Twice in my life, I have experienced what would be described in a romance novel as “love at first sight”. In both cases, it was not so much a swooning, heart-racing type of sensation, but rather a deep resonance; a sense of profound recognition coupled with the seemingly contrary thought “Where have you been all of my life?” While I didn’t process it as “love” (actually) at the time, in retrospect I understand that the instantaneous click I experienced affected me and the choices I made in both of those relationships in a transformative way.
What I ALSO realize in retrospect was that these men seemed so familiar to me at first sight because they were both a lot like ME. They were in many ways a mirror of where I was in my life when I met them and the reflection they provided both guided me to deeper self-appreciation and love and also towards the seemingly contrary impetus to change. I saw my good and bad in their personalities and choices, and this helped me like myself more while also inspiring me to work on bettering myself and my circumstances.
The truth is, ALL of our relationships are a mirror in some way or another; the people we click with for better or for worse shine a light on where we are in our development as well as ways we could improve. In this way, even our worst relational experiences can be a gift if we can approach them with self-awareness. For example, if we constantly attract people into our lives who don’t respect our boundaries, then we are learning that we aren’t very good at holding them.
Romantic relationships in particular, though, by design weed out all of our icky stuff by exposing us in a way that doesn’t happen in any other context. To be in love is to be vulnerable, period. You are bare both literally and figuratively and it is a raw, scary experience—in fact, if it isn’t?
You are not in love.
So many people try to hold parts of themselves back and try to “put on their best face” and ultimately this leads to a colossal mess. Because your lover is not getting to know the “real” you, there is a loss of illusion that will inevitably come in one way or another when they finally see behind the mask. The heart of intimacy rests in the exposure of our true selves; this is why lies, betrayals and loss of trust more often then than not (rightly) lead to loss of the relationship.
But conversely, often the truth about someone is staring us in the face and we refuse to see it. If you have not yourself been in a romantic entanglement where you assiduously looked away from waving red flags, at the very least you have observed this behavior in a friend or family member. And whether you have done it yourself or watched someone else doing it, when all is said and done the question remains: how could I (they) have been so blind?
The answer may surprise you.
It turns out, there is science behind what we call “morality”, and we all to some degree or another project our morality onto others. Anyone who has ever known a chronic liar has seen this in action—they are the first person to be suspicious that another is not telling the truth. However, if you are an honest and trustworthy person, you have a baseline of projecting this onto others, whether they “deserve” it or not, and that goes double for anyone you think you are “in love” with.
So just as the “cheater” thinks everyone else is “cheating”, the loyal and steadfast assume this is true of their beloved until irrefutably proven otherwise. And even then, they might chalk the bad behavior up to a “slip”. It is really difficult for us to wrap our minds around the fact that people we care for would do anything we find abhorrent; so we project our goodness onto them.
More often than not, when we talk about projection in relationships, we talk about projecting our “bad” qualities; but when we are falling in love, we are just as likely to project our favorable ones. It is a subconscious effort to smooth out any rough edges we aren’t quite ready to acknowledge, and also an embracing of our own lovability. Because one of the best parts about being in love is (hello!) feeling we are lovable ourselves!
And that is the bare bones truth about “love at first sight”–when it happens, the person you are REALLY falling in love with? IS YOU. Because you know literally ZERO about the object of your affection, every single thing you believe is “in” them inspiring these feelings in you is really your own quality. #truth
So back to my “love at first sight” guys…my relationship with both of these men changed me and my life for the better without any doubt. They both helped me acknowledge and appreciate my strengths as well as understand and begin to heal my woundings. But neither relationship turned out to be a permanent commitment; as the poem tells us, some relationships are for a reason, some for a season and a few for a lifetime.
I think the reason why so many marriages end in divorce (or a lifetime of dissatisfaction) is that we have been sold the idea that this unending commitment is the best possible outcome in our romantic liaisons. So we force and push and pull to make that happen, always to our detriment. Every relationship has a gift to give us, if we can be open to it.
Though neither of my relationships ended on a particular high note, I will always feel love for those men because they taught me more about my value than anyone else I have been with—they also taught me that I didn’t need their love, approval or commitment to be valuable. Anytime we need someone else’s approval to feel good, we are living on the edge of disaster. If you approve of yourself, you are always on solid ground.
All of your relationships are here to guide you to a better understanding of yourself and greater self-love. If there is anyone in your world right now who makes you feel dependent or less than, it is time to walk away. Realize that any strength you perceive in them is yours and remember that while love does strip away our B.S., it never tears us down.
That goes double for self-love.
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