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Love Stuff And What I’ve Learned

I get emails from readers every so often telling me their stories and asking for love/relationship advice. I don’t print those emails here – not even anonymously – because…well, they’re very personal, and they’re not my stories to share. (Please, always feel free to email me with this kind of stuff, by the way – I love hearing from you regardless of the subject matter, and if you’re nervous about me publishing anything a) know I won’t without asking first, and b) just say “would prefer not to have this published,” and it won’t be, guaranteed).

I’m noticing, though, that a couple of ideas keep popping up over and over in the emails I send back to readers who ask what I’ve learned about relationships over the past decade or so, or what makes my relationship with Kendrick work.

First, you know how they say that you have to make all those horrible dating mistakes before you’re able to open yourself up to a healthy, long-term relationship? That may not be how it goes for everyone, but it was certainly was how it went for me. I fell in love for the first time when I was 17, and broke up with that boyfriend when I was 19 (and then again when I was 22), and for a long time, I thought that was it. I’d been told once or twice that you never love anyone the way you loved your first love, and for years and years, I believed that was true.

But as it turned out, it wasn’t true; not in the slightest. I discovered that not only was it possible to love someone just as much…it was possible to love someone so much more. Our marriage “works” (although I don’t love that word, because it implies that there’s a right way and a wrong way to “do” marriage…and there isn’t) not just because Kendrick makes my heart melt in that way that you dream of when you’re a kid watching Dirty Dancing or whatever (although he does), but also because we met at a time when both of us had gone through so much that we were able to recognize what we had in each other and run with it. And when I was 20, that would not have been a possibility. Had I met Kendrick right then, I would not be with him today, and he would not be with me, and I’m certain of that.

Love is a lot, but it’s not always enough.

I spent my mid-twenties being a total idiot, and did ridiculous things and had bad relationships with bad people, and I absolutely would not have been able to see my relationship with Kendrick for what it is and cherish it the way I do had I not gone through those experiences. But of course I made bad choices; I’m glad I did, in fact, because it was the repercussions of those bad choices that taught me how to care for another human being in the way they deserve to be cared for…and how to accept that care in return. Such things don’t just come naturally to everyone. Love is a learning process, and it can take time. Patience.

The other thing that my twenties taught me: how to see past the sparkle. When I was dating around, a lot of what drew me to people was my perception that they were “special” or “extraordinary” in some way…which, unfortunately, meant I dated a lot of actors (ladies: don’t date actors). But what I was doing, I came to realize, was confusing external markers of “specialness” with the real thing. In other words, I would have rather dated an artist than an accountant for the simple fact that I felt that an unconventional career choice (as one example of these “external markers”) was an indicator of some internal spark, something that made the person more “worthy.”

And while I don’t know that those external trappings ever go away entirely, entrenched as they are…they’re blurry now; they’ve faded into the background. It’s the quieter things, the smaller things, that are brighter these days. I no longer like the toy because it’s fancy and pretty and has cool bells and whistles; I like it because I know it inside and out, because it’s been carried with me such a long way, and because as time has passed I’ve learned every single thing about it, and most of all what I’ve learned about it is that it’s not a toy at all. Because it belongs to me, and I belong to it, and because every chip of paint that’s fallen away has only made it more beautiful.

Look: a job, a haircut, clothing, money…it’s all just stuff, and it can be nice, or not-so-nice, but either way, it’s not even close to the point.

The point happens late at night, when it’s just you two and a pillow and a pitch-black room filled up with the enormity of how it feels to love a person when everything else is gone.

And that’s what my twenties taught me.

  • Em

    loved this. really nice to hear i’m (hopefully) not the only 25-something out there that feels like i’m living through a quarter life crisis, as opposed to enjoying the moment. my personal life is filled with joy, it’s my professional life that keeps me up at night. will i ever find something i love? will work ever not be w-o-r-k? i hope all the time that i can find the beauty in this time and not wish my 20’s away. i hope it’s possible to find peace in all aspects of your life at 25. thanks for keeping it real. 🙂

  • Erin B

    Thanks for this, Jordan. It re-affirmed a lot of the things I feel for my boyfriend. We’ve been together 2.5 years and every so often I romanticize about the more risque, uncertain, exciting (and yet de-moralizing) world of dating, but then realize it pales in comparison to the safety, unconditional love, and security I have in my relationship. I think a LITTLE bit of deciding to be in a long term relationship is mourning your single life a tad, but I agree with you that SO much of this is precipitated by being READY to love and be loved. Dating teaches you that, you learn it the hard way, and then it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.

    Also, a lot can be said of loving a little one (in my case, my niece) and having it remind you that love is not supposed to be this complicated thing wrought in pain and uncertainty, it’s supposed to be easy to love someone. I am 100 percent confident that if the little one hadn’t taught me that, I would have never found my boyfriend.

    Hope yours reminds you of these important lessons daily!

    all the best 🙂

  • Kate

    This is absolutely beautiful and so true.  You brought tears to my eyes this morning.  Thanks, Jordan.

  • Nikki

    I thought this was really thoughtful and honest post. I do take issue to the “don’t date actors” comment. As an actress myself, I have dated many actors and some were great and some were terrible same as all the other kinds of guys out there. It’s clear that you still feel some pain over your relationships with some actor men, but don’t you feel that comment cheapens the rest of your post? The actor thing if just “stuff” too, after all.

    • Anonymous

      of course you’re right – i was kidding with the “don’t date actors” thing, but the fact is (as you can tell) my experiences doing just that weren’t so great, for reasons that to me seemed in many ways tied to the fact that they were actors, or to things that perhaps drew them to the profession. but yes, that is just one more thing that falls into the category of “stuff” – being with someone who will cheat on you if they’re away from you for a couple of months is the salient point, not the fact of his or her being an actor.

      • Nikki

        Agreed. It’s why I stopped dated Wall Street guys. 😉 Now, I’m happily in love with a perfected flawed (but honest and giving) musician.

        • Anonymous

          oh, don’t even get me STARTED on musicians 😉

  • Ashley

    Aww, I love this!  It’s funny how a little time and some life experiences make us see things in a new perspective.  

  • heather lui

    “…and for a long time, I thought that was it.” I’ve lived this, too. I never wanted to love anyone that much again because it hurt too much. But life has a funny way of putting someone in your path that can change your resolve in an instant. I’m marrying that someone in 43 days.

    • Anonymous

      that’s so wonderful to hear; congratulations 🙂

  • amy

    such an amazing post! absolutely loved it – so thoughtful and great writing. you discussed so many things i’ve been thinking about lately.

  • Beautiful! So well-written and honest. Definitely made me teary-eyed! Thank you for sharing!

  • Great post, Jordan. I especially love what you say about external markers. I read a great Aha moment in O recently – Laura Linney’s, where she talked about how she used to think charisma meant someone was an incredible person. She later realised that sometimes the best people are the least flashy, and it’s worth getting to know quiet types, too. And oh, am I glad I’m not with my first love anymore. For both our sakes 😉 

  • Allison Lowery

    Agreed and thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  • Jordan- beautifully written. I’m 27 and still in my total idiot stage (dear lord, please let it be just a stage), so this was a sunny reminder to continue to trust the process and keep a joyful, open heart along the way. I just sent this post to a few of my fellow 20-something gal pals. love your site–you rock! 

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  • Annie

    this is lovely, and I can relate 100%. Just have a curious question though; at what point did you realise you wanted to spend the rest of your life with your husband?