This is the most personal article I’ve ever written. It’s about love, but it’s not meant to make you feel fuzzy inside. My goal isn’t to inspire or impress you; it’s to be completely honest.
Four years ago, I experienced true love, and it changed my life. Anybody who has experienced it will tell you the same: it’s the most profound experience a human can have. But it isn’t easy to describe. It’s not simply a feeling – it’s something like a state of mind. It changes how you think and see the world. For me, the depth of love I experienced was so intense, it forced me to accept the existence of God.
Obviously, I am not talking about your run-of-the-mill kind of “love” – the kind we have towards our favorite foods. I do “love” bacon. But I also “love” my wife. Why we use the same word in both circumstances, I’ll never understand. While my affection for bacon runs deep, it’s in an entirely different category than the love I feel for my wife. So, Julia and I agreed we needed a different term to reference the profound feeling we’ve shared for each other. When we’re extremely close, we don’t say “I love you.” We say “I verb you”, and it means something completely different.
To “verb” somebody doesn’t mean “to like them a lot.” It doesn’t mean “to really enjoy their company.” I’m talking about a feeling so strong, that it’s necessarily met with a desire for commitment. It’s literally impossible to “verb” somebody and not want to be partnered for the rest of eternity. I realize this will upset people, but if you think you “really really love” somebody, but don’t immediately want to be committed for life – without even a shred of doubt – then you’ve not experienced true love. True love doesn’t include even a split second of reservation about 100% commitment to your spouse; in fact, nothing could be desired more.
Surely, that sounds fanciful and dramatic. Incomprehensible, even. Neither my wife nor I could have understood what I’ve just written before experiencing it – neither of us thought we would ever get married, but it happened.
Don’t be mistaken: all is not roses. True love is not just a fluffy, feel-good thing. It’s utterly terrifying and painful. The life-changing beauty is coupled with extreme distress. Getting to that mental state with your partner is difficult, and maintaining it might be impossible. My wife and I undoubtedly experienced true love, but the state of mind doesn’t appear to be permanent. I wouldn’t say we’ve fallen out-of-love, but it does occasionally get covered up – as if we forget we’re madly in love with each other. Sometimes, it gets covered for too long, and it can be hard to get back.
The purpose of this post is many-fold. I want to explain a necessary condition for experiencing true love, and how to get it back if it’s lost. I also want to caution: love changes you as a person. All of your personal values immediately get up-ended and re-ordered. It’s a conversion experience, to such a degree that you might not even feel in control of the situation. And it’s not a guaranteed thing – your love might be unrequited. Opening yourself up to true love opens you up to absolute devastation, as I will explain shortly.
Here’s the absolutely necessary condition: honesty. It’s not a sufficient condition, but it’s necessary. I’m not talking about your conventional honesty. I mean you must be 100% honest – not 99.9%, hold-a-little-back honest. It might sound easy, but it’s probably one of the most difficult things a human can do. Every single one of your secrets must be exposed to your partner. All of them. The darkest thoughts, feelings, stories, hatreds, jealousies, insecurities, lies, pettiness, desires – every last one. It’s a degree of honesty that most people don’t have with themselves.
The experience is of complete, naked vulnerability. The purpose is to answer the question: who are you, really? Humans have this incredible ability to wear masks. At best, we present a sort-of-true version of ourselves to the world. But behind all the walls and artificial bravado, there’s a real person. There’s an extremely sensitive human being. For most of our lives, I think everybody (myself included) forgets this. We suppress it and start to believe our masks. In my case, before falling in love, I was extremely detached from the reality of my emotion. Not in a dramatic way. Not because I was in a bunch of pain. I simply overlooked it in the midst of my philosophical journey, and I doubt I ever would have rediscovered it without Julia.
If you can’t be completely honest with yourself, much less your partner, then you cannot experience true love. If you aren’t real, then your partner won’t be able to love you, because they won’t know who you are. Any affection they have towards your masks will never reach you, because their feelings are based on an illusion.
Rather than expose yourself, the desire is to shield parts of you – to wear at least a fig leaf or some makeup. But to the extent you do hide parts of yourself – if you have a single wall – you are necessarily shielded from true love.
If you do get to this degree of honesty, you’ll discover that humans have some shitty qualities and some really shameful stories. This is true about all of us; if you’ve lived long enough, you’ve done (or at least thought) some terrible things. And chances are, you’ve buried truths about yourself.
I’ve done some awful things in my life, and they were coupled with lies, manipulation, and extreme selfishness. My wife knows the truth: parts of me are ugly. I know the same is true about her. We were fortunate enough to share these truths before we got married – but the opportunity still exists for any couple, regardless of their marital status.
