The search for approval from friends, associates, and family members is a full-time job with no vacations. At its center lies the search for ultimate approval, the search that all the songs are about, for the person who will look at us and say, “You’re the one.” We call this “falling in love.” In this chapter we’ll look at falling in love and becoming a couple, and we’ll see who is really ”the one.”
Falling in love is usually understood completely backward, like so many other important things. There’s no mystery to falling in love. We have fallen out of the awareness of love and are ecstatic when we find our way back, misunderstanding how we did it. Remember the little girl doing flips in the corner of the playground? She has the key. Look at her face, lit up with the excitement of perfection. She’s overjoyed just to be there with her legs and arms to play with. There is absolutely nothing more that she wants or needs, and she’s too absorbed in the moment to realize it. The flip she does is an expression of love itself. When she does the flip again, looking to see if she can win applause, she shifts her focus outward and cuts herself off from love. But love doesn’t go anywhere; she just loses her awareness of it. Later in life, people call experiences like this “falling out of love” and think that they’re about the other person.
The little girl is innocently misdirected. She begins to think that the way back to her happiness-to a perfect moment depends on the reaction of the other kids. Even though the awareness of love is always available, years might pass before she has it again, years she devotes to searching for love and approval outside herself. When you’re constantly trying to be like able, you leave no gaps in your life in which you can just breathe and notice what you already have, no chance to experience the unlimited options that those gaps are filled with. Even after you’ve attracted admirers and supporters, you’re still busy seeking results. You have to make sure that your friends do all the things friends are supposed to do-invite you to parties, send work your way, console you when you feel depressed. And it’s never enough. You’re constantly on the lookout for any evidence that you’re not approved of or adored.
“Falling in love” is a powerful experience. If you look back, you may remember it as a moment when you stopped seeking. You stopped because you thought you’d found what you were looking for. Your mind was no longer filled with the effort, the desperation, of seeking. What you found is what you had in the corner of the playground and never really lost. But now you think it’s coming from another person, someone who is lithe one.” Many people fall in love for the first time as teenagers. By that time the simple playground joy has vanished (actually you left it, but that’s not how it seems). Dark thoughts appear-anxiety about how you’re not all right and how no one can ever love you.
Then the miracle happens: Suddenly there is someone to love, and you can stop searching. Maybe it’s a boy in your chemistry class or a singer you saw at a rock concert. Maybe it’s a movie star or your best friend’s new girlfriend. With this kind of love you’re just as happy when there’s no hope of return. You don’t mind if a kiss is completely out of the question because you have braces on your teeth, or because you would never betray your friend, or because there is no possibility of meeting the rock star. These may be the very reasons that you let yourself love completely. When you look back on that first crush, it’s possible to see that the girl you adored had nothing to do with it. Years later you can run into her again, stare at her all you want, and not have a clue what you saw there. You would have done anything to marry her, and now you’re grateful that she never noticed you. If the love isn’t coming from the other person, whom does that leave? There’s only one person left: you. You gave yourself the experience. The blissful feeling was not caused by how wonderful or sexy your best friend’s girlfriend was. It was you who felt the wonder and the excitement. Someone held up a mirror and showed you your heart.
There are those who say that a crush is a delusion, that it wasn’t real because it all came from you. Another way to look at it is that the crush was as real as any experience you’ll ever have: you just made a mistake about where the joy was coming from. The source wasn’t the brown-eyed girl or Leonardo DiCaprio; it was your own long-lost capacity to experience pure joy. When you had the crush, you found your way back to the child doing flips just for herself. That’s the one you abandoned in order to seek an identity that you thought others would recognize. What we may think of as “first love” really takes us back to love it self, which is what we are to begin with. You find other ways to fall in love when you get older. As you leave your teens, the worst of your awkwardness diminishes; your approval-getting skills get better with practice. After many trials, you may find someone who approves of you so much that they tell you, “You’re the one.” You like that. You like to be approved of that much. And maybe you approve of them for other reasons as well (and maybe not, and even that won’t necessarily stop you).
