23 Love Lessons
I just turned 23. I celebrated with friends, and with ice cream by the sea, and it was lovely. But I was a little deflated that even on my birthday, the blues and the worries of the last few months still found me.
A year ago, I wrote about 22 lessons learnt before turning 22. I was full of hope and the certainty of growth then, clinging onto God and goodness even in the face of heartache, fear, and final-year stress.
I don’t feel like that person right now. I quit my internship at the start of January. The thing that I was so certain would be right for me, that would protect me from post-grad blues, ended up bruising me in the busyness; stress that I couldn’t handle with a healthy dose of adrenaline. My mind started to hurt more than I could manage so I quit, I chose rest, and now I’m here in the big empty sea of post-graduate, unemployed life.
I like to think that these experiences are never wasted, but that’s hard to believe sometimes.
In the midst of this season, there is something I’m learning about. I’m discovering what it is to be loved, even in the face of my failures and weaknesses. I’ve spent the last 8 months with a man who is far more than I deserve, who holds me together on the bad days, and who is my daily reminder that I am not empty of life, or of growth.
I don’t want to tell you that being in a relationship is better than being single, or add to the lies that you are not fulfilled, loved, or good enough without a partner. But I want to share the things I’m learning from this mysterious love thing, 23 things that have shaped me before my 23rd birthday.
Love is… realistic.
1. Love does not protect you from depression, or anxiety, or insecurity, or loneliness. It is not a magic shield; it doesn’t fight all your battles for you.
2. But it does stand beside you in the battle. When I feel low or insecure, I can lean on his hope, faith, and strength. He reminds me of goodness when I can’t see it for myself.
3. Love is a feeling. I spent last summer always counting down the minutes to our next date; I thought I was going insane. Falling in love is fun and terrifying and mysterious.
4. Love is more than a feeling. I don’t have all those crazy feelings all the time—life would be exhausting if they carried on! Honestly, there are weeks where it feels hard to enjoy anything or anyone; those weeks scare me. But he’s patient and comforts me. And I stick with it even in those times, because we’ve already proven that we’re a good team.
5. Sometimes I miss being single. I wouldn’t give up this relationship for the world—but there was something in being single that drew me closer to my girlfriends, that led me to rely on God in my loneliness. Being in a relationship means a lot of my encouragement comes from one person. This is a gem, but it requires more effort and prioritising on my part to not shrink my world down to just him.
Love is… goodness.
6. Love shows me God. I’ve been blown away countless times at the grace, patience, and kindness I’m shown. We forgive, we show grace, stick it out through the hard weeks. Each time, it points me towards God’s endless grace and mercy for me. That I can be SO rubbish and still loved—it rebuilds me every day.
7. Love is safe. It just is. If you don’t feel safe, it’s not love.
8. Character is key. Don’t accept anyone who’s less than good, really good at heart. Everyone has flaws, of course, but you can tell who the good ones are.
9. It feels as good to give love as it does to get it. To be the one giving reassurance, holding them when they’re sad, making the effort; it’s a gift.
10. Love means you don’t have to second guess. You know where you stand; you know you’re secure.
Love is… healing.
11. Love shows you how undeserving, and how deserving, you are, all at once. It sees all your flaws and ugliness and stays anyway; and it sees all your loveliness, more than you’ve ever been able to see for yourself. It softens you to see it too.
12. Love seeks growth. It doesn’t just ignore the ugly bits; it seeks to gently heal our broken parts.
13. The people you love will change you (low-key Moana reference…)—our relationships shape us. Learning to love and be loved is an identity-solidifying process.
14. You don’t have to love yourself perfectly first. I love this post from Ally Fallon—I’ve often cringed at advice to love yourself first, be complete and whole before getting into a relationship. I agree that we shouldn’t be seeking our worth in another person, but we learn to love ourselves by being shown love. We’re reminded of our worth when we see how someone else sees it.
Love is… effort.
15. You pretty much make it up as you go along. No one really tells you what to do, so you learn along the way.
16. Sometimes love means giving space, putting boundaries in, making hard decisions to create and protect balance and health.
17. Love is honest; it doesn’t avoid conflict. It owns up to hurt, to mistakes, to ugliness. It’s honest about jealousy, about the past, about fear. Love listens and understands and forgives.
18. Love isn’t always 50/50. Sure, it’s about compromise and sacrifice, but it’s not I’ll do this for you if you do that for me. Sometimes the load isn’t shared equally because someone’s not up for that. Sometimes you do all the receiving for a while, but there’ll come a time when you do more than your share of the giving. Love doesn’t keep score.
19. It requires risk. Before we started dating, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Sometimes my emotions are hard to work out and I was terrified of starting something and not being able to see it through; the thought of hurting him was unbearable. But after a while, the not knowing was worse. I took a risk; I guess dating is always a risk; all kinds of love are a risk, not knowing whether people will hurt you, if life will take you in the same direction. It’s risky but when it pays off, it’s worth it.
Love is… surprising.
20. Love can creep up on you. It sneaks up on long summer evenings, until you’re hooked.
21. Sometimes you don’t know what your needs are until you find one that’s unmet. Sometimes love looks like a hug, a hand on my shoulder; sometimes it’s being prompted to talk until you open up, even if I don’t want to; sometimes it’s having dinner cooked for me and the washing up done.
22. Love is serious and silly all at once. It’s singing in the car and crying in their arms; it’s bickering and confronting, confessing and forgiving, healing and laughing.
23. Love is hopeful and it’s life-giving. This season of my life is a wide-open, frightening void right now, and sometimes it feels like I’m not capable of growing, or achieving anything. But I’m reminded that I’m in the middle of something mysterious; I’m cultivating something that is good and wholesome and real. It’s not perfect, but it is shaping me and improving me.
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]
ANNOUNCEMENT: Windrose Magazine issue 2 is almost finished!
In issue 2, you’ll find articles like:
- "On Heartbreak and Healing"
- "The Poison of Perfectionism"
- "In Defense of Loneliness"
- "How Corporate Killed My Creativity And How I Got It Back"
- "On What It Means to Matter: An Interview with Author Hannah Brencher"
And so much more—all real life stories to assure you that you’re not alone as you navigate life in your twenties.
We need your help!
In support of Windrose issue 2, we’ve launched a Kickstarter!