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“I do love you, but sometimes love isn’t enough.”

Growing up, I used to believe in all those fairy-tale happy endings, when love was enough to conquer all. When I heard those words four years ago, they shook everything that I’d thought I knew. I didn’t know what to believe and even when I entered a good relationship, I didn’t know at what point our love wouldn’t be enough anymore. While I wanted to believe that it would always win out, I couldn’t tell if that was childhood innocence or reality. It’s a comforting and romantic notion, but what can we do in the face of distance, of time, of all the everyday struggles that can make loving someone a whole lot harder than the movies portray?

As a society, we all like to idealize the notion of love as though it were some all-powerful force that can make everything work out. In most mainstream films or books, the story ends when the couple finally gets together despite all odds. Their love is most often the honeymoon love: intense, passionate, fiery. That’s the kind of love that will battle dragons and cross rivers of lava. It’s not the kind of love that will stop you from getting upset when your partner doesn’t do the dishes like you asked. Most often, this second of kind of love is the one that will matter.

After the honeymoon love passes, staying together becomes a conscious decision. Every time I got into a fight with my partner, there would come a point when we’d pull back and acknowledge that we wanted to be together despite the issue at hand. Love won. Still, I kept waiting for a moment when we would both admit we loved each other, but that it still wasn’t enough to overcome whatever we were fighting about. At almost three years in, I began to realize that it wasn’t love that was the magical solution all those times; it was us. It was communication, compromise, and learning from past mistakes. The changes weren’t immediate. Building a good relationship takes an enormous amount of will and work. The trick was that it didn’t feel like effort in the moment; that’s the real magic of love.

No matter how long you’ve been together for, a relationship will never keep working if you stop. You have to actively choose to keep going every single day. As Taylor Swift put it, “we are never out of the woods, because we are always going to be fighting for something.”

So yes, love is enough. But not the kind of love that I thought. The fairy-tale love that we long for as children is not sustainable; it will not magically fix your problems or make you happy when you’re really not. The love that will be enough, and unfortunately the kind that we don’t see nearly enough of in the media, is less exciting and much more subtle. However, it’s more powerful — a more stable fix instead of a quick one. It’s the fuel that makes you want to keep mending cracks, as opposed to the band-aids that hold all the pieces from falling apart.

Mending the cracks is still going to be difficult. But love will make you want to work harder, to become a better person, to grow into a better couple. In the end, it will come down to whether both choose to put in the effort and keep trying; that’s the love that will overcome the dragons, and more importantly, the dirty dishes.

P.S. Shout-out to Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013) for being a beautiful representation of love after the honeymoon.