The Romantic and The Lover

An Article by David Cornfield

It was one of those hot, sticky, summer nights. The air conditioner was on the fritz. They were both exhausted after a hard day’s work. Some petty irritation sparked a disagreement and it escalated so fast it made their heads spin. Later, they wouldn’t even remember what started it. And what started it didn’t really matter. What mattered were the terrible things they said to each other. The dam burst and bitterness, anger and resentment poured out through the breach. They almost came to blows. She stormed out, slamming the door behind her so hard the walls shook. He felt a stab of fear that maybe he had lost her, and then quickly recovered his composure. He didn’t really want her anyhow.

She went to a girlfriend’s house. He turned on the television and sucked back a beer. They were both in a state of shock. At the beginning, they had been madly in love. They never fought. They couldn’t get enough of each other. And now they couldn’t stand each other. What had happened to their beautiful relationship?

He had fallen in love with her spontaneity, her creativity, her playfulness, her femininity. Now the very qualities that had attracted him were driving him crazy.

Spontaneous and playful have their place, but you can’t always be spontaneous and playful. At some point you have to get down to work. This woman is disorganized, late, forgetful, not doing her fair share. She’s an airhead. All she cares about is clothing and home decorating. Will she talk about what I’m interested in? No way! I don’t know what I ever saw in her.

She had been attracted to his stability, his reliability, his willingness to take charge. Now he just seemed dull, rigid and controlling.

This man is no fun at all. I can’t believe how serious he is. His mind is like a machine. He doesn’t appreciate me. He’s not romantic. He dresses like a slob. He walks around the apartment with a black cloud over his head, but he won’t talk about it. And he finds fault with everything I do. What a tight ass!

Since men really do have a thing about not asking for directions when they’re lost, it’s usually the woman who shows up in my office for counselling. She tells her version of the story and asks for my opinion.

Do I leave him or do I stay and work at it?

Before we go any further, let me ask you a question. Is this the first time you’ve found yourself with someone like Joe?

No. I’ve been down this road with men like Joe more times than I care to admit. They seem to be a fatal attraction. It’s not that I don’t meet men who would make better partners. It’s just that there’s no chemistry.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if you leave Joe and start a new relationship, chances are that a year or two down the line you’re going to find yourself back where you are now, looking at another Joe.

What makes you so convinced I’ll keep on making the same mistake?

You are assuming you made a mistake. Actually, I don’t see Joe as a mistake. From what you’ve told me, it is clear that Joe is about as close as anyone could come to being your polar opposite. You’re spontaneous; Joe likes agendas. You’re intuitive; Joe is analytical. You’re interested in form; Joe is interested in function. And so on. I want you to consider the possibility that you were attracted to Joe because he is your opposite, that it is opposites that attract. If that is true, who do you think you’re going to be attracted to if not another Joe?

But why would I be attracted to someone I have nothing in common with? It sounds like some kind of cruel joke.

At the level of the soul, there is no division into opposites. The deep self carries the potential for both sides of every polarity. When our personalities embody only one side of a polarity, we feel the other side of the polarity by its absence and we feel incomplete, as though something is missing. Part of life’s journey is a quest for what is missing, a quest to complete ourselves. When we meet up with someone who embodies some of the polarities that we’ve ignored, there’s a flash of recognition. We feel we have found a short cut to what is missing in ourselves and we fall in love.

I think I catch your drift. The men who turn me on won’t change until I change, until I develop in myself the qualities that I’m looking for in them.

Exactly. Joe is an outer manifestation of your inner masculine. And since the chemistry was mutual, we can presume that you represent Joe’s inner feminine.

If these men are such a good match for me, why does it always turn out so badly?

It is not that it turns out badly. It is just that the glamour phase comes to an end. The giddy feelings of being ‘in love’ are merely the first step on a journey that is heading in the direction of commitment, marriage and children. When the first step is completed, it’s time to move on to the second. Continually starting again with new partners, seeking to recreate the romance of the first step, is like trying to hang on to the magic of being a child. Childhood is a wonderful time in your life, but at some point it’s time to grow up.

And what is the next step on this journey?

