I Didn’t Realize Love Was Supposed to Be Kind of Boring
02.01.18

I was 16 years old when I realized I was in love for the first time.

My boyfriend said it first: I love you.

I paused, letting his words hang in the air for a few seconds before saying, I think I do, too.

My tentative admission was all it took to convince me it was true. My few seconds of hesitation were merely a symptom of the fact that I couldn’t name something I had never experienced. Once I was handed the label, I attached it firmly to the glob of feelings in my chest.

Most “firsts” in life, from riding a bike to speaking a new language, are cushioned by the assurance that whatever initial discomfort you experience will be temporary. You’re expected to fall and scratch your knees, you’re expected to butcher the pronunciation of “millefeuille,” but after a saga of numerous semi-failures, you’re expected to finally figure it out. At that point, the thing that used to seem impossible becomes second nature to the point of being totally unremarkable.

Not so with falling and being in love, or so we’re told. Consider how it has been depicted in popular culture throughout history, from the ill-fated romance of Romeo and Juliet to the will-they-won’t-they drama of Ross and Rachel. Love is perpetually uncomfortable and constantly thrilling, we’re told. Love is a story that will keep you up at night. Love is a guessing game rife for over-analysis and misinterpretation. Love is anything but unremarkable. Even a “happy ending” (conceivably the point at which you’ve finally figured love out) is really just a spike in the series of low lows and high highs in the oscillating sine wave that has come to define what a “normal” relationship looks like.

I oscillated up and down it for years.

In high school, that meant engaging in a soap opera’s worth of fights with my boyfriend about betrayals I can’t even remember now and sobbing into the shoulder of his polo shirt and staining it with streaks of Maybelline mascara after we made up. It meant wanting him to want me to spend time with him, but frequently choosing my friends over him instead. It meant using him as a security blanket while simultaneously craving the separation I knew that college (and our mutually agreed-upon breakup) would bring because the glob of feelings had only gotten bigger and it was starting to make my chest feel tight.

It was just so, so much, and we were so, so young. It was messy, uncertain, exciting and devastating and we were messy, uncertain, excited and devastated, and that’s how being in love is supposed to feel, right? Suffocating and intoxicating all at once, right? More often than not, it seemed like he needed me more than I needed him. If there was an upper hand to have, I think I had it.

The mutually agreed-upon breakup happened right on schedule, and off to college we went. We stayed in touch, naturally (because exchanging a text once a day with your ex for four years is a healthy way to keep up?). We saw each other occasionally too, and each encounter confused me more than the last. More often than not, it seemed like I needed him more than he needed me. If there was an upper hand to have, he definitely had it.

There was a period of time when he ignored me for months. I wrote pages and pages of diary entries. I changed his name to a monster emoji in my phone. I convinced myself I was interested in other people. If you asked me then if I was still in love with him, I would have said, No, absolutely not. If you asked me now if I was still in love with him, I would say that whatever I was feeling felt precarious and nauseating and pathetic, so if love is supposed to feel precarious and nauseating and pathetic in addition to suffocating and intoxicating then yes, I was definitely still in it.

Then we both graduated, moved to New York, and started dating again.

“I love you,” he said to me one morning shortly after. Freaked out by how happy that sentence made me, and how uncertain I was about what it even meant, I didn’t say it back. At that point, we had been together on and off for eight years. I thought I loved him on and off the whole time, but looking back, the glob of feelings I labeled “LOVE” wasn’t really love — it was just the raw materials.

I’m not sure when I realized the materials had congealed. Maybe when it dawned on me I couldn’t remember the last time we had fought. Maybe when I scrolled through our text history looking for something and found a whole lot of nothing instead — conversations about what we did that day, what we ate for lunch, how many hours we slept, what articles we were reading. Maybe when a friend pressed me about what was new with us lately, and the only interesting relationship update I could think to relay was that he had recently asked for a list of all my frequent flyer numbers so he could compile them into the spreadsheet he uses to keep track of his own.

