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Relationships • Compatibility

Why You Will Never Quite Get it Right in Love

With time, we may be forced to reach a conclusion that, though hugely bitter, demands that we accept it with every possible measure of grace and humour: that we are unlikely to get love entirely right. Whatever intelligence, foresight, dedication and effort we bring to the task, perfection is almost certainly going to elude us. There is simply so very much that can go wrong. 

Painting by Édouard Manet of his friend Claude Monet painting on his studio boat.
Édouard Manet, Monet in his Boat, 1874

We may in our work – through superhuman effort – one day create something that can measure up to our ideals: a scientific equation, a work of architecture, a painting, an enterprise or a garden. But love is a very different and a far more complex matter.

We need to find another human who is willing to cooperate with us on a task of unholy intricacy not just for an afternoon or a few days, but over years and decades. We need to be free at the same time. We need to find one another attractive. Their psyches need to align with ours. We need them to understand bits of us that we don’t even grasp ourselves. We have to survive the ordeal of children and the exhaustion of our jobs. We have to evolve in compatible ways. We want to be challenged but not threatened. We want strength and vulnerability; cosiness and sexuality; safety and excitement; presence and distance; rationality and emotion.

No wonder something is likely to give and that it always does. This is not a realm in which we will ever get every detail in place. This is not like writing a book or finessing a picture. We are playing here with the clay of human nature out of which nothing straight or smooth can ever be fashioned. The inputs and the variable are too multiple. We should be amazed if it works for much longer than twenty-four hours. We should weep (privately) at weddings and say ‘of course’ at the news of every divorce. We should stop hinting to the young that they might conceivably avoid generating a tragic mess in this arena. We should stop adding the burden of shame to the pain of failure.

We should, as friends, learn to laugh very darkly and offer one another the warmest kinds of support. Of course it was a muddle and worse, how could it not have been? Why torture ourselves with what were always untenable visions? We dream of love as angels and must love down here in the mud as unsteady half-crazed mortals. We did our very best and it was, of course, as it is with everyone, far from enough.

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