Close Connections: Grown Up Romance
“Growing up means letting go of the dearest grandiose dreams of our childhood. Growing up means knowing they can’t be fulfilled. Growing up means gaining the wisdom and skills to get what we want within the limitations imposed by reality—a reality which consists of diminished powers, restricted freedoms and, with the people we love, imperfect connections.”
For the few of you still reading this column after that beginning, there’s hope. The quote is from Judith Viorst’s 1986 best-selling book, “Necessary Losses.” It’s been a guiding light for me, though I’m still not happy about these necessary losses.
What Judith points out is that no matter how old we are, letting go of our expectations of continual bliss in relationships is a necessary loss in the growing up process. I know when I’m feeling bad about any personal relationship, it’d be a good idea if I asked myself: “What are you expecting of this person?” Because when I ask that, I see one of my greatest expectations:
“I want him/her to be like me—same level of commitment, same dedication to our love, same passion as we started with. I want that person to attend to my needs, to love me no matter what, etc. etc.” It’s pretty clear if I hold onto those expectations, I will often feel miserable.
To wax psychoanalytical for a little bit, we don’t make up these expectations. As babies totally dependent on our mother or another in her place, we noticed that she seemed to know our every need. We cried; we were comforted. We were hungry; she fed us. We made messes; she cleaned them up.
Now granted, many of us didn’t have it that perfect. But if our mothering person was good enough at meeting our needs, we made the magical leap to believing she loved us unconditionally and that we would be loved like that forevermore. If we didn’t have a “good enough mother,” it doesn’t stop us from looking for her (or him) now. We want those ideal loving arms.
We can even know better and still expect that kind of love. We fall in love with someone and later when they can’t deliver that devotion, we move on because we still believe in love without limits. Or we stay in the relationship, believing that if we love them enough or behave a certain way, that perfect love will be ours.
So what’s to do? Human beings aren’t perfect. We don’t love unconditionally. Since we can’t change those facts, we face the unholy notion of having to change our expectations. What won’t be helpful is to go to the other extreme of expecting nothing of love and relationships. A zen master said, “Expect everything, expect nothing” (easy for him to say).
We may throw tantrums, we may cry as we let go of the dream of perfect love. But when we can rejoice over “good enough” in our love relationships, our growing up—no matter what age–will be happier.
Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with the duo The Storys and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.