notions of romantic destiny, I propose the following exercise: Take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why on earth would the ‘perfect person’ date me?” By virtue of dating you (an imperfect person) your imagined “perfect” partner undermines their perfection. In other words, by definition, the perfect person will never love you.
Meaningful love more closely resembles embarking on a long, arduous drive with a close friend. Initially, the drive seems exciting. You and your friend exchange stories, crack jokes, and enjoy each other’s company. However, aside from the occasional humorous license plate, the highway’s landscape offers little entertainment. As the drive continues, your friend’s jokes (as well as your own) lose their appeal; if anything, they’re downright unbearable. You eventually run out of stories to share as you each grow increasingly irritable; soon, your only companion is an unimaginative radio host who does nothing but play the latest hits ad nauseum.
Later that evening you stop by an underwhelming burger joint for a quick dinner. As you start speaking to your friend once more, you realize that their jokes weren’t so bad after all; it was your anger and exhaustion, not their humor, that fueled your annoyance. You laugh again, share an old tale you thought you had already told but hadn’t, buy a snack or two, then hit the road once more.
A long-term relationship—like any long drive—will bore you at times. You will quickly realize that your significant other isn’t the funniest or most entertaining person. As their faults start to surface, their attractiveness will progressively diminish, leading you to question whether your relationship is worth your time, money, and gas.
That’s why it’s so important to enter a relationship knowing that your significant other will inevitably annoy you someday. Likewise, you too will fail to meet society’s expectation of how a serious romantic partner should look and behave. You and your partner will sometimes embrace petty behavior as part of immature, meaningless power struggles. You will both come to question your love at different times. You will both argue, and you will both get on each other’s nerves. And you know what? That’s normal, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool.
Love isn’t a matter of unlocking happiness by finding the “right person.” Love is about finding someone who is compatible—not perfect—and choosing to love them despite their imperfections in the hopes that they may one day come to love you too. It’s a long, tedious process that will stress you out, consume your time, and—despite your best efforts—may fail anyways.
I find that people at Harvard—particularly undergraduates—feel entitled to greatness. Great jobs, great pay, and great legacies: these are the things we believe life owes us. Most of us have foolishly extended this sense of entitlement to romance as well. Unfortunately, this sense of entitlement leaves us unusually vulnerable to our partner’s (and our own) imperfections, perhaps partly explaining why our relationships all too often serve as sources of social angst.
Tara knows how to make me anxious and occasionally uses this power to maximum effect. Likewise, I’m not the perfect boyfriend. During one of our relationship’s more troubling periods, Tara asked me why I even bothered Skyping her. I replied with something along the lines of “Skyping you is like paying my taxes; I simply have no choice.” Let’s just say my answer wasn’t the wisest.
However, I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two from my relationship with Tara. I don’t know what will happen once Tara leaves for pharmacy school and I ship out to serve Uncle Sam this summer. But I do know that these past few years have taught us how to look past our faults and love each other. Our relationship may not be an awesome odyssey of endless fulfillment, but at the end of the day, that’s not what love’s about. Once your long drive comes to close, all that matters is the following question: Can you look at the partner with whom you shared the journey and smile? If so, then you’ve got someone worth keeping.
Nathan L. Williams ’18 is a Government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.
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