"Why is love so f*cking hard?"

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*There is adult language in this blog post. So if you’re easily offended, please stop reading now.

“Why is love so f*cking hard?” 

I remember asking myself this question after my 2nd relationship fell apart. 

We had fallen in love hard. It was a serious 2-year relationship. Our parents had met. We had talked about children.

We fell out of love excruciatingly slowly at first, and then violently all at once. It hurt like having someone untrained in first-aid pull out an arrow from your inner thigh. The bleeding drew the life out of me. I was shattered beyond repair. 

What does the cliche say again? … "Love is difficult, but it's worth it." Try to tell me that during those days and I’d bite your head off before sealing your mouth with duct tape. 

By my 22nd birthday, I swore to be single forever. 

I had a good job, a fuzzy white cat named Potato, men who readily pay my drinks and be my UFO (aka Unidentified F*ck Object). I thought I'd settle with that.

Deep down, I still craved intimacy. But I was equally horrified by the pains that had come with all the relationship in my past. 

But Life, the Universe, God - whatever It is - had a different plan.

3 months after making that vow, I met a handsome Brazilian named Raphael Augusto Fraga in a 500 people conference in Moscow. Meeting him was different from meeting any of my exes. It was very anti-climatic. No thunderstrike or love-at-first-sight. We got together slowly, but surely and steadily the way two rivers are meant to meet. 

He was sweet and kind and funny, curious and open-minded, honest and respectful.

My heart yearns for being with him. But I was terrified of going through the same pain again. 

So this time, instead of just whining “Why is love so f*ucking hard?”, I wanted to find the answers.

Putting on my curious explorer’s hat, I genuinely asked myself:

"What makes love so hard?" (Same question, but with less rage and for scientific purposes.)

More questions followed:

Why did I fail in my relationships?

“What does it take to have a great relationship?”

“What does a ‘great relationship’ actually look like and feel like?”

“And what the hell is love, after all?” …

I hoped that once I found the root cause, I could do something to stop failing.

And that how I began my 5-year exploration in the field of Real Love.

Side note:

I use Real Love instead of True Love because in my very personal experience - the word “true love” is heavily contaminated by many influential forces of our culture, such as… I don’t know… Disney.

You say “true love” and in my head I think of love at first sight, a Prince Charming with perfect teeth who wakes me up from my slumber, The-One-And-Only whom I’m destined to be with, a true love kiss, and dining under the stars, and romantic escape, and a magic carpet ride towards the sunset, and Happily-Ever-After. Blah blah blah…

Real Love is different. Real Love is … well… real.

It happens in reality where no Fairy Godmother is there to sprinkle fairy dust on you and make your toenails sparkle.

Real Love feels simple - like a loaf of freshly-baked bread, or - in case you're gluten intolerant - a bowl of homemade pumpkin soup. It is not expensive and something you can have in your house.

But on a cold day when your spirit low and your heart tumble left and right, Real Love is more than good enough. And when you've bathed yourself in the simplicity of Real Love for a while, you realize that it's too good to be true. 

What I learned about Real Love in those 5 years helped me create a beautiful relationship and marriage. But more importantly, it had made me a kinder, truer, braver, and much more whole-hearted woman.

So, with my curious explorer's hat still on, here are my 3 answers to the question

I invite you to put your curious explorer’s hat on too. Let’s go. 

"What makes love so hard?"

Answer 1: I had no idea what love really was.

Let me ask you: "What is love, really?" If you're like most human beings I've met, I bet this question makes you stump.

In the past, I thought love was a feeling. The funning thing you feel in your stomach, and your heart. The sensation of flying upward like a balloon without a string. For a moment, all is good in the world. Like the famous sentence “You complete me.” that Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) whispers to “the love of his life” in tears.

Years later, Oprah Winfrey told Tom Cruise how this line got a lot of people’s minds messed up.

The incompleteness of being without a lover drove most of us to "fish love" - as the story told by Abraham Twerski, a famous Jewish scholar.

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"‘Young man. Why are you eating that fish?' The young man says, ‘Because I love fish.' He says, ‘Oh. You love the fish. That's why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.'"

In my ex fish-love, my ex-boyfriend was jealous because he "loved" me. He didn't love me; I was the fish he couldn't let go because I gave him a sense of power. I was submissive to him because I "loved" him. I didn't love him; I just didn't want to lose him because I was afraid of being on my own. He was the fish I couldn't let go because he distracted me from my emptiness. 

We used each other to satisfy our hunger. But our stomachs had holes at the bottom. No matter how much we ate, we ended up empty again. So we ate some more until we ate each other whole. That was how the relationship ended.

Back then I couldn't understand why it didn't work out no matter how hard tried. Now it makes perfect sense; no one was left to love. The fishes were eaten. 

This answer lead me to solution 1. 

Solution 1: Find out what love is.

Answer 2: I was never taught how to love another person.

Growing up, I didn't see even one real-life example of healthy happy love. My grandparents and parents took care of each other's bodily needs. But I rarely remember seeing any tenderness between. Perhaps it's something not be expressed in front of kids in Asian culture.