Since you’ve been approved of, you can ease up for a while: there’s much less straining to please and charm. Without your efforts getting in the way, love just flows. You bask in the happiness of it. Sometimes it seems like there’s enough love to include everyone and everything you meet. Again, you’ll probably think it’s all about him, the one who thinks you’re the one. But the happiness is really you returning to yourself. Love was there all along; only your painful thoughts obscured it.
How long does that joy last? Grownup love is like the crush-it lasts only until painful thoughts cover it over. “What if she doesn’t really love me?” “He doesn’t listen.” “She shouldn’t have flirted with that guy.” Anyone of these thoughts will destroy your happiness. And one way or another, that happiness will have to vanish as long as you believe the thought that love-the joy you stumbled into-depends on the other person.
Most people believe that having love in their lives and escaping loneliness depends on finding some special person. This is an ancient belief, and it takes courage to question it. But if you do, you’re in for a big surprise: You can feel love either with or without someone in your arms. And no, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a partner. Why would it? When with and without are equal, you notice that both are good: life allows all flavors.
The old song asks, “Why do fools fall in love?” Actually, only fools don’t fall in love. Only a fool would believe the lonely, stressful thoughts that tell him that anything could separate him from another human being, or from the rest of the human race, or from birds, trees, pavement, and sky.
Don’t believe me. Ask yourself. Try the next exercise. Exercise: Who Would You Be Without the Thought That Your Happiness Depends on Someone Else? If you are feeling your way into this question, here’s an exercise that may help you answer it.
First of all, remind yourself what love means to you. What is the experience of love for you?
To locate this experience, be still, close your eyes, and remember a particular moment when you experienced love. Remember how it felt in your body. Perhaps it was a moment when you were lying in someone’s arms, or you were diving off a board, or you were watching a sleeping child, or you may even have been alone and not doing anything out of the ordinary. When you find the moment that love appeared, try something you may not have done before. Turn your focus inward and relive the sensations of it. Instead of focusing on the person or thing that you believe brought you your experience of love, notice what happened inside you. Focus on what you felt. Simply live in that experience for a while, so that you know what it is. Write down a few words that express the experience. Notice what it takes for you to feel like that again, right now or in any moment. Here’s what one woman found when she did the experiment:
I grew up with parents who seemed to want a certain kind of daughter: quiet, unassuming, talented but modest, respectful, smart but humble. I thought that in order to get their love and approval I needed to be that person. It was a hard game to play, but I learned the rules well, and it looked like I was the good daughter they wanted. I learned that to get people to like me, I had to figure out what they wanted and pretend to be that person. This seemed to be very effective, especially once I started to attract the opposite sex.
From age fifteen to twenty-five, I managed to make many boys and men fall in love with “me.” It was always dramatic and interesting, but I personally never felt very involved. Once I got his attention, I’d complain that he didn’t love the real me, and I’d move on.
One man broke the pattern. He didn’t respond to the probes I designed to find out what he wanted me to be; he didn’t even seem to notice them. He just watched and listened to me. I knew he was falling for me, but couldn’t figure out his angle. I didn’t know how to act or who to be.
When I burst into tears at a fancy restaurant, he took me out to the car and held me while I cried. He didn’t even try to make me explain. (Of course, that would have been impossible at the time.)
One night, our plan was for me to go to his apartment for dinner and spend the night. He called that evening to say that he’d had an exhausting day at work. He wanted to call it an early night and go to bed, and he’d see me tomorrow. I felt furious and rejected, but I said, “No problem. I’m tired too.” Then I got all dressed up and went out to a dance club with every intention of attracting some other guy to even the score. But when I got to the club, I just sat there and began to question what had happened. “He rejected me.”"He’s playing games with me.” I saw that I didn’t really believe this. I realized that I was the one playing a game and that I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to win. Relief flooded my whole body, and the music began to move right through me. I found myself leaping onto the dance floor alone, literally dancing for joy. I danced for hours, crying, sweating, and laughing.
