Page views 6903

Relationships • Romanticism

What We Really, Really Want in Love

We might assume that the highest pleasure in relationships would be to be praised and approved of; and that what we’d all be searching in love was a visibly smitten soul who could deliver laudatory homages to ourselves and our many qualities.

But that would be to overestimate how nice eulogies ever feel. Whatever the occasional thrill of a compliment, there is something a great deal more attractive, reassuring and rare about being around someone who knows our faults full well – and yet is able to treat them with patience, charitable humour and compassion. We don’t want someone to extol us, we need someone to do something far more difficult: see us as we are and still keep faith.

Close up painting of a red Canna flower
Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1923

To be on the receiving end of panegyrics, to hear that we’re astounding and adorable most often simply results in feelings of dissociation and alarm; we sense, implicitly, that it can only be a matter of time until our more complicated reality is discovered and deplored. Or else we’ll buy our place on a pedestal at the cost of an eerie loneliness. We don’t want to be revered, rather understood for our reality, that is, accepted as being to a substantial extent difficult, moody, intemperate, unfair, pained, jealous, anxious and absurd.

That someone should be able to perceive all this about us and not run away, not vilify us, not view our flaws in the worst light, not get furious or condemnatory, this is the true prize of love, this is what feels genuinely safe and therefore sincerely Romantic. 

The most tender thing we might hear from a lover is that we are weird yet interesting, a mess yet vibrant, silly yet charming. We want that the deeper reasons behind our flaws be taken into account. We might delight in someone who can remember that we haven’t set out to be nightmarish, we’re just in pain; we’d dearly love to be better, we’re just often overwhelmed and scared. We want someone to recall that our difficulties have tender origins. We are like this because our start really did set us particular challenges. We had to struggle against some rare obstacles; those early years were extremely unusual. The loving partner can keep in mind – as we fall into another sulk or panic – that there is a history to our exhausting behaviour and that our best chances of evolving into someone more mature and sane would be if they could refrain from definitively labelling us (as they would in fact have every right to) a big baby or a maddening jerk. 

One of the most thrilling eventualities in love is to be called out with kindness; when a partner rolls their irritation into a humorous nickname (‘sweet little monster’, ‘loveable ball of anxiety’, ‘four time winner of the Charles Manson award for psychopathy’), directing our gaze to an especially awkward habit of ours without fury. They know our eagerness to be liked by important people, they’ve noticed our intellectual pretension, they understand how vain we are – and yet, remarkably, they are still here, they have not abandoned us to our vices.

Anyone can – for a time – glorify our existence. The prize is to land on that far more unique and cherishable being, one who knows full well the many ways in which we’re awful but, despite the issues, can also bear to remember that we are trying our best, that we seldom do it on purpose and that we are on balance overall probably worth sticking with.

Full Article Index


Get all of The School of Life in your pocket on the web and in the app with your The School of Life Subscription