“If you loved me, you would let me be happy!” I erupted, like a giant teenage zit.
It was circa 2000, making me around 12 or 13. I desperately wanted to go to a party, and my parents, suspecting inappropriate teenage shenanigans, refused to succumb to my wishes. I was outraged and ineffectively tried to use logic to convince them of their hypocrisy: Isn’t love about making each other happy? Aren’t you, obviously, failing to love me? [Insert dramatic door slamming.]
As adults, we instinctively know that loving kids doesn’t mean bending to their every whim. Sometimes babies will hate you for not letting them eat yard waste—and that’s OK. We recognize that our role in the relationship is so much more than making them feel warm and fuzzy.
The trouble is, when it comes to romantic relationships, this natural understanding of love became lost. Instead of understanding happiness to be an awesome side effect of a loving relationship, most adults now see it as being the entire point.
Following the same logic as my teenage self, I once fell into this flawed understanding of love. In a romantic relationship and on vacation in Paris, I believed that love’s entire purpose was to make us happy. Not too long into our week abroad, I discovered my wonderful boyfriend's dark and brooding side. To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure what it was about; we were in Paris—Paris, for God's sake!—and he seemed to take every opportunity to languish in pessimism and misery. Post-vacation, his sulky mood quickly became a constant state. I started to blame myself for his unhappiness and general dissatisfaction, and, looking inward, sought to fix what I thought was the root problem: me.
Seeking to make this man happy became my obsession. But by the inevitable end of our relationship, I was unrecognizable—a mere shell of the woman he had originally met. And you know what? Despite my changing, he still wasn’t happy.
I know I'm not the first woman to confuse love with the pursuit of happiness. Blame the movies, blame the hippies, blame our dwindling attention spans. No matter whom or what you blame, the idea that the point of love is to make each other happy has become a pervasive relationship myth, drilled into our heads by almost every bad love song.
The famous psychologist, Holocaust survivor, and author Viktor Frankl once said, “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” I have found this to be true in love. If your goal is to bring your significant other the feeling of happiness—you’ve already missed the mark.
Real love isn’t afraid of a challenge. Had I looked beyond myself as a source of happiness, and instead firmly and lovingly challenged him on his brooding mood, he might have seen his actions more clearly—or may have been able to see a reason behind it all. Instead, for the sake of happiness, I catered to his moods.
There’s a quote floating around on the Internet that says, “You have to be happy to make someone else happy.” Eh, sort of. We don’t live in a bubble—we live in community, which means we are influenced by those around us. I believe that true happiness can be inspired by others, but the actual ability to be happy can only come from inside. Real happiness comes from having a sense of meaning and a deeper purpose in life, and each of us must find that for ourselves—no one can make this happen for someone else.
Happiness is an elusive thing—and having a life full of love is indeed a recipe for happiness. But happiness is not the point of love. Love doesn’t always “feel good.” It can be uncomfortable or challenging and can revealtruths you might not want to face. Sometimes love doesn’t make your beloved feel warm and fuzzy—and that’s OK.