Why falling in love is supposed to wreck your life

I’m convinced at this point that falling in love is intended to wreck your life. It’s the sort of thing that irreversibly shifts your focus away from all sorts of things you thought used to be important and focuses all that energy on one point inside of another person. All the brainpower and calories and serotonin spread out across all your many interests and hobbies and passing fancies consolidate around a person like a magnifying glass sending sunlight onto a dry leaf.

Everything catches on fire.

There’s a lot of science that says falling in love is a bit like being insane. Now, I’m not sure what being insane is like, but I know what being in love is like, and it can really make you feel that way. Now, the thing is that I think we get down on ourselves about the reality that loving us is this all consuming experience.

Falling in love is body surfing in Hawaii. It’s the death wish of cliff diving. It’s the culture shock of living abroad and learning a foreign language for the first time.

When we fall in love, we willfully cast ourselves into the mercies of the water, of gravity, of a strange culture, and we lose all sorts of control in the process. The risk is crashing against the rocks, of hitting bottom, of never finding our way back home. And something intoxicates us so thoroughly that the consequences seem to matter less and less and less.

This also sounds like an addiction.

I’m not sure where really loving someone and co-dependency and addiction begin, but what I believe is that loving someone is the healthy manifestation of that addiction. Every force in this world with incredible force is neutral, but has the potential to be twisted, and that power turned against us. Doesn’t make the power itself a bad thing.

But why do we need so much force to crash us against another human being this way? That’s the question I’m trying to work out right now.

Here’s all I can figure.

When my friends talk about getting married or having kids or committing to another human beings we don’t talk about starting a family or creating a future or starting a legacy. What we talk about is how our parents’ marriages didn’t work out, and the divorce rate is high, and “can you imagine only being with a single person for the rest of your life?”

So yeah, we’re millennials. Previous generations look at us and wonder why we are afraid of commitment and spend all our time hooking up and wonder when we’re going to do what they did and settle down with one another. The way the economy works for us notwithstanding, I think there’s a super pragmatic reason we millennials are reticent to make permanent decisions with one another.

We’ve seen how hard it is and how real it is when two people come together “for life” and then begin to see the wear and tear of their relationship under the friction that life and being individuals brings. There is a certain amount of truth we hope two people will bring to a relationship when they make a vow to each other, but the reality is that loving someone through all that is really inconvenient and really painful and shit if sometimes we don’t think it would be so much easier if we were to start over.

That’s because loving someone else is this really powerful form of ego death. Loving the other person will require self-sacrifice on an epic scale, and that’s a painful process that both people need to be bought in to in a million tiny ways. Not in big dramatic heroic ways, but in tiny, mundane, “are you seriously going to make a big deal out of that?” ways. It’s the little wear and tear that kills us, not the big things.

My priest told me once that marriage was like taking a couple of jagged rocks, tossing them in a sack, and shaking the sack so the rocks banged against each other long enough that all their rough edges got knocked off. After a long enough time you could reach in and pull the rocks out and they’d feel as smooth as if you’d picked them out of a stream.

Ever seen those YouTube videos of two old people super in love? That’s cause they spent a lot of time banging against one another and both were willing to bang against each other long enough out of love and ego sacrifice.

I think my generation has gotten really self-aware about how hard it is to do the work to love someone for the rest of your life. It’s not about staying in love, it’s about doing the work to actually love someone on a daily basis in a way that probably hurts some of the time. The ego death that all our myriad spiritual leaders will talk about, but that we probably have a real hard time actually accepting and enacting personally.

Our lives are content enough without doing the work, and so time passes and we don’t do it.

But that’s why falling in love is such a process of insanity.

It’s because really loving someone contains more than a modicum of insanity. It’s hard. It hurts. In the short term, it’s easier to swipe left and move on to the next person that we can spend a couple of months infatuated with. That’s much easier.

Falling in love has to be a completely immersive, consuming process, otherwise two people would never get together and wouldn’t reproduce. Nobody would stick together very long if there wasn’t this fire that consumed both people and made everything else inconsequential in comparison.

Because sometimes, doing the work to love someone requires a bit of insanity. It’s hard, you’re stepping outside yourself, the world around you thinks you’re a moron, and you’re terrified.

This isn’t a justification for abusive or unhealthy or codependent relationships. That’s the power of falling in love twisted beyond repair. That’s the power of the ocean turned against a ship in a perfect storm. Doesn’t make the sea evil, but it does make the sea something to be honored and respected.

So yeah. Falling in love is horrible. It’s painful. And sometimes that’s what it takes to bring two people together for life.

This is an optimistic, hopeful perspective. This is for everyone who has burned for someone else. Whether or not it worked out. There is always a positive force at work there, and it’s one we have to respect, but it’s also one we can trust if we are careful with our hearts.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter. 



I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.

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