I've screwed up a fair amount of relationships in my years. The previous sentence is more popularly written as: "I've been so unlucky in love, I always seem to meet the wrong person". However there comes a point where you have to look back and go, hmm yeah that was number 16 failing maybe it's something I'm doing wrong.
This post is a culmination of, my own experiences over the past 4 years, intense contemplation over the last 2 months and an inspiring book I read which managed to structure my thinking on the subject (link supplied at the bottom of this post). Although I wrote it mostly for myself I hope that readers of this post can see some sense in these words.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought" - Gautama Buddha
It can be very empowering taking responsibility for your own fuck ups. Especially when you're done bitching and moaning to your friends about it. Which is a necessary step in the process to recovering, sanity and level headedness. You might think that sanity is a bit pushing it, however research has shown that people that are in love are actually crazy or at the very least show similar behavior. I know for a fact that's true for myself. When I'm in the existential part of the relationship, I'm so hopelessly infatuated I often surprise myself with the things that come out of my mouth. I usually burn myself out prematurely, having hardly any energy left to make the switch from infatuation to love.
Many, including myself until recently, think that infatuation should naturally evolve to a state where you love each other. I've come to think that this is false. As a matter of fact the two are axiomatically opposites. Infatuation is a high, it's a higher state truly worthy of being called existential, it requires no effort and there's very little control over it. But as with every buzz or high, it doesn't last, at one point or another the narcotic has run its course and you slowly come down to earth. As with every sobering experience it can be quite, well, sobering.
Love on the other hand requires effort and maintenance, when the flame withers new fuel has to be applied to keep it going. It doesn't come for free and there's bound to be bumps in the road. But the reward is for the better. The more effort we invest in something the greater the reward. Or, nothing that's truly satisfying can be obtained without effort. Take sex for example, it can take a lot of sweating and hard work to get to the peak of the activity (though for some people just lying there is also an option, but I'm sure that the rewards will be less in that case) but the reward in the end is fireworks.
When we think about it we instinctively know this to be true. Getting everything in live just handed to us we grow bored and unsatisfied, we start hanging around on the street with friends looking for trouble. Or we just buy another house and a new car. Maybe book trips to far away places, travel the world. But in the end where ever we go or what ever we buy or do, we take ourself and our chronic feeling of dissatisfaction with us.
So when the infatuation stage ends we can decide to skip and jump into the next adventure and ride the infatuation wave. Hardly something that any of us would find very appealing, but we end up doing it anyway.
Then there are the cases where the relationship seems to have, "run it's course", "lost it's magic", "just became to complex" or when sex with your partner seems less interesting then a late night reality show.
Sure we can throw in the towel. The moment of relieve that gives you won't last more the a couple of weeks, after that you'll feel miserable and alone where you're actually missing the person you were with but you won't admit that to yourself. Of course there's always the day where it all seems but a distant memory and you're out having fun with friends and going about your daily life.
Until you meet this magical person one evening that's bound to fulfill your every need and you start the cycle all over; this time will be different.
That we're actually in love with the image of what we want that person to be instead of the actual person we happily ignore. More over after a couple of months you'll be upset with that person that he or she didn't turnout the way you expected. Of course we secretly cloak that in the words, "you suddenly changed". Especially among women this is the period where the question, "do you really love me?" or when she's a bit more down to earth, "do you still like me?", becomes increasingly popular.
You'd think that at one point we'd learn our lesson. That we'd realize that the view we have on relationships is flawed and probably influenced way to much by some Hollywood fairy tail. But we don't seem to get it at all, I've suspected for a long time already that I was probably getting it wrong, but didn't manage to find out what and I just kept on living the same spiral over and over again. Of course with every iteration getting a bit more bitter and impossible to be with.
So why is it so much easier to just jump into something new instead of fighting for the rewards that true love can yield, the kind of love that requires effort and sweat and maybe even tears but has a reward far outweighing living a life of spiral relationships.
Most of us came across a couple in their life that realized that a loving relationship requires continues maintenance. I hear most people describe those couples as, "they've been together for 20 years and they're still as much in love with each other as the day they met", or something of the likes. Probably inspiring us to not stop searching until we have found someone with whom we can have the same dynamic. While in truth the person really wasn't all that important, the lesson that love requires maintenance and effort outweighs the character of the person we're with in many cases (with obvious exceptions).
But interestingly enough even coming across a couple that do get it right we seem to take away the wrong lesson. We walk away with even more confirmation of our Hollywood love fairy tail. Add to that the high that the infatuation stage provides, infatuation is love and visa versa. We don't even seem to know the difference between love and infatuation. We just blurt out we love someone while we're actually just confusing infatuation with love.
It seems to work the other way around as well! When we finally do hit the spot where we truly love someone. We don't do proper maintenance, so at one point we get unhappy. Then get so saturated with feelings of discontent that it hides the actual feelings of affection we have for that person. Inevitably at one point we decide to end the relationship and a couple of weeks later we're crying and find a friend saying to us, "you never know what you have until it's gone" (followed by a strong urge to hit the friend with a barstool).
We seem to be so hooked on cheap rides and easy thrills that every time we don't get something we seem to think we had the right to receive it. The result is discontent, the thought that everyone is getting it except you only amplifies that feeling. You probably decide to never have that happen to you again. But of course it will and you'll feel more unhappy with every iteration.
Pretty soon you'll be on meds to keep your average happiness level high enough and completely shaving off the lows. What you probably don't realize when you're starting the treatment is that you can't selectively numb emotions so when you shave off the lows you're also shaving off the highs.
Life has become so easy that we made it pretty damn hard on ourselves. There's no such thing as cheap trills and easy highs and you deserve a whole lot less than you think you do. As soon as we realize that, we feel empowered and responsible for our own lives. The good and the bad come under our own control, which believe it or not, is much more satisfying.
Some of the above wisdom was inspired by reading Michael Foley's wonderful book The Age of Absurdity