Nearly a year ago, a friend of mine was taking a psych course in school and had to answer this question in an assignment: What do you think it means to be in love, and how does it apply to marriage/relationships? Have your views changed since becoming an adult?

When I was a kid, I learned about love not through my parents, but through idyllic Disney princess movies. You meet the man of your dreams, and when you do, you both just know, and it's happily ever after. My mother kept up this pretense. She met my father, and when she did, she just knew. Not only did she know, but she saved herself for just him like a good girl would.

I can hear you laughing. I'm laughing, too.

My parents are far, far away from "happily ever after", and as I grew up, it became more and more apparent. But the screaming, the degrading comments, the physical violence, that was all normal to me, and I eventually came to believe that that was how all relationships were, how all marriages were meant to be.

The influence of their relationship on me extended well beyond my perception, and right into my reality. I accepted so much from my significant others because I believed that relationships didn't get any better, that they were what they were and would always be just that. I suffered through threats of violence, fear of trying to leave them behind, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, and mental and physical control. I couldn't leave the house without first getting my outfit approved by him, if I hung out with any friends too long he’d be jealous and lash out, and if something he recalled from years ago annoyed him, he’d ghost me for months; if I tried to move on I was guilted into staying.

Eventually, I had a breakthrough and was able to end our relationship. Our last phone conversation was a terrible, terrifying one that I’ve never been able to forget. He was hurt and angry that I’d broken things off, and he was mad that I wouldn’t listen to how much he cared for me because he cared so much. He cared so much, he said, that when he got home he wanted to take me out. I’d always been talking about going downtown, wanting to go dancing but never making it out there, so he’d take me. He proposed this scenario: I’ll take you out dancing, downtown, and on our way back to the car, I’ll pull you into an alley and rape you, and after I’ve raped you, I’ll shoot you in the head, and then I’ll shoot myself…
That’s the condensed version.

Back then, my virginity was a prize to him. Back then, I was a thing and not a person. Back then, I didn’t know how to protect myself. Back then, I never said a thing about the terrible things that he said. Until now, I’ve only told a handful of people over a span of many years. Back then, I thought I had loved the guy, but the longer I had him out of my life, the more I realized I didn't really know what it was to receive love or even give it. It took a long time for me not to panic when I was in his vicinity; we ran in the same circles, lived in the same area, and shopped at the same stores. There was a brief time when I thought “Hey, we could be cordial”, but no, it was too hard and too much, and I had to learn to let go, to grow, to breath.

I fell hard and fast for my husband. We were young, 18 going on 19, but our ages didn't matter to me. I had never before had someone go so out of their way just to ensure I was happy. He was a gentleman; door opening, "ladies first", stand when you go to leave, escort a lady out, gentlemen. If I desired something, he worked his hardest to get it for me, and even if sometimes he failed, it was the effort that mattered. He worked every day to show me how much he cared. Sometimes it was a small gift of appreciation, and sometimes it was driving in early to my work and waiting hours for me to be off (what a distraction that could be). We called each other every day, and sometimes he just called for a quick hello, "just because I miss you". This was what I was missing; this is how someone loves you. They see you, with all your parts, the good and the bad, the solid and the broken, and they just let you be that.

I held onto that so hard, and so tight, and I never wanted it to end. But loving isn’t how movies or books make it seem. Loving is dirty and rough and messy; loving is strong and forgiving and hopeful. And loving changes and grows and moves with you in ways that you need it to even if sometimes it’s in ways you don’t want. So I don’t have the fairytale, but I do have a marriage. It has its upsides and its downsides, it has its good times and its bad times, and through the years I’ve learned to love my husband in the way that he’s needed, but the learning never stops. Love is ever changing.

Being in love, being in a partnership is not a "at first sight, happily ever after"; being in love means giving your entire self to someone, and taking their entire self, and both of you saying, "I accept this, I accept you". Sometimes it means sacrificing the little things, like where you go for dinner, or who washes the dishes, and sometimes it’s bigger things, but it should never have to mean sacrificing all or part of yourself to make the relationship work.

Being in love with someone doesn't always mean forever. You both are supposed to learn, grow, and change, and that means that being in love might not last forever. That means that you can love, or be in love with more than one person throughout your lifetime because not everyone will grow with you, and some will outgrow you.

Does that answer the question?