With the ubiquitous pink and red love-hearts, teddy bears and flowers... no wonder Valentine's Day makes so many people feel jaded. But, I have to admit, I am a through-and-through romantic and, although my love life has had its ups and downs (whose hasn't!?), I like Valentine's Day. Perhaps not so much in the cheesy way (though I DO love my candy and flowers!) but in the more romantic and reflective way. After all, love, the pursuit of love, the loss of love, the feeling of being in love... Whether it's romantic, platonic, parental, familial, it's really what life is all about!
But love isn't an easy concept. For me it's something that has changed as I myself have changed. No relationship ever stays the same and as we evolve and grow, so too does the love in our lives. Sometimes those changes mean we grow apart from loved ones. Other times, we change and grow together and our mutual love evolves to a new place. It's different for every person and relationship and there's no right or wrong way... like so many other things, all you can be is authentic to yourself in the moment and honest with the person you're with.
In each relationship and decade of life, love plays a different role, takes on a different hue...
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In our 20's...
I sometimes think about the way I loved in my 20's and realize how different it is for me now. In our 20's, most of us are still "finding ourselves" -- figuring out what we want to do, finding our individual style and lifestyle. But those first steps can be tentative too... we're at once bold and brave, but also insecure. Everything is new and we feel it all so deeply.
Without the wisdom of experience, we have only our own ideas about how things should be. My idea of romance in my 20's was based more on movies and books, than real experience. I was obsessed with the movie "'Til There Was You" -- you probably have not heard of it -- but for me, this movie defined falling in love in my 20's. The synopsis is: two strangers whose paths are always crossing finally meet when fate steps in. I suppose I still believe in all the amazing possibilities life presents to us when we least expect it.
The joy of finding love in this decade is that you can grow with your partner. Twenty-something relationships are really formative and if you meet somebody who you can continue to learn with, your relationship can be long and fulfilling.
In our 30's...
In my 30's, love became much more grounded. As careers are established and roots set down, our idea of romance is more integrated with the reality of our days. Small gestures, mutual support, planning and building a life together become important. Whereas in our 20's we were more likely to be swept off our feet by charm and chemistry, in our 30's we're usually more considered in our approach to love. Compatibility becomes key -- not just in terms of personality but also lifestyle.That's not to say those butterfly feelings evaporate in your 30's (I don't think they ever do!) but romance does become a little less heady.
On the flip side, those who are still dating may begin to feel jaded about love and to worry that time is running out. At any age, I think cynicism is something to protect yourself from. I really believe love can strike at any time... there's no right or wrong template, no time-frame or plan that must be followed; keeping an open heart and mind is key to keeping that romance alive! I also believe that in our 30's we're more self-aware and have a better handle on who we are. Whether you're in a relationship or still looking, this can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Love is all about compromise, forgiveness, continuing to grow. So while it's good to know who you are and be confident in what you want, also realize that love requires flexibility and forgiveness!
In our 40's and beyond...
We change so much in our 30's and 40's. And if you've been in a relationship during those decades you've probably experienced challenging times, when you and your partner moved away from each other. Occasionally, those differences prove to be irreconcilable, but sometimes the dynamic is redefined into something better, more reflective of who you both are as individuals and as a couple.
I believe the key to success is honesty. Honesty is hard. My friend Carrie gave me some great advice: It takes more courage to be honest with yourself and others than it does to hold it in. Honesty is a two-way street; it relies on both partners being engaged and open. If you create a culture of honest and open sharing in your relationship, it really will give you a basis to grow and evolve with each other.
Falling in love (or back in love) at any age presents both joys and challenges. Relationships exist in a mysterious space between two people and they rely on both people being open, honest, loving and having each other's backs. When one person withdraws or becomes angry, it's difficult for the other person to fill in the void. Without a doubt, love requires you to push outside of yourself even when you want to stick your head in the sand, to communicate even when the words are hard to say, to listen even when what you hear might hurt you.
But the reward is so worth it! The feeling of being connected, of loving and being loved unconditionally is life's most wonderful gift. Despite the hard-to-swallow "key learnings" and the heart-ache, I've never stopped believing in love and I'll always have an open heart... and that's what I'll be celebrating this February 14.