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Listen, no matter how many pro vs. con lists you make, no matter how many hoops you make him or her jump through beforehand, no matter how many question and answer sessions you engage him in, no matter how slowly you take things, no matter how perfect the relationship seems, falling in love is never smart. Falling in love is crazy. Falling in love is unreasonable. Falling in love is stupid.

Let me tell you, in the beginning, it’s literal magic. The butterflies are abundant. Your smile is perpetual. The laughs come frequently. The fire burns hot. It isn’t overrated. It’s everything. When you’re watching your person make you pancakes after giving you the best sex of your life, it’s everything. When he or she looks past your physical and peers right into your soul, it’s everything. When you wake up in the morning and realize that your heart is bursting with joy because that final piece, the sole thing that you couldn’t provide yourself, that icing on the cake, is yours and life is perfect…’s everything. You’re soaring through life with wings your beloved nurtured, fed, and grew with the patience and diligence of a saint. For a while, that’s your reality…..perfection.

Your partner does anything to make you smile. He listens to you. He surprises you. He goes above and beyond. He loves those that you love. He supports you in ways you never thought someone would. He forgets pride, discards machismo and throws himself into loving you.

Your partner respects you. She looks at you like you’re the most beautiful person she’s ever encountered; like her world would stop if you walked out of it. She asks your opinion. She works hard to get to know you. She accepts your faults and tries her best to be understanding.

Soon, something interrupts your romantic bliss. Life. Life happens. Life tests you, sometimes bringing out the worst in you, sometimes bringing out the worst in your partner. You don’t exist in a bubble and the love that seemed infallible begins to look pretty impotent under the glare that is pressure, stress, boredom, and complication. The honeymoon phase has ended and life together has begun. At first, it’s little things. Your partner doesn’t acknowledge the effort you put forth anymore. Sleep and responsibilities become more important than those late night conversations you used to have. He or she seems to look forward to everything except seeing you. Next, you start to see all the negative traits you were too blinded by infatuation, lust, and hope to see in the beginning.

Your partner is completely impractical. She is a dreamer. She never accepts no for an answer and believes she can make anything happen. You loved her for it in the beginning because you needed a woman who could work miracles. You needed someone who would believe in a dream that the rest of the world thought crazy and impossible. You just didn’t realize you would also be getting someone who wouldn’t accept the basic realities of life, of your situation. She sees issues that you can’t do anything about as problems that you refuse to solve.

Your partner is emotionally repressed. He is often susceptible to tears but shuts down and refuses to talk as soon he feels insecure, jealous, threatened, lonely, unwanted, unloved, or attacked. In the beginning, he showered you with affection, with sweet words, and love letters. It was his passion that swept you off your feet. You loved the fact that you’d found a man who feels everything so deeply, but didn’t realize he is incapable of expressing any emotion that feels negative. Instead of using that eloquence and talent for putting his thoughts on paper to convey his own pain to you, he chooses to act out in ways that hurt you.

Your partner works all of the time. In the beginning, you admired her. You believed she was driven, committed to a cause you both believed in, and she was damn sexy in business-mode. You didn’t realize that she was a work-a-holic, addicted to the very stress that ruins her, unable to put down her cell phone or stop checking her email. You beg her to make time for conversation that is not about her job, to let you romance her, to be with you in a way that has nothing to do with responsibility; except for the one you have to eachother. She doesn’t realize she’s pushing you to the point where you no longer rely on her for romantic fulfillment.

Your partner is depressed. He gives up on life and gives up on you in the blink of an eye; nothing feels worth it to him if it isn’t perfect.

Your partner has a temper. She rushes to escalation, forgetting to use her “I feel” terminology and going for the jugular when you piss her off.

And so, naturally, you fight….or spend entire days in silence where neither of you acknowledges the other, tired of trying to find solutions to problems that seem endless, ready to give up on hope that you’ll ever be understood. You start to feel like you’re being deprived, like you deserve better. You start daydreaming about your single days, about the freedom that you’re convinced you’ve given up.

Sorry, folks. It’s inevitable. You will get hurt. Your partner will disappoint you. There will be times when you feel full of disdain, times when you feel ready to give up, times when you lie on the floor sobbing, wishing it would swallow you whole. Your partner will test you beyond belief. They will challenge your ideas about love, about romance, about commitment, about happiness, about success, and about failure.

What you do after you reach that point, is up to you. I can offer you no advice. I’m just an early twenties believer, an undercover over lover, and a damned fool, if I’m being honest. But just in case you actually care about what happens next for me, here it is:

I choose not to let the pain, the confusion, the frustration, or the hopelessness define my relationship. I take a long look in the mirror and get real with myself about my role in ending the honeymoon phase. I ask myself if I’ve been the type of partner that inspires my significant other to be romantic. Have I been the type of partner that makes my beloved feel comfortable being open? Did I appreciate my love’s efforts? Did I mishandle his or her heart? Did I keep my promises? Was I always transparent? I answer those questions honestly. Then, I work my ass off to make magic.

What, exactly, does working magic look like? It looks like meeting my partner’s actual needs. Sometimes, my feelings are hurt by what my partner needs. Sometimes, my partner’s needs are diabolically opposed to mine….but working magic looks like loving by example. It looks like going to extraordinary measures to give my partner what he or she is missing. It means doing it with no reciprocation, with no indication that he or she will appreciate it, and with no guarantees. It means choosing to be vulnerable after every slight, after every disappointment, and after every awkward attempt gone wrong. It means loving relentlessly and happily until I’ve breathed life back into the part of my relationship that appears dead. It looks like holding onto my dream of a relationship that weathers the storms, that finds the light after the darkness, that is rich with laughter and passion.

And, boy, it’s ugly. It isn’t like the movies in which the couple locks themselves in a hotel room and dukes it out with snotty noses and raised voices until they emerge, rejuvenated. Nope. Some days I feel pathetic. I feel crazy. I feel unreasonable. I feel stupid. But, I’m a true believer, so I wait for my spell to work. I wait for the sparks to pour out of my wand. I wait for my love potion to take hold. So far, it hasn’t turned out well for me. But look out for my wedding. On that day, I pray I’ll be standing face to face with my very own crazy, stupid, unreasonable fellow believer, rewarded for having faith in the power of true love and in the magic of selflessness.

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