A patient told me she couldn’t get over a guy she’d been seeing.
He was no good for her. He didn’t even seem to want to go out with her. But she couldn’t let go.
“But I love him,” she explained.
Well, in a manner of speaking.
She was in love with him like a child – the way a child loves a parent.
A child’s love is based upon dependency. A child loves whoever takes care of him, because he cannot take care of himself.
When a young child says “I love you,” he means “I worship you and you are all-powerful and I depend upon you utterly and you are everything and I couldn’t survive without you.”
It’s the same way religious people relate to their chosen god-objects. It’s no coincidence they often kneel before statues or altars and refer to “Lord” and “Almighty” and “Heavenly Father,” and so on.
If you live in an island with a volcano and it erupts and burns down your village, you can respond as an adult, and take up volcanology research. Or you can regress under the stress into a child, and talk to the volcano as a parent-object, asking what you did wrong to make it angry, and trying to please it.
A child is so utterly dependent upon a parent that, if he displeases the parent, he will always locate the fault within. He will not think – oh, it’s just a volcano, they erupt sometimes. It must be about the child, something he did – his fault.
My client was relating to the guy she was dating the same way. And she was beating herself up pretty bad.
Adult love is very different from child love. It begins with loving yourself.
Then you add three ingredients:
Attraction, Trust, and Respect.
That’s what it means to love someone else, romantically, as an adult.
1. You are attracted to him. This is simple enough. The common mistake here is trying to ignore sexual attraction and turn a friendship into a romantic relationship. You cannot go out with the guy you SHOULD go out with. You have to go out with the guy you WANT to go out with. “But he’s so nice” is not a reason to date someone. You have to be into him, too.
2. You trust him. If someone values you, his attention is focused on you. Monogamy is the clearest manifestation of a mutual fascination. But even in the early months of dating, before monogamy enters the picture, trust is already an issue.
Are you worried he might not call?
You shouldn’t be. You should trust his interest in you. If you don’t, there’s probably something wrong. If you value yourself, you will find someone who values you as well. And if he values you, he won’t leave you wondering if he’s going to call.
3. You respect him. The best relationships contain a note of mutual awe. You think your partner is pretty darned terrific – and he returns the compliment.
Happy partnerships are a bit mysterious – they are secret clubs, with only two members. We don’t know what Napoleon saw in Josephine, or Gertrude saw in Alice B, or John saw in Yoko – but these famous partners were clearly fascinated with their spouses, and their fascination was returned.
A mature, respectful relationship between equals might seem pretty dull stuff compared to the headlong thrill of worshipping a parent-object like a child.
Yes, it is a bit calmer. Far less drama.
But believe me, it has its pleasures.