What I learned about love and loving a person

When I was younger, I thought love was all about feelings. If you feel like you couldn’t breathe when the person is around, or that you’re willing to risk your life just to make the person happy…that must be love right?

At the age of 37, I blame hollywood and TV dramas for this conditioning. This misconception of love has caused me (and probably countless people) to fall into unhealthy, toxic relationships without boundaries thinking it is great and romantic when they have only served to break and reduce the parties in the relationship.

I have learned to recognise — after reading tons of books on psychology and neuroscience — “feelings” as my brain’s conditioning, whether it is conditioned because we’re naturally attracted to people who reminds us of our early caregivers because they are our first knowledge of “love” even if it was unhealthy (I highly recommend “The General Theory of Love”); or the cultural conditioning blessed on us by the media.

I had a type when I was younger. Strong, fierce, independent women who I mistakenly thought would protect me from the harshness of the world, and yet nuture me with the love I have never really gotten. I blame this on the media too: for letting me believe that we should seek what we do not have in our partners instead of attempting to foster those qualities in ourselves. My relationships were doomed to fail because of the inherent dynamics that were present because I keep falling for the same type.

I mistook starving need for love, the willingness to sabotage my own life for the other as romance.


Then I met my partner.


Love is not just about feelings. Love is a giant complex layered piece of art collaborated upon by both parties. It is an ongoing delicate equal partnership. We could make it anything we want, if only we can be conscious and deliberate about it. With time it grows more layered, more complex, more intricately bound, and if we are lucky enough, it becomes something worthy of wonder, admiration and protection, not something to settle for.

Love is about truly knowing the person: who they really are, not what we made up of them in our own delusional fantasies, not what we impose on them to fit them in our own versions of an ideal partner. It is about the willingness to witness someone’s becoming and yet understand the power we have to partake in it — a life-changing responsibility. Do I want to become a person capable of supporting and expanding my partner’s blossoming or do I give in to my insecurities and unconsciously, passive aggressively stifle it?

Love is not about the grand, romantic gestures, but the willingness to go through the very mundane grind together. What type of toilet paper to buy, achieving consensus on the household energy efficiency, taking turns to call the service hotlines, agreeing on how to organise stuff in the house, occasionally accommodating to their strange taste in art, learning to work together as a team, etc.

It is also about developing the capacity to survive an existence together. Watching them age, being there when they are sick, enduring the possibility of the immense grief when they are gone, enduring the possibility of their inevitable immense grief they will experience in their lives, supporting the life-changes they make and personality changes that occur as they become.

The feelings that make us stop breathing when a person is around does not endure. The feelings that grow because we know, understand, support, collaborate, survive — together — those are what that makes a relationship take root in our hearts, minds and our entire being, and that outcome of this process:

…is what I call love.


The reality is, most of the time we just wouldn’t know. We wouldn’t know until the relationship develops. That is what that makes it a piece of collaborative art to me, it is an ongoing, organic process that is dependent on the input of both parties. Sometimes one party makes a mistake and the other party turns it into a creative opportunity. Sometimes one party lags and the other party does a bit more. It is a delicate balancing act. Sometimes we forget, we take it for granted, how hard it is to find someone to collaborate on this piece of art with us, creatively. Sometimes both parties drop the ball and before we know it, it is too late to resurrect it. Sometimes a party or both wants to develop a new piece of art — can they adapt and do it together, or should they go separate ways?


I consider myself ridiculously lucky. To be with someone who is willing to collaborate on this piece of art with me, someone who provokes me to learn to love better and discover unknown parts of myself. At 24 months, I wonder and admire this piece of art every day. I cannot be sure where it will go, I can only hope that I can be conscious enough to steward this tenderly as long as possible, if not for the rest of my life.

Thank you for being with me for these two years, D.

illustrated on Procreate by Dorothy Ng