What I saw was them argue, complain, nag, mock, keep secret, criticize or withdraw from each other. Since I was little, I'd heard my dad said many times over dinner table that if it hadn't been for us, they would've had gotten a divorce. I just stayed quiet. Something felt very wrong about this sentence.

Pretty much every relative I know were in the same situation, some more, some less. But none of the relationships seemed free and nourishing.

So I turned towards culture, Korean soap-operas, Chinese kung fu moves (these things were hot where I grew up) love song, and literature… everywhere painted the picture of the suffering agonizing all-consuming love. Yes romantic, dramatic, at times, fantastic. At there was always something wrong. Someone betrays someone, someone takes revenge, someone has cancer, or an accident and lose all memories, or someone commits suicide, what about both commit suicide, or kill each other.

If there's no role model, what about a teacher?

It’s ironic.

We pay tens of thousands of dollars to learn how to build a company without any guarantee that we’ll succeed. 

Meanwhile, relationships are found to be the most important thing in a person's quality of life, according to the longest research on happiness.

And yet...

I never learned it anywhere.

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Nobody taught me how to love another imperfect human being who has entirely different habits, personality, and view of the world; how to know if he’s right for me and what to do if he isn’t; how to talk to this person in a loving way and yet still be myself; what to do when I feel hurt, angry, sad; what to do when I want him to make love to me differently; what to say when I don’t want sex but afraid of disappoint him; what to do when I have doubts about our future; what to do when I need to talk about something that is bad in our relationship; how to not have a fight and still not have any suppressed silence; how to love without losing myself; how to be both happy in a marriage and successful in a career…   

And yet…

I was expected to find the right man, create healthy happy love, build a strong marriage, and a grow a beautiful family with beautiful children.

It's like telling me to climb Mount Everest in my pajamas right after 2 hours of sleep and with no training and no food.

No wonder why it’s so rare to find a genuinely happy marriage. In places where divorce is not accepted like Vietnam, couples put up with each other. Where divorce is considered okay, people hope from one unhappy marriage after the other.

My solution 2 became clear.

Solution 2: Give myself a love education

Answer 3: I didn’t know how to love myself.

Okay. I had heard of the good old wisdom: “If you can’t love someone until you’ve learned to love yourself.” a long time ago. I thought I had no problem in the self-love department.

I had hustled well. I was making money, having a good job, nailing the goals, getting the trophies. People told me how good and good-looking I was. How could I not love myself?

It turned out. I didn’t love myself at all. I only liked myself the way I liked a fish if it was well-fried. But if it came out a bit burned at the edge, I’d shame, and blame, and beat it up before dumping it in the trash bin while making sure no one saw it.

I remember one late afternoon, it was raining and I was driving on the road on my motorbike back from an event. I was the host of the event, and I thought I did poorly. "You're so stupid. Oh, God… How could you not do better? How did you dare to host that event in the first place? You're ridiculous. Now they're all laughing at you. Stupid girl." Those thoughts were like flying darts; and my heart: bullseye. I gripped the handles of the motorbike tighter. It hurt in a way that was very intimate. I thought the event hurt me. But the truth is: I hurt myself.

Criticism was not the only thing I did out of self-hatred. I slept less than 5 hours a day, worked more than 12, said yes when I wanted to say no, ran away from men who genuinely cares (too good for me), got attracted to men who just wanted to pass his time, drank alcohol, inhale cigarette smoke into my lungs, and had sex just to fill the void.

I think deep down I knew those things weren’t good for me, but I couldn’t stop. At some low moments, I hated myself for hating myself...

So answer 3 is found. And I saw the third solution.

Solution 3: Learn how to love myself.

So there I was, trying to study love the way a good explorer studies the ocean on her first sail.

I found 3 answers to the question “What makes love so hard?”

  1. I didn’t know what love was.
  2. I was never taught how to love another human being.
  3. I didn’t know how to love myself.

They helped me realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. These 3 reasons together would make anything difficult, including riding a bicycle, let alone love.

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Imagine trying to ride a bicycle without anyone to teach you, never seen anyone riding a bicycle, and don't even understand what the word bicycle or ride means. What would you do with it? (No offense. I think that's what happens to hipster cafes' owners. They hang half a bicycle upside down from the ceiling.)

So I allowed myself to feel okay about my relationship-failures, and set off with the 3 solutions:

  1. Find out what love is
  2. Give myself a love education
  3. Learn how to love myself

They were the right trailheads. They help me started my exploration in the field of Real Love.

I will write about them to help you blaze your own trail towards Real Love in the coming articles. So stick with me.

I have spent 5 years learning about love. During this time, I traveled the world with Rapha, married him, wrote a book about love, helped many other women find their soulmates and create a love and a life of their dream.

I don’t think there will be a day when I can stop and say "I’m done". Love is as vast as the ocean. Real Love is. And I’m still in sailing.

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What about you? Have you ever asked why love is so hard? Have you found your answers now? And are you excited to explore Real Love with me? 

If Real Love is what you want, I hope you have your explorer’s hat on.

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