Totally and utterly unremarkable. But that’s where we are now, and I’m starting to think that’s kind of the point. That love, in its truest, steadiest, most rewarding form, is extraordinarily dull. That contrary to popular stereotypes and cinematic tropes, there’s nothing to overanalyze, nothing to second-guess, nothing to report, nothing to pursue or refuel. That it doesn’t need constant reassurance that it exists. That it just is.

Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.

I say it all the time now: I love you, I love you, I love you. Some people would probably tell me I say it too much, that every time I say it, it becomes less special, a little less meaningful, but I would tell them that it is meaningful precisely because it isn’t special, like air that recycles in and out of my lungs.

Collage by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Anna

    YES! thank you for putting my thought into words

  • Catherine Schepp

    “Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.” I love this!!!

  • “I say it all the time now: I love you, I love you, I love you. Some people would probably tell me I say it too much, that every time I say it, it becomes less special, a little less meaningful, but I would tell them that it is meaningful precisely because it isn’t special, like air that recycles in and out of my lungs.”

    You said it perfectly. Great piece, Harling.

    • Maren Douglas

      I think my favorite lines Harling has written.

      • Bella Zaydenberg

        Seconded!

        • Harling Ross

          u ppl really know how to make a wombat’s day

    • wafflesfriendswork

      Literally made tears form. So perfect.

  • Hannah Nichols

    This is so good Harling. I’m 25 and have been married for two years, and sometimes have to remind myself that just because we aren’t as exciting as we were 6 years ago, we are still deeply in love. Love is in the minutia, like needing to know each other’s social security number, or when he goes to the store and gets rosemary olive oil triscuits because he knows I like them better than original.

  • Sarah Klaassen

    This is so clearly put, you’d think it was that easy to figure out 🙂 I also think its important to remember that just because it isn’t ‘thrilling’ anymore, doesn’t mean you’ve lost something! You’ve actually gained a whole lot.

  • Adrianna

    I’ve TOTALLY told people that a lot aspects of my long-term relationship are ultimately, “boring.” Our courtship is very special to us, but there wasn’t any drama or uncertainty. We met, we liked each other, we dated, and then we became exclusive. We didn’t worry about scaring the other person away, or follow any sort of “rules” in terms of communicating or scheduling dates.

    We’ve had our share of bickering or big fights the past six years, but I ultimately look back on our years of calm coffee dates and Netflix/HBO marathons with a lot of fondness.

  • Cristina

    I love this! It’s so true. Gosh, society/media puts so much pressure on love and marriage and relationships and it’s not always like that. I LOVE that I get to come home to my husband every day. I love sitting on the couch watching TV while he watches the ipad cause we never like the same shows. I love the comfort and familiarity. We text all day, even though we see each other every single day. It’s just a constant state and I am so thankful for it! When I tell people why I married him I’m like “Well, I could stand being around him for more than 10 minutes and his habits didn’t annoy me so much that I wanted to leave.” lollll but for real for real.

  • Jill

    V hard to hide the fact that you’re perusing MR during work hours when you get misty-eyed. (No regrets, this is perfect.)

    • Harling Ross

      aw shucks

  • mscary

    “the glob of feelings I labeled “LOVE” wasn’t really love — it was just the raw materials.” – This piece is so full of quotable bits, but it’s whole is so well thought out and written and made me feel all the feelings.

    • Harling Ross

      don’t you just love the word glob?

      • mscary

        definitely in my top 5, along with toboggan and dilapidated.

  • rella

    One of my favorite parts about love is that the mundane activities are still somehow exciting. Folding laundry, going for walks, making the bed. All those things I’d do on my own without thought are made more fun having someone to do them with. Still chores by any definition but not as tiring or dreadful.

  • Kristi Ellis

    Wow wow wow that last line “like air that recycles in and out of my lungs.” If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

    • Harling Ross

      who knew lungs could be so romantic huh

      • SE

        Gorgeous article, and this line reminded me of something a yoga instructor told me: anatomically speaking, lung expansion squeezes the heart on every inhale…so you’re giving your heart a hug with every breath you take.

