Let me share a private message I received some months back from a woman in her late twenties. I am partly paraphrasing and part quoting. The message was this:
“You don’t know me, but I have been a long-time follower of yours. I did not realize you work in the realm of relationships, but I recently speed read your entire jadeteta.com blog. It helped a ton and I am very grateful for all the information. There is one thing that has been most hard for me. Why do we fall so hard in love with people? I have a broken heart and I am having such a hard time. He has moved on, but I stay stuck and can’t make any progress. Is there anything you have can offer? Words of advice or tools? Is there anyway to make sense of this? I feel I am completely losing myself. I am going crazy, please help me understand what I can do to help myself? I don’t want to feel this way anymore.”
Obviously, when you get a message like this it immediately puts your work into perspective. This woman is in the midst of some of the toughest suffering we humans encounter and is desperately seeking help. When I read this, all I wanted to do is rush to her aid and provide some good answers. At the time I did not have a complete answer, now I do.
What are we really looking for in love:
Love is a funny thing. We think we fall in love with a person, but more often we are falling in love with a story that we have written about that person.
We come into relationships with a love story narrative often conceived when we were children. Then we view the person of our affections through the lens of that story. We think, “We could be this together, we could do that together, we are compatible here or we will have so much fun there”
In a very real sense, once you get past the initial attraction phase you are evaluating people in terms of a story. The degree to which they fit your love story narrative, AND agree with you on the same story, is the degree that you fall in love with a person.
What we are really looking for in love is someone who shares our story OR someone who is willing to write a new story with us.
And where does our story come from? Mostly from our upbringing. It is a story of our childhood, and largely mirrors the love we were given, or not given, by our parents.
If you are a student of relationship psychology, you will immediately recognize this as what is known as “attachment theory.” The way we fall in love and continue to love our romantic partners, is a reflection of the love we were given as children and how we responded to that love, or lack of that love.
A recent passage I read from philosopher Alain De Botton, sums this up in such an eloquent way:
“We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on came entwined with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes.
How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong, but because they are a little too right — in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding, and reliable — given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unearned. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”
I have never read a more concise and accurate depiction of the messy business of love anywhere else. This passage sums up everything related to the struggling woman’s question.
How To Tell The Right Story:
To get over someone is to realize that you are really not trying to get over a person, but rather a story you convinced yourself about that person.
They have “moved on,” which is to say they have decided on a different story than the one the two of you once seemed to share.
They may change their story for any number of reasons. Some of those reasons may have to do with you, and many of them may not.
If their childhood was tumultuous and you are stable, they may choose to write another narrative more inline with their comfort zone. If they were accustomed to conditional love as a child and you offer a more mature unconditional love, they may choose another story more familiar.
The trick is not to continue to lose sleep as to why, when and where their story changed. The trick is to realize you are only in control of your story, and it is not helping to continue writing a fictional love story. She/He is no longer there. She/He chose another story. It is time you closed the book, and started to write a new one.
Of course, it is deeply wounding to be rejected in this way. But it takes deep wounds to undergo deep healing.
There is profound meaning to be found in the suffering of romantic loss that few other experiences can provide. Your ability to embrace this suffering, find its hidden meaning, and write a new story of self-love, for yourself, is the key back.