Have you ever noticed how, in romantic relationships, it seems we are always riding the line between adoring and abhorring our partner? Things will be going fine; you’re adrift on a sea of love and affection—then your significant other does something you don’t like. Suddenly, you’re fuming, thinking, ‘It’s OVER!’—your lover changed to villain in less time than it takes to change your socks.
Why does this happen? Is it simply human nature, or perhaps the nature of romantic love? Why do these relationships make us so crazy, turning even the calmest participants into self-contained roller coasters of emotion, causing us to do and say things we neither mean nor understand?
While hormones and conflicting egos play their part in the fickleness of our love partnerships, the real problem has more to do with an outdated idea (or ideal) of romantic love—a model designed to create conflict and leave us disappointed.
Mention the word ‘love’ or talk about ‘falling in love’, and, for many of us, an idealized image from a Hollywood movie comes to mind, perhaps a romantic scene from a piece of literature or a favorite love song. This is love, according to the popular media: There’s a conflict of some kind, but, eventually, the couple ends up getting together. Then there’s that big kiss, maybe a marriage scene, and the two live happily ever after…except things never seem to work out quite as conveniently in the world we find ourselves in. Where does that ideas come from?
These were tales of valiant knights slaying dragons and rescuing beautiful maidens (who, subsequently and without-fail, would fall in love with the knight—true love, problem free and never-ending). How many stories, movies, plays and TV shows end in marriage?
This idealistic approach to the subject of attraction has endured in popular culture all the way up until today. To prove it, just head out to your local movie mega-plex; from drama to comedy, there’s no shortage of idealized romance to lose oneself in.
But I like romantic movies!
These types of stories are uplifting and inspiring, but as we see these themes again and again, they can become symbols imbedded in our subconscious. The majority of romantic stories we hear are the ones we are told as children. When a child hears a story that addresses adult themes (like courtship and marriage), they absorb that information and take the story at face value. Combined with whatever other programming the child receives from their parents, peers and the media, they assume, “This is how things will probably play out for me.”
What many of us don’t realize when we’re out there in the dating world or trying to make things work in a long-term relationship is that this thing we’re trying to attain—what we view as our most important relationship—is a combination of idealization and fantasy, not at all real.
This romantic image is one that most of us have been building since childhood, and it is an ideal that could include unrealistic expectations. When our expectations aren’t met, we can start to feel completely out of control. Sometimes we behave childishly or act out, but it’s understandable that it would be difficult to wield these emotions—our motivations originate in decisions we made about our adult life at a very young age when our understanding of the world was more black and white.
When we superimpose our fabricated picture of romantic love onto a real situation, we’re going to be disappointed. That’s because people don’t behave like fantasies. They behave like people. They do unexpected things. They can, at times, be selfish, distant or weak. They can also be kind, inspiring and selfless. This is the beauty of being human.
However, if our fantasies are running the show, we may decide that we love someone based solely on physical appearance and sexual attraction. When this happens, the other person is related to as our possession—an object, not a human being. We may experience truly positive emotions at first, but, if unsavory aspects of the other person are revealed, our perfect vision is shattered, and soon we’re flooded with judgments about them.
In the book The Art of Happiness, his Holiness the Dalai Lama says that, in order to build relationships that will satisfy us over time, we must learn to “get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him on that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.”
Love is always available to each of us—if we are open to it. If you can love yourself for who you truly are, you’ll be able to extend the same love and trust to others. As trust, acceptance and sharing become a theme in your relationship, you’ll find you experience less extreme ups and downs and more sustained feelings of intimacy and warmth.
confused right now,