If you’ve ever fallen hopelessly and suddenly in and then just as suddenly out of love, you might have experienced what it’s like to distrust your own feelings and perceptions. You’ll remember the moment when doubt pulled up a chair in your mind and patronizingly asked if you were even capable of experiencing lasting love.
In the wake of my divorce from a man I’d hopelessly loved just three years before and a whirlwind post-divorce romance that soured nearly as quickly as it sweetened, I lived with a nagging doubt for years that I’d ever find lasting love. I lost confidence that anyone, including myself, was capable of being in love with someone else forever.
One day, I realized that the answer might be in the framing of the question itself. When we talk about loving someone forever, what we really want to build is a everlasting love, the kind that feeds itself and grows over time. The kind full of wonder, discovery, and the magic of acceptance and appreciation.
I believe I found an answer to building everlasting love, or at least a process for falling in love again. San Francisco (the City, yes) and one man’s view on the world helped me do it.
I moved to San Francisco from Atlanta about two years ago, a young, slightly hot-messy, divorced-but-idealistic engineer with big dreams about changing healthcare. With two suitcases of my favorite Gap t-shirts and skinny jeans, I started anew in a place I’d only ever seen in pictures.
Within minutes of landing in San Francisco, I knew I loved her. With my suitcases tucked under my knees, waiting for the airport Super Shuttle, I fell desperately in love. The world carried in on the breeze was one of possibility so different from the been-there-explored-that world I’d left behind in Atlanta.
In the first few months in San Francisco, I started working at a company that inspired me. I soaked up the sun every day as I walked almost 5 miles to and from work. I sold my car and embraced pedestrianism full-on. I fulfilled a personal dream of running a Ragnar relay, and I met incredible people. I went out almost every night to new bars with even newer friends, and I never met anyone who had a story I didn’t want to hear. I was in the best condition of my life, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I was in love with San Francisco, and I was in love with my life.
When, a few month later, one of my best friends back in Atlanta was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I felt powerless to help her from across the country. My relationship with my boyfriend back in Atlanta began to perforate from the challenges of long distance. My job wasn’t quite delivering on its promises, and I realized I didn’t actually make enough money to sustain my new lifestyle. My hips began to ache from running and walking everywhere, and my feet made Shrek’s feet look positively pampered. My love for the City and for my life in it suffered.
I began to see all the imperfections that the sunshine of my initial love for San Francisco had bleached out.
Ebbing love slowly turned to disdain. A city 2000 miles away from a friend who needed me. A city where the smell of urine on the sidewalks was the norm. A city where money is given freely to start ups without context, mission, or leadership. A city where my engineering degree wasn’t valued, because the only engineers of interest were software engineers. A city where simple tasks like getting groceries and pet food were impossibly time-consuming. A city where getting a morning coffee was a 20 minute debacle.
One year after moving to San Francisco, and just a few months after the happiest, healthiest, most fulfilling time in my adult life – I found myself completely out of love with my city, and doubt echoed in my head. “Oh, you thought moving across the country would fix it all, did you? Silly lady. You can’t sustain love, don’t you see that?”
When I was most disillusioned and most disheartened, someone came in my life and saw all the beauty in me that I could no longer see in myself. But it wasn’t just in me that he saw beauty; I learned quickly that he sensed the beauty in all things.
Rather than hunting for joy like so many of us do, assuming it’s just under the next rock, promotion, or paycheck – he was different. He lived his life in a state of joy. He celebrated the tiniest shreds of light in the darkest moments – things I would hardly notice until I learned to see them through his eyes. His most basic habits brought out the best in others, and he was never in a poor mood. He was so clearly in love with his life, and it was apparent that he had felt this way for a very long time.
I watched him with interest, and I noticed some thought patterns in his approach to the world. I began to understand that his thought patterns created and sustained the joy that characterized him, and I attempted to use these thought patterns to help myself fall back in love with San Francisco. I didn’t think it would work, but I had to try.
The results were incredible.
I saw the 7×7 city with new eyes. I started to see, to look, to behold with wonder. I saw the hummingbirds flitting outside my window. Beneath the counter of my neighborhood coffee shop, I noticed the dozens of crayon artwork pieces drawn by the little girl whose parents run the shop. When I asked her about the art, she told me about every piece, and I asked if she took commissions. I had to explain the concept, but she was willing to oblige for a hefty $1.25 fee.
For the first time, I stopped and saw the street art that I’d rushed by every day for a year. When I carried my 15lb cat to and from the veterinarian office many blocks away, I felt lucky to get all the sun and exercise doing my daily chores. I saw the world once again in the possibilities that the startup people dreamed up, and I began to understand why someone might invest in all of their dreams.
As I fell deeply back in love with San Francisco using his lens on the world, I began to realize that, with work, I could translate my friend’s thought patterns into thought habits for myself that might be used beyond just falling back in love with San Francisco. I wondered if I’d discovered the secret to everlasting love.
Here are the five thought habits that might be the secret to falling in love every day:
- Don’t sweat the small things. (And, by the way, 99% of things are small things. So don’t sweat.)
- Look up at the world and see it for what it is – a wonder – every day. Architecture of the building next door, snails on the ground, cloud formations in the sky – all of it is a wonder to behold. Spend your life beholding in wonder, and you’ll find joy in every moment.
- Where there’s a problem, there’s a solution. Focus on the possible solutions rather than the problem. This sounds easy, but it’s actually really hard. It means no blame, no punishment, no looking back ruefully. Eyes on the solution.
- When it comes to people, just give in. Conflict is a waste of energy, so unless it’ll kill you to give in, give in. Pride is overrated; progress is not.
- The answer is within, so stop looking elsewhere. Truly, all the answers are inside of you. Think about that.
It’s much harder to apply these thought habits to love with a partner than to a city, but I’m always willing to admit that I’m a work in progress. I’ll check back in with results in a few months, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your own secrets to falling back in love and building lasting relationships. Any tips you’d add to the list?