Over the last week, I have been studying the philosophies of British writer, Alain de Botton, and Belgian psychotherapist, Esther Perel: Two contemporary controversial, both seeking to revolutionize the society with an entirely unique and modern approach to love. My aim was to come up with a remedy – a way to solve the most questioned riddles in regards to love: How do we regain the flame in a marriage? And how do we make the love last?
We all have doubts from time to time. That’s right. Both you and I have had moments where we ask ourselves: Is it even possible? Can a man and a woman last forever without succumbing to dullness, infidelity, indifference or a humongous urge to kill one another? Will you ever be able to look at your spouse and feel that same feeling as when you first clapped eyes on them?
Cynics would laugh and say NO!
Hopeless romantics (who haven’t yet been married) would smile and say with a dreamy voice: “Of course you will! If they’re the one.”
Let me break it down for you. None of the above are right. The cynic is way too negative and the hopeless romantic is delusional beyond compare!
So what is the correct answer? I’ll tell you. But first, we have to dive into five of the many delusional ideas that novels and movies have been brainwashing you with since the beginning of the biased “Romantic era” that planted its roots in 1770:
Love is about finding “The one”
“In an ideal world, marriage vows would be entirely rewritten. At the altar, a couple would speak thus: “We accept not to panic when, some years from now, what we are doing today will seem like the worst decision of our lives. Yet we promise not to look around, either, for we accept that there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible. We are a demented species.”
Think about it. There are in total, 7.53 billion people living on this planet right now. And you still think that out of all those people, there is going to be one person who is the right one for you and who you will – mysteriously so – find one day because destiny provided you with a handful of set circumstances in order for you to walk down their path? It’s a cute theory, but it’s way too flawed to live by.
The truth is: No one is completely right for you because everyone carries baggage.
You might end up with someone whose values, religion and political views correspond with yours, but they still won’t be perfect. One day, they will say or do something weird that you’ll hate or even feel disgusted by. And the reason why they suddenly said or did that thing is simply that they grew up in a different environment than yours. This is the one thing we tend to just forget about when it comes to love: Namely, how each individual is – without their will or choice in the matter – shaped and formed by their community. Perhaps your parents did a great job in raising you, however, they fought a lot and they didn’t handle stressful situations all too well. You will then have downloaded all that information in your head and when being with your future partner, you are a hundred percent guaranteed to have some trouble in stressful situations: Your loved one might be all calm and solution-oriented while you’re raging with fear and irrational anger. This will separate you and create chaos – regardless of how similar you might be when it comes to everything else. If you’re one of those hopeless romantics, you will then start doubting whether they are the one or not. This doubt will turn into anxiety and in the end, you’ll break up. Then you go on looking for someone new. Naturally, you’ll find someone soon enough – someone who puts a blush to your cheek and makes your heart skip a beat. You then convince yourself that THEY must be the one. So you start dating, but then … you notice something else that’s wrong. This person is absolutely hysterical in stressful situations! They are hugely paranoid and even worse than YOU are! Plus – on top of that, they’re a slob! All they do is sit in front of the TV after work, eat ships and watch football. You start comparing this one to the previous one and you realize that the previous one wasn’t all that bad after all. Perhaps they were the one after all?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The one doesn’t exist because we are all – in some way or another – shaped negatively by our parents. It’s inevitable! We just can’t help it. Because the truth is, it’s equally impossible for a parent to be perfect as it is for a couple to be. The concept of the one comes with a notion of perfection. And that is where the whole theory becomes flawed. Because perfection doesn’t exist.
2. Love is based on one”feeling”
“The largest part of what we call ‘personality’ is determined by how we’ve opted to defend ourselves against anxiety and sadness”.”
If you think that love is based on the first impression of that feeling you got when you first saw or spoke to them – think again.
Remember that everyone who seems sane and who interacts in our society as “appropriate” human beings are all, in essence, actors on a stage. Because of human evolution, people are – by instinct – taught to put up a facade in order to hide their personal flaws.
