“I just assumed that when I met my soulmate and fell in love, all of these annoying day to day things would fall into place.”
I’m on the phone with a friend of mine, who’s a couple years into a relationship that is overflowing with romance. Their pairing has everything: the meet-cute; the deep, spiritual connection; the sizzling sexual chemistry; the stimulating intellectual back and forth; the aligned life goals and values; the mutual belief that the other is the most amazing human to ever grace the Earth.
They’ve committed to a life together, they own a house, they’re very, very happy. There’s just one problem: they can’t for the life of them figure out how to plan their weekends. Her go-with-the-flow attitude clashes with his get-shit-done vibe and all of a sudden their dreamy love connection is imploding into a cranky spat about how long they’re going to spend at Home Depot and who hit the snooze button for the fourth time.
“I know we’re meant to be together,” she says, “so why can’t we figure this out?”
“Here’s the thing,” I tell her, “you guys have got the love part down. But at least 50% of any relationship is dedicated to hashing out details and logistics. It’s going to take some work, but the sooner you make peace with that fact, the better.”
It was only recently that I’ve been able to make peace with this fact myself. A few years ago, I read somewhere that being in a relationship is like running a business with someone. My romantic, idealist self was instantly repulsed by the idea. To me, love was a magical, nebulous force that existed outside the drab confines of plans and practicality. The idea of comparing love to a business agreement offended me down to my hopelessly romantic core. Like my friend, I wanted to believe that when you find a perfect love, the boring details of making a life together just, you know, work themselves out.
At the same time I was being offended by this throwaway sentence I read in a random article, my boyfriend Nick and I were really struggling with some of the practical aspects of our relationship. We fought about cleaning the house, clashed about how we wanted to spend our days off, and failed spectacularly at communicating during conflict. The love was there, but the day-to-day, logistical side of our relationship was a mess. Basically, if our relationship had been a business, we were driving it into the ground.
One day I had a long-overdue epiphany: as much as I didn’t want to deal with the logistical side of our relationship because I felt like it got in the way of the lovey-dovey side, the opposite was actually true. Not dealing with the logistics made it impossible to enjoy the love we had for each other. Nothing kills unicorns and rainbows faster than fighting over whose turn it is to vacuum. Slowly but surely, I accepted this, and we learned how to manage the practical side of our relationship. We made a chore schedule. We took turns planning outings and dates. We worked on our communication skills. Our daily life got easier, our connection got deeper, and the love we had for each other felt stronger.
This experience really drove the point home: there is a difference between being in love and being in a relationship.
Love is gazing deeply into each other’s eyes and seeing something that’s simultaneously mysterious and familiar.
A relationship is playing rock-paper-scissors to see who will take out the trash this week.
Love is feeling completely safe and accepted by someone on a level you never thought possible.
A relationship is writing “have sex” on the calendar because you’re both so busy and exhausted.
Love is being able to speak volumes without words.
A relationship is figuring out how to communicate in a way that is respectful and clear, no matter how angry or confused you are in the moment.
Love is generosity and truth and beauty and art and poetry and soft kisses and symphonies. A relationship is milk coming out of your nose from laughing so hard, Netflix in bed, dumb fights, dirty dishes, morning breath, conflicting ideas about punctuality, and period stains on new sheets.
Figuring out the practical side of your relationship doesn’t lessen or cancel out the love part; in fact, working on these things as a team can bring you closer together. Plus, when you’ve got the day to day details running smoothly, you’ll have that much more time for snuggling, sex, gazing into each other’s eyes, and discussing the meaning of life. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but it’s real. It’s work, but it’s worth it. I still don’t like to compare it to business, but as far as business deals go, a loving relationship is a damn good one.
I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years now, and we still struggle with logistical things all the time. It’s something that most couples constantly work on, especially as new life challenges (moving in together, dealing with family drama, buying a house, having a baby, losing a job, combining finances) come up. But there’s something empowering about realizing that navigating these things takes mindfulness and conscious effort. As my friend is learning now, the end of the honeymoon phase can be rough, and all the nitty gritty details of life don’t just fall into place. Love, in its purest form, is simple. Life is complicated. Combining two lives? Extra complicated.
Here’s my advice: confront the nitty gritty details head on. Find ways to make them fun, if you can, but don’t despair if you can’t. Draw on both of your strengths to make the most of your life together. Streamline errands and chores whenever possible. If your schedules are packed, carve out time for intimacy and spontaneity (as counter-intuitive as that might sound). Try to consciously find a balance between being romantic partners and being — gulp — business partners. Forgive yourself and each other when you lose that balance. Then try to find it again.
Because all you need is love, but you also need a grocery list.
[Photo via Shutterstock]