The “I love you forever” mirage.

I love you forever.

Like many, I grew up surrounded by love stories about couples pledging to love one another for forever. And when I married, this dream was realized. We swore to love each other ’til death do us part. I was all set, forever complete with my own happily ever after.

But that just wasn’t my case. The promise of forever created a complacency within me. What I believed was a safety net ended up being a beautiful spider web that lulled me into being lazy. Forever meant I could do no wrong, so I focused my energy on developing other parts of my life. I became blissfully unaware of the creeping comfort settling in, taking the guarantee of love for granted. I failed to acknowledge the receding attentions required of me to maintain our relationship. Near the end, I had stopped turning toward my partner. The illusionary security of forever was how the end began.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. If we can shed all the silly ideas about love that movies, novels and stories have socialized in us. Love, though wildly fulfilling, is hard fucking work. There is no guarantee of forever. Good relationships take conscious and constant acts of engagement. Requiring us to continuously push ourselves to accept, love, support and uplift our partner. It takes getting our hands all pruney while soaking in the discomfort of our individually evolving needs and desires. Falling in love is unconsciously easy, staying in love takes concerted conscious effort. If this doesn’t feel “right” let me ask you if anything really worth having has ever not required hard work or sacrifice? Why we hold love to a different standard is the small print we don’t acknowledge in all the romantic tales we hear. This is the paradigm we have been socialized to believe, that true love is easy or effortless, blissful with minimum effort. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

Another important paradigm to undermine is that we need another person to complete us. This is simply NOT true. We do not have gaping holes in our being just waiting for our soul mate to fill. Once we learn to see beauty in our less desirable qualities and accept that we are whole in our imperfections; we can then be open to accept another in their entirety, for all their bad and good traits. Otherwise, we will have a tendency to cast our partner as our saviour (eg. “I would be lost without her/him”); our other or better half; or our perfect complement (eg. “s/he is the yin to my yang”) – tell tale signs that we perceive ourselves as incomplete. The problem with these pedestaling acts are that they elevate your partner away from being permitted to change, to develop new faults or be anything other than your complement. Your partner ends up filling a hole in your life instead of existing as a separate independent entity. And this rigidity will crack when they evolve, which they will, or when you do, which is also inevitable. Imagine the synchronicity required to maintain being the perfect match to an ever evolving you, the pressure is crushing, selfish and unrealistic.

For me, the magic of being in love lies in loving someone for who they are, how they make us feel and in respecting them as a person who is also in evolution. It is about working hard to support each other’s personal growth paths; to function not solely as a combined unit but more as two solo artists performing better together.

Nowadays, I prefer a truth anchored in today over a promise lodged in the future. This truth comes as the answer to an assessment question. Do I love this person more today than I did yesterday? If the answer is yes, then we are on as solid ground as we can be. However, if one day the answer is No for consecutive days, weeks or months, then the end shall be near. This question brings no deception of forever to shatter nor any fantasies for what tomorrow may bring. It permits me to feel gratitude for the love I feel today.

With the present moment in mind, I boldly propose an alternative to “I love you forever”. A phrase that is more grounded and that minimizes unintended future promises that are often impossible to keep.

“I love you more today than I loved you yesterday, and I hope to love you more tomorrow.”

Saying this phrase feels real to me. It feels as certain as the ground under my feet because it is fixed in how I feel right now. If you had asked me when I was 20 or 30 if loving someone forever was unrealistic or full of hidden expectations, I would have said you lacked faith, will, imagination or that perhaps you just weren’t a romantic like me. But now, I know even magic takes hard work. So I am motivated to be vigilant of subtle changes in myself and my partner. I choose to actively turn towards him, one micro-action or micro-attention at a time. And I much prefer this active approach to the oversimplified fairytale, spoonful-of-sugar serendipity type of love often portrayed in books or movies.

