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How Do You Know When It Is Love?

Advice // 10.03.2017


As​ ​a​ ​professional​ ​wedding​ ​photographer,​ Autumn Lee of Autumn Lee Studios is​ ​frequently​ ​asked,​ ​“Can​ ​you​ ​tell​ ​which couples​ ​will​ ​last?”​ Here's what she has to say:

​I​ ​wish​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​answer​ ​to​ ​share​ ​with​ ​you,​ ​some​ ​omniscient wand​ ​swipe​ ​that​ ​would​ ​foretell​ ​the​ ​predictability​ ​of​ ​happily​ ​ever​ ​after.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​magic, but​ ​I​ ​do​ ​have​ ​a​ ​smidge​ ​of​ ​insight​ ​after​ ​a​ ​decade​ ​of​ ​witnessing​ ​couples​ ​wed.​ ​

Whether you​ ​and​ ​your​ ​suitor​ ​met​ ​on​ ​Grinder,​ ​at​ ​a​ ​bar,​ ​or​ ​via​ ​an​ ​immensely​ ​awkward​ ​friend set-up,​ ​love​ ​is​ ​chemistry,​ ​work,​ ​and​ ​choice,​ ​in​ ​that​ ​order.​ ​Moreover,​ ​modern​ ​love​ ​is rarely​ ​pure​ ​happily​ ​ever​ ​after​ ​and​ ​love​ ​is​ ​not​ ​easy.​ ​.​ ​.​ ​ever.

Here​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I​ ​know​ ​about​ ​modern​ ​love:​ ​it’s​ ​complicated​ ​and​ ​murky​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​time. Cellphones​ ​have​ ​destroyed​ ​the​ ​plot​ ​l​ine​ ​to​ ​every​ ​90s​ ​sitcom,​ ​and​ ​consequently​ ​ruined the​ ​happenstance​ ​of​ ​love,​ ​romantic​ ​misunderstandings,​ ​sliding​ ​door​ ​moments​ ​of​ ​chance encounters,​ ​and​ ​wrong​ ​place,​ ​wrong​ ​time​ ​relationship​ ​debacl​es.​ ​

Late​ ​night​ ​texts​ ​can’t clarify​ ​and​ ​simplify​ ​true​ ​love​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​a​ ​passionate,​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​the​ ​night,​ ​sleepy face-to-face​ ​declaration​ ​of​ ​love​ ​on​ ​a​ ​doorstep.​ ​Snapchat​ ​reveals​ ​a​ ​lover’s​ ​location,​ ​but​ ​it doesn’t​ ​make​ ​it​ ​easier​ ​to​ ​track​ ​them​ ​down.​ ​FaceTime​ ​and​ ​Skype​ ​may​ ​close​ ​the​ ​gap​ ​of long-distance​ ​longing,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​bring​ ​love​ ​near.

How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​know​ ​when​ ​to​ ​invest​ ​in​ ​a​ ​connection​ ​or​ ​keep​ ​swiping​ ​left?​ ​When​ ​should​ ​you say​ ​“yes"​ ​to​ ​a​ ​hopefully​ ​forever​ ​commitment?​


​I​ ​recently​ ​stumbled​ ​across​ ​a​ ​teen magazine​ ​article​ ​asking​ ​the​ ​same​ ​question.​ ​Though​ ​I​ ​appreciated​ ​the​ ​authentic simplicity​ ​of​ ​the​ ​magazine’s​ ​recomme​ndations​ ​on​ ​identifying​ ​true​ ​love,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​saddened at​ ​their​ ​surface-y​ ​litmus​ ​test​ ​of​ ​what​ ​love​ ​is.​ ​

The​ ​article​ ​suggested​ ​that​ ​if​ ​your​ ​love​ ​knows what​ ​you​ ​like​ ​in​ ​a​ ​Chipotle​ ​burrito​ ​bowl,​ ​that​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sure​ ​sign​ ​that​ ​you​ ​are​ ​on​ ​track​ ​to​ ​love. And​ ​if​ ​your​ ​love​ ​can​ ​list​ ​the​ ​characters​ ​on​ ​your​ ​favorite​ ​TV​ ​show,​ ​then​ ​surely,​ ​that​ ​too​ ​is a​ ​sign​ ​of​ ​love.​ ​

And​ ​if​ ​he/she​ ​pauses​ ​the​ ​movie​ ​without​ ​being​ ​asked​ ​when​ ​you​ ​get​ ​up​ ​to grab​ ​a​ ​snack,​ ​and​ ​they​ ​store​ ​your​ ​name​ ​on​ ​their​ ​cell​ ​phone​ ​with​ ​heart​ ​emojis​ ​after​ ​it, and​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​selfies​ ​on​ ​your​ ​phone​ ​include​ ​the​ ​two​ ​of​ ​you​ ​together,​ ​then​ ​obviously it’s​ ​lov​e.​ ​

But​ ​is​ ​it? 

