Is passion really necessary in relationships?
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Je l'aimais, Anna Gavalda
I have always been fascinated by couples. Ever since I started realizing how lucky I was to have parents getting along so well, I developed an eagerness in comparing each relationship to the other, in determining what were my criteria, in sorting out the important from the non-mandatory things. I asked a lot of my friends about it and lately, it seems that love and relationships are the main topics of our conversations. It must be because we are all gaining experience bits by bits, one after the other, learning about things we would not have imagined or considered before, realizing that things are not that simple after all, or rather that we make them less simple.
I think I truly fell in love for the first time in middle school; I dated the boy for six months before dumping him and clinging to him, but mostly to his image, for two additional years. I did not love him when we dated. He did though, I think. I broke up with him precisely because his love had grown too much and too fast for my young age, his declarations getting heavier, pressure settling everywhere. Passion settling everywhere. The second boy I fell in love with did not give me what I wanted; I was ready then, though. I was ready to give up everything into loving him, from my convictions to my pocket money in order to pay him shrink sessions. Two and a half year, shrink sessions, a night with him, his drug addiction, him blocking me on social media. That’s what it took me to finally back off. And then came my first relationship. I decided to invest my time and feelings in this boy only a month after everything went truly quiet with the previous one. It’s me who initiated things. I sent him a random text, and within barely a month, we were together. He dumped me after three and a half month during which I had to put up with his mood swings, passionate love declarations, utopian projects. I was finally ready to settle when he let me go. I had figured that after months of rollercoaster, after months of uncertainty, passion, unclear fights, misunderstandings, tenderness, discoveries, experiences, time would have finally come where we would be stable. Where questions would start to be answered. But he managed to end our relationship on even more questions. Everything about his life had become apparently questionable. His friends, his future, himself, me. Overall, he cut me off. He cut me off before things got truly interesting. He was always telling me how much he regarded our relationship as profound, grownup and mature, but he lied. He prevented it from truly growing up. And that’s what I am the most frustrated about. He could have tried harder.
I started evaluating how things could be balanced in relationships when my ex and I were in bed, at his grandmother’s countryside house. We were so peaceful, comfortable, tender with one another that I came to the conclusion that I did not care whether I was in love with him or not, as long as we were this good with each other. These holidays marked the only period of stability and certainty of our relationship. At this very moment, we knew. We knew that we were feeling great, and that’s what was the most important. The whole time our relationship lasted, I constantly asked myself if I was in love with him. There were times where I was sure of it. I would be so sure of it that it felt like the words « I love you » were constantly about to escape from my mouth. I was then craving for saying it, to the point where it became unbearable, and words slipped. I did not regret it. He said it back. And it became a habit we tried to limit though, in order to prevent the magic from breaking too much. It did eventually. At the end of our relationship, I watched a Ted Talk on love which completely revolutionized my idea of the matter. The lecturer explained that being in love all the time was not scientifically possible. She argued that, at the moment, she was not in love with her husband, although their relationship was doing perfectly, for scientific reasons: they were not, at this instant, in physical and mental adequacy. But when she would go home, she would find this adequacy back and then she would feel love as it is ought to be felt: real and recognizable. She qualified those moments of adequacy as ‘micro love moments’. There it was: love lasted 90 seconds. These 90 seconds could, of course, be so frequent that they seemed to go on without interruption, but it was actually okay if the 90 seconds stopped, as long as they came back again eventually. It reassured me in a way I could not even explain. It seemed to justify everything that was uncertain in every relationship I knew. How love could feel like disappearing when being far away from the person. How it could fade during an argument. How it could feel so intense sometimes, and so weak sometimes. Ever since, I tried to find what truly characterized a good, functioning relationship. And I came up with my own definition of the matter.
The keyword is respect, as in any relationship, whether it includes friends or family. Then comes a mix of a lot of things: common interests, tolerance, a matching sense of humor, patience, good conversations, and of course, physical contacts. Love and passion come as the cherry on top, especially at my age. I consider that finding someone you can talk to, who makes you feel confident and interesting, and who is him/herself interesting is already a great challenge at eighteen. When all these elements meet, whether passion comes or not is only a matter of chance and luck. I cannot deny that love has its share of hazard, of chemistry, of mystery. Love might be the only area of existence where I find tolerable for chance to exist. But it is not really the topic here. The topic here is rather what is essential for a relationship to work, not for love to dawn.
