We modern humans put an awful lot of pressure on love, expecting it to solve all of our problems and even to make our lives perfect. Love, romance and coupling are seen as having the magic power to fix any of our other troubles, and to give us that elusive holy grail of the fairy tales – living “happily ever after.”
To be fair, it isn’t necessarily our fault. Nobody tells us the truth about love and marriage while we are growing up.Instead, we are constantly brainwashed by Hollywood and the popular music industry to believe that finding the perfect person is the most important goal in life. Sometimes the only goal. Even in early childhood we hear hundreds of fairy tales where the prince kisses the princess, or vice versa (if he happens to be a frog), and the couple live happily ever after. Everywhere we go, we hear song after song after song about love, about its dizzy delights and its anodyne ability to cancel out any of the other difficulties or problems we have in life, whether they are financial, medical, vocational, psychological, criminal or familial.
We are told that if you are “in love,” being poor doesn’t matter, when the truth is that being poor is still difficult and unpleasant whether you are in love or not. So if you find yourself wondering “why am I still unhappy?” even though you’re in love, you may be idealizing your relationship and putting undue pressure on it. Or if you’re wondering why your partner is unhappy, and you’re expecting to be able to fix that problem yourself, you may be idealizing your love in an opposite way. I’m not saying that love isn’t fantastic – it is. And so is marriage, which generally makes us happier, healthier and which lengthens our lives. Not at all. Love is wonderful. Romance is exciting and can breathe life anew into the most drab, unhappy existence. Marriage is a beautiful ordeal that changes us and makes us stronger, better people.
Be Honest About What Love Can Do
So if you’re worried about idealizing your relationship, about unrealistic expectations, that’s a good thing. Unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment and resentment, two worms that can gnaw away at a person from the inside, making them bitter and unhappy. If it were possible to enter a relationship with no expectations at all, just staying completely present and “in the moment,” that would be ideal.
But you’re not a robot, so you’re bound to have some expectations. Let’s talk a little about trying to keep those expectations “right sized” and realistic. Your relationship is between two human beings, neither of whom is perfect, both of whom are fallible and changeable. If you expect your partner to be perfect, or if you actually believe they are, then how are you going to react someday when they make a mistake, when they stumble and let you down?
We see many unrealistic movies and hear singers crooning about their “perfect” love interests, so it is only natural that we internalize this message and want, either consciously or subconsciously, to put our partner on a pedestal and worship them. But, however wonderful our partners are, they are not perfect, and to expect them to be perfect is ridiculous. It puts a lot of pressure on them. Women are under tremendous, tectonic pressure all their lives to appear flawless and beautiful and fit. The fashion industry and freely available pornography put pressure on women to look sexy and to be sexually adventurous all the time. This leads to problems like young girls and women using retouched photographs of themselves on social media, photos where blemishes or wrinkles are removed, and where bodies are made bustier, tanner, slimmer and sexier.
Keeping up this kind of effort is exhausting. If a woman feels her partner expects her to look and behave in such an idealized way, it adds to her burden. Men feel plenty of pressures of their own, both about their physical appearance and about earning money and having a good career to support their families. People worry quite a bit about money. Modern life ain’t easy for anybody, and when someone’s partner expects unrealistic things from their relationship, such as, “now that I’m married, I won’t have to work anymore,” that can create a lot of unhealthy tension.
Unrealistic Expectations of Sex
Sex is another area where people get into trouble due to their unrealistic expectations. As a taboo subject in our culture, sex is wrapped up in all kinds of weird ideas, so much so that we have trouble thinking or talking about it honestly. Often, when people fall in love and form a serious relationship, they have a lot of sex, very exciting and satisfying sex. T hey naturally expect this to continue, but it doesn’t happen. People change. Your own physical shape and condition will change, and so will your partner’s, and this can and will affect your level of physical attraction towards one another. Your psychology will also change as your relationship goes on, and as a result your sexual habits will change.
So give yourself a break when it comes to sex. First of all, don’t expect your sexual experiences to duplicate those you may have seen in pornography. You are not a professional sexual athlete, nor is your partner, so don’t expect either of you to perform like that. Real sex is more awkward and far more beautiful and satisfying. But let it be what it is. Don’t expect something that your partner (or you) can’t possibly deliver. Also, if your marriage is in trouble, don’t expect sex alone to fix it. If you’re thinking of your partner as a fashion model, fitness god, or sexual machine, then you are not being realistic. You’re being idealistic.
Sorry, But Relationships Do Change
Another worrisome type of idealization is when we expect our relationships to never change. This causes a great deal of heartache. Ask yourself, honestly, if you expect to feel the same intense, aching, maddening, dizzying love for your partner forever. If your answer is yes, then you may be heading for heartbreak. Love changes over time, too – yours and your partner’s will change. Bet on it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as early romantic love can evolve into something different, deeper, and more satisfying. But if you expect it to stay at that white hot level of early courtship, you’re setting yourself and your relationship on a difficult course.
Love, sex and relationships are wonderful things that definitely make our lives richer, better and more fulfilling. But idealizing them – expecting love to fix our other problems, or expecting sex alone to save our marriage – isn’t helpful, and can lead to more serious long term problems.
So give yourself a break, and give love a break, too. Let it be what it is, rather than hoping it can do the impossible.