Here​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I​ ​know:​ ​love​ ​starts​ ​with​ ​​chemistry​.​ ​The​ ​flitters,​ ​flutters,​ ​queasy​ ​palpitations and​ ​irrational​ ​excitement​ ​is​ ​what​ ​shifts​ ​the​ ​human​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​you​ ​and​ ​another, and​ ​you​ ​start​ ​to​ ​mingle​ ​your​ ​lives.​ ​When​ ​the​ ​tension-building​ ​dating-merge-dance​ ​and up-all-night​ ​text​ ​campaign​ ​begins—that’s​ ​when​ ​you​ ​plant​ ​the​ ​seeds​ ​to​ ​your​ ​future.​

​It’s like​ ​that​ ​one​ ​time​ ​my​ ​kid​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​if​ ​he​ ​licked​ ​the​ ​TV​ ​remote,​ ​he​ ​could​ ​claim​ ​it​ ​as​ ​his own​ ​forever.​ ​Same-same.​ ​Swapping​ ​dippy​ ​looks,​ ​spit,​ ​and​ ​hand-holding​ ​sweat​ ​is​ ​the way​ ​you​ ​formally​ ​proclaim​ ​to​ ​the​ ​universe,​ ​“I​ ​am​ ​investigating​ ​the​ ​option​ ​of​ ​claiming​ ​this one​ ​as​ ​mine.”​

​You​ ​both​ ​are​ ​in​ ​your​ ​own​ ​world​ ​of​ ​inhaling​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and​ ​your​ ​potential together.​ ​It’s​ ​cute,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​this​ ​life​ ​moment​ ​you​ ​are​ ​both​ ​totally​ ​annoying​ ​and​ ​​all​​ ​your friends​ ​and​ ​​all​​ ​your​ ​family​ ​collectively​ ​roll​ ​their​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​send​ ​you​ ​good​ ​vibes​ ​as​ ​you sort​ ​through​ ​this​ ​phase​ ​of​ ​deciding​ ​if​ ​togetherness​ ​is​ ​worth​ ​nurturing,​ ​if​ ​this​ ​connection has​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​roots​ ​and​ ​become​ ​something​ ​bigger​ ​and​ ​stronger​ ​and​ ​lasting, and​ ​if​ ​you​ ​will​ ​bloom​ ​together.


Next​ ​comes​ ​​work​.​

​The​ ​love​ ​work​ ​happens​ ​when​ “​hormone-ville”​ ​has​ ​settled​ ​down​ ​to​ ​a manageable​ ​simmer​ ​and​ ​you​ ​start​ ​to​ ​remember​ ​to​ ​eat​ ​and​ ​sleep​ ​and​ ​go​ ​more​ ​than​ ​five hours​ ​without​ ​texting​ ​each​ ​other.​ ​The​ ​seeds​ ​of​ ​love​ ​have​ ​been​ ​blissfully​ ​and​ ​joyfully planted.​ ​And​ ​now​ ​they​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​nurtured​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​grow.​ ​

The​ ​work​ ​phase​ ​is​ ​the longest​ ​and​ ​lamest​ ​portion​ ​of​ ​the​ ​phases​ ​because​ ​it’s​ ​when​ ​everyone’s​ ​baggage​ ​gets unpacked​ ​and​ ​real​ ​choices​ ​have​ ​to​ ​be​ ​made.​ ​The​ ​flutters​ ​have​ ​gone,​ ​everyday​ ​life​ ​is rearing​ ​its​ ​ugly​ ​head,​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is​ ​literal​ ​and​ ​metaphorical​ ​dirty​ ​laundry​ ​everywhere.​ ​

All the​ ​things​ ​that​ ​got​ ​put​ ​on​ ​hold​ ​for​ ​the​ ​month-long​ ​tour​ ​of​ ​hot-and-heavy-lala-land​ ​are now​ ​demanding​ ​investment​ ​and​ ​attention.​ ​The​ ​thing​ ​about​ ​next-level​ ​love​ ​is​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is work,​ ​and​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​it​ ​because​ ​the​ ​chemistry​ ​phase​ ​is​ ​fleeting​ ​and​ ​was​ ​only designed​ ​to​ ​make​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​suck​ ​face,​ ​not​ ​to​ ​do​ ​any​ ​real​ ​bonding.​ ​

Now​ ​you​ ​sort​ ​out all​ ​the​ ​business​ ​of​ ​life​ ​together:​ ​money,​ ​religion,​ ​the​ ​other​ ​person’s​ ​horrendous​ ​family, childhood​ ​issues,​ ​politics,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​and​ ​how​ ​you​ ​wanna​ ​handle​ ​kiddos.​ ​Those​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​be the​ ​big​ ​questions,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​you​ ​survive​ ​those​ ​heavy,​ ​emotionally​ ​draining​ ​crap-shows,​ ​you think​ ​“Whelp,​ ​after​ ​all​ ​that,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I​ ​still​ ​like​ ​you.​ ​Let’s​ ​get​ ​married.” Then​ ​comes​ ​​choice​​ ​(insert​ ​drum​ ​roll​ ​here).​


