You should read All About Love: New Visions. It is a thought-provoking collection of essays on love by bell hooks. One of the very important points that she makes is that you don’t have to marry your soul mate, and you don’t have to hate your exes.
bell hooks was instrumental in me being able to say this: “I believe in Flat Love.” By flat love I mean that I try to approach each relationship the same; negotiate a mutually beneficial expectation, do my best to communicate my desires and my interest in the other party. Whether it is my wife, a friend, or a lover I have the same goal, enjoy our time together (however that ends up working).
And Here Is Why I Feel This Way.
Being a friend and being a lover are often measured by the same marks: time and intensity. Being a good friend or a good lover is limited by the same skills: communication and attention. So, why should our language or behavior treat them as different entities? I feel like we should call a date a date. Whether I am meeting you at the bar to complain about work, watch a game, or to tell you stories about my deepest secret I am still making time and attention for you. If the night ends with hugging from “a socially approved distance” or a polite peck or with breakfast the next morning I am still trying to communicate my level of affection for you.
I think that my life is simpler when I treat my son, my wife, and the guy I brew beer with the same way: I tell them what I like about them, I express my desire to make a time for them, and I show attention to their needs and communications—in different degrees, but the same way.
I would do the same with work and the dog, but the dog doesn’t really care for much beyond a butt-scratch. And, work, it is more like a frenemy, so I try not to obsess about it (much). In reality there are many people that treat their job or hobby with greater care than their lovers, but we will save that discussion for another time.
Whatever and whoever you love requires time and attention. If you let that be the primary guide they will all grow with you.