“Do not take life’s experiences too seriously, for in reality they are nothing but dream experiences. Whatever comes in life, just take it joyfully, impersonally, as you would a motion picture. Life is entertaining when we do not take it too seriously. A good laugh is an excellent remedy for human ills. To be able to laugh at life is marvelous.”
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
~ Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
Taking these two quotes into consideration, isn’t it quite ironic to see how so much of love and relationships, in present times, is so very serious and static?
I find irony in how we are conditioned to approach life, and love specifically, in such a heavy and mundane way.
It’s shocking to me how easy it is for us to turn nearly anything and everything into pure drudgery and monotony, thus robbing our experience of any sense of enjoyment, passion or inspiration—and instead making it about achieving some future goal or somehow becoming better, fixed or saved.
For these reasons, I find myself less and less interested in participating in modern relationships, and even spirituality for that matter. I find that in practice, these things are often the opposite of what they’re supposed to be seeking.
An easy example to illustrate this is the ever-expanding obsession with healing “issues,” cultivating self-love, processing emotions, releasing the negative and positive thinking. How else could we explain the massive growth of self help and alternative healing in recent times?
Now to be clear, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of these things or that they can’t be helpful. I want to point out the pitfalls and stumbling points associated with buying into this line of thinking.
First, while the slogans claim to be about the positive and the light, in actual fact the practice validates and reinforces the negative from which we are supposedly trying to get away. For example, the practice of cultivating self-love is a clear declaration that we value ourselves so little that we believe relabeling our self-hatred will make a lasting impact.
In practice, it’s often just another stressful and worry-filled outlet—yet another hamster wheel for us to fall off of and thus prove to ourselves how not good enough we are. (“Oh, I did so good, I did ABC for five days, but oh no, now I’m so bad because I didn’t do ABC for two days.”)
Now again, there’s nothing wrong with any of this; there’s a time and a place for most things. For example if we’ve had extremely low self-esteem and been a doormat our whole life, then it’s going to feel really liberating to do something just for us because we want to—hence the self-love practice. At a certain point, however, what was once liberating can easily become yet another source of enslavement.
I find it helpful to get clear on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, while understanding that it’s healthier and more enjoyable to keep on growing rather than getting stuck on one thing or another because it’s supposed to be healthy
So, how does this relate back to relationships?
Consider this: Maybe the reason it didn’t work, or won’t work, has less to do with issues and processing and more to do with it not being a right fit.
We get weighed down with culturally conditioned and reinforced ideas like, “If we don’t make it work, then we are a failure,” or, “If it doesn’t last forever, then it was a waste of time.” Not to mention the heavy and burdensome mythological romantic ideals, like perfection, “the one” and being saved or completed by another.
It seems to be so common for us to get bogged down and lose joy for life because we buy into the idea that we are somehow broken and in need of fixing via an external authority. When we take this and combine it with a relationship, we get a recipe for manipulation, control, misery and limitation.
For example, an ex-girlfriend said to me on multiple occasions that the reason our relationship wasn’t working was because of my issues with being adopted, and if I just got over it then we could be together.
In reality, I felt an aversion to this person because I realized that by agreeing to be intimate with her, I was agreeing to a boatload of unspoken obligation and guilt. In addition, I could see and intuit that the relationship pattern, dynamic and trajectory this person wanted to put us on was headed directly for unhappiness and dissatisfaction for us both.
This is true for the last few women that I’ve dated, and I would say with a high degree of confidence that they each still resent and villainize me for the reasons I’ve listed above.
Am I evil or mean for not wanting to be intimate with a romantic fairytale? Is it truly selfish and inconsiderate to point out that maybe this fairytale isn’t real, that being motivated by it will likely only result in suffering and that I am not the right person to fill the role someone is seeking? (I also realize my own part to play in agreeing to these kinds of dynamics, being young and quite stupid.)
My main questions are:
1. Why would any person want to be in a relationship where they are not seen, heard, understood or respected, and in actual practice are demonized and manipulated when they express who they are?
2. Is it really mean or hurtful to not agree to participate in something that is going to lead to two people being unhappy?
Lastly, something I’ve heard used to justify someone continuing their relationship: “Well, we both have issues, and if we’re with someone else in the future then we’ll have the same issues, so we might as well just stay together.”
These examples show us how something may claim to be about A, but in actual practice is about B, which is sustained through great effort in self-deception and denial. For example, “I’m miserable, and I’ve been miserable, but maybe oh maybe if I just do this thing then I won’t be miserable anymore.”
My question is simple: Why create more and more minefields for ourselves to navigate? By doing this, aren’t we basically pushing the things we want further and further away?
Maybe the reason it didn’t work, or won’t work, has less to do with issues and more to do with it not being the right fit. Maybe beating ourselves up and allowing others to do the same is only adding more stress to our lives. Maybe engaging in a relationship based on changing someone else isn’t the best use of our time and energy.
This deprives everyone of the opportunity of connecting with someone who might be a better fit. So we not only harm ourselves, but also our potential partners and our partners’ potential partners.
I’m not suggesting that we are each perfect, beautiful snowflakes, or that there isn’t personal work or reflection to be done; I’m suggesting that we perhaps alter our approach to it and spend a bit of time getting in touch with what our real situation is.
How intimate and loving can we really be if we are lacking intimacy with who we are and the situations we are creating for ourselves?
If we are unconsciously knee deep in culturally conditioned myths about what love ought to be, then we are only experiencing intimacy with lies and illusion—not ourselves or others.
More importantly, if we are choosing to be driven by an ideal or mythology, then we respectfully owe it to ourselves and others to at least investigate where that came from, who made it up and whether or not it’s actually working for us. Then we can arrive at a place of honestly asking:
- Does this work for me?
- Does this work for you?
- Is this something we both want to do?
- Is this something we’re both happy to share together?
Author: Brandon Gilbert
Editor: Toby Israel