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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Closer Look at Love [2]

We remember our first love. We are either in love or want to be. We love our family, friends and dogs, cats or other pets. We don't even reserve the word for our family, our friends and ourselves. Some of us confess to loving chocolate and food. We use the word "love" a lot. In fact we love it.

But through it all, there is a connecting human aspect.

As with part one of this post last Valentine's Day, this is my attempt to try and give an insight on what love means and what it has taught me. In this part, I focus on the practical aspects and tips of getting into and keeping a relationship.

Finding Love

When it comes to finding love, there are certain truths that seem so irrefutable that we should all follow them. Some of us are firm believers that we can tell within seconds if we're attracted to someone. Or, some of us adhere to the idea that a first kiss says it all. However, holding on to certain out-dated romantic notions don't allow for chemistry and can be dangerously limiting when looking for love. We may fail to give the right person the chance to show us that they're "the one" for us.

"Love at first sight" is a familiar romantic notion. But real love - long lasting love - takes more cultivating. We can't gauge long-term potential without learning whether each other’s values coincide, and to learn that takes time, discussion, observation, and interpersonal interaction, not an initial impression based on superficial cues. So, don't write someone off — or conversely fall head over heels — until you've done due investment.

One of the questions I am usually loathe to answer is "What do you look for in a woman?" A "must list" looks great on paper, but paper won't keep you warm at night, and in all honesty it probably won't bring love, either. Would you want to be simply "a list of parts" on somebody's checklist? You can check off the attributes you want — appearance, background, education, career, salary — but unless you're building your lover in a lab, you're missing out. Of course, you should have standards and not settle for a two-pack-a-day smoker who doesn't want kids when you're allergic to smoke and eager to start a family. But settling for nothing less than perfection is unrealistic. Try to be flexible, especially when it comes to physical or material attributes like someone's height, salary, or hair color. After all, just because someone looks like Paris Hilton or Tarkan it doesn't mean he or she will make you happy, so do yourself a favor and treat your ideal-mate wish list as just one small factor in deciding who's right for you.

The most important part of good love, which for some reason many of us fail to realise, is that it provides us with balance. The person we love should at the same time not only be our opposite in certain things, but also one that compliments you. That is the secret of its success. I see it from my parents. They are just opposite enough for those opposites to attract, and enough things in common so that they have activities to share outside of the bedroom or kitchen. Not only does that leave room for people to expand their boundaries and maintain some healthy independence, but it also means an acceptance of different values.

Sex is important, but - again balance is necessary - it shouldn't be everything. Overdone, it can sizzle out. Sometimes just a stolen kiss can be a romantic, erotic experience, rather than always feeling pressured to peform. What is important the emotion behind it. If it is done for selfish reasons, simply to satisfy your own cravings, then the respect and trust needed dissolves. Sex is a craving - but a craving for communion with the other person, not our own needs.

Finally, just because we might not be on someone's mind every second of the day, it doesn't mean the love isn't there. We shouldn't want that, either. I would rather I was thought about less, but that when I did come to mind I made that person feel good. The quality of our thoughts rather than the quantity is important - the difference is the same as between infatuation and love. If we have warm and comfortable feelings when we think about our loved one, that indicates a relationship built on stability, trust, and a strong "friendship" factor, denoting a relationship that will more likely wear well over time. If, on the other hand, our relationship keeps us up all night as we analyse their e-mails for hidden messages that reveal his or her true feelings, we may be chasing down a dark alley.

Questioning Love

So, you've found love? Now is the appropriate time for an emotional checklist - not to define love from a list of attributes - but to see if it is the real thing. I have eight questions that I ask myself before I make a lasting commitment. It is easy to see that they incorporate all the things I've mentioned above:

  • Do you want to share your life with this person?
  • Does your love give you energy and strength or does it drain you?
  • Do you respect this person?
  • Do you feel your relationship is fair?
  • Do you accept your partner exactly as they are?
  • Can you both accept your mistakes, apologise and forgive each other?
  • Do you have beliefs and interests in common that make the foundation for friendship?
  • Are you able to accept the sacrifices that may come in life together?

