The Problem of Romantic Love
“You are incapable of love,” my ex-wife once said to me. I at first took this as an insult — like so many things she said to me, it felt like a way of placing me on the “bad side” and her on the “good side” in a conflict, which I always had to resist of course since we fought over child custody.
But in self-analysis, looking at my relationships with women, I do find that romantic love — the love between a man and a woman who are mates/partners that generally is the ultimate goal of all “dating” rituals — has been nothing but constant misery for me when I dealt with it. And rather than try to pretend that I’m “normal” and deny this problem, I want to analyze it, because when I think about it this is a problem many people face.
The strongest feelings of interest, fascination, desire, and intense need I have felt for women have always been for unattainable women. When you have feelings for unattainable people, they are incredibly sweet and painful at the exact same time. Sweet because they are nothing but fantasy; painful because they are nothing but a fantasy.
When dealing with an unattainable person, you and your imagination dwell on just what attracts you to the person, and fantasize about perfect relationships with them. In your fantasies about unattainable people, both your problems and their problems disappear.
The unattainable people don’t grow old; they don’t fart, their shit literally doesn’t stink. They don’t get cranky, they aren’t lazy, they never misunderstand you and they’re never disappointed in you. Likewise, in your fantasies about unattainable people, you, too, are perfect. Your insecurities and weaknesses disappear. You don’t fart and your shit literally doesn’t stink.
I had my first “crush” at age 8, on an older girl I never spoke to. That “relationship” remains the sweetest most desirable experience with a woman of my entire life. I had several other “crushes” growing up. Each one was agony and ecstasy— ecstasy because everything about the relationship in my imagination was perfect (and so different from my own life, in which I had never had a relationship), and agony because it didn’t exist, and probably was never going to exist.
Conversely, every women I had an actual relationship with was, well, a real person. Every real person has flaws. And when you relate to the real person, you have flaws, too.
Losing my virginity was a massive disappointment, even though it was with the last really attractive girl I would fuck for about 12 years. In fact, I lost my virginity to possibly the most attractive woman I have ever fucked. Yet nothing about her was remotely as good as a fantasy. I remember being disgusted by the smell of her breath, and squeamish about her wet vagina — in my fantasies, a vagina was a firm, slippery thing (resembling my hand when I masturbated). In fact, her vagina was squishy and reminded me of sticking my finger in a bowl of pudding.
Even my first orgasm from sex, when it happened that night, was a huge disappointment. Then I was done … and for a day I wandered around in a daze feeling as though life was very different from what I had imagined the day before.
When I was a child living in the Rocky Mountains of northern British Columbia, my dad and I took a trip to the top of the mountain that towered above our town. The mountain was the largest object in our lives. For my whole life until this point, that mountain had been a huge boundary, impossibly high. One could imagine getting to the top of that mountain, and seeing forever.
When we got to the top of the mountain, and looked over, it, the difference between imagination and reality can best be described as follows: I thought that when I got to the top of the mountain, I would feel HUGE, like I could see everything. But I didn’t feel huge at all — I felt tiny.
Looking over the mountain, for the first time I saw row after row of snow-capped peaks, more mountains, many higher than the one on which we stood, receding into the distance. Between the mountains, hidden from view, were many valleys just like the one where I lived. They all looked the same.
There was nothing special or big or enlightening about my mountain, at least not as I had imagined it up to that point. In fact, getting to the top of it made me realize how impossible it was to really get to a “top.” There were many mountain tops, and they all just poked up insignificantly into an endless sky into which I could not climb … and if I really stared, that sky became a void, and I dangled above it, stuck to my mountaintop by some invisible force that could give way at any moment.
In many ways, that feeling mirrors the feeling I get with any romantic relationship. Viewed from afar, it seems amazing, powerful, and so much better than what I feel down in the valley of single life, alone with my thoughts.
But once I am in a relationship with a woman, and “love” starts to happen, suddenly I see so much more, and feel more alone and empty. I realize this is the same ritual that people do every day, that ultimately none of the “I love you” statements we make change anything for either of us. We’re just lonely, tiny mountaintops hanging over an abyss. Climb any one of us — it won’t matter. None of them get you to the “top” of anything.
And yet, down in the valley, we look up at the mountain and think it’s high, and that life is different up there. We’ll be huge, able to see forever.