(Moses setting up a heart-shaped decoration for his future fiancé, Sharhonda.)

Bonds are something I always lead off with and examine in my relationships. They are found in weak and strong ties. Unless you were already in a relationship, dating in 2020 didn’t look like prior years and it might have shaken up the foundation of what that bond was built on. It was either all virtual through a screen or as the year dragged on, you dated through quarantine. Some people took up sewing skills, joined a trivia group, and got more in touch with nature. On the topic of PPE, the world began to purchase masks representing their style or one with a message to believe in. Face pajamas helped all of us feel some sense of safety as we all attempted to brave the elements. Hand sanitizing regularly as a safety precaution to thwart off COVID-19 while taking the risk of going outside. From a Black-owned business perspective, the collective awakening (or re-awakening) of the world to the atrocities of systemic racism was something I needed to find more resolve in as well. I had a client tell me it was hard to find Black photographers in Minnesota. He wasn’t wrong and it wasn’t the first time I had heard this. Especially in the Minnesota wedding industry, there aren’t, en masse, a strong availability of Black vendors. A small conversation like that keeps me thinking about what needs aren’t being met and what the support of “BIPOC” creatives looks like in the community and out.

For months, and in a sense, we still are, finding a way to break out of our own anxiety boxes when it comes to making new connections. Stretched is a word I’ve used a lot this year. Whether you’re practicing more patience or that same patience has run thin, I’d like to think the world collectively is moving toward “better” and not worse. Seeing, naming, and rewarding the things that make relationships feel human instead of toxic. I’ve heard phrases this past year like, “I haven’t meaningfully touched someone I care about in the past 8 months,” or “I’ve forgotten what it feels like to hang out with people.”

My couples this year who have reached out have been able to do what they can to stay close. It’s made me want to explore more about what it means to move towards another in such a unique time and not away from them.

Lauren, what relationship habits do you think will stay or go after the year we just had? What questions do you think will still remain?

I totally feel that. As a writer, I’ve always found it easier to put thought and feeling down on paper instead of saying the words. There’s a lot that goes into communicating one’s feelings verbally. You really have to think on your feet. And then there’s emotional quotient (EQ) and basic social skills. It’s watching someone’s features to see what they’re feeling in the moment and then responding to that.

My three-year-old son will often point to people’s faces and bodies in books and ask, “What are they like?” He knows the expressions on their faces, the hunch of their shoulders, the way they’re responding all mean something, but it’s not always clear to him at first. That kind of emotional cognition is a learned skill that takes time to develop—and let’s be honest, we’re all still working on it. Everyone has “tells,” and unless you’re a champ at empathy or poker, they’re easy to miss.

So how do we go about naming the unnamed? How do we put words to the incredibly complex and elaborate feelings we have for other people? And then how do we go about saying those things to their faces?

Decades ago, saying how you felt often happened by post. A note was delivered, a father consulted. It was all very proper, and I think a lot of relationships formed out of necessity and opportunity instead of a magnetic attraction. You got lucky if friendship formed between you and your spouse over the years, and you got even luckier if that was the foundation of your love in the first place.

Now modern love doesn’t really make us try so hard. While there might be less desperation in the form of needs like shelter and food, there’s a whole lot of emotional desperation, and many are confused when relationships don’t turn out as they do on Netflix. We’re all coming together from different backgrounds, and we’ve all learned how to love in different ways, so there’s a certain amount of discovery and then mastery that’s required in the art of loving someone else.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all been trained to expect love to feel tremendous. We’re looking for something overwhelmingly exquisite. And don’t get me wrong, that feeling does exist in the realm of romance and affection. But love also aches. It can feel safe, warm, and familiar. It can take the form of doing chores late at night while your exhausted spouse sleeps alongside the baby. It’s the shape of his hands while he’s working or the curve of her neck in passing. It’s noticing how the other person thinks, how they process life. It’s becoming a student of one another—the knowing of someone deeply and responding to that knowledge—that builds intimacy.

We were built for togetherness, so it’s only natural that the human race craves love. We can get a little stuck, though, when we try to figure out how to communicate it to one another. What’s tricky about the whole thing is that everyone seems to experience love in a bit of a different way. Some feel loved by a gentle hand on their arm during a conversation. Some need to hear love through speech in the form of compliments or encouragement. Gifts, service, time—these are all ways to build those bonds. Ultimately, love is a mutual concern for the other person. It’s a giving up of oneself for the other.

Here’s a good place to start: Check-in and connect with your significant other about how each of you feels most loved. If one party isn’t sure what makes them feel loved, do a little experimenting. Chances are good that you will probably feel love differently from one another, and it might be a bit of a challenge to express love in the way your significant other needs it most. Don’t give up. Keep trying new things and see what blossoms from it all.

Love is ethereal, that’s for sure, but it’s also very physical. It’s deep waters and complicated thoughts. It’s action and commitment. It’s a species of friendship and the greatest of virtues. It’s worth dying for and certainly the backbone upon which the human race was created. As we work to understand and cultivate the idea of love, we can rest assured that there’s not one right way to show it to an individual, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to comprehend.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when
another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.
Such a constellation was he to me.”

– Madeline Miller, Circe

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