Our oldest daughter is going to turn 21 this summer. I have been thinking about how to celebrate this important milestone of her life and what we should give her. One of the gifts I want to give Jane is a series of letters on all aspects life that I can think of. As she is turning into an independent and self-assuring adult, I hope that the life lessons I’ve learned either the easy way or hard way will help her navigator through life’s promises and challenges.

So this is the first letter on love, in particular lasting romantic love. In a nutshell, love is hard work but to love and be loved is the greatest joy of life. I believe one should know in her heart when she finds her companion for life. If there is any doubt in your mind, you need to ask yourself some tough questions and make tough decisions. Don’t settle. At the same time, be aware that nobody is perfect including you. Unrealistic expectations can kill an otherwise robust and rewarding relationship. A strong and healthy bond is characterized by the willingness to change on both parties. Because without change growth isn’t possible, and without growth the relationship soon becomes stale and dull. If one party has to make all the adjustments to accommodate the demands of the other, you know your relationship is troublesome.

If you are certain that he is the person you desire to spend the rest of your life with and he feels the same way, get married and take your vows very seriously. Don’t believe for a second that marriage is the tomb of romance. Living with the same person day after day can magnify the differences and intensify the conflicts that often lead to anger, bitterness and disappointment. So you’ll have to work harder on communication and finding solutions. Home is not a place of judgment but a harbor of love. I find it useful to make up rules for dealing with conflicts when you aren’t hot headed. Even though in the heat of the moment one is highly unlikely to be rational, you will learn to fight with purpose and focus through practice and self-reflection. The rules can help you do that. Some days you may be so annoyed at each other that you just want him to get out of your face forever, but remember it’s a temporary state that will pass. If you have a genuine bond between the two of you, you’ll find your way back to each other.

Don’t give up your dreams and aspirations for your relationship, but at the same time do cultivate some common interests so that you don’t grow apart. Support him to be the man he wants to be. Avoid sharp remarks and criticisms because it crushes a man’s confidence and makes him feel little. Love him whole-heartedly, his strengths as well as weaknesses. Tell him how to love you and show appreciation and admiration especially when he does what makes you happy. Often times, the man and the woman do love each other deeply, but they express love in such a way that isn’t received well by the other. Self-understanding makes it possible for one to have a kind and loving relationship with oneself and others. You can’t be truly happy if you don’t know who you are and what you want out of life. You’ll have to figure that out on your own. Others can offer you input but they can’t do it for you.

Love is a risky business. The person you love the most also holds the power to hurt you to the core. Nevertheless love anyway. If you marry the right man for the right reasons, your love will grow in depth over time and the flames of your love will be unquenchable.