I used to think that relationships were based on hard work and constant effort. That’s what everyone says, don’t they? “This takes so much work,” my old roommate used to complain after hanging up with her long-distance high school sweetheart.
And it made sense that an independent woman would go and get what she wants. I was always taught that hard work would always get me good results. Perhaps in the recesses of my mind I knew that wasn’t the case, yet it was only through experience that the lesson was finally beat into me.
The truth is, it’s not about effort. This myth propagates unhealthy attitudes towards relationships. We sometimes distort this “you have to put in work for your relationships” platitude into an ugly, humiliating one-sided pursuit – allegedly indicative of our worth if we succeed – that in spite of it all yields little to no results. But twisted values and twisted experiences are sustained by the belief that if the person we’re interested in doesn’t reciprocate, then we have to work harder to keep their interest.
Most people don’t care as much as you might when you were a young, wide-eyed idealist first starting out. The majority of them are selfish and view relationships solely on the basis of validation and self-aggrandizement, partially due to the media telling us that “love and romance are healing” and somehow fulfill our entire hierarchy of needs. People fall spectacularly short.
Take, for example, girl from the monkey bars who was supposed to be a friend for life and then disappeared, or guy with the jacket who was supposed to always know what to say but then ghosted.
And yet, once I had a fleeting encounter with a stranger who taught me that even though we all have our Monkey Bar Girl or Jacket Guy, real, meaningful relationships don’t take hard work, but simply take time. And with a little patience, they are worth it.
Of course, I am saying this after spending only 4 hours with him, but we met in front of the tram station by the city hall, and from there he walked me through why going through relationships is actually worth it.
Before, I wanted to give up on them because I felt like all I ever did was get too hopeful, get chided for “catching feelings,” and then left a cynical mess, feeling as though the person made me change myself into something strange that neither they nor I liked or wanted in the first place.
But the stranger reminded me – amidst our stroll in a city of music and the scent of spring – that love isn’t something you need to earn. We should never feel forced to change ourselves in order to earn someone’s love. But under an influence that is mutually positive, we can be inspired to change for the better.
Monkey Bar Girls and Jacket Boys exist, but so do strangers who show us that the real meaning of “relationships take effort” is that “relationships take trial and error, resilience, and a lot of patience, but in the end are worth it.” And we should not settle for any less than we deserve.
When the stranger and I parted, he asked if we should hug or kiss. I almost regret choosing to hug, but he seemed to understand, and perhaps that, too, is a part of what he was saying.
I wonder if we’ll by chance meet again. I should like to say thank you.