If you ever catch someone in a moment when they are truly willing to divulge their deepest thoughts, their hopes for the future, their ideas of fulfillment, I am almost certain that your conversation will center around love and relationships. This probably makes intuitive sense, how we all strive to love and be loved in some way. By our parent, child, friend, partner, even a stranger (before we’ve made them our imaginary partner and imposed all of these qualities and expectations on them, of course)… But what does not seem to fit in with the goal of loving is the way that so many of us treat ourselves and others when we supposedly ‘love.’
I find that far too often our love looks like this: we expect, demand, stop listening, start checking things off a list, and enter into some type of a desperate battle for affection that we will never really be able to receive. It’s entertaining for sure, but sad- to think of the man/woman who famously announces their desire for a relationship and then sits.. and waits… and strikes up no conversations, and turns people down, and judges, and raises the bar if someone happens to meet their original criteria. Or the man/woman who is so focused on their unhappiness with their partner, so focused on how their partner ‘should’ behave, that they are disappointed and annoyed before they even walk through the front door.
I think that maybe this is because of a misunderstanding of love. Not fairytale love, although it may be possible, but real, selfless, unconditional- and I think, more meaningful- love that nourishes, and grows, and withstands. What if I asked what ‘love’ means to you? At first you would undoubtedly roll your eyes, feel hot, and start moving around. But I know you think about it. In fact, we think about it enough to drive our friends and therapists crazy, to read self-help books, and to write blogs (my friend had a blog called ‘Being single is the worst’- seriously). So- could you take some time, lots and lots of time, maybe the rest of your life- to really think about this idea for yourself? Think about how you make love in your life. Cheeky, right? But really, how do you decide to love someone? How do you treat them when you do love them (not when you love YOU, when you love THEM- and not on a contingency)? And how do you sustain that love in the face of boredom, frustration, and disappointment? I think this is a largely important task, as it is most certainly confusing, draining, and toxic to live with a misconception of love or unskilled way of giving and receiving love.
Be specific. Don’t say “I want him/her to be funny, spontaneous, caring/supportive, romantic/sexual, responsible/established, to buy me flowers bc it’s Wednesday (which someone has for sure said)… All this really translates to is: I want them to make me laugh bc I’m bored, to surprise me bc I think I’m special, to do things for me without my asking bc if I ask then it’s not genuine and we’re not soul mates, to stare into my eyes and know the depths of my soul (without being creepy), to look like a European soccer player (sorry, guys) who turns me on bc I can’t make myself feel sexy, to make a whole lot of money so they can wine and dine me bc I’m a woman and… yep, that’s my reason for that, and to show me that I am worth it, that I am good, bc it’s hard for me to believe that on my own.
So- were there some problems with my above definition? First of all, why do we automatically go for the “I want them to…” when we are looking for a lover? What if you tried to appreciate someone, to love someone, regardless, to see how who they are can fit with who you are, and to grow with them. Are we getting closer? Rumi says a lot of great things about love, and life in general, but in this case- he says “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere, they are in each other all along” and “Still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.” If you think these are cheesy, I respect that and sort of agree, but if you can really try to think about the meaning of these very artistically bold statements I think you will be moved. Searching high and low for someone specific will not find you a lover- opening your mind and heart to someone who can also do that for you is when you will find a lover, a “soul mate.” And reminding yourself daily that a lover of yours does not owe you anything, should not behave in any particular way, and will never, ever meet all of the ever-changing criteria that visits your mind.
So when it happens, as it always does, and you find yourself holding onto your anger, or complaining that you have not met the one and your internal clock is ticking, or expecting your partner to possess a certain quality or behave in a particular way- call yourself out. Too weird? Here’s mine. “Okay, you wish he was taller and slightly more edgy? That’s legitimate. Why? Because men should be taller than women- and edgy is just cool. You said should. Ok well, to me, it’s more attractive when they are. Why? Bc then I feel small and cute and feminine. Hmm… sounds like my problem, not his.” So by breaking it down, becoming aware of the underlying issue that I actually have, I can decide that maybe this piece is not so worth it. Maybe I can let this rest. It doesn’t mean that I might not have that thought every time I see a tall man on the train, or stand next to my partner in heels, but once I’ve owned it, then it’s mine. Now I can choose to refute it, laugh at it, shrug it off, or simply sit with it (I had to say it once- I’m a therapist).
But to spend energy actually wishing something different on my partner and my relationship, and coincidentally, on myself (don’t think that I haven’t wished I was shorter, too) is not to offer real love. At least not selfless love. Can I be bold? We can be Indian-givers even when it comes to love. Wow. Isn’t that interesting (which is a nicer word I used in place of alarming)? The prince does not even know it but shortly after he puts that glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot she’s thinking “Umm that’s it? He could have held that moment a little longer. Is that a receding hair line? Where are the fireworks? That was a peck of a kiss. His lips are sort of bird-like.” Read that again in an annoying voice if you didn’t already. Come to terms with it if that’s you. I know, I’ve been there too. It’s okay. In fact, it’s great. But if you think you’ll stop doing it when you’ve met ‘the one,’ please just give up that idea. Plain and simple. It’s not when you meet Mr. or Ms. Right (because men do this too)- it’s when you learn to love someone without stipulations, when your love no longer fluctuates (as it never really could in the first place), that you have it. Until then, I’m not sure what you have other than a very intimate critic (not someone who wants you to be the best you and all that jazz- but a critic- not ‘constructive criticism’ either- which is now called ‘constructive feedback’ bc the word criticism is too harsh). And who wants that? Unless you do… and then you can come and see me for therapy.
But really- are you giving or getting love from all of this? If it’s not working out then maybe you can decide to have these conversations with yourself, little by little, until you get where you want to be. Those are my ideas- and I hope you enjoyed them.