Love Is More Than A Feeling: Life-Changing Lessons I Learned About Love In My Twenties

You are your own ride or die.

My twenties were a wild, messy, beautiful, toxic, unpredictable roller-coaster ride through the highest heights of heaven and the darkest depths of hell.

Zara in her twenties.

I worked as a shot girl in a Lower East Side nightclub, where I had plastic syringes full of watered-down”sex on the beach” that I would inject into the mouths of greasy-faced men for $10 a pop (it was the recession and surviving in the city was extraordinarily difficult). I worked as a makeup artist and traveled the country for seven months with eight girls in a hot pink van for an organic beauty brand. I ran an outreach theatre group targeted to meet the needs of high-risk teenagers. I would drive them across the state of Florida in a sixteen passenger van every day, which forced me to go on anxiety medication as I’m deeply afraid of driving. I wrote three to five essays a day for a millennial media company for years. I ran the blog of a rehab center. I ran a blog for a fashion publication. I ran a lesbian magazine. I ran my own blog. I worked as a promo girl. A hostess. A dog-walker. A theatre actress. A “before” model for an acne medication.

It was a fabulous shit-show and I’m grateful that I can say, I  truly lived in my twenties.

Zara in her twenties.

If my professional life was all over the place, my love life was a cyclone — and not the dairy queen kind. The typhoon kind! I had short-lived relationships with sweet-faced boys who loved me in a way that I could never love them back. I had passionate, toxic lesbian love affairs that resulted in mind-blowing orgasms and torn down self-esteem. I had my heart ripped out of my chest and thrown down the 1-95 at rush hour. Twice.

I had cringe-worthy dates that I would detail much to the amusement of my friends over drunken Sunday brunches. I had long-distance relationships with lots of phone sex and extreme addiction to the sense of longing. I dated the wrong people at the right time and the right people at the wrong time. And as I weathered the storm of young, drunken love, I learned a few vital lessons. A few lessons that I’ve carried into my thirties and clutch onto with all of my might.

For the best lessons are always in the screw-ups, the mistakes, the fuck-ups, the falls to the face. I can’t wait to see what I learn in this decade. Because the main thing I’ve learned is that the more I learn about love, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

Besides that little pocket crystal, here are my top 12 lessons in love, all derived from the flaws of my roaring twenties.

1. Love is more than a feeling.

I used to think that love was nothing but that wild burst of emotion you experience when your hand first brushes up against the hand of a person in which you’re wildly attracted to. I thought love was a slew of butterflies flapping their wings inside of your delicate stomach. I thought love was the tingly euphoria of an earth-shattering orgasm.

While all of the jittery, swirly, feels are definitely part of loving someone, they don’t define love. Love isn’t just a feeling. Love is rooted in actions. Love is picking someone up at the airport during rush hour. Love is helping your partner move into a walkup apartment in July. Love is showing up and having dinner with your partner’s insufferable family because you know it means the world to them.

In short: Love is doing shit. Not just feeling shit.

2. Sometimes the butterflies are actually termites!

You know when you’re dating someone toxic and you feel a sweeping rush of excitement when that person does something nasty to you? And you don’t know why you feel this sweeping rush of excitement but after a moment of contemplation, you decide that you feel it because underneath the chaos and the toxicity lives a beautiful connection?

No, girl. That’s not real. Those aren’t butterflies in your stomach. They’re termites. 

3. “Love at first sight” is often just mania.

When you feel an INSTANT love connection after exchanging a provocative glance at the gay club, you’re usually just wildly horny or a little bit manic. Don’t confuse your libido for love. Don’t confuse your deep-rooted desire to be in love, for real love. Because…

4. You can’t love someone you don’t know.

While you can feel intoxicating lusty feels for someone you don’t know, or an insatiable desire to care for them, love is much deeper than all that poetic jazz. You have to know someone, fully in order to truly love them. You have to have seen them with a dire hangover. You have to have seen them sick. You have to have seen them on their worst goddamn workdays. And to truly see someone, all of them, takes time.

If you’ve fallen for a stranger, you’ve fallen in love with the idea of someone, not the actual person they are.

5. Love is not enough.

I was once in love with a lovely, blue-eyed girl. But we didn’t work out. Not because we didn’t love each other, but because our life paths were completely different. I am an ambitious city girl. She was a low-key nature babe. Neither of us wanted to compromise our hunger for a specific lifestyle suited to our DNA. So despite our love, we broke it off.

Because love isn’t enough. You must have cohesive morals and similar wishes for the future, in order for love to flourish in the longterm.

6. If she tells you she loves you on the first date, run.

She’s forcing a connection with you by declaring to love you instantly and putting pressure on you to recklessly dive in as well. She also doesn’t love you, even if she think she does. She loves the idea of you and as soon as you show her that you’re human you’ll fall off of the pedestal she’s put you on and she likely fall out of love with you as quickly as she fell in love with you.

7. If she disrespects your taste in music, she disrespects your soul.

Music is visceral art. It’s the sound of your heart. If she mocks the music that makes you feel and won’t even attempt to humor you by indulging in your heart’s songs, it’s a giant, bright-red, flag! She doesn’t get the core of you if she won’t let you listen to your music.

8. Breakups lead to breakthroughs.

Sometimes your world has to come crashing down in order for you to pick up the pieces and rebuild your castle the way in which you truly want it to look. Maybe you’ll find you don’t want to live in a castle anyway. Maybe you’ll build yourself a condo overlooking the city. The possibilities are endless. But you will get to know yourself in the deepest way possible. Which is important, because in the end, you are all of you truly have.

9. Love is stable.

I used to think unpredictable, fiery romances were my ideal kind of relationship. I liked the excitement and was addicted to the drama. Until one day I grew tired of living my life on a goddamn rollercoaster. And I experienced my first stable, consistent love. I learned how to walk on solid ground. I realized how cut up my feet had become from a lifetime of walking on eggshells.

And most pressingly, I learned that rollercoaster love isn’t real love. Real love doesn’t need bullshit drama in order to be exciting. The pure rush of love is exciting on its own.

10. If your partner shit-talks all of their exes, they’ll definitely shit talk you.

If every single person your partner dated prior to you was “crazy” and “toxic” and generally “horrible” that is a bad f*cking sign, darling. You’ll eventually be on that disparaged roster, too.

11. Therapy will make you a better partner.

You can’t show up for another person until you’ve showed up for yourself. Your issues and past traumas won’t magically dissipate because you fell in love. In fact, they’ll play out in dysfunctional ways in your relationship. If you’re really into her, get really into yourself too.

12. There is no such thing as the one. You are the one.

I know it’s not very romantic, but I think this notion is rather beautiful. People can leave you at anytime. People can fall out of love. People can unexpectedly die. But you can never leave you. So stop stressing out about finding the one. Because there is no such thing as the one. You are the one. You are your own ride or die.



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