Why chasing love (or any other feeling) is keeping you from true contentment and joy.
Once upon a time, I thought I might be an alcoholic. Turns out, I’m not. But I do have a problematic relationship with a drug. That drug is love.
More specifically, I’ve been a slave to my feelings for far too long.
I’m working on a piece about how the pursuit of happiness is a surefire way to make yourself unhappy — and lonely. Despite the fact that none of the data or research is new to me, I’m seeing it with new eyes and am finally (hopefully) going to incorporate the knowledge into my day-to-day life.
Because knowing something does nothing to help me move past being stuck.
Turns out, love is not so different from happiness. The more we chase it, the more dissatisfied we are.
Love is a terrible indicator of a healthy and vital relationship. Love is a feeling. Feelings change. Have you ever felt good about something 100% of the time? If so, please message me. I’ve read countless books and articles on this topic and have yet to encounter a case where the answer to this is yes.
First of all, we don’t know what we want. We are creatures of biological urges and drives and brain chemistry, about which even scientists are mostly still guessing.
We think we want to be married and have kids and the whole picket fence thing. Or that we want to travel the world and live a life of adventure and exploration.
Anyone who has ever gotten what they thought they always wanted and still not felt any different can tell you this.
I’m not going to bore you with the data on how “happiness is a set point” and even lottery winners return to their previous level of happiness within a short period of time. There are so many studies proving this that talking about it here would be a disservice to those researchers.
Secondly, the concept of love as the driver of romantic relationships is a relatively new phenomenon. According to Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History”, it is our obsession with love that has caused us great relational angst since the 18th century.
It feels good to fall in love. And it’s easy to fall in love. We are wired for connection and our bodies produce feel-good hormones when we experience the affection, attention and companionship that comes along with falling in love.
But, what happens when you start to feel more negative things about your partner? When they do something that hurts you or frustrates you? When they leave their damn socks all over the house or don’t shower for a week?
Your body doesn’t release oxytocin then. The dopamine system is not kicked into overdrive. Nope. You feel angry. Or frustrated, annoyed. Maybe even disgusted.
Does that mean you no longer love them? Does it mean you are falling out of love with them? Perhaps you should go talk to your trusted confidants and friends to see what they think. They’re only going to tell you what you want to hear.
I love dogs. There is nothing about dogs that I do not love. I love them more than people. I even love their stinky breath and their scratchy paws. I love them despite the fact that they make everything dirty and never ever pitch in around the house.
I also get frustrated, annoyed and angry with how they behave sometimes. I have even been embarrassed because of a dog. I’ve felt helpless and lost, unsure what to do to make them stop doing the thing that is causing us both so much harm.
But, then they come and cuddle or they look at me with those damn puppy dog eyes and I’m in love all over again.
It’s a lot easier for me to realize and accept that a dog’s actions are not intentional than it is for me to accept that despite my many MANY pleas, my partner will not stop making friends with every damn person in the neighborhood.
Why does this bother me so much about my partner? Maybe because one of my core values is privacy. My partner opening our home to any passerby might cause me fear or discomfort. I don’t know. In this example, I’m the one inviting everyone in not complaining about it.
We’re all on our own paths and do most of our living in our own heads. It’s not an easy truth to accept — about ourselves or others — but it’s true. We are only consciously thinking for 1/3 of our lives. The rest, and sometimes more, is autopilot.
Our behavior is often not the result of intention and knowledge. Just because we know it drives our partner crazy to slam the car door doesn’t mean we’re going to remember to close it gently every time.
For me, here’s the difference: A dog doesn’t ignore you or say mean things to you when you criticize their behavior. A dog isn’t going to go find a new owner just because you yelled at them the other day.
A dog isn’t even going to fault you for not leaving the house for three days in the middle of winter. They may really want you to take them for a walk but it’s cold for them too and cuddling is a perfectly acceptable way to spend the day for a dog.
Pursuing a goal or a specific outcome is not the answer. It’s not that you haven’t found the right person or that you still have things to work through in therapy. You haven’t found love because you think that love is the answer. Ironically, this is the part that ensnares me in my feelings when it comes to relationships.
It feels like a mortal wound when someone doesn’t believe that I am worth the effort of acting lovingly even when they don’t feel that way. Because, when love is an action, it’s something you choose to do.