The Love Illusion

What is love anyway? Through the ages so much has been written about love in songs, verse, and poems. People have talked about being in love:

How it makes them feel

How it changes their life

How they see, hear, touch, taste and smell things differently.

I'm sure that the neuro-psychologists will produce brain scans which show the patterns of brain activity of someone in love (if they haven't already).

But what is love all about anyway?

When people talk about being "in love", what do they really mean?

What is "love at first sight?" If we meet someone and feel that sudden surge of attraction and excitement, are we really in love? What is that all about?

Why are we drawn to certain people and turned off by others? Where do these attractions and aversions come from?

Consider two fifteen year old high school girls, best friends, Alice and Beth. As they pass a new boy walking down the hall, Alice says "Wow, he's hot!" and Beth makes a face and says, "Him? He's gross!" Who is right and who is wrong? Obviously, there is no right or wrong opinion. Why would these two good friends have such completely divergent impressions of a boy's looks? Where did their preferences come from?

I believe we start to fall in love from the moment of birth. We develop attachments and connections to certain qualities present in the key people in our lives. With infants this would usually be their caretakers: (parents, siblings, other relatives or nannies). The child will bond emotionally as well as physically and will internalize a blend or composite figure taken from the significant people they encounter in infancy. This composite forms the basis for what I call an "idealized love image".

This "idealized love image" can best be explained by recalling the time when we were students in elementary school and our art teachers asked us to create a picture consisting of pieces of sketches, drawings, or photographs. This composite is a collage or collection of various parts that make a whole. I feel that we do this, from the moment of birth. Without knowing it, we assemble a collage made up of characteristics taken from the major players in our lives. We create, from our earliest days, our ideal person.

We also experience negative qualities, often from the same caretakers. Those that frighten or upset us contribute to an "aversion image" ... contrasted to the "idealized love image".

So now when Alice sees this new boy and he has some of the physical qualities of her "idealized love image", she sees him as "hot." Beth, on the other hand, sees this same boy as "gross" because he has some of the physical attributes of her "aversion image". A third girl might see the same boy and, since he does not resemble either of her positive or negative images, she might say, "He's O.K. but not for me".

Now imagine that Alice somehow manages to meet her "hot" guy and they "hang out" one night. When Beth speaks to Alice the next day and asks, "Well, how did it go?" Alice replies, "Terrible." What happened? Clearly the "hot" boy appealed to Alice physically, but not emotionally. He had some of the physical qualities of her "idealized image" but that's as far as it went. They had nothing else in common.

When we arrive at the "marrying age", we unconsciously seek someone who fits our "idealized love image". Who is he? Who is she? Because of the development of this love image, we seek a person who fits that picture.

What if, however, this image has ten thousand characteristics and we can only marry someone who has everything we are looking for? The odds against finding such a person would be like flipping a coin ten thousand times and expecting a head each time. The odds are trillions to one against it. If we were to hold out for perfection, no one would ever get married. What I believe actually happens, is that we find someone who hassome of what we are looking for and we are drawn to them. Then we proceed to superimpose on them our "idealized love image".

We fall in love.

We think we are in love, but who are we really in love with? Not the real person, but rather the person who we have created. This must be why people say "love is magic" or "love is blind." We are in love with our own creation. This is the "Love Illusion". There is no such thing as real love at the beginning. It's all magic. It's all illusion.

If what we think of as love is all illusion, then it's not real. We attribute to someone the qualities that we want to see. We paint them with our own brush. We project onto them the features of our "idealized love image" and then we "fall in love". With whom? We don't fall in love with the real person. We fall in love with the person we need.

I have seen many patients who have said they had been fooled by their boyfriend or girlfriend. They complained that the person pretended to be different when they met. The reality is they didn't fool you. You fooled yourself. In the early dating stage, we often deny seeing qualities that we didn't want to see in the other person. That's probably where that expression "Love is blind" came from.

Since the early love is an illusion, in order to begin to discover the real person behind the magic veil we have created, it is necessary that we become disillusioned.

What happens when we become disillusioned? The magic veil of our creation must be pulled aside to reveal who is really there. In order for real love to develop, we must gradually recognize and accept the difference between our "idealized love image" (what we hoped for) and the real person. This requires the ability to compromise, not only with the other person, but with our inner voice. Even though there are some qualities of our "idealized love image" that are missing, the truly essential elements exist within our partner.

