Jennifer wrote a longer version of this article several years ago for the students in the college where she worked. It has been reprinted several times. This comes from her heart, and is dedicated to her own true love, Charles. Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetheart!
As Valentine’s Day approaches, true love is on our minds. Advertisements tell us that you have to give expensive gifts to show true love. Movies and television tell us that you have to jump into bed immediately to show true love. I believe that a real love story is as much about character as passion. Most of us want true love for a lifetime, and a lifetime is too long for passion alone to support romance.
What is true love? It is only partially the thrilling, sexy, wonderful beginning of a relationship in which there is mutual attraction. When I think of true love, I think of the radiant smile on someone’s face when their partner enters the room. I think of my mother and father, who held hands at every opportunity until their 56-year-long marriage was ended by death. I think of the young couple who truly try to make each other’s life more pleasant rather than taking out their stresses on each other. I think of the little, loving things that happily coupled people do just to enjoy their partner’s pleasure.
The building blocks of true love are passion, appreciation, and consideration. People who love each other don’t demean each other. They don’t intentionally hurt each other, they don’t try to deceive each other, they don’t speak badly of each other. One study of couples in counseling found that the best predictor of an eventual marital breakup was one spouse showing a negative facial expression – like rolling their eyes – while the other was talking. Couples who love each other may certainly disagree, but there is still a rational part of them which says, “I love this person, and while I don’t agree, I’m sure that there is some reason my partner feels this way.”
True lovers think their partners are terrific, at least most of the time. They are proud of their accomplishments and tolerant of their foibles. They may complain, but it is usually with a laugh. When their partner truly needs their help, they don’t begrudge it in any way.
What can you do if you are still waiting for Cupid’s arrow to strike?
Don’t settle. If you don’t really enjoy your partner, and you don’t truly feel that he or she enjoys you, all the passion or companionship in the world won’t make it a love match. Don’t start a relationship thinking that you will reform the person. If you can’t love your partner as is, the chances are slim that you will ultimately have what you want.
Work on yourself. You can develop your own character – it’s never too late. Practice kindness, consideration, and a positive attitude in your friendships and family relationships. Learn how to communicate effectively and to resolve conflicts productively. The better developed you are as an individual, the greater the chances of your being able to form a sustaining, lasting bond with someone else.
Think about what you want. Make a conscious effort to become acquainted with some people who have good long-term relationships, or do some reading, talking and journal writing about what is important to you.
Pay attention to timing. Passionate attraction can develop in a minute, but true love takes time. If you think you love someone you don’t know very well, be honest and label your feeling “infatuation.” There is nothing wrong with infatuation, but it is not the same as true love. If you are under enormous stress in your life, or drinking or drugging a lot, or recovering from a failed relationship, deal with those problems first before you go looking for love. Be suspicious of anyone who pressures you to move a relationship along too quickly, or who seems so needy that he/she can’t give you time to let the relationship grow naturally.
Believe you are lovable. Don’t let past experiences or the negative things you say to yourself get in the way of believing that you deserve the best. You really do deserve someone who thinks you are wonderful, who wants your happiness as much as his or her own, who is mature and stable enough to have something to give, who treats you well, who loves to talk to you and hold you, and who makes your heart beat faster. That’s true love – and it’s worth waiting for. Have a great Valentine’s Day!
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck met in midlife and believe in the magic of midlife relationships. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a confidential survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships.
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Sizing Up a Potential Partner
Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!
Upgrade Your Communication Skills
Tending Your Relationship as You Tend to Aging Parents
Learning from Your Relationship History
When Extrovert Meets Introvert
What Do You Want in the Long Run?
Creating Holidays for Changing Families