        • Harling Ross

          excuse me this just blew my mind

        • Kiks

          Ok I really needed to hear this today. Thank you. <3

  • Caro A

    One of my good friends and I had been heartbroken and admittedly sadly single at about the same time. We had gone through obsessing over the guys that weren’t into us but then they were and then they weren’t… And then we both started dating are current (her now husband) beaus about the same time, too. I remember saying to her about my guy, “I’m not consumed by him, he’s not on my mind 24/7 and I don’t feel intense butterflies when I think of him but I love him”. And she said the same thing! We wondered and subsequently agreed that this signified that FINALLY we were in healthy, requited, and wonderful relationships. It buoys us! It’s normal. It’s stable, committed. And to be honest, I can’t help but blush or smile whenever I talk about him, and I do think of him just about 24/7, too. It’s just no longer “I hope he texts me!!!!”.

    • Amanda Faerber

      Same. Isn’t it so nice to have a love that is relaxing and not so stressful? Yes!!!

    • Ando

      YES! I completely agree. This is exactly it, it’s easy and daily and maybe ‘mundane’,but they are your rock, your anchor and they are always in your mind. And then, one random moment, every now and again,they say something, or do something and they sparkle and remind you exactly why you’re together. Then all the ‘mundane’ bits make sense because you can know exciting or impressive without knowing the slightly mundane too. (Also who is exciting all the time? Really…)

  • Patty Carnevale

    read it, scrolled back up and read it again <3

    • Harling Ross

      ahhh PATTY. i hope round 2 didn’t disappoint

      • Patty Carnevale

        not even close

  • Jasmin

    HARLING!!! this is so freaking good

    • Harling Ross

      i just read that in a british accent <3

  • maiadeccan

    being in a very similar situation, i sometimes wonder if all the super dramatic younger years with very high highs and low lows enables me to be more accepting of the current steady sailing. like if we’d just started with things being easy and feeling right from day one with everyone wanting the same thing, would i crave more drama? would i feel restless or have doubts if there wasn’t an archive of angsty will-they-or-wont-they years?? idk!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Harling Ross

      i agree. i always say it’s actually a good thing to hate your first job because then subsequent to that you’ll really appreciate and feel confident about the fact that you’ve found the right fit, and i think a similar maxim can be applied to relationships — not that you have to HATE the beginning necessarily but it’s definitely nice to be able to look back on anything and feel like you’ve made progress.

  • Wow. 10/10, Harling.

  • Lucy Negash

    AHHHH I totally needed to hear this today – thank you Harling!! I did have one thought. While I am totally in agreement about boring love being the thing that sustains you, calms you, etc., I often struggle with my anxiety/PMS hormones taking over on occasion. I haven’t yet figured out how to calm myself down when I turn little, boring things into big things, or when his interests change and my brain convinces me that he doesn’t like me anymore. Does anyone have thoughts on this, or struggle with balancing boring love and anxiety-inducing love? Does this even make sense?

    • Verena Wais

      Makes sense to me!

    • Harling Ross

      it does! and i definitely struggle with anxiety getting in my own way, too. but this is how i think about it: if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then the definition of sanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. in the case of relationships if you exist as your same self in all its wonderful messy humanness again and again and the answer to that wonderful messy humanness is “I’m here, and I like you, and I’m not going anywhere” again and again and again, than at a certain point you can remind yourself that it’s okay to keep expecting that same answer.

      • wow, this is such a gorgeous and profound point. exactly what my anxiety needs to hear.

        • Lucy Negash

          Wow, agreed with Jess. I totally see your point Harling, I suppose it can be difficult to overcome this idea when there are new shifts (maybe this is particularly resonating with me right now because I’m in a new-but-not-too-new relationship). When the comfort starts to settle in, the honeymoon phase wanes away, it’s difficult to not let your anxiety-producing mind convince you into these changes becoming a bad/negative/not fun and exciting thing. For people in longer-term relationships – how did you handle the shift from wearing a little mascara to bed to full-on pimple cream?

