Duck! Cupid, that chubby baby wearing diapers holding a quiver full of arrows is aiming one to your heart. But wait…perhaps you want that arrow to pierce your heart and fall in love. And if you do, I don’t blame you.

Been there a few times myself.

Falling in love with someone is the most fantastic feeling you can experience. The neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine that are released during the limerence stage can give you a great high akin to being on drugs.

Here’s the downside: The limerence stage is the most dangerous. Because of the feel-good neurochemicals that are released, we may ignore the red flags — even if we are tripping over them and have skinned our knees.

The phrase all “you need is love” is not entirely correct. Love does not solve every problem. Ah, me. Perhaps Cupid is not potty trained and his diaper is full of (fill in the blank.)

Let’s face it: Love does not equal compatibility. It’s easy to get caught up in the attraction, drama and can’t-live-without-them scenario. However, as time passes, perhaps your love partner does not live up to your expectations. Here is where the confusion, disillusionment and disappointment may derail your relationship.

Maybe you had a partner who was in it for the chase. Once their arrow hits, the romance dulls and no amount of polishing can bring the luster back. Our hearts bleed out the love that was promised.

Your partner should make you feel better; they shouldn’t be someone you need healing from. If the relationship is a struggle, heed the words of William Shakespeare: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”

Like many of you, I have been high on the mountain of love and descended to love’s valley — a very lonely place. I have learned while on my climb, that loving ourselves first is paramount.

To be comfortable with self-partnering is empowering. Feeling whole and fulfilled from within without needing validation through another person is a hard concept to grasp. We are conditioned to see the world as “coupled” and society encourages this mindset. Dating sites are rife with people looking for “the one” even during the pandemic.

Fears of abandonment, loneliness, rejection and needing to be coupled may cause us to accept second-class behavior or downright abuse. When I worked in a women’s center, I saw first-hand the black eyes, bruises, and non-existent self-esteem. And yet, the women (sometimes men) not only refused to press charges, but continued the toxic relationship.

Many folks don’t realize that power comes from within. They twist themselves into a pretzel trying to save the relationship and ultimately lose their authenticity. If our partner has the emotional intelligence of a dish, we foolishly lay our insecurities at their feet expecting the unresponsive partner to fix it. Remember the dish? They can easily break.

No, gentle readers, it’s all on us. We have to fill that gaping hole in our hearts. There is a universal tendency to run from pain. I mean, really, who wants to feel a stab into our hearts or a punch into the solar plexus?

We may transition to another partner too soon or use drugs and alcohol as a Band-Aid. But can you fix a mortal wound with a Band-Aid? Unearthing our authentic selves is akin to an excavation. It’s laborious work.

Our authentic self is not tied to a partner — we can and should operate independently. Yet, we ignore the truth and do things that make us feel compromised, all in the name of love.
I ask: Is this love or need?

Need is when we perceive something is missing from our lives. We think that person we met is perfect; but think again. That person filled the hole in our lives, temporarily. And to boot, we can get attached to their presence. We confused neediness for love. At this juncture, the crazy-making begins.

Love is enjoying the person and their presence. They should be a joy and blessing. True love doesn’t blame. When disagreements arise (they always do) they should be communicated in a loving non-threatening way, without shame.

Loving and respecting ourselves first, doesn’t mean we can never enjoy a partner or fall in love. When we are happy on our own, we can bring mature self-possessed love, rather than the desperate needy kind.

On this Valentine’s weekend, if you are with your one and only, I am happy for you. For those who are still searching, I am offering some unsolicited advice: Sit with your feelings. Some days may be long, lonely and frustrating. But ultimately, you will have the greatest relationship of all: one with yourself. And then, and only then, can you choose wisely and enjoy the relationship you deserve.

Author Anna Quindlen writes: “I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that person could be me.”

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.