He rides in on a white horse and sweeps her off to his castle where they live happily ever after. If you're like most people, you probably buy into at least one of the common cultural myths such as everlasting passion and the eternally romantic notion of a soul mate.
As this is the month of love, I interviewed well-known human behavioural specialist and author of the book, Heart of Love Dr John Demartini on matters of the heart.
We tend to have this fantasy that when we meet someone we should live happily ever after. Do you think this sets us up for disappointment?
JD: These myths are perpetuated by stories, whether they are in childhood bedtime fairytales, popular movies or the idealised romances that live in your mind. If you continue to believe in any of these myths, you are living in a falsehood; they will run your life, shape your expectations and make you feel as if everyone else gets the fairytale but you.
There are a number of people who still live with the illusion that the purpose of a romantic relationship is happiness. Relationships are not about happiness, they are about fulfillment, which is the blending of both positive and negative emotions and experiences. In the marriage vows we pledge to love for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse. These vows are not one-sided and neither should our perceptions be.
So if your idea of the perfect partner is more good than bad, I suggest you stop looking now. If you aspire to the movie Pretty Woman then you need a reality check. If you are still hoping Leonardo DiCaprio will save you from your sinking ship, think again. Quit expecting a lover to be constantly sexy, turned on, and available - never tired, irritable or disinterested. Try not to cling to the idea of the mythical spouse who's only loyal, supportive and non-judgmental. The minute you start wishing for the perfect partner you're living in a fantasy.
Years ago I had a wealthy client in New York who had written an exact and exhaustive list of the qualities of her ideal man, and it ran like this: I won't date a man unless he has a minimum of $15 million, is at least 185.4cm tall, has brown hair and eyes, owns a large company, is socially prominent, has at least one beautiful house, loves the finest in everything, is utterly devoted to pampering me, is willing to massage me at night.” This went on and on. Her list was all positives without any negatives. She had a list that no human being could ever fulfill. She was looking for an idealised, Hollywood version of her fantasy, but what she kept attracting were men with no jobs or money who wanted her to support them.
I received a call from her two years ago, Dr Demartini, is there any way you can come to Hawaii for my wedding? I've finally found my man!” I couldn't make it, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, I've got to meet this guy.
Sometime later, I was giving a seminar in California and bumped into her.
so I asked her, how is married life? Ahhh, he turned out to be another loser. Gotta go. Bye.” She didn't want to talk about it. I suspect she found out the other side to her fantasy, his drawbacks because every human has both positive and negative traits and love is embracing both sides, not expecting someone to be one sided. So the moral of the story is - replace fantasy with fulfillment.
Men have their fantasies too such as she needs to look like the centre spread of Playboy and never grow old. Hanging onto that dream will cost him love if he stays and money if he goes. If we live by impossible fantasies, we will experience extreme emotional swings, instead of balanced love.
When fantasies fall apart, people tend to resent someone else for not making it come true.
Yet they set themselves up for that disappointment right from the start by denying the negatives, exaggerating the positives and placing the other person on a pedestal. When you recognise that every normal human displays both positive and negative traits, you can say goodbye to all pedestals and pits and start to enjoy the real joys of being in love.
Can I expect my partner to change?
JD: There is a funny off-Broadway musical called I Love You, You are Perfect, Now Change.
Sound familiar? Have you ever thought you would found the perfect mate and then spent the rest of life time trying to fix him or her? Futile, is it?
If you try to fix or change somebody they will just give you resistance, but if you honour and thank them for who they are, as they are, they will react in the opposite and give you assistance. Every human being just wants to be loved and appreciated for who they are.
You often refer to the balance of support and challenge being healthy for a relationship. Explain
JD: The most successful relationships are ones that are balanced with equal amounts of support and challenge. We need this equilibrium of positive and negative in order to grow and evolve. It is therefore crucial to understand that we all own and display all personality traits such as generous and mean kind and cruel boring and exciting etc., in equal quantities. Too often we expect our partner to be a one-sided being only kind and considerate, but this will only lead to frustration, disappointment and withdrawal when your partner inevitably expresses the other side. It is wiser to ask the question where do I have the trait I am judging my partner for” and how does my partner expressing that trait benefit me in my day-to-day life”? As long as you answer, I do not have that trait and it does not benefit me you will be caught in a stance. But as soon as you break through the limitation of your perception, you will move into a dance, which will assist your relationship to grow in maturity and mutual appreciation.
To some Valentine's Day is a cruel reminder of not having a partner. What would you say to all those who dread V day?
JD: It is a one-sided perception to think that a relationship will bring you happiness. Have not you ever got something you longed for (a new job, or house, for example) and instead of being happy you discover another set of crazies, a fresh set of challenges, unexpected problems?
There are also negatives to being in a relationship. One of the greatest myths of all time is - if I am not involved with someone, I will be lonely. Have you ever been physically close to someone, even in bed with them, and felt a huge distance between you?
If you are currently single, this is an opportunity to exercise your insight and prepare for a loving connection. That is your first step - not scouting the best bars or ramming your shopping trolley into a good-looking prospect at the grocery store. When you focus on yourself first, you can walk into a relationship empowered instead of being driven by a sense of need or desperation. A soul mate is it someone who gives you what you lack, but instead is a person who you can share your life and dreams with.
What would you say to those people who feel that they are missing love in their life?
JD: When you do not understand human behavior you can miss the love that surrounds you 24/7. People show their love and appreciation in ways that reflect what is important to them. A father who has a high value on education will buy his child a book containing information sharing what he thinks is valuable to learn. A mother who values beauty will show her love by helping her daughters or sons become more physically appealing. When we give gifts to people do not we give what we would most love to receive? So when you do not honor the form of what someone thinks is important, you can miss the depth of love that is being shown to you every day.
Can you give a last bit of advice to our readers?
Love yourself first. This does not mean that you need to build up your self-worth so you appear more attractive to a soul mate. For you to experience the affection that someone else has for you warts and all, it is wise to cherish yourself fully. That means choosing to see yourself in 360 degrees with your unique expression of every character trait. When you embrace your dark and light, your positive and negative, your supposed duality, then you are ready to experience unity. Remember, if you cannot love yourself, if you do not value yourself and if you would not want to make love with you then how can you expect someone else to?
Dr. John Demartini is a human behaviour specialist, educator, author and the founder of the Demartini Institute.