What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Love

People perceive that finding true love is a milestone worth celebrating where most people honor it by tying the knot. Sometimes a decade of relationship fails to result in marriage but sometimes people find themselves walking down the aisle after only one year of romance. Time, indeed, is not a sole measurement of quality, of infatuation, or of love. Somehow someway, you just find someone. Especially at this very age where wedding parties are ubiquitous; you can see someone’s Instagram Story and their wedding hashtags each week. Sometimes I look at them and wonder, “how do they know that this is the one?”

© Asiila Kamilia — Sydney 2012

Some people consider their partner as the one after spending the last decade together. Some say they share the same visions and have similar principles. Some people just magically know it. Sometimes it just clicks, and you know that they are the one. To date, I have mixed feeling when it comes to marriage. Even when considered as an individualist, the idea of living with someone sounds exhilarating. It must be nice to have someone hold you at night. Coming home to someone who will be all ears to your stories. It seems pleasant because I could only think about one or two year of co-living. What lies ahead beyond that is something I have yet understood.

If you ask me, “how do you know that he is the one?” I want to answer that because he is the one I am willing and ready to grow up together with. Growing up means swallowing all the good and the bad. It is about ego fighting, putting up with difficult moments, engaging in challenging conversations, different perspectives, and all that. It is not only about having the best coitus in your life or someone to snuggle on rainy days after a long day with. It is about screaming your heart out, crying in the middle of the night, sometimes out of desperation and disappointment too. I am not going to tell you the best things you could cultivate from love as we are already masters in understanding the rosy idea about it. They are all there in songs we listen to, books we read, and movies we watch. From Al Green to Sleeping At Last. From Kahlil Gibran to Nicholas Sparks. From Before Sunset to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. But think about it; nobody really talks about the downside of it — the hard truths. We tend to dodge ourselves from difficult conversations, even avoid conflicts. That some prefer to sleep it off and forget about it the next day. Some prefer to bottle up everything to refrain from having arguments. At first, it may seem fine, rather good even. “I have a steady relationship as we never have any fights, and we are still going strong.” Are you, though?

Do you communicate your feelings and perspective easily? How do you deal with different opinions? What do you and your partner do to distract yourself when having a tough situation? Is it by drinking? Binge-eating? Talking to friends? Chatting with someone you’re not supposed to talk with? Sleeping? Have you ever talked about financial goals, money management, and debt? What gender roles are agreed to be applied in your future little family? Is the woman entitled to domestic works and the man gets to be the breadwinner, or are the roles equal? Would it be okay if you want to be a working mom or stay-home dad? What is the healthy and agreed limitation on each other’s privacy? How do both of you define cheating? What is the core cultural difference and how much does it matter? How much do you and your partner value spirituality? How are you going to take care of your old folks? If couples rarely talk and really discuss such topics, how would the marriage turn out after the honeymoon phase ends? Will the marriage survive?

People never really talk about all of these.

Marriage is about spending the rest of your life together with someone. It is not going to be a five- or ten-year relationship. If you are lucky, it would be 25 or even 50 and God knows how long it must feel like. That means hundreds of thousands of days spending together. Imagine how bored you could get. In all those years, marriage will require teamwork. Perhaps, you are going to raise a child or keep some pets. There will be endless discussions on which school you are going to send your child to or whether you want to sterilize your cats or not. You may debate over each other’s parenting preference. You are going to build, decor, and take care of a house. There will be days when your partner is not as pretty as she was 10 years ago. Women may gain some weight during pregnancy; some even get acne breakouts and stretchmarks here and there. Not to mention the saggy breasts. Men will not be as athletic after turning 40, some may turn bald. You will encounter financial hardships. Your commitment and belief in monogamy will be tested. Damn well it will. There will be family members who don’t really like your partner. When you are on a cloud nine, feeling optimistic, succeed at something, sad, angry, mad, lonely, depressed, failed at something, even heading toward bankruptcy, your partner is your best friend. How compatible are you with each other that you are certain to spend 50 years together with all that?

People are getting married but the divorce rate in Indonesia keeps increasing that starting in 2020, our Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Culture (Kemenko PMK) insists the bride and groom to attend pre-wedding classes. It is mandatory as it becomes one of the requirements to register a marriage. On top of that, the classes are also free, hoping that they would be accessible for all groups. Background of his decision was the data gathered by the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) which records that in 2018, the highest divorce factor is constant arguing (183,085) and followed by financial issues (110,909)[1]. This data is not rocket science nor a groundbreaking finding. We have actually listened to people whose relationship or marriage ends up in divorce say that it ends because, “he’s just not right for me anymore.” This got me thinking; was he right for you at first, then for some reasons he was not right anymore or was he never really right from the beginning?

This may come off as a surprise, but I kind of like conflicts. Hell, I lam fond of it a little bit unhealthy. A wise person told me that I tended to look for them. That my brain was familiar with conflict situations up to this level where steady curves and calm wave ignited boredom. Still, neither are good. However, many mental health and wellness practitioners believe that conflict might be a good thing. A study by John Gottman, who is well known for its research-based and scientific approach on relationships, shows that if couple in a three-year relationship does not engage in conflicts, then it is one indicator of an unhealthy relationship. At that age of relationship, the couple is already fully intimate; they have farted in front of each other, they have smelt the morning breath and no longer laugh about it. Having no arguments means holding it back, a sign of withdrawal. At this point, complaining, fighting, and having arguments is one of the signs of showing that the couple still care about each other. Sometimes, conflict is about tolerating but most of the time it is an art of communication. Sometimes it pulls people apart, sometimes it makes you know the other person even better. But most importantly, you grow together.

© Asiila Kamilia — Sydney 2012

Researchers believe that these unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings, and thrilling chase all have expiration date. This is known as honeymoon phase which lasts for about two up to three years. Love grows from lust, to attraction, and if you are lucky, it leads up to attachment. Like John Mayer, I would like to see love as a verb. That it is not only romance, but also companionship. More than that, to love is a choice you would have to make each and every day. Consistency is key. One day when the passion is not as high anymore and when some days are filled with arguments, I hope I could make a choice to still commit to my partner. Commit to make things better, come hell or high water. Commit to keep trying, to keep learning. Commit to listen with empathy and apologize wholeheartedly. Commit to own my mistakes and fix them afterwards. Commit to grow together instead of growing apart. Commit to have an open communication and maintain an amicable environment. Commit to be honest at all times, despite anything, above everything. After two years, love is all about verb. Doing something, even when you are not asked. Doing something for the benefit of all, not for one person against the other. Doing something with caution. Doing something responsibly.

What do we don’t talk about when we talk about love? Some days, it is as easy as Rex Orange County’s Loving Is Easy while some other days it is difficult. That love may come at the cost of something. That a healthy conflict is needed. That it may require you to make some sacrifices. That the fiery romance only lasts up to two or three years. That love could be risky, and it could get ugly. That it demands constant understanding, tolerance, and unbreakable resilience. That divorce is real. That monogamy is difficult, and it will get tested. That the grass may look greener on the other side.

But the grass is only greener where you water it. So that’s love; the good and the bad. Sometimes it does not work out. But hey, what if it does?

[1] The data only covers for divorce rate in Islam.

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