This is the experience of love that I relived when I did the experiment. When I look inside myself, this is my experience of love. I can stop struggling. I can stop being scared. I can just be.
As we have seen, falling in love feels wonderful. It feels so good that you want to keep it forever by becoming a couple. You’re still taking a break from approval seeking and all the painful thoughts that go with it. You’re also having a lot of sex-one of the few ways most people give themselves some relief from their thoughts. And then love seems to wear off. Why do we have that impression?
Here’s the story of a quiet, home-loving woman who is powerfully attracted to an outdoorsy NASCAR fan. They meet at work, where she is the librarian. While they date, she pretends to enjoy watching stock-car races, taking part in paint-gun battles in the woods, and going to the victory parties afterward. He notices the signs of strain in her but thinks that she is what she presents herself to be-a more sensitive version of himself. He, in turn, pretends that he likes Japanese food, and also that he wants to stay home and watch movies with her instead of going out to sports bars with his friends. She thinks that he is a more outgoing version of herself. They fall in love and move in together.
High on feelings of acceptance and approval, and lacking any way of understanding what has happened to them, the lovers continue to think that their facades have brought them love. But, though they may be minimally aware of this, they are also feeling doubt and fear. Neither of them can really believe it when the other says, “I love you.” The thought they keep to themselves is: “He [she] loves what I’m pretending to be; I doubt that he could love what I really am.” (If they’ve been around the block a few times, they’re also hiding this thought: “I love what he’s pretending to be; I’m not sure how I feel about who he really is.”) These doubtful thoughts don’t cause too much trouble at first, because the lovers are basking in the blissful feelings that they link to the other person.
What spoils the love fest is that, as time passes, the effort of maintaining their facades takes its toll, and those hidden doubts appear more often. One day she gets honest and admits that she’d rather stay home for the weekend than go to the Daytona 500. He feels confused and let down (though, for his part, he’s been living in fear that one of his friends will see him coming out of the library). The recriminations begin. She says, “You lied to me. You said you liked to stay home in the evenings and have time for our relationship.” Or, “You used to like staying home with me, you’ve changed, you don’t love me anymore.” He says, “You lied to me. You said you loved the things I love and wanted to be with me no matter what.” Deep inside themselves, each of the lovers knows that the other is right, but they think they would lose ground if they admitted it instead of attacking back. They would love to stop the pretending, but they stick to the beliefs that seemed to have worked so far. So, staying in the roles that they’ve created (by now, they no longer realize that these are roles), they experience disappointment and anger.
The lovers may now think they don’t even like each other, and they may break up without ever truly meeting the person they’ve been living with. They have gone directly from their original facades to operating angry “me” puppets, each of them feeling betrayed by the other. To get to this kind of impasse, couples always pass up chances to reverse directions. For example, she could say, “You’re right, honey, I tried to like NASCAR, but I hated it. I had to wear earplugs. I did that to make you love me. I wanted you to accept me and find me exciting. Did it work?” ”What!” ”1 admit it, I lied. I pretended to like NASCAR because I was afraid you wouldn’t love me if I didn’t. Is that true? Would you love me anyway?”
Now he’s at a fork in the road: Will he admit that he lied about liking sushi, or will he accuse her of being a phony and go back to operating his angry “me” puppet? She’s taken the risk of telling the truth. If he joins her and takes the risk too, revealing his own doubts and fears, they’ve changed direction and are moving toward asking and finding what’s really true for them. They might have something genuine and wonderful going: the beginning of honest relationships with themselves, and-who knows?-maybe even with each other.
How can you know that a particular relationship is good or not? When you are out of sync with goodness, you know it: You aren’t happy. And if a relationship is anything less than good, you need to question your thoughts. It’s your responsibility to find your own way back to a relationship with yourself that makes sense.
When you have that sweet relationship with yourself, your partner is an added pleasure. It’s over-the-top grace. Romantic love is the story of how you need another person to complete you. It’s an absolutely insane story. My experience is that I need no one to complete me. As soon as I realize that, everyone completes me.