The next step is a loving, lasting relationship with a real person. When you’re ‘in love’, you’re obsessed with an image of your lost self. You’re not in relationship with the real person who’s your lover. He or she is obscured by the image you project onto them, the wondrous image of the perfect person who’s going to complete you. You can’t have a real relationship with someone you don’t see.

I don’t know. The unreal relationship suited me just fine, thank you very much. Why can’t we just stay ‘in love’? Does it have to end?

I think that the answer to your question is that it does have to end. As two people get more comfortable with each other, as they reveal more, the romantic illusion starts to wear thin. At some point, it becomes impossible to ignore the ‘warts and all’ reality of the person behind the illusion. You have to come to terms with the fact that the person in front of you is not your perfect dream lover, the one who exists to fill in the missing pieces to your puzzle. As the illusion frays at the edges, you’re faced with a real person who scratches and snores and, (and this is perhaps the ultimate betrayal), who expects you to be his dream lover, supplying the missing pieces to his puzzle.

So, the honeymoon is over.

Yes, the honeymoon is over, but it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Instead of thinking of it as the honeymoon that is over, think of it as the self-obsessive phase of being ‘in love’ that is over. And with that out of the way, now you’re ready to move into a whole new experience of loving and being loved.

A whole new experience of loving and being loved. Now you have my attention. What does that look like?

Love is about connection. Loving someone means opening to a connection that already exists between the two of you because you’re both human. You feel this connection at the level of the heart. I tune into you by tuning into my heart. When my heart is open, I feel what you feel because I resonate with you, like a tuning fork that resonates with another tuning fork because they both vibrate at the same frequency. Vibrating at your frequency, you become as real to me as I am to myself.

If there is a heart connection between me and every other human, why don’t I always feel it?

To resonate with another human being, you have to keep your heart open. Having your heart open means allowing the other person to affect you, doing nothing to minimize their impact on you. If you hold back, go rigid, hide away, it’s like putting dampers on the tuning fork. The resonance is impaired and you stop feeling the connection.

Why would I want to impair my heart connection?

An open heart is extremely vulnerable to hurt. The reason you would close your heart is to protect yourself. When we get hurt or disappointed or rejected, we promise ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, never to allow ourselves to be hurt in that way again. Unfortunately, whenever we say ‘never again’, we close a door that leads to a part of our lives. We say to ourselves "I seem to get hurt beyond that particular door, so I won’t go in there any more." We lock the door, throw away the key, and stop looking in that general direction. Pretty soon we forget there was a door there at all.

Okay. Let’s say we close a few doors. What’s the big deal?

Closing your heart leaves you in a state of disconnectedness. It’s the heart connection that allows you to relate to other people and their feelings. Close enough doors, and the only heart you’re connected to is your own. Without the heart connection, the people in your landscape become objectified figures that are only important because their actions have an effect on you. You watch other people carefully so that you can control and manipulate them, but you’re oblivious to the impact of your actions on them.

Are you suggesting that I’m a narcissist? I’m about to be offended.

No, I’m not calling you a narcissist. The narcissist represents an extreme, someone whose sense of self is so severely damaged that it amounts to a character disorder. Character disorders are disorders of the self. To the extent that the self is damaged, there are distortions in relationship, some way that the person hides and fails to connect. Since we all have some impairment of our sense of self, we all have our ways of not connecting. We can learn something about how and why we stay out of connection by looking at the desire to stay out of connection as magnified and exaggerated in the narcissist.

For a glimpse into the inner world of the narcissist, listen to this fantasy, produced by a client of mine who was dealing with narcissistic tendencies:

I am standing on the lawn in front of my house. The lawn is surrounded by a white picket fence. The fence forms the boundary of my kingdom. Inside the fence are my treasures, my jewels, the things I inherited or have managed to create. Beyond the fence is a wasteland. There is nothing of any use or value out there in the wasteland – just rocks and weeds and old tires and other worthless junk. There is a road leading to the house, but no one comes to visit. If people did come, I wouldn’t let them in. I have to be careful because someone might steal my treasures.

The narcissist is obsessed with self because his self feels fragile. He has been hurt and he fears being hurt again. To protect himself, he erects a barrier, a white picket fence. The fence serves to keep the world out, but it also serves to isolate him. Rather than grieve his loss of the world, he devalues it, picturing it as an empty wasteland with nothing to offer. To preserve his image of a wasteland, he avoids looking beyond the fence, and focuses instead on his personal kingdom.

