Onward in our series on Romantic Realism, today we look more deeply at two more sorrows of love. Let’s start with “It was supposed to be nice . . .” This sorrow refers not to any one acute event, or patently obvious reason that a relationship is unworkable. Rather, it speaks to the eventuality of habituation. Meaning, when we choose to spend our lives with someone, over time, the novelty wears off. In it’s place is predictability, taking each other for granted, expecting that one’s needs will be met without necessarily following through on our end of the bargain, and so on. The essay states that “the idea of happy coupledom taps into a fundamental picture of comfort, deep security, wordless communication and of our needs being effortlessly understood that comes from early childhood.” “At the best moments of childhood (if things went reasonably well) a loving parent offered us extraordinary satisfaction. They knew when we were hungry or tired, even though we couldn’t explain. We did not need to strive. They made us feel completely safe. We were held peacefully. We were entertained and indulged. And even if we don’t recall the explicit details, the experience of being cherished has made a profound impression on us; it has planted itself in our deep minds as the ideal template of what love should be.” And if things did not go well, we still instinctively long for our partners to make up for that now. This is a very tall order, and one in which we will all fail and be failed. “The love we received (or longed to receive) from a parent can’t ever be a workable model for our later, adult, experience of love. The reason is fundamental: we were a baby then, we are an adult now – a dichotomy with several key ramifications:”
- A babies needs are much simpler than an adults.
- The meeting of needs was non reciprocal when we were babies. Parents gave, we took.
- Good parents shield their children from the reality of the massive effort and at times, burden, it took to care for their them.
The next sorrow is ‘I can’t tell my partner everything…’ This is a tricky one. Many relationships begin in a cocoon of safety and acceptability. We have finally found someone to whom we can reveal so much that we keep hidden away. Then, gradually, we become aware of so much we cannot say. Deciphering that which needs to be shared, and that for which it is better left unsaid is a delicate act. “We are perhaps too conscious of the bad reasons for hiding something; we haven’t paid enough attention to the noble reasons why, from time to time, true loyalty may lead us to say very much less than the whole truth. We are so impressed by honesty, we have forgotten the virtues of politeness, this word defined not as a cynical withholding of important information for the sake of harm, but as a dedication to not rubbing someone else up against the true, hurtful aspects of our nature.It is ultimately no great sign of kindness to insist on showing someone our entire selves at all times.” “The person who cannot tolerate privacy, who in the name of ‘being honest’, divulges information so wounding it cannot be forgotten, is no friend of love. Just as no parent should ever tell a child the whole truth, so we should accept the ongoing need to edit our full reality.” I realize this flies in the face of much therapeutic advice. And I will admit, it is a confusing one for me to wrap my mind around. But I do recognize that there is an art to knowing what to reflect on verbally . . . because doing so will strengthen a relationship or improve one’s mental health; and what to leave unsaid, not in order to avoid conflict, but more so to shield our partners from unnecessary hurt.
Until next time, peace.