The​ ​work​ ​part​ ​and​ ​the​ ​choice​ ​part​ ​of​ ​love overlap​ ​in​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ ​overplayed​ ​Venn​ ​diagrams​ ​your​ ​teachers​ ​forced​ ​you​ ​to​ ​draw​ ​in high​ ​school.​ ​Work​ ​and​ ​choice​ ​flip​ ​flop​ ​over​ ​each​ ​other​ ​in​ ​some​ ​messy​ ​version​ ​of leapfrog​ ​as​ ​they​ ​take​ ​turns​ ​being​ ​in​ ​front.​

​Love​ ​work​ ​is​ ​constant—working​ ​to communicate,​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​equal​ ​participant,​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​together,​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​invested,​ ​to​ ​support and​ ​nurture.​ ​.​ ​.​ ​all​ ​the​ ​wedding​ ​vow​ ​stuff.​ ​.​ ​.​ ​blah,​ ​blah,​ ​blah.​

​Occasionally,​ ​choice​ ​jumps in​ ​front​ ​to​ ​remind​ ​you​ ​that​ ​you​ ​always​ ​have​ ​the​ ​choice​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​a​ ​marriage.​ ​The​ ​reasons people​ ​leave​ ​a​ ​relationship​ ​are​ ​as​ ​diverse​ ​as​ ​the​ ​individuals​ ​and​ ​the​ ​relationships themselves.

So​ ​here​ ​is​ ​the​ ​rub​ ​to​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​happily​ ​ever​ ​after​ ​thang-y.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​​never​​ ​totally​ ​happily​ ​ever after.​ ​​Every​​ ​relationship​ ​has​ ​bumps,​ ​hiccups,​ ​snafus​ ​and​ ​catastrophes.​ ​All​ ​of​ ​‘em! Every​ ​last​ ​one​ ​of​ ​them,​ ​amen!​ ​The​ ​​Rosetta​ ​Stone​ ​​of​ ​marriage​ ​is​ ​when​ ​​both​​ ​people​ ​are willing​ ​and​ ​mentally​ ​able​ ​to​ ​do​ ​the​ ​work​ ​and​ ​make​ ​the​ ​choice​ ​to​ ​stay.​ ​

And​ ​here​ ​is​ ​the real​ ​crappy​ ​part:​ ​you​ ​can’t​ ​control​ ​the​ ​other​ ​person.​ ​Ugh.​ ​Dumb.​ ​All​ ​you​ ​can​ ​do​ ​is​ ​make the​ ​best​ ​possible​ ​choice​ ​you​ ​can​ ​about​ ​a​ ​partner,​ ​and​ ​then​ ​hope​ ​for​ ​the​ ​best.​ ​Do​ ​the best​ ​you​ ​can​ ​in​ ​your​ ​marriage​ ​and​ ​hopefully​ ​your​ ​partner​ ​will​ ​too.​ ​That’s​ ​it.​ ​No guarantees. Choose​ ​well.

Now​ ​we’re​ ​getting​ ​to​ ​the​ ​real​ ​advice​ ​of​ ​this​ ​article.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​three​ ​foundations​ ​of​ ​love: chemistry,​ ​work,​ ​and​ ​choice.​ ​These​ ​three​ ​completely​ ​solid​ ​things​ ​will​ ​predict​ ​if​ ​you’ll have​ ​the​ ​luxury​ ​of​ ​getting​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​move​ ​through​ ​the​ ​love​ ​cycle​ ​without​ ​the​ ​wheels falling​ ​off​ ​the​ ​bus​ ​during​ ​the​ ​journey.​ ​

If​ ​you​ ​cannot​ ​honestly​ ​say​ ​“yes”​ ​to​ ​each​ ​one,​ ​then, as​ ​the​ ​90s​ ​rapper​ ​Ice​ ​Cube​ ​said,​ ​“Chickity-check​ ​yo​ ​self​ ​before​ ​you​ ​wreck​ ​yo​ ​self.” (Gawd​ ​I​ ​love​ ​the​ ​90s.)


And​ ​now,​ ​three​ ​final​ ​questions.