Very interesting, I’m sure, but what does all that have to do with Joe and me?

To establish a deep heart connection between yourself and Joe, you have to break a promise you made to yourself. You have to retract your ‘never again’ and accept the pain, the difficulty and the suffering that are an inevitable part of being in relationship. The keeper of your promise is the part of you that is hurt and afraid, the part we have been calling your narcissist. She is convinced that opening your heart is foolhardy. She’s perfectly willing to give up the joy of a relationship to avoid the pain of a relationship and she does everything in her power to sabotage it. Afterwards, when the relationship lies in ruins, she points to the rubble and says ‘See. You should have listened to me.’

If you want to have a deep loving relationship, you have to learn how to deal with the narcissistic (read wounded) part of you. To deal with your wounded self, you first have to recognize when she’s in play. You know she’s in play when you feel the desire to pull back, to be aloof, to be invulnerable. You know she’s around when you start seeing relationship as a threat or a drain, when you hold back because you’re afraid of creating expectations. She’s definitely a factor when you find yourself not caring. You know she has been in the driver’s seat when you’re taken by surprise by the effect of your actions on other people.

I get that she does what she does because she’s wounded. I’m not so clear on what she needs.

She needs the healing that comes from a loving relationship.

Isn’t there a Catch 22 here? My wounded part needs a loving relationship to heal her wound and her wound prevents her from entering a loving relationship.

True. This is one case where "Just Do It" won’t work. Opening your heart has to be done slowly. Your wounded self can be persuaded to take small risks, but you have to keep checking in with her to make sure you’re not jumping ahead too quickly. It’s not about opening your heart indiscriminately. It’s about finding situations and people that feel safe. Developing openness with people you already trust is probably the best place to start. It can also help to work on healing the wound with a therapist.

What about Joe? Surely the heart opening isn’t all my job.

You’re quite right. If you want a real relationship, you need a willing partner, someone as committed to opening his heart as you are.

Suppose he says he wants to make that commitment. Does that mean I should stay?

It doesn’t always mean that. If we were dealing with a history of violence or serious addictive problems, leaving would be a definite option. In this case, assuming that Joe is willing to work towards a mutual opening of the heart, I would suggest that you give the relationship another chance. Remember that choosing someone like Joe is not your mistake. The mistake you make is cutting the relationship off at the end of the glamour phase instead of going forward. If you really want to stop repeating the same old mistakes, the time to do something different is now.

Are you sure? Joe is such a jerk. Maybe I should take my chances one more time.

The person you’ve been ‘in love’ with is always going to look like a jerk. He’s the one who disappointed you by not living up to your romantic dreams. Keep in mind the investment you have in each other. The two of you have come through the self-obsessive glamour phase and now have the opportunity to experience a whole new level of loving and being loved. Starting over with someone else would give you another dollop of romance, but you have to remember that you’re not getting any younger. If you’re thinking that you eventually want a relationship that goes the whole nine yards, with the possibility of marriage and children, you can’t keep going back to square one for another helping of romance cookies, even though, as all would agree, romance cookies are very yummy cookies.

Okay. I think I get the picture. I’m going to talk with Joe and see where he’s at with this idea of opening our hearts to each other. It doesn’t look easy, but I can see that it’s a challenge we might both want to take on. Any last words before I go?

Only that it’s possible to have deep rewarding relationships, but it takes commitment, courage and perseverance. It takes courage to open your heart. It takes even greater courage to keep your heart open when it gets bruised. This doesn’t mean opening your heart to everyone. It certainly doesn’t mean opening your heart to someone who abuses the privilege. But when you find the person who is your destiny, there are still going to be times when your heart gets hurt. The trick is to find the courage and the support you need to keep your heart open, not retreat behind a soul-destroying layer of self-protection. In the words of Rumi, as interpreted by Coleman Barks,  

Dance when you’re broken open.

Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of the fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free.

David Cornfield

The Romantic and the Lover was published in Eye for the Future Magazine, Vol 3, No. 7

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