    • Leila

      Lucy!
      I struggle with the same exact thing. It hits me for half the month. Today I feel great, hopefully, and optimistic; and I feel like the girl I was two weeks ago was a totally different person. She was anxious, angry, and constantly questioning the state of her relationship after 3 years. How do we break out of this cycle?

      • Lucy Negash

        Yes!! It drives me crazy, and I still haven’t been able to figure it out, and I’ve been in a relationship for much shorter than you (only 9 months). Some days the boring things are amazing, sometimes its “he clearly isn’t attracted to me anymore because I can’t control my chin acne.” What is this?!

        • alisar

          Story of my life–every month like clockwork my hormones and my anxiety and my depression all throw a party in my brain and the noise is so loud it keeps me up at night with my mind running endless loops. The skin on the inside of my cheeks is literally gone while I worry not just about his love for me but also how our future will work out, if we will survive long distance, if I’m making the right decision by choosing him, if I’ve just been lulled into a false sense of security and I’m setting myself up for failure…. I don’t really have an answer, except maybe that I suspect the people we are dating are good judges of character and whatever we are afraid of showing them, they have probably already noticed and love us anyway. So maybe we should just ride the anxiety waves until they pass, as my aunt always tells me.

    • Emily

      OMG i have this so much, Lucy!!!

    • Mollie Ward

      This whole chain about PMS/ anxiety is so calming to my nerves, thank you. I really didn’t know who to reply to, everyone is making me feel better. I’ve been in a relationship for almost 2 years, and we live together, and I think things are going really well. Until I start to feel crazy and it feels like everything is wrong, and we will never work, and he’s totally changed (he hasn’t) and all of these doubts, about myself, the future, if I’m doing life right. It all comes crashing down and I blow up about the trash or something insignificant. I don’t want to be the one making things difficult; when I feel like my body is rejecting me it only feels natural to reject him.
      Most of the time I revel in the mundane like grocery shopping or sitting and drinking coffee before work. How can I focus on the wonderful small things instead of freaking out about the shitty small things?
      Harling, this is one of your best yet. Also I am currently trying to recreate your tall boots/skirt combo.

  • Love this! This will be my 7th year in a relationship and we’ve reached a very comfortable stage but I wouldn’t trade it to go back to the more exciting beginning for anything. We know each other so well, I finally learned how to handle myself in fights (which have become fewer/shorter/less intense), and even though we say I love you so many times a day they still all feel special 🙂

  • Ana Beatriz Quinto

    Best thing that I read today! <3

    • Harling Ross

      <3 <3 <3 !

  • Katie

    This. So good, Harling.

  • Holland Kennedy

    So very true.

  • This. THIS! –>”That love, in its truest, steadiest, most rewarding form, is extraordinarily dull. That contrary to popular stereotypes and cinematic tropes, there’s nothing to overanalyze, nothing to second-guess, nothing to report, nothing to pursue or refuel. That it doesn’t need constant reassurance that it exists. That it just is.

    Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.”

  • snakehissken

    My favorite thing about this is that it’s the opposite of what Haley’s written about, but you guys come across like best friend soulmates

  • Madilyn Hastoglis

    “A man reserves his true and deepest love not for the species of woman in whose company he finds himself electrified and enkindled, but for that one in whose company he may feel tenderly drowsy.”George Jean Nathan.

    This article reminded me of this quote that i read years ago. While the electricity and passion should never go away altogether, i think the drowsiness mixed in is where it’s at!!!

    THIS ARTICLE IS SO GOOD!!!!!

    • Harling Ross

      hahah i love that

  • Eliza

    This is excellent, and so so true. A+++!!!

