I'm on a mission to change the way I love. Maybe you'll join me.
Our culture has taught us that love is a romantic fairytale, and that it is normal and healthy to expect your partner to live up to all of your wildest dreams. This leads us to harbor unrealistic expectations that inevitably lead to resentments and misery.
These expectations can be socially constructed, such as in marriage. A spouse is expected to behave differently from a casual romantic lover. A different set of norms and expectations arises out of the new social contract, which the person might not be capable of fulfilling.
Expectations can also be about our partner. We expect them to conform to our needs and wants, and believe we've been victims to injustice if they don't meet those expectations. Even if we have the best of intentions when we express our unmet needs and do not indulge in blame or shaming, our grievances break the bounds of trust with our partner and place us in a position of victimhood to our emotions.
But most subtle and sinister of all, we craft expectations about ourselves in our relationships. We believe we need to live up to the version of ourselves we think our partner needs and wants. We become performative, acting out the role we believe will garner acceptance and validation. We deny our own limitations and boundaries, losing what makes us us in the process.
The fact is, the culturally sanctioned version of romantic love is not love: It is infatuation. It places the ego at the center of the relationship, and insists that we make satisfying our own selfish desires a priority over being a present, grounded, reliable partner. The trouble with the ego is that we often don't recognize clearly when we're being selfish, and sometimes mistake our own selfishness for selflessness.
We play the role of the fixer. We try to resolve our partner's problems without asking, or insist on "being there" for them, becoming disappointed when they don't want or need our help.
While on the surface, this behavior might seem sweet and accommodating, it's actually self-centered and insecure. It seeks not to help the other person, but to validate our ego. Instead of being grounded and available, we place our desire to be recognized and validated by the other person above all else.
Love starts at the source: Within ourselves. We cannot love another without first trusting and confiding in ourselves. When we try, we project the love we ought to have for ourselves onto the other person. We deny ourselves attention and care, and expect the other person to make up for it.
Our misguided cultural notion of romantic love has deluded us into believing that when we enter a relationship, it is normal and healthy to make that person the center of our lives. We are led to believe that constantly tending to the other person is compassionate and caring, and that constantly making your needs known is vulnerable and sensitive. The irony is that this is the most self-centered and ego-driven way to live out a relationship. Our identity suddenly becomes defined in terms of the other person. We lose our footing and become dependent on the other person for meeting our needs.
Instead, we must recognize that the truly compassionate path is the one of self-love, self-sufficiency, and groundedness. By taking responsibility for our own lives, learning to manage our own emotions, and grounding ourselves in our own self-love, we are able to arrive to our partner with our needs already met by the only person who can meet them: Us.