It all comes down to biology. They do this out of fear; We’re all scared of what might happen to the group if they were able to recognize our anxieties and despair – they would, without a twinge of doubt, leave us out in the dark wilderness with all the wild animals. So what do we do? We put on a shield – a smile, laughter, a good joke – we consciously make ourselves seem more interesting than we really are; Especially when meeting someone we’re attracted to. THAT is when we say goodnight to our insanity and good morning to our creativity. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that brain cells are working faster than ever on a first date: Within seconds we want to figure out how to act polite, smart, funny, mysterious, kind and wicked all at the same time! And while that’s going on, we desperately wish to come up with a loophole between being attentive and not being attentive.
We want to give, but not too much. Because we also want to leave them longing for more. In essence, we’re doing psychological Math-equations minute by minute, all at a rapid speed. And while this is all going on, our date is sitting there, adoring us, thinking that we will be like this throughout the entire future relationship. But …. we won’t. Obviously, we won’t. Because the very second our love gets reciprocated by our partner and we become so comfortable in the relationship that we might as well have been alone, things start to fade. The romance is suddenly gone. Where is that feeling that we had from the very beginning? The one thing that was going to be the pillar of the entire relationship … where is it? It’s gone. Because you’re not using your creativity anymore. Ergo: You’re not looking at love as a craft.
3. Expectations are too high
“Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
And because expectations are too high, we give up too soon …
It is far too noticeable that in the 21st century, narcissism and self-righteousness have increased a substantial amount in the world of dating and relationships. Commonly, when a person gets involved with someone else, they feel like their partner should be able to provide them with a dozen different things: Physical intimacy, appreciation, and care, money and stability, laughter and spontaneity, novelty, autonomy, respectfulness, generosity and much much more.
The typical idea is that if they fail to supply one or two of these expectations, something must be terribly wrong and before you know it, they’re out the door.
Classic mistake. The problem here is that YOU should take a good look at yourself and YOUR mistakes before judging anybody else’s. You’re flawed too. Hell, you might even be more flawed than the person you’re pointing fingers at. Your partner might be bad at showing gratitude, but you might be awfully bad at responding to their ingratitude. Jordan Peterson says: ” if you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” And he’s right. So before setting those high expectations, take a good look at what YOU have to offer to the table. Most likely, there’s a lot you’ll need to fix about yourself. So start now.
4. You need to be with your partner ALL THE TIME
“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”
This is a very common mistake which happens way too often – not only because of the foolishness that comes with being in love – but also because of what society has been telling us again and again on what marriage and long-term relationship should look like; The archetypical american dream couple who live their lives together in a villa, go on vacations together, do their hobbies together and talk about their problems together. While all of this seems very nice and lovey-dovey, the reality of it isn’t as glorious as you may think. Believe it or not – couples NEED some time apart in order to thrive in a happy, prosperous marriage.
Esther Perel once partook in research where she interviewed many couples from age 20 to 80. She asked each one of them the question: “When do you feel most in awe of your partner?” Half of them answered, “When he/she is doing something they love; A craft or an exercise that brings them joy and fulfillment.” The other half said, “When they’ve been away for a long time and we see each other again.”
Perel concluded that the longing you feel for your partner when they’re away or focusing on something other than YOU can actually help bring the “flame” back into the relationship. In fact, the joy of seeing the spouse again after the pain of not having them there beside them can – neurologically – make the person experience the exact same sensations as when they saw them for the very first time. This is a guaranteed elixir for long-term relationships – regardless of age. So don’t feel tied to the conventional idea of having to stay with your spouse all the time. Take a pause every now and then. Reinvite the flame by being a bit distant towards them from time to time. Did you know that some couples don’t even live together even though they’re married? And that it’s actually proven to give better results than the ones that do live in the same house?
5. You stop dating when you get married
Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It’s a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered.”
Whoever said there should be a defined bridge that separated dating and being married was utterly and completely wrong.
Never stop dating! Even when you get married! Especially then!
