We all have expectations of the people we date. Some people are very specific about the qualities they look for; even say they need in their partners. Some people are more vague. Still others think about who they want based on what they know didn’t work for them in the past. Often some combination of these comes into play in dating. Relationships change people; we grow and learn through successes, and failures. Some hearts triumph, some hearts break.
However for some, the idea of the ultimate love is strong enough that it begins to calcify.
When you love an idea of someone, you don’t love their reality. You love the thing you build them up in your head to be.
You love them for the person you construct them to be. Who they really are matters less than who they are in your head.
Loving the fantasy of a person is oh so easy. You dream about them, you build a life together. Your daydreams are elaborate and perfect. They become a blueprint, a yardstick against which you measure everyone else you meet.
“Are you the idea I love?”
You meet someone who sort of fits into this idea you have, or appears to embody it completely. It is easy and seamless, the transfer of your idea onto your new person.
They become your idea. They become the thing you think you love.
When these people fail to embody that idea you move on. If you are lucky, you realize that they are not your idea quickly and leave them wondering why you didn’t text back, or want another date. If you are really dedicated to your delusion, you date them. You dress them in the costume that is your idea until you don’t see the differences anymore. You begin to build a life together, you and your partner, and your idea.
And slowly, so slowly that if you don’t catch it early on it feels like the worst kind of epiphany, the projection begins to fail. You begin, by proximity and time, to perceive the essence of the actual person you are with.
You sense the cracks in the façade you put up. Maybe they even saw what was happening, and have tried to live up to your idea of perfection.
Maybe they have denied themselves their own truth to maintain the illusion. What a load to carry. You may have been this person before, too.
But you cannot really love an illusion, and no matter how hard you try to convince yourselves that you do, reality comes for you eventually. If you are brave, if you are honest, you try to tell them the truth of what you have done, you try to be accountable but you will inevitably parse your words, you will soothe the pain as much as you can, you cannot bear this mistake.
You loathe the collateral damage of your fantasies. They were better left in your head, where they pierced only you with the pain of longing for something that could hold them.
So you pick up your idea of love, and you try to pull it apart. You want to understand why you hold onto it so strongly- was it because of your childhood, was it because of your first love, or other trauma, or because you read too many Jane Austen novels and watch a lot of RomComs? You want to fix your fantasy, so that it can let reality shine through. You desperately want to find a real person who can be what you want.
You talk to your friends about how you don’t want to fall in love with the idea you have of people, but the real people themselves. We are all blinded by expectations; we all have to remember to leave room to let people surprise us. They echo your sentiments. We are all just looking for ‘real’ love. Nobody can define it, but one by one they begin to say they have found it. It looks so different in each of them.
You go to their weddings. You hold their children. You try to see what their love is, what it means, you want to define it so you can find it for yourself. You take your pain to them; they hold you and talk about the deep vastness of the ocean that is Love. They explore the alternatives with you- alternatives to your stale, hard idea.
“Love is acceptance of someone’s attempt to show you their truest nature.”
The gift your friends begin to give you is their love, their acceptance of what you have shown them. You begin to understand what it means. Love is not an idea, love is a gift. The gift is the acceptance, the promise to accept, you for your flaws.
The thing you begin to want is someone who accepts you for your flaws. The new idea you have is to be yourself, the idea you try to embody is being real, being raw, being vulnerable. This is much harder, because not everyone wants your real self or will respect your vulnerability. To be in pursuit of the gift of love is to risk being hurt.
Being in pursuit of the gift of love is to risk being real, and to risk accepting someone else for whatever their flaws are at the same time that they accept yours.