Love is not entertainment, it’s a fulfilling journey that takes persistence and I am content knowing that I can give and earn love one day at a time, with each day building strength from the last. For me, having someone love me more today than they did yesterday, with the hope of more tomorrow feels much more respectful, evolutive, solid and secure than a blanket promise of forever.

Introducing the 168 Time Budget

The fact that most of us budget money and not time has always intrigued me. Money is an elastic resource that is figuratively infinite. Time, however, is finite; we can’t make more of it, once it is gone, it is gone.

168 hours a week. That is all we have.

You, me, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Ma, Malala Yousafzai and every other being on this pale blue dot has 168 hours a week to realize greatness. And even at that, the number of weeks available to us are also counting down. Time stops for no one.

So I ask you, how do you spend your time?

Prior to diving into my 168 Time Budget concept, I would like to introduce the following short story to create the right context. If you have read it before, I encourage you to re-read it now for full effect.

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. She silently places large rocks in the jar until no more can fit. She asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. She says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. She asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, she pours sand into the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. Before they answer, she reaches for a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, and asks, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” she replies.

Then she looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like checking social media, watching TV or running errands.”

Looking out at the class again, she asks, “Can you imagine what would happen to life if we had started with the water, the sand or the pebbles?”

Like so many, I too have let water and sand fill every crevice at many intervals in my life; not realizing that I left no time or energy for what really mattered to me. With distractions everywhere, I learned over the years to become mindful, vigilant and a fervent guardian of my time. I also started to gain an acute awareness of the elements that bring me joy. By applying traditional money budgeting techniques to time management, I now invest more of myself in things that make me happy. The time budget I created for myself is aptly named 168.

My 168 Time Budget concept is quite simple.

  1. Identify the “big rocks” that create great JOY in your life.
    • Health including sleep & exercise, family, partner, life goals, key relationships.
  2. List and prioritize the “pebbles” that add significance & meaning to your life.
    • Work including paid & volunteering, community, friends, hobbies
  3. Allocate a range of hours towards each rock & pebble totaling ~160 hours.
    • Leaving a few spare hours for sand & water is key, otherwise, the 168 budget won’t function in reality. Rigidity will derail new habit adhesion.
  4. Calculate the % of time each line item represents of 168 to check if you are indeed putting enough time towards the rocks, then the pebbles.
  5. Lastly, be kind to yourself if you derail slightly from week to week.
    • Social media, random articles or phone calls will likely steal precious minutes totaling in wasted hours but such is life.
    • Acknowledge, accept and aim to do better but most importantly, forgive yourself and move onwards and upwards!

Here is an example from my life:

  • 168 hours per week; totaling 61 320 hours in 2018.
    • 49 hours / 29% : 7hrs of sleep per night x 7 nights
    • 60 hours / 36% : 10hrs of work + 2 hrs of commute x 5 days
    • 10-20 hours / 6-12% : TEDxMontreal meetings & work
    • 8-20 hours / 5-12% : Time with partner & extended family
    • 10 hours / 6% : “Me time” to relax, read, write & let my mind wander
    • 8-12 hours / 5-7% : hanging out or speaking with friends /colleagues/ networks in person
    • 8-15 hours / 5-9% : conversing with friends online & social media
    • 3-5 hours / 2-3% : exercise (running, biking, other)
  • Cumulating in a range btwn 156 – 191 hours that ebbs & flows depending on the time of year.

The level of precision is up to you. It does not have to be granular down to the minute; the principle behind my 168 Time Budget is that it creates awareness around the time we spend (or don’t spend) on our life priorities. For those who desire precision, you can track Actual versus Budgeted time in a nifty time-tracking app on your phone but I have found this more useful as a high-level mental guide.

With finite time and finite energy during our time here, I hope my 168 idea will help you find time to invest in yourself, your dreams and your worldly ambitions. Each minute, hour and day, when channeled into purposeful actions can spark great change within us and ignite impactful change in others and the world.

So be great, be purposeful and be you, 168 hours at a time!

time flies