Last year, some of my friends and I got into a debate over whether loving someone is enough reason to be in a relationship with them. "I don't think so, because I love my ex, and we are definitely not meant to be together," I said. That statement seemed to take them aback. "If you love your ex, you should not be in a relationship," one said. I could not disagree more.
In the beginning of our relationship, my ex and I established that we shared one strong belief: If you really love someone, you'll always love them. I never understood the concept of "falling out of love." How deep was your caring, really, if it could go away just because you're not dating someone anymore?
Learning he shared the same opinion was a huge relief. I don't want all my interactions with a partner to cease when we break up. The way I see it, relationships are always shifting based on who each person is, what stage they're at in life, and what experiences they have together and apart. If a relationship stops being romantic, I don't want to view that as a failure or a moment to dread. I want to embrace whatever changes serve us best.
My ex and I had the same discussion when we broke up three and a half years ago, and we've talked about it since I've gotten into another relationship. While we've made it very clear that we're not romantically interested in each other, we're also open about loving each other as friends. We've even said "I love you." Here's why that's totally OK.
Loving Does Not Equal Being In Love
To me, being in love entails wanting to be in a relationship with someone, and it entails some sort of romantic or sexual attraction. I don't have either of these feelings for my ex, so loving him is no different from loving friends I never dated. My partner's OK with me saying "I love you" to friends, so why shouldn't he be OK with me saying it to a friend who happens to be my ex?
"If saying 'I love you' to an ex who’s now a dear friend is intended only in friendship and both people understand this, beautiful," practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle. "The words are less important than what people mean when they say 'I love you' and how clear they are with each other about their intentions."
It's All About Transparency And Consent
My partner knows that I'm close with my ex and doesn't have any issue with it. If he did, we would talk about it and figure out a why for him to feel comfortable without me feeling controlled. But — and this applies to pretty much anything in a relationship — nothing's a problem if both parties agree to it.
"If either or both exes have a partner in the picture, then it’s important to be clear with their partner that the friendship is strictly that — a friendship — and that when they say 'I love you' or 'I care about you,' they mean it in the same spirit as they would toward any other friend," says Parker. "If a partner isn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, it might be beneficial to explore that more and find out if there’s a way to foster more comfort with this close friendship."
It's A Good Sign For My Future Partners
If a future partner tells me that they still love an ex, I would take it as a positive sign that they'll likely always love me, too — and that they're not the kind of person to suddenly show up at my door and tell me they don't love me anymore. Plus, the mere fact that they're open about their relationship with their ex would suggest that they have nothing to hide. Rather than being threatened, my current and future partners should appreciate that the love I feel — for them as well — is long-lasting and dependable.
We Don't Have To Follow Societal Scripts
Just because a certain way of entering, being in, or ending relationships is considered "normal" doesn't mean it's healthy for you. If I were to follow the typical script of "fall in love, date, fall out of love," I'd be sacrificing a lot of things I love about myself, like the fact that my feelings for the people I love are unwavering.
I don't believe we should try to fit love into boxes like "love for a partner" and "love for a friend.
I'd also be sacrificing my happiness in my current relationship. I don't want it to be the end of everything between us if it ends. My partner and I have had honest conversations about this and accepted that if one of us is no longer happy, we'll break up — and that that'll be OK because we'll still love each other for life. If I didn't have that reassurance, I'd constantly fear a breakup because it would put an end to our love permanently, and I might stay in the relationship longer than I should.
Most of all, I don't believe we should try to fit love into boxes like "love for a partner" and "love for a friend." These categories make the love conditional upon your relationship, and the best love is unconditional. When I love someone, I love them as a person, and nothing can change that.