We see love broadly as two things – something fickle and frivolous and magnificent and fated when we are younger, and something necessary and domestic and safe and unglamourous when we are a little older. We might fail at achieving either, question the emotional mechanism of the world or our own as being responsible for our failure. We try romanticism, we try anti-romanticism, but neither provides us with what we want – a constant, fool-proof, all encompassing love, akin to a pension plan. Only we prefer calling it something as cringe-inducing as True Love, Forever.
It’s not fashionable to admit it anymore, but what we’re looking for in a partner is a Saviour. Whether religion is alive or dead, we’ve substituted it with the search for true, personal love. When we think of that one, covering all bases, around when you need them, exciting when we want to be excited etc., what we’re looking for is a solution to be saved from all the dullness and misery of life. When we’re feeling wretched, completely down and out, we turn to them to cuddle us into meaningful existence.
But, all we have to suffice ourselves with is a video chat. Or by the time they’re physically around, that cuddle has lost its appeal. If our partner had just been a spiritual idea rather than a physical entity, perhaps we would have fared better at that moment. Which is why we have books and music and celebrities.
You see, most people fight against these industries feeding into our minds ideas of love and relationships and most of all, meaning and happiness that is often furthest from our realities. There are adverts celebrating #RealBeauty , but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with facial hair or a bulging waistline on them. And that is because, even when presented with real beauty, love makes us airbrush it to maximum perfection. When presented with a real person, fulfilling acceptably our individual algorithms of what we find desirable, we bathe them in a rose-tinted light, which helps gloss over whatever is unacceptable.
Here we are, hankering after acceptance in our partners, in ourselves, thinking that is the mature way to love. The honest way to love. The kind way to love. The loving way to love. But, you can’t do it. You just can’t do it. It would be superhuman to be that honest, and further yet, accommodating, and none of us have enough Kryptonite in our systems to do it.
Imagination helps by providing you with enough substitutions to your partner’s imperfections right from the start. It’s like Nature planned it that way from the outset, for by the time you are aware of your unconscious imaginative inputs, you’re really in love too. They’re not the person you thought they were, but nevertheless they’re the person about whom you care to think a lot.
You don’t really think of your parents. Sure, you tell them you love them once in a while. You tell people anecdotes from your childhood, or point out quirks in your parents’ personalities. But, unless you are forced to think about them in a therapy session, your parents don’t drive your imagination, don’t weigh over your critical faculties.
With friends, it’s even less so, which is why we tend to prefer their company. It is the most non-committal, most un-thought-after relationship of all, which is why we get it wrong so often. If we thought about our friends the way we cultivate thoughts about our partners, we’d have better friends. But friendship, unlike love, is what we most tend to fall into. It is the least imaginative of relationships, which is why it is the only one we can’t bear to live without.
Imagination not only helps induce and culture romantic love, it prepares fertile ground for it. Moreover, it helps you get over what hasn’t worked, and potentially strengthen you for what could work. When you think about the most banal romantic comedies, pop music or chick lit, you envision them as sugary confections, as far away from the dark, bland nature of love as possible. But, look closely, and you will find much that renders true and unpleasant beneath the icing. You’re unlikely to find an unironic adult contemporary number called “I Love You But You’re So Boring” playing on the radio on Valentine’s Day*, but something like “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry” has long been around to take care of you.
It’s not enough to have love. Periodically, sporadically, unlimitedly. What do you do with yourself the rest of the time? When you’re by yourself, or even with the person that has such hold over whatever meaning you have as a human. When you are single, or when you feel single even if you’re officially with someone, you have to find reasons to validate your existence. That may be some grand purpose or some humble one, some great desire or a simple one (such as those who declare, “Ice-cream is Life”) or a non-purpose purpose, the kind that nihilists have made into an option for quite a while, where you claim to live without meaning because you don’t choose to die, and hence live a life of pleasure, making you a hedonist, and giving you purpose anyway.
On the other hand, if you can lay all these options to rest, and outsource your meaning to another person, you’re more relieved than anything else. Sure, they drive you mad, but it’s better than you driving yourself mad. Sure, they think you’re crazy, but you think they’re crazy too, which is better than you thinking yourself as crazy. You’d even be disappointed to think they’ve accepted your craziness. What would you have to talk about, in thirty years?
Wouldn’t you rather have an exciting, animated relationship, than one where you spent a long time being polite and editing yourself, until one day when the dormant volcano in you bursts forth with unacceptability – and you find that not only have you lied to them all this time, you haven’t loved them much? A little bit as a natural consequence of having to co-habit with someone you don’t find thoroughly revolting, but only that much.
It’s the scariest thing – to be as close as is possible, for as long as is possible – to someone as flesh and blood as you. You’d rather blame it on fate, other people, desperation or dating websites than your own conscious admittance that I am wretched without you, but with you, I hope not to mind my wretchedness so much. I’d rather distract myself with your loveliness, a little embellished though it maybe, in the hope that you’d do, kind of, the same thing for me.
Your imagination not only propels and sustains you through love, it insulates you from hurt. This person may have revealed themselves to not be worthy for all that you’re putting into the relationship, but your imagination makes you believe there is someone else who would. I don’t believe in soul mates (I, certainly, wouldn’t want to be with someone who is anything like me), but I do believe there are people who are more than willing to try to be decent human beings with people who are of similar minds and inclinations as them. That we can’t be Saviours for each other, but we can be Companions.
What do you look for in a person you love?
* I’ve found a Beautiful South song that goes by this title, but it does not seem as sincere as, say, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
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