What to Expect
So, what can you expect upon revealing yourself? Pain. A lot of it, assuming you’re a regular human being who’s kept something from your partner. You feel pain for several reasons. First, the simple facts of the situation. Maybe you’ve done something behind their backs, or vice versa, which can feel devastating. Maybe you realize you’ve been lying to yourself – perhaps for years – which might cause pain, shame, confusion, or maybe even embarrassment.
You feel pain because you’ve hurt your partner, perhaps deeply. You feel more pain because you’ve been keeping secrets from them. Your internal life has known the truth, but you’ve lied about it, for whatever reason. It causes even more pain because – if you’re in this fragile state – you don’t have any walls to protect you. If you’re being real, then you see the reality of the situation – you’ve lied and hurt somebody, and you’ve probably been lied to.
When you are in such a vulnerable state, your partner can completely crush you – you’ve given them a direct route to your heart. And I don’t mean “crush you a little” – I mean they can take your heart and smash you into smithereens. They can reject you, mock you, hate you, hurt you – or perhaps even most painful – lie to you. When you’re deeply honest with somebody, and they lie to you in return (either about themselves, about you, about what they’ve done, thought, or felt, etc.), it’s devastating. You feel stupid. You must really trust somebody to share yourself with them, and when it’s not reciprocated, it’s like throwing yourself in front of an oncoming train.
And there’s no way to know how your partner will react. Perhaps they’ve never felt so much pain before; perhaps they feel crushed by the truth. They might be angry at you. They could ball up in the corner and cry for a week. They could want to spend time away from you. Or vice-versa. I don’t know, and neither do you. That’s part of the difficulty. Will you be able to trust each other in the future, given the truth about who you are and what you’ve done? You can’t know until you have the conversation.
If it works out – if you can both share the truth with each other – you have an opportunity to build a relationship based on real trust and serious vulnerability. I trust my wife; it’s possible that I could be horribly taken advantage of. I am always running the risk of looking like (and feeling like) a complete fool. I am aware of this, and so is my wife. She bears a huge responsibility of not taking advantage of my trust.
Knowing that somebody trusts you is terrifying. If you screw up, then you’re stuck in a catch-22. Either you immediately confess to that person – and hurt them in the process – or you suppress the truth, which will end up hurting them more in the future. The longer you go without getting back to a “clean slate”, the longer you’ve essentially lied to each other.
This is why the mental state of true love seems temporary. It’s extremely fragile. Like an egg which breaks at the first scratch. To maintain it, it takes a lot of conversation and honesty. And you must be prepared for pain.
You must think about and share all the dark thoughts you’ve had – the selfish, manipulative lies and half-lies you’ve told. You must get real with yourself: have you wondered if you made a mistake getting together? Do you honestly enjoy your partner? Your kids? Have you been unfaithful, either explicitly or in your thoughts? Are you still insecure with your own self? Have you lied to yourself so much that you don’t even know who’s under the mask?
Remember: to feel love, you must expose whoever you really are, ugly as it might be. There’s not an inch of wiggle room to think, “Well, I’ll hold a little back, just in case.” You can’t allow even 0.000001% of yourself to be walled off or guarded.
I should imagine the prospect of true love sounds scarier, especially if you’ve a tendency to be dishonest. What happens when you’re completely naked in front of somebody and they reject you? I don’t know. I imagine it would be a shattering experience, on a very deep level. It’s a massive risk, but the reward – in my mind – is nothing short of discovering the meaning of life, and experiencing literal perfection on earth.
Mutually shared love is the highest state of human existence; there’s no “deeper” feeling or “deeper” meaning – it’s 100% complete, satisfying, and consuming. It leaves nothing additional to be desired. It’s so perfect, if you can get there, that it will terrify you to think about losing it.
Even if you don’t reach that state, by being truthful, you’ll be left with a clearer picture of reality and the people in your life. If you are partnered with somebody because of illusion, then – in the long run – it’s better to go your own ways. Living a dishonest life might be easy, but it will eat at your soul. As far as we can tell, you get one shot at life, so you might as well be truthful with yourself about it. Don’t wake up when you’re 80 and realize your entire life was an act.
I am not making the case for love. I am trying to show what’s required to get there – lots of pain and honesty. This entire idea can be summarized in a sentence: truth and love are inseparable. You literally cannot experience true love without completely exposing yourself, and by doing so, you could end up devastated. Or, you might join the small group of people who fully understand the final line of Les Miserables, when they sing, “To love is to see the face of God.”