The other day I was thinking about love and how it comes in different stages and how we learn something in each relationship that we take into the next. It's basically impossible to completely leave one relationship behind just because you've entered a knew one. Even if you want to. Basically, this is how it went for me.
Childhood: Commonly known as puppy love, having a girlfriend in elementary is basically just mimicry of what we see on television and between our parents or aunts, uncles or anyone else. The affection is really still just on the friend level.
adolescence: I dated or obtained a girlfriend for a number of reasons. Probably first was hormones and the desire to just get close to a girl. Dating in high school was just a reaction to what we thought was the social norm when you were attracted to someone. Second dating was for fun, and to have someone to go to dances with. Thirdly, there was an element of status about it. Having a girlfriend was validation that your mom isn't the only one on the planet who thinks you're adorable. The funny thing is that I told at least one girl and maybe more that I loved them. I even remember talking about the future with one, talking about how life would be as a married couple. I never actually believed any of the talk, but I guess it added to the allure that we were creating for ourselves. I know that lots of people do marry their high school sweetheart, but I, for one, can't even imagine it.
Break ups as a teenager, for me, at least, was more of an ego blow than actually heartbreaking. This is especially true early on, like in 6th grade when a girl broke up with me. I swore to everyone, "She beat me to it. I was going to break up with her." Of course, the few romantic relationships that I had after that were ended by me, so I never actually got to be the breakie. Something I later would wish upon myself out of self-loathing.
College Upon entering college and scoping out the landscape of beautiful women, most of them with marriage on the brain (it was the nature of things at a Christian university, a subject which could spawn research literature), I knew right away that I really needed to be careful. There were people getting together within the first couple weeks of being on campus and pledging their undying love for each other. One needed to be careful not to fall too hard too fast in this environment.
The first girl that I dated in college taught me this lesson better than other. She was older than me and ready for something deeper. I was not. Mostly, I recognized my ability to fall in love fast, without really evaluating my true feelings. Not realizing what love really was I lured someone else into a relationship that was doomed. I learned from this to be much more careful.
My second test of the love waters in college put me in the pursuers seat. I wanted a true relationship and she just wanted a friend. I never loved this girl or even claimed to, but when I couldn't emotionally connect with her it drove me crazy. Ending that relationship was mutual and easy. We stayed friends. From this relationship I learned that not all people are emotionally compatible.
Next, I dated a girl that many, including myself, thought would be the one. I loved her, and I told her that. There was a time when I wanted to end it but I was afraid that doing so would sabotage my best chance at someone who love me unconditionally. At least in college. The Christian university setting does a really good job of creating an atmosphere where people, not only want to marry, but want to marry someone from that school. The idea is that after college comes a career, and no time to date, and even if you could date, where would you find a suitable girl. My thoughts were that the pickings were slim after we left the school and that we better find a wife here. So I pushed thoughts of breaking off this relationship into the back of my mind. In doing so I sacrificed a big part of who I was in order to conform to what she was. I fell deeply in love, but in doing so I became someone else. When I did this the unthinkable happened. She moved emotionally from me. This was my big heartbreak. I knew the only recourse was to end the relationship, as hard as that was. The main thing that I learned from that relationship was to not settle. I didn't need someone so bad that I should sacrifice myself.
By this time I was close to leaving college and was settled on graduating on my own and dealing with the significant other question much later. I still wanted to be married but was much more picky now. I was not willing to be with someone I couldn't laugh with or talk to or tell everything to. I wasn't going to mess around with someone who didn't want to give to me as much as I wanted to give to them. Pretty soon, I just decided to stop looking.
As you can imagine, this is when something amazing happened. A lightbulb went off and an opportunity was placed in my lap. There were three conversations. These conversations lasted hours and solidified a notion that had been planted in my brain when I first met her. I had fun with her and she listened to me and she seemed to care about me, but she also wanted me to know her and there was this click. There was nothing that we couldn't handle because here was someone who wasn't going anywhere. Here was someone I could trust because she loved me enough to always be herself. Most of all, she made me more of myself. This is the last phase of love. Someone you can love more than yourself because you can't imagine yourself without her. She truly became, for me, what love was about. It was way more than love, but it was commitment and dependency. Not in a bad way, where every move she or I made was controlled by the other. But, a good way, like we wanted to do things with and for each other. In other relationships I felt I had to be a certain thing to make the relationship happen, but being myself is a prerequisite for this new relationship. It was definitely different. We grew together as we grew individually and then we grew as one. We were still able to grow individually but we never grew apart. She wasn't my girlfriend, she was my best friend.
Of course, I'm talking about Amanda. I'm not writing this as a love letter to her, although she could take it that way if she likes, but more of an evaluation of the evolution of love. First was mimicking, then was experimentation and then came a narrowing down. The narrowing down consists of discovering what love is not, choosing someone who can be loved, and then finally finding out what love really is. No research went into these findings except my own experience. I'm sure that everyone's journey is quite different and I mean in no way to suggest that there is one way to find love. I think, ultimately it comes down to finding the person who makes you feel most yourself. I always thought of it as being as close to God on earth as is possible.