1. Are​ ​you​ ​a​ ​better​ ​person​ ​with​ ​them​ ​than​ ​without​ ​them?​
Here​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I​ ​mean​ ​by​ ​that. Are​ ​you​ ​the​ ​best​ ​version​ ​of​ ​yourself​ ​in​ ​the​ ​relationship?​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​smile,​ ​laugh,​ ​strive,​ ​try, glow​ ​more​ ​with​ ​this​ ​person​ ​as​ ​a​ ​partner?​ ​Do​ ​even​ ​the​ ​boring​ ​lamest​ ​tasks​ ​seem​ ​more inviting​ ​with​ ​them​ ​around?​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​happier,​ ​more​ ​expressive,​ ​more​ ​seen,​ ​more heard​ ​with​ ​them​ ​in​ ​your​ ​life?​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​do​ ​better​ ​and​ ​be​ ​better​ ​with​ ​and​ ​for​ ​them? Do​ ​you​ ​emotionally​ ​elevate​ ​each​ ​other​ ​equally?

2. Do​ ​they​ ​bring​ ​you​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​your​ ​tribe?​ ​Do​ ​your​ ​friends​ ​and​ ​family​ ​like​ ​them?
Don’t​ ​devalue​ ​this.​ ​Your​ ​people​ ​may​ ​be​ ​a​ ​mess​ ​themselves,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​know​ ​you.​ ​Like, know​​ ​you​ ​know​ ​you.​ ​They​ ​know​ ​your​ ​crap​ ​and​ ​your​ ​baggage.​ ​They​ ​know​ ​your​ ​history, your​ ​kryptonite​ ​and​ ​your​ ​superpowers.​ ​Trust​ ​their​ ​judgment.​ ​No​ ​matter​ ​how​ ​crazy​ ​they are,​ ​they​ ​won’t​ ​steer​ ​you​ ​wrong.​ ​Plus,​ ​your​ ​partner​ ​should​ ​encourage​ ​you​ ​to​ ​see, support​,​ ​celebrate,​ ​and​ ​lean​ ​on​ ​your​ ​elders​ ​and​ ​your​ ​friends.​ ​They​ ​should​ ​elevate​ ​that tribal​ ​connection​ ​as​ ​a​ ​place​ ​of​ ​support​ ​not​ ​only​ ​for​ ​you​ ​as​ ​an​ ​individual,​ ​but​ ​for​ ​you​ ​both as​ ​a​ ​couple.​ ​Be​ ​very​ ​wary​ ​if​ ​your​ ​family​ ​and​ ​friends​ ​do​ ​not​ ​overtly​ ​bless​ ​your relationship.

3. Do​ ​they​ ​bring​ ​you​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​your​ ​source?​
​When​ ​and​ ​how​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​connected​ ​to God,​ ​humanity,​ ​love,​ ​or​ ​whatever​ ​you​ ​call​ ​that​ ​which​ ​fills​ ​you​ ​up​ ​and​ ​makes​ ​you​ ​whole. For​ ​some​ ​people,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​nature,​ ​or​ ​church,​ ​or​ ​volunteering,​ ​or​ ​books,​ ​or​ ​AA​ ​meetings,​ ​or yoga,​ ​or,​ ​or,​ ​or,​ ​or...​ ​Does​ ​your​ ​partner​ ​exalt​ ​this​ ​higher​ ​need​ ​that​ ​is​ ​essential​ ​to​ ​your mental​ ​and​ ​spiritual​ ​health?​ ​Do​ ​they​ ​value​ ​the​ ​essential​ ​need​ ​that​ ​a​ ​prolonged​ ​absence from​ ​this​ ​would​ ​cause​ ​you​ ​to​ ​shift​ ​into​ ​something​ ​that​ ​is​ ​not​ ​fully​ ​you?


Love​ ​can​ ​be​ ​agony​ ​and​ ​ecstasy.​ ​Making​ ​a​ ​choice​ ​to​ ​love​ ​takes​ ​strength​ ​beyond compare,​ ​and​ ​being​ ​vulnerable​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​be​ ​loved​ ​takes​ ​endless​ ​courage.​ ​Knowing when​ ​to​ ​jump​ ​in​ ​and​ ​when​ ​to​ ​climb​ ​out​ ​is​ ​daunting.​

​Modern​ ​love​ ​is​ ​rarely​ ​pure​ ​happily ever​ ​after​ ​and​ ​love​ ​is​ ​not​ ​easy​ ​.​ ​.​ ​.​ ​ever.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​photographed​ ​hundreds​ ​of​ ​weddings​ ​and I​ ​promise​ ​you​ ​this:​ ​if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​brave,​ ​thoughtful​ ​about​ ​love,​ ​if​ ​you​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​those​ ​who love​ ​you​ ​and​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​make​ ​the​ ​best​ ​next​ ​right​ ​choice,​ ​you​ ​will​ ​find​ ​your​ ​way​ ​to​ ​your best​ ​version​ ​of​ ​happily​ ​ever​ ​after.

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photography // Autumn Lee Studios

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Vanessa, said on
Autumn's profound wisdom on LOVE is amazing! Love love love!

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