Love Shouldn’t Be Painful

The woman sat beside the splash park, watching her young children run through the fountains in the hot summer sun. On her back was a big tattoo with words that read: Love Is Pain.

She couldn’t have been more than 30 years old, and she clearly felt strongly enough about that sentiment to ink it on her skin forever. But she put it in a place that she couldn’t see it, only the rest of the world could see the heart-breaking message, and so I had to wonder: does she believe that enough to scream it to the world?

Or was it brought on by today’s movie-driven society where relationships are supposed to be glorious and perfect and reality is hard to digest?

When I saw this, I felt sad for this woman and for all of us, if even one person believes that love equals pain. It makes me realize that most people don’t quite understand what love truly is. And that if it’s real, it’s not painful in the least.

It’s uplifting, empowering and energizing. True love makes you believe in all the good things in life and helps you feel secure. I operate with a definition of love inspired by ancient texts: love is not preferential attachment; it is universal identification.

So with that definition, love is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and relate to whatever they may feel or experience. Love is not preferring one person over another, or clinging to them. It is seeing yourself in them, seeing the humanity in every being, the beating heart, the sameness, the compassion, which means you can love an infinite number of creatures.

Last night, Dan and I saw Before Midnightthe third movie in the Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke-Richard Linklater movie about a single day in the relationship between Celine and Jesse.

It was beautiful, set in Greece, with incredible camera shots and details that roused the senses. And it moved quickly (which I didn’t expect).

But in a way it made me sad. Here’s a couple who claim each other as their true love, reconfigure their lives around each other in movie #2, and find themselves in their early 40s with that middle-class malaise that comes from having enough time to ponder the meaning of it all and get into really good relationship fights.

At the height of the movie, we heard thunder rolling overhead, and I couldn’t distinguish if it were real, outside the theater, or part of the movie.

Last night’s storms were incredible. When we left the theater, the sky was greenish, with a mountain of clouds and clear blue ahead of us to the west and a canvas of uninterrupted gray behind us to the east. Everything was drenched.

But the storm had passed while we were in the movie (a perfect metaphor!) and we drove home with windows down and the quiet rush of summer air, pregnant with the humidity of the aftermath of a storm that broke last week’s oppressive heat.

“We should never, ever fight again,” I told my husband. “It is just a waste of time. I bet when people were farming for a living, they didn’t have time to fight. Relationship fights are a result of having the luxury of time and space to ponder what-if.”

He nodded, clearly happy at the thought of never having to have one of those sideways conversations again where he sits up for an hour after I fall asleep, wondering what the hell I was so pissed about. (Come on, guys, you know that’s the truth. I can own it. Women are, sometimes, crazy.)

The feelings are real and pressing when we have them, but we are looking at life through a cracked lens.

This moment is perfect. It always is. It’s when we get out of the now, into the before or the after, that we lose focus. The love that you hold in your grasp is right in front of you, the person who sleeps beside you, who kisses you in the morning, who makes your coffee for you even when you don’t ask.

It’s not fireworks most of the time. And yes, it can be complicated.

But it should never be painful. It’s the smooth and easy consistency that characterizes true love, the unwavering, of course I’m here with you, wherever you go.

And truly, it starts from within before it can ever come from outside of us. The love we see in another person is really a reflection of what we have to offer.

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