We all know what happens when we first start dating someone: We are nervous around them, our brain has a hard time finding the right things to say, we blush, we laugh at their jokes – even the ones we don’t find funny at all. We stare into the screen of our phone, wondering what to text back while we write at least five different samples of a sentence before deleting them altogether. We wait a couple of days before calling them because we don’t want them to think we’re easy. We want to play hard-to-get. When we meet them, we take them on spontaneous trips, we surprise them, make them laugh, go star-gazing, tell them about our dreams and aspirations. We don’t see them too often, therefore, every time we do becomes the special highlight of our week. And since we sometimes go several days without meeting up, we have so much to catch up on that it’s almost impossible for conversations to go blanc.
Now – the scary thing that usually happens – the thing that determines whether you look at love as a craft or not – is the place between the dating-phase and the marriage/long-term relationship phase. I call this place “The Cliff”.
The cliff is when – depending on the pace you’re going – you’ll either fall off the rock and into the pit, or, stop and go backward – back where you came from; Back to dating.
“The Cliff Allegory” goes like this: If you treat your relationship as a craft (or a skill) you constantly work on moving backward – away from the cliff. It’s like an ongoing spiral; You’ll run and you’ll run and eventually come to the cliff, then you’ll have to work on going back to dating, then you’ll move forward again, and backward, and forward, and backward – and you continue like that throughout every day and every year of the entire relationship without stop.
Dating Rule 1: The game = balance
You may ask: Why is it so crucial to go back to the starting line? Well … with an ideal couple, “The Game” should never stop. It should go on, even in the marriage. Meaning, you should always be able to visualize a weight-scale (that being your marriage) and that weight scale should remain balanced. For example; One day you might find yourself having given a little “too much” appreciation to your partner. He/she might, in turn, have become less grateful because you’ve given so much so often that they’ve become used to it. So – in order to make the weight-scale stabilize itself again, you stop giving. Your partner then notices and starts giving more to you. And when you feel like your partner is becoming tired of you, it’s time to give them a little reminder on what they’re missing out on; Go away for a little while or just be less present than usual. This is in no way evil or rude. It is in fact, very healthy and much required in a marriage. All these exercises of give-and-take continue like this in circles. In essence, that’s what “The Game” is all about: Creating a balance within the relationship. If not the weight-scale, imagine the Yin Yang symbol from Taoism. Not only is it important to have balance in your own life, but it also has to exist within the marriage …
Dating Rule 2: Be careful with “The Pit”
But – if you look at your relationship as something that’s just going to “fix itself” because you base it on that one feeling you had in the beginning and you convince yourself to believe that THAT feeling will just magically redeem everything, you’ll run and you’ll run and you’ll come to the cliff – and since you’re just floating – you won’t do anything about it so you’ll fall down and into the pit and from there, it will be very hard to get up again. From there, the relationship will respond to the damage you’ve made with either infidelity, indifference, dullness or aggression. You’re in the pit, my friend. But fear not. It is possible to get up and go back to the starting line. But that requires shifting your perspective.
Dating Rule 3: Begin with looking at love as a craft – not a feeling
I do not disregard that love is a feeling because it is. The sense of closeness, the caring and the wanting to die for another person’s wellbeing is an emotional state of reaction that goes on in your brain – HOWEVER – it takes practice and skill in order to keep this feeling. Now, having something and keeping something are two very different things. You can have a baby at any time. That’s easy. But keeping it – that requires work. If you don’t work on keeping your baby – if you don’t feed it and clothe it properly – the baby will die. Ergo; You won’t have it anymore.
Why shouldn’t the same thing apply for love?
Why isn’t there a school of love? Why can’t we take courses when we’re young, before entering a world of delusional romanticism which now has turned into a “hookup-culture” because of a simple misunderstanding of the entire concept? A lot of us base our whole lives on one marriage, and that marriage is something we do every day. Still, we were never taught how to do it. We were just thrown into it like newborn babies, trying to find a way of feeding ourselves without a mother.
Is it possible that we have misunderstood love, completely? And can we be trained until we are able to master the art of love?
Yes. I believe so. If we start looking at it differently.
Falling in love is a feeling.
Love – however – is a skill that needs to be learned.
Aftur S. Nerdrum
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