What To Look For in the Search for Lasting Love
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“I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.”—Forrest Gump (1994)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Forrest Gump, the now classic film starring Tom Hanks as a guileless man-child who leads a charmed life due to exceptional, though largely unrecognized, emotional intelligence. Most people remember the film, which follows Gump’s poignant and serendipitous journey through the historic moments of the latter half of the 20th century, for lines such as “Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get.”
However, the Academy Award-winning film was also a touching and wise love story between Gump and his beloved Jenny, the pretty and emotionally damaged girl—and later, even more troubled woman—whom he loved purely and unconditionally since childhood. Despite Gump being a man with limited intellectual capacity, when it came to recognizing and expressing healthy, lasting love, he was a genius.
Most of us, on the other hand, are learning disabled when it comes to recognizing real, healthy, Grown love. The problem is that we are so fixated on what makes people attractive that understanding what sustains a relationship becomes an afterthought, if it is considered at all. In too many cases, couples make permanent commitments—with irreversible consequences (including marriage and children)—before they realize that what makes a person attractive has almost zero correlation to what makes relationships healthy and sustainable. The result: most relationships (including half of all marriages) fail, and a majority of all relationships have at least one dissatisfied partner. And relationship dissatisfaction is both a cause and a result of the adult and messy behaviors that are too often celebrated by society and the media (especially by rachet TV) as “Grown and Sexy.” To be blunt, most of us do not know what love is, and we call too many things love (including infatuation and sexual chemistry) that are anything but.
What does Forrest Gump know about lasting love that most of us don’t? He was oblivious of the things that society uses to determine the attractiveness and suitability of a relationship partners. These include basic niceness (i.e., Mom and/or Dad would approve), physical attractiveness, sexual chemistry, good job/income, education/intelligence, family/social status and religious commitment. These are the features our parents, peers, movies, music and popular culture tell us to value in our search for suitable relationship partners. The problem is that while these are proven attractors, these characteristics also tend to distract us from—or cause us to undervalue and overlook—those with a high correlation to a person’s capacity to establish, build and sustain healthy relationships.
So what characteristics do you need to cultivate in yourself—and require of potential partners—in the search for lasting love? Grown folks—and Gump—value and have developed a great capacity for the following characteristics above all: respect/admiration (appreciation), compassion, forgiveness, fidelity/loyalty (trustworthiness), unconditional acceptance, and safety (physical, mental and emotional). These are the characteristics that sustain relationships over time. Moreover, while relationship attractors (looks, sexual attractiveness, income) will be inconsistent and change over time, relationship sustainers go to the truth of who a person is (not what they look like, what they have or what they can do) and usually stay the same over time. It’s also important to note that if you do not require these qualities of yourself—i.e. practice self-love—you will also fail to require them from others, leaving you vulnerable to neglect, mistreatment, betrayal and abuse.
There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by attractor characteristics. But if you want Grown, healthy, lasting love, you need to use sustainer characteristics as your must-have, proven qualifications in a potential partner. As Gump himself says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” You have the adult right to continue to chase looks, sex and money in hopes of finding the love of your life—but it just wouldn’t be smart, and it’s not Grown. Forrest Gump wouldn’t trust a big butt and a smile—and neither should you.
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Zara Green and Alfred Edmond Jr., named to Black Love Forum’s “14 Most Inspiring Black Couples” list for 2014, are co-principals of A2Z Personal Growth Enterprises, producer of The Grown Zone. Zara is a speaker/trainer & author. Alfred is an award-winning journalist and expert on business and personal finance. The couple, both “Do-Better Fanatics”, lead sessions on personal growth, self-love and resiliency, healthy relationships and “grown” decision-making at live events across the country.
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