Most of us have experienced falling in love.
We meet. The stars align. DJ Universe plays all the right songs on the radio. The chemistry is sweetly perfect and we decide to pursue the dopamine rush, believing that this time it will be different.
Falling in love is like falling backwards through space into, hopefully, the waiting arms of your teammates below as you pray they catch you in a team-building, trust exercise. Only this time, it’s one person you must rely upon to catch you, not several.
Loving someone for who they truly are requires a whole lot of work, trust, and vulnerability. It is a depth of emotional intimacy that requires a conscious choice.
Many of us unconsciously choose to fall in love with who we think they can become. It’s so much easier because our focus is always on the perfect future just around the corner and therefore we can willingly ignore what is right in front of us, that is, the true and complete nature of our newly chosen partner.
We see only what we want to see and that vision is intently focused on the tomorrows that may never come. They sparkle with such allure!
This is called falling in love with someone’s potential. We employ creative and obstinate deafness and blindness in our effort to avoid reality because reality can be hard. We have a dreamy idea of what we think we want and set about cramming our new love interest into that unyielding framework.
We insist on viewing our prospective love through the lens of our own perception which, by its very nature, is skewed, singular, and unique. Our perception is rarely 100 percent aligned with reality. We hold onto all the wonderful things we’ve learned about them and combine that with all the things we see them capable of becoming.
The facets of their being that make them flawed—and therefore human—are adroitly ignored. We become victims of our own optimism. You know what I’m talking about, “If he would only…” or “when she finally…” or “someday soon…”
When we meet Mr. or Ms. Right and they tell us that they sometimes become inaccessible, or that the longest relationship they’ve had has only been three months, we suddenly develop selective hearing.
We believe that we will be the one to change them. We are their one, true love! We are the medicine they need to cure all their ills. If they would only listen to us they would then achieve the perfection that is always just around the corner. With our firehose of loving trained on them we can cleanse them of all their flaws. They will finally have the support they need to fulfill their potential. All they have to do is believe, right?
Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It took a while to learn the meaning of this axiom. For example: if someone lets you know they are perpetually late through words or action you don’t necessarily need to kick them to the curb. It is knowledge from which you can now make an informed choice. You may decide that you can cope with their lateness habit and agree to make certain compromises, or you may call it a day and continue your search for Mr. or Ms. “Always On Time.” There is no blame, shame, or judgment on either side when the truth is on the table. It is simply information.
Let us consider the difference between perception, which by its definition is: “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression,” and perspective, which by its definition is: “true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.” Knowing the subtle difference between these two will gain you much freedom.
Still with me? It gets easier from here.
As we venture into utilizing perspective instead of perception we can look at our new love in a larger, more expansive way. The picture is now more in proportion and in balance.
We get to see who they truly are right now, in the present moment, rather than who they might become (which holds zero guarantees by the way). We will see things that are unsettling, but at least we are holding the flashlight on them. Light anything up and it becomes less scary because at least we know what we’re facing.
How would you feel knowing your lover only loves the good, fun, sexy, nice side of you? Try waking up on the wrong side of the bed with that hanging over your head. It sucks when your loved one holds you to a standard so high as to be permanently out of reach. It’s a recipe for failure.
We can safely assume that many of us struggle with loving our own dark, shadow side—our flaws. Imagine how much more difficult that would be if the one who loves us most can’t love that side either?
If we stay in limited perception and love someone for only what we choose to see (the easy, fun, sexy, hot stuff), then we deprive them of an opportunity to work their sh*t out while in a safe relationship with us. We stand in silent judgment of them.
Who are we to decide for them what is lovable and what needs work? Who are we to drape them in our illusion of who we think they should be, rather than who they really are? It is only by shifting to perspective and taking a large step back to widen our view that we can truly see the one we love in all their humanity—perfections and imperfections vulnerably exposed.
If we choose to open our eyes it will free us to make solid choices based in the present. We can choose to accept their issues as a part of their being; that they are, in part, a problem we want to have.
There is power in knowledge. We get to define our own personal boundaries, our needs, our negotiables and non-negotiables—all based on truth gained from a broader perspective.
We get to stay out of judgment, blame, and shame, and can decide what we really want and need in a partnership. We can set ourselves and our loved ones free with a simple shift in thinking.
It begins with choosing to imbue your optimism with raw truth rather than becoming a victim of it by remaining blind. After all, we all—at our core—want to be loved exactly as we are.
Previously Published on Elephant Journal