All my life, no one told me what love really was. No one ever taught me what a relationship was supposed to be like. I had only two models.
One was my parents, who spent most of their time at best either bickering or tolerating each other.
The other was popular culture, in which a relationship is portrayed as the highest good between two people, the end point of the story, the happily ever after.
And between these two models was a wide gulf that only love could supposedly bridge. It was supposed to come on like a magic spell, and then suddenly make everything easy, fulfilling, complete. Forever. The magic pill of love.
That may be how it works for some people. But certainly not for me. And after reeling from the wreckage of another failed relationship, I decided to search for love. Not for a person: I’d tried that enough to come to the sobering conclusion that the problem wasn’t other people, it was me. But for a capacity within myself to love.
And this is what I learned: All problems in relationships are historical. They have to do with one, or usually both, partners bringing the wounds of the past into a present interaction.
It is the partner who was abandoned by his mother as a child, who then clings onto his girlfriend, in need of constant reassurance that she won’t leave him, thus reinforcing his fear that he’s unlovable.
Or it is the man who was smothered and over-controlled by his mother, who then resents his girlfriend, terrified that if she gets too close, she’ll suck the life out of him like his mother did.
In other words, it is so many fears, complexes, and projections that we load onto someone else as soon as love begins to take root.
(Generally, with heterosexual relationships, look at someone’s relationship with the opposite-sex parent to determine their attachment style; for homosexual relationships, look at the same-sex parent.)
Because, it turns out, love is not something to be learned. It’s something we already have, and ironically perhaps, we must unlearn to reach it. The goal? To become, as the poet and singer Patti Smith once told me in an interview, “the clean human being that I was as a child.”
And so, contrary to what so many people spend their lives believing, love is not about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person.
I am writing this post not just to share a few of the many things I learned on the road to love, but as a consequence of a discussion with mindbodygreen founder Jason Wachob. I was asking him about possible titles for the book I spent four years researching on love, relationships, and commitment, and we decided to ask the people who know best: you.
So which of these books would you most be excited to either read or buy for a friend who needs it? Check them out here.
A book title is like a handle. It allows someone to easily carry the hundred-thousand words packed inside. Knowing what handle you’d most want to lift up and bring into your life would mean a lot, and would help me resolve a discussion with the publisher.
Thank you for your help, and I will be back soon to let you know the results and share a longer list of knowledge and tools that you can start immediately applying to your relationships.