Valentine’s Day has come to be associated with romance, even though its origins have little to nothing to do with romance. The current tradition for adults dictate some romantic gesture toward a partner: dinner, flowers, chocolates, or a card. This ‘tradition’ is given a strong push commercially by companies who benefit, as is the case with many ‘traditions’ like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and so on. While it can be nice to receive special recognition on these days, it can also leave those who don’t fit into these categories feeling lonely, and not belonging. If that’ you, I’m sorry!

Romantic love has become a focus of our time. People want more of it, suffer from lack of it, and search for it all of their lives. Ironically, the reason given for many divorces is that people want more love, not less. It’s essential to be clear that no law states you must be in a romantic relationship to be a whole human being. Relationships are critical for health and happiness, but romantic relationships are not.

Our society puts too much emphasis on finding the right person to love you, ‘the one’. We suffer from the illusion that love is simple but finding the right person to love is difficult. We are more concerned with how to get a better partner than we are with being one ourselves.

We live in a consumer culture that inundates us with the message that things can provide happiness. We have taken this consumer agenda to the extreme and tend to view our relationships in the same light. We say things like ‘the relationship just wasn’t working anymore’. This is like saying your car isn’t working anymore, and is it worth putting money into repairs? If it’s not working, go shopping for another one. The idea is that the relationship is supposed to work for you, rather than you working on your relationship.

The problem is more about how we love, not so much who we choose to love. In whatever form it takes, a romantic partnership can be a beautiful, messy, expansive experience. Human beings are wired for attachment, meaning a strong, loving connection to others. We long to belong, and this can play out powerfully when we fall in love with someone. Attachment is part of everyone’s experience, beginning in childhood with our caregivers and continuing into adulthood. Attachment is survival based. Humans are elephants, not grizzly bears: we need each other to survive.

The patterns we form in our attachment with our early caregivers play themselves out later in life with intimate others. If you had inconsistent caregiving, you might give too much, focusing on your partner with anxiety and morphing yourself to hold onto the relationship at the expense of your own needs. If you had abusive caregiving, you might be distant and protective of your own space, actively pushing love away. These patterns play out unconsciously. We often believe that the other is causing our patterns, even though we’ve played out same pattern with multiple partners!

We can learn to bring ourselves to the other vulnerably rather than play out automatic patterns. We can be curious about the other, getting to know them rather than trying to adjust them into what we think we need. We can be genuinely interested rather than reactive. When you truly know someone, it’s easy to love them. By being vulnerable and being a soft place for another’s vulnerability, we heal our relationship with love itself. Learning to be fully vulnerable with those you love takes practice and might require professional support. We can all grow our capacity for love and deserve to grow our capacity for love. Loving and being loved are central to human existence. It’s not about finding the one, it’s about being the one.

Let’s join together in re-writing the story of relationship.