Perhaps one of the most surprising revelations of my 30s has been the evolution of love.
Or - more correctly - the evolution of my understanding of love.
In my 20s I succumbed to the butterflies, the is-he-going-to-calls, and the "love conquers all" belief oft peddled in dime-store romances.
The result - lots of passion. Lots of depression. Lots of tolerating intolerable behavior waiting for the day when love would overcome alcoholism. Or drug addiction. Or womanizing...
Helpful hint for my current 20-somethings: LOVE DON'T WORK THAT WAY.
Inevitably, after every breakup, I'd go crying to my father, who always offered the same advice: "Why don't you date someone YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE? A MAN IS NOT A PROJECT."
But what did he know?
He just didn't understand.
He didn't FEEL what I FELT.
And that's where my 30s - and meeting my husband - has been such a revelation for me.
First thing's first: love is not about feelings.
Feelings may come as part of the package, but butterflies in the stomach does not love mean.
Often, in my life anyway, the butterflies came with mean love - love with too many strings. Love with uncompromising compromises. In short, not LOVE at all.
It took me 15 years of dating to discover this simple truth: that feelings, while genuine, are not the be-all and end-all barometer of love. Especially if those feelings are obsessive, and cause you to doubt yourself and your worth.
Somewhere around age 30/31 I started exploring not who I had always been told I was, but WHO I ACTUALLY WAS.
What did MY heart know to be true - even if it ran counter to everything I'd been taught.
During this process of self-discovery, I moved to a place of my own, without the comfort of roommates or a boyfriend. I pursued my graduate degree completely on my own. I discovered Judaism and its role in my life. I abandoned old dreams that died in the face of reality and accepted things about myself that I had resisted for...the entirety of my life.
And, for the first time, I made a list of what I wanted in a man, and what I would not, under any circumstances, accept in a man.
And I stuck to it.
And I met Scott.
While it would make for a lovely dime-store romance to say it was love at first sight, it wasn't.
And thank God.
As someone who analyzes everything to death, I wouldn't have been able to live with a love-at-first-sight situation.
I liked Scott. He liked me. He fit my criteria. He didn't raise the immediate red flags. We decided to see each other again.
The beginning was rough. I had my guard up. I wasn't going to give my heart away again easily - no sir!
But about 3 months into the relationship, I found out I had a tumor that was going to require surgery.
That surgery would require three weeks of bed rest/recovery.
I would require help.
And Scott volunteered.
Sill skeptical, I thought this would be the end of the relationship.
He'd see me, unshowered, cut open, with an unending list of needs including help showering, help cooking...help...ugh...toileting.
I thought our relationship had an expiration date.
And that date was the date of my surgery.
But the surgery came and went, and Scott never left my side.
He didn't abandon me at my (then) worst, and I didn't tire of him or want him to go away.
The whole three week period he didn't make my stomach flip - not with excitement, as I dreaded what was happening, but not with fear either. After the first few days I was no longer afraid this man would turn tail and run.
And it was so...comfortable.
My friends, love is COMFORTABLE.
And that's something I never "got."
I thought love was supposed to be like your sexiest going out outfit - a hot, passionate, edge-of-your-seat, what's-going-to-happen, ensemble that hugged your curves and hid your flaws.
Friends, love - true love - is like your favorite pajamas - soft, comfortable. Incapable of hiding flaws but instead warmly embracing those flaws.
Love isn't waking up next to someone you hope will give you approval.
Love is waking up wanting coffee and biscuits, because whether or not you have approval never even crosses your mind.
Passion is loud.
Love is quiet.
Now that I know this in my romantic relationship, I am better able to see it in other established relationships as well.
My body will intrinsically tell me now if someone is a true friend - it's an easy test: am I wholly, unapologetically myself around them, or, do I mind myself to make the best impression?
My comfy PJ people are my friends, the others...aren't.
In my 20s I would not have accepted this.
In my 30s it hurts, but I know it to be true.
Throughout my 20s, I'd revisit the Bible verse that laid out what love is. As I was always seeking love, committing centuries-old wisdom about it to memory seemed as good an idea as any.
Anyone who's ever been to a Christian wedding will be familiar with this verse:
1 Corinthians 13: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I may be a Jew, but the Christians have this one correct (unsurprising, as the first Christians were Jews...but I digress!)
And this understanding of love I've come to - that love is quiet, calm, serine, wise - reminds me of characterizations I've heard about the nature of God.
He is mentioned as being a still, small voice in the heart and mind.
He is called Love.
This is an aspect of love I continue to struggle to understand.
A God of love and a world of suffering...
They seem incompatible, and that raises all kinds of questions...
But I delight in the questions. That is who I am.
And I discovered that - and embraced it - in my 30s.
Perhaps by my 40s I'll have a better grasp of agape (<- Godly love. Not standing with your mouth open.)
Until then, I'm satisfied with my current rate of progress.