  • Annelise

    This made me think of this quote I read by Sarah Jessica Parker about her marriage to Matthew Broderick:

    “I think the beauty of a good marriage is that you’re not feeling this sort of soufflé thing.
    Like, the first months or years are, you know, like the soufflé. The courtship or honeymoon period. The soufflé is still the fancy thing at the restaurant, like, “Would you like … the soufflé?” Nothing is ever going to be like that again. But marriage isn’t really about that. It’s about feeling invested in someone in a way that you never expected.”

  • Rachel

    I love this article so much! Media has shaped us to believe that love is supposed to involve so much drama but how can we be happy in our relationships if there is so much drama. Love is supposed to make you feel happy, content, safe. At the beginning of my relationship I used to get butterflies and over time those went away but I love my boyfriend even more now without the butterflies and anxiety because we’ve settled into a comfortable space where we can just be ourselves around each other, no drama. Just love. <3

  • Jennifer

    You’re such a heart breaker, in the right way Harling 🙂

  • This is so good and so true. If love isn’t boring then it isn’t stable. There aren’t ups and downs. There are constants. It’s not exciting, but it is comfortable and safe.

    Billie | http://www.othersummers.com

  • Haley Nahman

    It’s so so so good harls

    • Harling Ross

      <3 stop reading my essays and go have a (delightfully boring) vacation with your lovah

  • Carina

    This is so good and resonated with me so much! You are totally right that we grow up with all these grand gestures, heart breaking, mascara down your face tropes when it comes to being in love or being heartbroken. I think that as equally as much as being in love is about being dull and finding comfort in knowing that everything is okay (even if it seems boring), it’s the same with heartbreak. Heartbreak is not always about shattering cars a la Beyonce Hold Up, but about staying awake in the middle of the night, feeling a vague sense of nothingness for a while which is often just silence and internal grievances. Humanity has been portrayed to be the highest of highs and lowest of lows, but most of the time, especially the times that really make us who we are, just are.

    • Harling Ross

      so well put

    • Emily

      wow, so well put! xx

  • Lexi

    “Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.”

    THIS. This sums up everything. Our relationships used to be so packed full of drama and he said, she said. But now, my friends and I have almost nothing of what was once considered juicy to vent/gossip about. It kind of expands the universe of your drunk-off-wine conversations. <3

  • Kristen J

    I am the spreadsheet keeper of my marriage. I didn’t know other relationships had a spreadsheet keeper, but I’m glad to find that out. Shared spreadsheets could be a love language. I love you! Here’s a spreadsheet with our monthly budget and tracked income and expenses so we know we can afford to grow old together. I love you! Here’s a spreadsheet listing all of our accounts and important log in info in case one of us goes early. I love you! Here’s the spreadsheet tracking if we’ve received all of our tax documentation.

    • Harling Ross

      shared spreadsheets are HUNDO P their own love language

  • Anna Beth

    You are a gorgeous writer, Harling. I would read a phone book if you wrote it.

    • Harling Ross

      whelp that just made my day

  • BK

    Well this story punched me right in the feels

    • Harling Ross

      this comment did the same 2 me

      • BK

        Harling 4 prez (mutual, emotional punches for everyone!)

  • Wow, this is so incredibly true! As a college student hoping to become a writer, articles like these are so inspiring! Your writing style is so beautifully laid out and I can’t wait to read more from you!

  • claire

    This is so beautifully written. I really appreciate this piece because I feel as though many young people are so afraid of commitment that they hold on to the unhealthy passion that exists in the beginning of a relationship because it’s hard to accept that reaching the “boring” stage is what it’s all about it! When I first started dating my current boyfriend I thought I loved him less than my ex simply because there was no wild craziness to our love – we respected each other and, as you said, buoyed. Such a good way to describe it! I also laugh now when friends ask how we’re doing and I feel like I have nothing to say just because there are no glaring problems, but that is really what I need, especially after the intense and constantly heated relationship I was previously in. It was emotionally exhausting and just showed how immature and wrong for each other we were. There is such beauty in reaching that point of kind simplicity, and it makes me feel really safe. Thank you for your thoughtful words Harling!

