Right before he became a complete celebrity douche bag, John Mayer was a pretty smart guy. Before fame had yet tainted his romantic innocence, before the tabloid magazine covers and high profile dating frenzies, Mr. Mayer was quite the philosopher on the subject of love. But for all of his love-gone-wrong ballads, one of my favorite tracks, “Split Screen Sadness”, delivers the most sobering dose of pure logic that no high-flying romantic could ever survive: “All you need is love” is a lie ’cause we had enough, but we still said goodbye.

It’s a tough pill to swallow. No one wants to call Love out for a fight in the schoolyard and brand it a liar—that’s not cool. First you start beating up on Love, and the next thing you know,  you’re kicking his buddy Hope while he’s down. But we’ve been warned about this kind of thing every now and then, by people like Patty Smyth (Sometime’s Love Just Ain’t Enough). And, though we often do take it out on love, it’s not really love we should be smacking around.

Our beliefs about love are actually learned ideals. Through countless mediums of religious, cultural, and commercial propaganda, we’ve been heavily conditioned to believe that in the context of relationships, love conquers all. The truth is only slightly more complicated: Love conquers some. The remaining parts of any equation adding up to a “happily ever after” has a lot to do with timing and circumstances, too. When I first fell in love, our love matured faster than we did, and the end result was much like sending a couple of 10-year olds into a war: love and luck could only protect us from reality for so long. Sooner or later, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the tides can turn on love and circumstance becomes an unstoppable tsunami wave. My ex-girlfriend would later tell me that she wished we had met later in life.

After Work Drinks in New York City

“Anytime I even mention him to my family, they just go, ‘UGHHHH’! I don’t even bring him up around my roommate anymore.” 

She slurred her words with a skill I had yet to master after so many drinks. Her tongue, heavy under the spell of Kettle One vodka, wove a complicated web of drama that seemed all too familiar for our age group. She and her Ex had come to that same sexual limbo that most 20-somethings fall into following a recent breakup: regular sex, no clear boundaries, don’t ask don’t tell who’s been in my bed. It’s a dangerous place to go, but at least it’s someplace to go. In the winter time, nights get cold and isolation dies a hard death if we can bribe it off with the promise of familiar love and skin. It’s not a bad prescription—it’s just got a lot of negative side effects.

Her golden hair shimmered amidst the dimly lit pub, and her voice had become a beacon for frustrated love. The requirements necessary to fulfill both their sexual needs were at odds, and the conflict of interest highlighted her morality as a source of trouble. For her, monogamy wasn’t such a bad thing; for him, well…

“See, that’s his thing, he needs all that. He’s out there having threesomes, and yeah, okay, whatever, go f*ck all the girls you want, I don’t care. But, I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve done the whole threesome thing, we did it together, and yeah, in the moment you’re like ‘f*ck yeah’, but then afterwards, there’s guilt and jealousy and I just can’t do that anymore.” 

Her story reached a fever-pitch towards the bottom of her glass, her palms pressing against her cheeks with fingers spread as she looked upwards to describe the tragedy.

“And in this city, it’s not like he could never find someone like that. There are a million other girls that can give him what he wants—go be with them. And, I think that’s great that his mind is that advanced, to be able to… you know… do that…but, I don’t know, I just can’t. It’s not the kind of person I am.” 

Though the details may differ for everyone, my friend’s story of love in limbo is one that many of us share. She could say, unequivocally, that she loved him. But, it was also clear that the circumstances surrounding that love was driving them apart.

It’s a difficult thing to wrap one’s mine around, but that’s because it doesn’t make much sense—love that is. Love doesn’t make much sense. Unlike the rest of the universe, which explicitly demands the interdependence of all things—all things having an affect one another—love is a rogue agent. Love operates on its own with no rules and no boundaries. For no explicable reason, two people that are completely wrong for each other in every way, will find that love exists between them. And the binding properties of love are not easily broken either, nor do they require nourishment. You could never see your loved one again for as long as you lived—and still the love would remain. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

Yet, if you can truly grasp the implication this has for relationships, it simply means that a successful relationship requires more than just love. In this way, love is a lot like the oil of an engine, greasing up each unique part which helps to keep the relationship going. The gears of compromise, trust, understanding, respect, and self-esteem are integral parts that help make the bond of relationships possible. However, without the agent of love, none of them can work well together. And so, often times, though love is abundant, other circumstances of the relationship are failing to keep it together. Here are a few examples of that I mean:

1.) Expectations

It’s not likely that flings for sex turn into life long partnerships. If the person you’re with isn’t ready for a serious relationship and that’s what you need, expect disaster. People have to be on the same page with, at least, similar expectations for a relationship to work.

2.) Timing

Leaving your house 5 minutes earlier in the morning can be the difference between getting to work on time, and missing the train entirely (forcing you to wait a whole damn hour for the next one). Don’t think that love is going to rearrange everyone’s life for you. If they’re not single, or are about to move across the country next week, you’ve missed the train. Wait for the next one.

3.) Core Values

Having a difference of opinion is awesome; it’s one of the best ways to keep a relationship interesting. However, there are a few core values that lovers should share if they’re looking forward to a long haul. Things like religious beliefs and lifestyle habits concerning drugs and alcohol need to have some congruence.

4.) Communication

We hear about this one a lot, but that’s because it’s true. Your relationship should be a safe haven apart from the oppressive maladies of the outside world. The way you approach your partner should be different than the way you approach other relationships on the outside. If you can’t find some way to confide in your partner, they’ll never know how you’re feeling. People can’t read minds; get your message across somehow.

5.) Self-Content

This one’s a little trickier, and I found this one out the hard way. If someone isn’t happy with themselves, this can create problems in a relationship. It’s a good idea if both partners have a healthy sense of self-content that is independent from their lover. This usually comes in the form of goals, hobbies, talents, or accomplishments that one experiences outside of the relationship. An absence of self-content in one partner can lead to jealousy of their lover’s self-content. This situation can create a kind of unconscious anger towards the happy partner, which often gets mistaken for problems stemming from the relationship itself.

Look, I know how it sounds: we’re doomed. But it’s really not like that. Knowing that relationships require more than love is a good thing, because, though we can’t chose who we love, we can choose with whom we decide to get into a relationship. That being said, you can love someone until the day you die, but if the circumstances aren’t right, you’ll never be with them.

Also published on Medium.