I originally published this post on my Medium page. But I can’t decide whether I actually like Medium. So now I’m putting it here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ve had a handful of enjoyable yet ultimately inconsequential relationships. These were largely about sex, about buying each other lunch, about having another warm body around. They were nice and full of caring and, best of all, uncomplicated. And there’s nothing wrong with having relationships like these.
I’ve also had two relationships that each changed the course of my proceeding life. Two decidedly un-un-complicated relationships. Two “real” relationships, “grown up” relationships. Relationships where saying “I love you” was never even flinched at, and words like “our” and “future,” and “when we” and “buy a house” were smashed together without a second thought, like particles colliding and creating big booms of emotion. You know. Those relationships.
Both of those two relationships were wild straight out of the gate. They were each like a campfire started with a healthy dose of lighter fluid and newspaper: the meekest match-flame rapidly expanded with a flash of blinding light and a wave of overwhelming heat. Yes, with those two women, love went from a schoolgirl crush to a roaring fire in what seems in retrospect like the blink of an eye.
But then in both of those relationships, eventually — just like fires founded on lighter fluid and newspaper and other such shortcuts — love quietly sputtered. It happened so suddenly that we were still dancing around the fire before we realized it had gone out. We were left quite unexpectedly in the cold, dark night, each blinking blankly at the space where we had just moments ago seen the other standing beside us.
As most heartbroken exes have, I’ve spent many long, weepy nights struggling to figure out what went wrong in each of these cases. Where could I have done something different to create a different outcome? Why didn’t this work? How did this happen? There’s some gasoline in the shed, I think– should I go get it?
Eventually I learned that those questions don’t necessarily have answers, and if they do, they’re unhelpful at best (and mentally anguishing at worst). I realized that in both those cases, beneath the violently passionate flame of new love, we didn’t have much to support us. It was like we’d gone out and bought all these fancy lights and bells and whistles and accessories for a bicycle that was missing its drivetrain and back wheel.
I’ve learned that if you want a relationship to burn steadily for a long time, it must be built upon a solid foundation. Whether you like your campfires teepee-style or log cabin-style, it doesn’t matter, take your pick — as long as there’s something underneath you for support. No lighter fluid needed.
That brings me to my second — and perhaps harder to swallow — point. When you’re building a campfire for the long haul, one that will burn steadily and keep you warm for a very long time, it means that you might not necessarily see a great rising pyre at the outset. Love doesn’t always start with a wild roar. Sometimes it starts with a whisper that slowly, methodically increases in urgency. Don’t assume that because a person didn’t radiate a sort of heavenly light the very first time you clapped eyes on her, she’s not “the one.”
Maybe we have to grow our love from seed. Maybe we don’t always have a jump-start, a dramatic reaction, a quick ignition. Maybe we have to build love the old-fashioned way: with tinder and kindling and fuel to burn on. We have to provide the spark ourselves, then fan it tenderly, giving it plenty of room to breathe. No lighter fluid needed.
I guess what I’m asking you to do is to not ignore the one who seems like a great partner but ahh there’s just no chemistry, ya know? No spark. You might be surprised to figure out that you are capable of making your own spark, with a little patience and effort. And the fire you make by your own hand will be brighter and warmer for a much longer time.