Lori Gottlieb is the author of the new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. She’s a psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author who also writes The Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column. A contributing editor at The Atlantic, she also writes regularly for The New York Times, and has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, CNN, and NPR. Her other books include, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, and Inside the Cult of Kibu: and other tales of the millennial Gold Rush.
Kent Nerburn is the author of the new book Dancing with the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art. Kent is a sculptor and award-winning author of sixteen books. He has been writing about Native American history and culture for almost thirty years, and is the founder and director of ‘Project Preserve’, working on the Red Lake Ojibwe reservation helping students collect memories of tribal elders. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Valentine’s Day 2012 … and if I still bought into the premise of it, it could make me feel depressed. In fact, our annual celebration of romantic love brings up longing for most people. This feeling of lack makes good lyrics for love songs by restimulating our bottomless craving for happily-ever-after romantic fantasies. A lot of suffering is also caused by this longing for a perfect love.
Constant craving for the fulfillment of a dream is desire gone wild and, just like the 2nd noble truth of Buddhism predicts, the result is suffering, psychological suffering—feeding feelings of loneliness, jealousy, failure, inadequacy and insecurity.
The idea that there is one special person out there who is your perfect match is what I call “the soulmate trap.” From an energetic point of view, it is quite an uncertain proposition—this idea that the only way to achieve intimacy is to find someone to fall in love with who falls in love with you at the same time. What are the odds of that? (Hint: They get worse as you get older.) Putting all your eggs in this magical basket is enough to make anyone feel insecure!
But we are too brainwashed with our culture’s romantic ideology, like a narcissistic obsession that causes more suffering than it’s worth (while goosing the sale of greeting cards and candy).
Everybody wants intimacy—to be seen and accepted and appreciated for who you are. Intimacy is closeness. The only politically correct pathway to intimacy in western culture—the one that is non-stop promoted in magazines, books, movies, TV and online—starts out with the magical feeling of falling in love, aka romantic infatuation. From there (if you are old enough) it goes to sex, and then—if you are lucky … that is very, very lucky—it gets to trust and emotional intimacy.
We take it for granted that this highly stimulating, romantic fantasy-based approach is the only true pathway to intimacy. It’s culturally incorrect to even question this (wanna be called a “killjoy”?), but it hasn’t actually been this way for that long. The pathway to intimacy that begins with choosing on the basis of infatuation started only about 200 years ago (although because of Hollywood and media it is spreading worldwide like wildfire). Before that, the path to intimacy, even in the western world, began with an arrangement—i.e., an arranged marriage. This didn’t always work to produce intimacy either, but having lived in India for a year, I suspect the odds are higher for partnerships that start with an arrangement that takes into account real compatibility and other practical considerations.
For a lot of us who are getting older (and who are still going to live a long time) and not looking to start a new family, traditional forms of marriage—arranged or otherwise—may not make sense. But marriage is only one type of ‘arrangement’ in an open-minded modern culture. Perhaps two people who are sufficiently attracted to each other—and who are not demanding all-or-nothing “love-at-first-sight”—settling into a mutually beneficial arrangement designed to help or support each other in different ways, is an approach worth moving toward, a friends-with-chemistry sort of thing. Real love does not have to spring full-blown at first sight; in fact, fantasies are always relatively short-lived projections. The heart is happy to grow a love, if given the chance to “settle” into it.
One chapter in Ken Keyes’ excellent book Conscious Person’s Guide to Relationships is entitled “Falling in love is not a good basis for involvement.” Hmmm … maybe the arrangement approach works better. To be sure, there would need to be the spice of romance (aka “chemistry), but romance is the spice, not the main course. Obsessing on the romantic aspect is like gorging on sugar cookies before dinner. The main course, the real nourishment, is trust and intimacy. It doesn’t really matter how you get there. Wanna start with dessert? Most kids do, but as our parents used to tell us, be careful not ruin your appetite for healthy nutrition, and you will suffer less from romantic indigestion (aka serious disillusionment). So, get together with a friend and give him or her a hug and a kiss!