Try them out on your valentine. How many of them can you say "Yes" to?

Keeping Love

There are no guarantees in love. You search for love and you find it, but then how do you keep it? How do successful chemistry sustainers develop healthy coupled-up habits which allow them to keep their love alive and kicking.

I've seen a lot of people have trouble staying close. They get into relationships and think they're automatically going to know how to make everything work, but figuring out how to stay passionate together is really a skill. But they are skills that anyone can learn.

Here are six habits I always try to adopt:

  1. Catch romance where you can - the best of us start out with champagne and roses, but the likelihood of being able to sustain that feeling when you fall into the routine of daily living is pretty unlikely. Successful couples learn to build a bubble of romance at unexpected times and in low-impact ways, whether that be a long, lingering smooch or just holding hands. In other words, the next time we've got 15 minutes to spare let's make use of it — that's what keeps the spark alive. Romantic meals are never clichéd and should be put to good use here. Not only is it the perfect opportunity to spend quality time together, but there's also something deeply fulfilling about cooking for our loved ones. Making the food appeal to and heighten the senses with soft, sensual textures will help create the right mood.
  2. Fight fair - Believe it or not, learning to fight right is an important part of keeping chemistry alive. Why? Because if you are constantly putting each other down, it's hard to feel mutually amorous. There is no such thing as a relationship without disagreements, but if there is an understanding that your partner can come to you with any issues without being attacked, you will have an honest relationship comprised of 'open discussions' rather than 'fights'. Listen to each other; admit when you're wrong. Also make a rule of never, ever saying "I told you so" no matter how much we might want to say it. The result is that the chemistry doesn't wane because the arguments never escalate to a personal level. We should stop thinking about ourselves and think about the other person. Try focusing on the other person. Look at them not as a person who's criticising us or judging us, but as someone who wants to get to through a difficult situation. We should check our words; focus on resolving the issue at hand instead of throwing verbal punches.
  3. Do things on your own - This isn't a sign people are drifting apart. On the contrary, developing individual interests allows for a richer life as a couple. By taking little breaks, you gain a greater appreciation of what your partner brings to your life and you have more to offer as well. You feel better about yourself and are less inclined to be demanding of your partner when you're together. Taking some personal responsibility for your own well-being relieves the other person of the pressure to "provide" happiness — so nurturing some solo adventures and allowing your loved ones the freedom to follow there's is what true love is all about. That'll also keep each of you stocked with plenty of adventures to chat about, which also builds your bond. Let your love breathe.
  4. CoupleTake on a project together - Separate interests aside, exploring new ground together is also important since it strengthens your history of shared experiences. It brings a whole new level of closeness to the relationship because of the time spent learning as a duo and it can really kick up the chemistry. For example, going to the gym or managing your weight together can bring a sense of togetherness and acomplishment.
  5. Don't let your sex life slide - No doubt about it, couples with healthy sex lives have no problem keeping chemistry cooking. Sex does not naturally fade over time - people's preferences can, and do, change over time. The trick to injecting more electricity into a lagging love life has to do with trying new things. This doesn't just mean experimenting with tricks and techniques, but even returning to the basics that may have been abandoned along the way – lots of kissing and eye contact, for example – can make the usual encounter feel very different, and much more intimate.
  6. Understand each other's body language - We need body language because it doesn't lie. It tells us the truth. It helps us make sense of our feelings. We also need to put trust in ourselves to interpret the body signals of our loved one correctly. Body language and facial expressions, tone of voice, speech patterns, and content are essential if we want to know where we stand with another person, but objective analysis is important as our own feelings can colour our reading of someone else's movements - especially if we've invested a lot of time, energy and love in them. In the same way, we have to manage our body language to give our clear signals.
  7. Engage in some mutual admiration - In order for chemistry between two people to thrive, there needs to be mutual respect. Simply paying attention to the everyday things and making it a point to compliment can make a world of difference. Because the reality is, you'll always want to be around someone who thinks you're fantastic.

Part one | End of part two

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