What happens when the qualities that we see in the other person do not fit into our "idealized love image"? We start to become disillusioned, and when that takes place one of two things will occur. As we shed our illusion, we either learn to enjoy, respect and truly love the other person or we become disenchanted and move on, possibly to start the process once again with someone else.

I feel that there are two major factors that are necessary to truly love someone and to make a relationship work. The first is compatibility. We will never find someone who has everything that we seek. Since there are so many attributes to our "idealized love image", we must find someone whose core goals, ambitions, and life directions are, for the most part, similar to our own. The old adage that opposites attract has some validity but the best relationships are between people who are similar.

The Parable of a Bird and a Fish

A bird and a fish fell in love. They loved and adored each other but they had one big problem. Where would they live?

Working with couples with bird and fish issues is challenging. At best these issues create difficulties. At worst they are impossible to resolve. What follows are examples of bird and fish issues.

A young woman entered therapy because she was depressed. She had caught her husband cheating and terminated the marriage. After a period of time her depression lifted and she began to date. She finally found someone who she thought she could see a future with. However, because I knew her and her belief system, I had to pop her bubble. She was Catholic and her boyfriend was Jewish. Since intermarriages are no longer as uncommon as they have been in the past, this might not have appeared to be an insurmountable problem. I asked her about her desire to have children. She said, "I grew up in a large family and I want a lot of children." I asked her how she would want the children raised. She replied, "Catholic, of course." I asked her if she had discussed this with her boyfriend. "Why would he object?" she asked, naively. I asked her how she would feel about the children being raised Jewish. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed, "I couldn't do that. My family would be upset and I would feel too guilty." I suggested that she discuss this with her boyfriend. She arrived at the next session extremely upset and depressed. When she had asked her boyfriend, he had replied that "of course the children would have to be raised Jewish." We discussed Unitarianism and other blend religions but there was no compromise. They were sad as they ended the relationship but avoided some serious conflicts later on.

Another couple that I worked with also had a bird and fish problem which they were able to resolve. They were in their early forties, divorced and looking for new mates. There was a strong physical attraction and they felt that they were madly in love. This relationship almost came to an abrupt end after they spent a week's vacation together. It appears that he was a day person and she was a night person. There has been a considerable amount of research which confirms that the biological clocks of day and night people are significantly different. Day people usually rise between seven and eight in the morning and go to sleep between eleven and twelve at night. Night people, however, awaken between ten and twelve in the morning and are not able to fall asleep until two to four in the morning. The man in this case would be up at seven ready to play golf, play tennis or go touring. The woman said, "Hey, this is my vacation, too. I want to sleep till noon." At night she was ready to party until three in the morning. By midnight, he was tired. Sex was a disaster. He would approach her at eight a.m. and she was non- responsive. She would approach him at three a.m. and he was fast asleep.

After working on this bird and fish issue in therapy, they decided to try another vacation. This time it was their honeymoon. He would get up a six or seven and arranged to play golf until noon. By then she was up and dressed. They went out to eat. She had breakfast. He had lunch. They came back to the room around five o'clock and made love and then he took a nap so he could stay up later.

As I have said before, compatibility is one major factor that is necessary to develop a truly loving relationship. The other is the ability to "fight" well. Invariably when I have asked couples if they thought that fighting was good or bad in a relationship, the response usually indicated that they believed fighting was bad. It is my belief that fighting is not only good, but absolutely necessary to make relationships grow. Good fighting is not screaming, yelling, cursing and throwing. It is simply stating your truth to the other person, hearing theirs and negotiating the difference. Since we will never find our "idealized love image" and we are not Siamese twins (even they have differences) or clones, we must learn to fight well and compromise out the differences.

I have jokingly said to friends and patients that if I had my way I would change the marriage vows worldwide. Couples would continue to promise to love (sure), to honor and respect (absolutely) and to commit to good fighting. It would say "I love you and I love our relationship so much that I promise you that if something bothers me I will tell you about it and I want the same promise from you." There are going to be differences between us in our marriage and our happiness depends on how successfully we work out our differences.

If the "Love Illusion" is not replaced by love for the other person as he really is, if they can not accept and respect the differences and become real partners in their relationship, then what started out as a "Love Illusion" ends up with the "Love Conclusion".

copyright 2007 - Dr. Gerard Bomse - All Rights Reserved - duplication and re-publishing prohibited without consent from Dr. Bomse (