  • Rachelle

    Oh this is so good! I have worked with a lot of women who have come out of abusive marriages/relationships and I believe part of what traps them is the dangerous idea (fed to them by their partner, media, etc) that love is supposed to feel dysfunctional. Romantic comedies would not be “interesting” if they were about stable, healthy relationships. But, how sweet it is to loose sleep because you can’t stop sharing ideas and experiences with each other. Instead of losing it to bouts of constant anxiety over the state of your relationship. Watching my 72 year old mentor and her husband interact I am convinced that love remains exciting because true love allows two people the space to heal, and grow as individuals. There is nothing boring about that.

  • María Claudia Rosales

    I reallyyyyyy enjoyed this article! I feel the same way with my boyfriend and was a little worried thinking we were two old people. But, then I realized most of our lives when we feel a little bored we also feel safe which is usually what we want to feel in a relationship, if you want something more exciting you can always make adventurous plans, hahaha I don’t know, that’s how I feel…

  • my whole body is one giant goosebump

  • From the whirlwind of us falling in love, breaking up, making up and now getting married – now 15 years into our relationship :-). I can tell you that this is exactly what it comes down to. Would I be bored with anyone else, nope, do we still have peaks – yes. However the boredom comes from contentment, knowing that this person in your life accepts and loves you even if all you bring to the table that day are the details of lunch.

  • Jailenn Scott

    What a beautiful and accurate way to end this story. This is the most real depiction of love I have ever read.

  • This was so refreshingly honest and relieving, I can’t thank you enough for having the courage to share such a confession, if that’s the right way to call it. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend, about how a lot of people we know end relationships after their “honeymoon phase”, simply because things aren’t as exciting as they were before. I think when both decide to stay and realise how lucky both are when that phase is over, is the point of infatuation transforming into love. Or at least that belief has been proven right in my own relationship, and I hope it’s true.

  • meme

    I agree with this so much. It took me a while to understand that it was ok that even though I love dramatic love stories, in real life there is nothing better than boring, stable, love. And it’s every bit as exciting as you said because we are constantly changing.

  • Mrs A

    Ahh, I love this. Have you seen this StoryCorps of Annie and Danny? When I think of love, I think of their love, which gives comfort and manifests in little ways.

    https://storycorps.org/animation/danny-and-annie/

  • Sarah

    Your writing is so inspiring Harling :’)

  • bamboodread

    Of course, monogamy is dull and unnatural

  • Jam Joson

    This is probably my favourite man repeller article ever that I actually had to comment! It makes so much sense to me now and the fact that love is all about the beauty you find in its dullest form is just gENIUS. You just made a very reliable litmus test great job!!

    • Harling Ross

      i’ve always wanted to create a litmus test !!!

  • Natasha

    This was so beautiful! I feel understood. Thank you 🙂

  • I’m 38 and I have been married since I was 19. I couldn’t agree more with you. I tell my kids all the time to grow up and marry their best friend… it’s not nearly as complicated as we make it and hollywood over glamorizes the things that tear relationships apart and destroy families. I LOVE being a family with my husband and all the craziness that has some in between with us simply living life as the very best of friends in the whole wide world.

  • It may look dull to other people, but it’s definitely not dull to you!

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  • Isabel RC

    I’m 25, getting married to my first boyfriend (we started when we were 14, and were on and off for a while), and I have never felt more understood in my whole entire life.

  • this was so good. the buoy part. oh i feeeeel that.

  • Hannah Duckworth

    “Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.”

    This line was poetic. I keep saying it out loud and in my head. So well written!

  • Michelle Kline

    Yes. You got it. Reminds me of the Talking Heads song, “Heaven”

  • Matt Little

    Love this line too “Which isn’t to say it’s not exciting — it’s just a different version of exciting, a version that doesn’t pick me up and drop me, but buoys me instead.”