Why We Should Expect Less Of Love – Free Ebook

It can feel very weird, and a bit threatening,
to talk about taking the pressure off a relationship.

Our collective, inherited Romantic culture
likes to imagine functioning couples doing

more or less everything together and being
the centre of each other’s lives. The good

couple is, we are told, one in which two people
mean more or less everything to one another.In

a sound relationship, we are supposed to meet
each other’s needs in every area of existence

– from sex to intellectual stimulation,
cooking styles to bedroom habits. We’re

supposed to lead our social life in tandem,
be the primary sounding board for one another’s

problems and complete each other in spirit
and in matter. If they’re involved in a

sport, we should at once join in or at least
come and support them every weekend; if we

want to visit a particular country, they are
supposed to trot along enthusiastically with

us; our friends are meant to be their friends…
It sounds sweet but it is – over the long

term – a recipe for disaster. No two people
can ever match each other across all areas

of existence; and the attempt to do so inevitably
ushers in bitterness and rage. We have, at

the collective level, given ourselves a hugely
unhelpful picture of how love should go. Any

independent move is read like a sign that
we can’t actually love one another: it is

taken to be a sign of imminent danger if we
visit other countries on our own or sleep

apart. So we end up badgering each other to
do things that we don’t really like (we

force each other to endure tedious hobbies
or see each other’s peculiar old friends),

not even because we inherently want to do
so but because any other arrangement has come

to seem like evidence of betrayal. A more
realistic and in the proper sense Romantic

view of couples would suggest that there have
to be a few strong areas where we can meet

each others needs, but that there should also
be plenty of others where we are clearly better

off pursuing our goals on our own. Consider
the following list of independent activities

and give them stars (from one to five) if
they strike you as relevant: I’d like to

… – Travel without my partner – Have
dinner one to one with a friend – Be able

to go to a party without my partner, and not
have them feel left out – Visit my parents

alone – Have my own financial adviser – Go
for long walks on my own – Have a separate

bathroom – Go shopping with a friend rather
than with my partner Look at each other’s

stars and list. Is there anything that you
feel you could accommodate? We should recognise

that a degree of independence isn’t an attack
on a partner: it’s a guarantee of the solidity

of the underlying commitment one has made.
Truly stable couples aren’t those that do

everything together, it’s those that have
managed to interpret their differences in

non-dramatic, non-disloyal terms. Ultimately,
a reduction of dependence doesn’t mean a

relationship is unraveling: it means that
we have learnt to focus more clearly and intently

on what the other person can actually bring
us and have stopped blaming them for not being

someone they never were. We no longer need
to be upset that their ideal holiday destination

strikes us as unappealing, or that their friends
seem boring. We have learnt, instead, to value

them for the areas where we truly see eye
to eye. To enjoy a harmonious union with someone,

we should ensure that we have plenty of sources
of excitement, reassurance and stimulation

outside of them. When we hit problems, we
should be able to lean on other supports.

The demand that another person compensate
us for all that’s alarming, wearing or deficient

in our lives is a mechanism for systematically
destroying any relationship. Our conflicts

and disappointments will at once feel more
manageable when we stop asking our partner

to function as our long lost other half. The
more we can survive without a relationship,

the greater will be its chances of survival
and fulfillment. We will truly give love a

chance when we stop believing it can single-handedly
save us.

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