Sylvia called and said, "I'm so confused about relationships. I feel stupid."
"You probably are stupid about relationships," I said. "Almost everyone is, but that's not a problem, IF you're willing to see it and change it. You can fix stupid. What happened?"
"I met a guy, Blaine, and we hit it off right away, but now something's gone wrong, and he's avoiding me."
"And you don't quite know why."
"And your feelings are hurt."
"So let's figure out why. You thought the two of you were 'hitting it off' in the beginning. Why did you think that?"
"We were having fun. We enjoyed being together."
"Understandable. And how did you behave around him?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Did you behave differently toward him than you are behaving toward me right now?"
"Well, I suppose so."
"It's a virtual certainty that you did. With him, did you do more flattering, more laughing, more energy in your tone, that kind of thing?"
"I guess so."
"Yeah, sure I did. But it's different with him than with you."
"Well, I'm not sure."
"Tell me is this would be accurate, then. You treated him more like a boyfriend, which means that you hoped that you could develop a more exclusive, intimate relationship with him."
"Yes, that's true."
"And THAT is the problem, sweetie."
"I still don't get it."
"Did you hope that he'd like you?"
"That's why you were doomed right from the beginning. You misunderstood the entire purpose of the early stages of a relationship."
"What is it?"
"You believe—as almost all people do—that if a relationship is pleasurable early on, the goal should be to maximize the relationship, to help it move along to the next level. But in order to do that, we unconsciously behave in ways designed to win the approval of the other person. That's entirely understandable, but it's wrong, because then we're not being genuine. We're not truly being ourselves. In short, we're lying, however unintentional it might be."
"And the moment we lie," I continued, "we've entered the Field of Death, where we trade in the currency of Imitation Love. The problem, of course, is that the trading of Imitation Love is FUN. That's why it's so distracting. The entertainment and pleasure we get from it are very rewarding, so the more we get, the more we want. In the absence of Real Love, in fact, that level of enjoyment is very easily confused with happiness. So we convince ourselves that in order to be happy we need even more Imitation Love. And if we get enough from one person, we do everything we can to get more. THAT is how most relationships develop, and if we have no experience with Real Love, we're certain that such relationships are good."
"Yes, that's exactly what happened with me and Blaine."
"But then something always goes wrong. The effect wears off, or the trading becomes not quite fair in the eyes of one partner or both, or whatever."
"That's what happened. Almost exactly. So what can I do different? So this doesn't keep happening to me."
"When you're early in a relationship and having fun, you need to realize that the wise goal is not to get more from it. The wise goal is simply to gather information about the other person and about your relationship. You're just learning. You're practicing the art of being yourself with another person, and you're learning how that works out--for you and for them. Do you see how different this would make every relationship you have?
"I think so. A little, anyway."
"If you are just gathering information, how could you ever be disappointed in what happens? How could you ever be hurt?"
"Makes sense. Takes the pressure off any relationship, right?"
"Right. Let me illustrate. Not long ago I went to a hardware store to get a pair of loppers. Loppers are a kind of scissors with long handles that are used to cut tree branches. The first pair I looked at seemed okay. The handles felt good, the blades were sharp. But next to them was another pair. They were heavier, stronger, obviously better for the kind of heavy cutting I do a lot. But then I saw another pair, and they were simply amazing. In every way the construction was the best I'd ever seen for a pair of loppers. I bought them and have been happy with them every time I've used them. Now, let me ask you, Do you think I was disappointed with the first two pairs?"
"Doesn't sound like it."
"Not at all. Were my feelings hurt that the first two pairs didn't work out for me?"
"Of course not. And why? Because I didn't try to make the first two loppers do what I wanted. Instead of forcing them to be what they were not, I just gathered information about them. In fact, my examination of the first loppers actually helped me to find exactly what I wanted. The first two pairs helped me find the pair that was perfect for me."
Finding a partner is not unlike buying a pair of loppers—or buying anything else, for that matter. The first two pairs I looked at had good qualities, but not enough to buy them. Similarly, everybody has some good qualities, but that's just not enough if you're thinking about living with that person for the rest of your life. Sure, we can learn to unconditionally love anyone—a dog, for example—but not just anyone can participate in an unconditionally loving relationship.
Don't settle for the cheap loppers. Don't settle for the superficially entertaining partner. Go for a partner who can go the distance with you, who can help you cut the largest branches—the most difficult life problems—without breaking.
Learn how to find the perfect partner.
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