What a couple gets up to over a lifetime has much more in common with the workings of a small business. They must draw up work rosters, clean, cook, fix, throw away, mind, hire, fire, reconcile and budget.
None of these activities have a glamourous halo. And yet these tasks are what is truly “romantic” in the sense of “conducive and sustaining of love” and should be interpreted as the bedrock of a successful relationship.
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When difficulties strike in relationships, we often fall prey to the idea that we are going out with a foolish human. The sadness must be someone’s fault: and we conclude that the blame has to lie with the partner. At an extreme, we exit the relationship far too early.
We blame our lover in order not to blame love itself, the truer but more elusive target.
We start out knowing only about being loved. To the child, it feels as if the parent is spontaneously on hand to comfort, guide, entertain, feed and clear up while remaining almost always warm and cheerful.
Plenty of parents don’t reveal how often they have bitten their tongue, fought back the tears and been too tired to take off their clothes after a day of childcare. We should renounce the desire to be loved and instead strive to love.
The right person is expected to be someone who shares our tastes, interests and general attitudes to life. This might be true in the short term. Over an extended period of time, the relevance of this fades dramatically; differences inevitably emerge.
It is the one with a capacity to tolerate difference that is the true marker of the right person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition.
The person we love becomes involved in some of the grandest and most complex matters we ever undertake: we ask them to be our lover, our best friend, our confidant, our nurse, our financial adviser, our social partner, and our sex mate.
The job description is so long and so demanding, that no one in the standard employment market could conceivably deliver perfectly on even a fraction of the demands.
The general view expects that love and sex will be aligned. But in truth, they won’t stay so beyond a few months or, at best, one or two years.
This is not anyone’s fault. Relationships in the long term have other key concerns (companionship, administration, another generation).
Whomever we get together with will be radically imperfect in a host of deeply serious ways. We must kill the idea that things would be ideal with any other creature in this galaxy. There can only ever be a “good enough” relationship.
We come out of our family of origin with a blueprint of how we attach to others. The closer someone is to another person, the greater the likelihood that their attachment style can become challenged, and that the strains will bring out their worst qualities, such as jealousy, anger, and enmeshment, often leading to self-sabotaging behavior.
Many people can re-work how they attach in adulthood and thrive in romantic relationships.
For most of recorded history, people got married for logical pragmatic sorts of reasons.
Since around 1750, we have been living in an era in the history of love that we can call Romanticism where the marriage of reason was replaced with the marriage of feeling.
Love now unfolds against a cultural backdrop that subtly guides us as to where we should place our emotional emphases, what to value, how to approach conflicts, what to get excited about, when to tolerate, and what we can be legitimately incensed by.
We don't realize that we are a bundle of contradictions and are trying to look for someone who can understand us, while we haven't been able to understand ourselves yet.
We think we are a great person to be with, which may not be true.