Some people consider that there are two main stages in a relationship: the ‘passion phase’, and the ‘love phase’. The ‘passion phase’ corresponds to the beginning, where everything feels intense and new, where everything is to be discovered. It is a time for experiments, questions, excitement, stress, uncovers, first declarations, intense sex. It is a time for emotional rollercoasters too. When the ‘love phase’ starts showing up is, in my mind, the beginning of success. Reaching the ‘love phase’ means that you finally start being certain. That you finally know that what you are living works. Of course, there will always be things to discover. Of course, there will always be first times. But they’ll get rare eventually. And it is actually okay. Because I think it is precisely where it becomes interesting.
One of my best friends is confused and puzzled about the ‘love phase’ idea. She has been dating a girl for almost a year now. They are truly, profoundly in love with one another. Their passion is something I never witnessed among people my age. She is lucky to be able to feel and experience such intense things so young, but I also realized how these things could be compelling. Since they started dating at the end of senior year, weren’t in the same high school nor in the same group of friends, and both moved out of Paris in September, they never got to be truly physically together for a long period of time. When they had just gotten together, summer came. They saw each other abroad, in the countryside, but rarely at home and rarely longer than a week at a time. Now that they live in different countries, they manage to see each other at least once a month, but it is hard, as any other long-distance relationship. My friend is the most complex person I know, it constantly surprises and amazes me. I never met anyone else with such an ability to acknowledge her own feelings. She is so aware of everything she feels and lives that it is sometimes crazy to listen to her talking. She is able to remember every detail of every moment she spent with her girlfriend, to remember every variation of her love, every impression, every moment of doubt, every moment of certainty, every physical touch. She brainstorms, all the time. She reminisces, organizes, ranks everything in her head, all the time. I once asked her if she didn’t find it exhausting, if ever consuming. I asked her about her mental well-being. I asked her whether she felt like being stuck in her head sometimes. She basically answered that this was her way of processing things. And I respected it. The thing we didn’t agree on though, was her way of fearing the ‘love phase’. She seemed to regard it as scary and intimidating, if ever boring. I realized that so far, she hadn’t loved in any other way than through passion. But it wasn’t her fault at all: she never got to experience her relationship in a stable, other than fragmented way, even after a year of relation. She never got to see her lover every day. She never got to see what routine tasted like. She never got to see how enjoyable routine could feel. And overall, their relationship is still incredibly beautiful.
I don’t agree with her. The ‘love phase’ attracts me more, maybe because I kind of had a taste of the other one, and suffered way too much when it suddenly came to an end. We always want what we don’t have, and I want the ‘love phase’ because it is unknown to me. But I know that I always enjoyed stability and certainty anyway. I never liked to live in doubt. I always loved things clear and obvious. I want to see what love can be when it has become obvious that it is there. I want to know what boredom, what routine tastes like as a couple, because I deeply think that there will never be boredom as it is commonly referred to in a functioning couple. You can find passion in routine. You can find excitement in boredom. You may continue to have sex even though you’ve tried every sex position. The other will always have a part remaining unknown. So, maybe passion is only meant to be temporary. Maybe it does not even have to occur at all. Overall, it always differs from one case to the other. Some will cling to passion, while others will be content with smooth, stable, easy love. I still think it very much depends on one’s age; you don’t look for the same things at eighteen and at forty. I even think it is illusory to describe relationships between teenagers and young adults following the two-phase pattern, since most relationships at that age don’t make it to the second phase, if they ever manage to go through a pleasant first phase. I think this model applies more to adults, and maybe even more to marriage; we often refer to the cliché of the extensive honeymoon before the ‘troubles’ burst in, these troubles corresponding to the time where stability can finally settle in. And I think it is in this stability that married couples find their most precious happiness.
Some people also consider that there is a difference between ‘being in love with someone’ and ‘loving someone’. I am not sure of being able to state clearly how I regard the two things, since I am not sure of agreeing with this distinction. Because first, from the moment you start saying that you ‘love’ your partner instead of ‘being in love with him/her’, you basically emphasize and accept that passion has vanished. And even if passion and love can be drawn apart, no one honestly seeks for a passionless relationship, because no one wants to be truly realistic. And secondly, I think it is sad to make a difference, because I don’t ever want to come to a point in my love life where I stop considering myself in love. What’s the point in drawing a line between friends, family and lovers then? You cannot mix everything, which is why the incredible phrase ‘I am in love with you’ exists. No one knows what being in love truly means. Some will say that the other gives you wings. Others will say that these things cannot neither be explained nor described. But maybe they can. Here is what I remember from when I was in love with my ex: I would feel like I could drink his words; he would constantly amaze and surprise me; I would start getting interested in what he liked, and feeling proud of what he liked, as if I had found his brand, his singularity, this thing making him so special; I would sometimes find him so attractive that it would get unbearable; he was the first person I thought of when I had something to tell; I wanted him to be here every time something cool was happening; I wanted to know everything about him; I wanted to try and share everything with him; I would enjoy being myself around him, most of the times.