Get over it.
“…our extreme idealism of marriage has led to an extreme pessimism about marriage, in an almost oxymoronic fashion.”
—Timothy Keller, “The Meaning of Marriage”
Love is the most profound expression of the human quest for significance.
There are few feelings more sublime than the certainty of being intimately seen and known by someone else. You may marvel at the wonder of finding someone who “completes” you.
Unfortunately, this sense of completion is a total illusion. That’s right; I said it! The person you love is just another broken, insecure human being like you, who will, at some point, disappoint you.
I know what you’re thinking: But this person just gets me, more than anyone I’ve ever met! Maybe so, but it’s wrong to believe there’s only one person who could be the right fit. And clinging to that belief may doom your future relationships.
We are extremely fickle creatures by nature. And the multiplicity of factors that lead you to believe you’ve found “The One” are all shifting pieces in a game of mental and physical attraction.
Let’s start by getting chemical.
The science of love
Dopamine is a biochemical drug your body produces naturally, and it hits like a little nip of crack cocaine when you discover an intense physical and emotional attraction to another human being. This “happy chemical” is created in the brain and adrenal glands. It TKOs your genitals and sweat glands and affects your senses. You will literally sweat more, see colors more vividly and feel overwhelming sensations of excitement and happiness around your lover, writes Maryanne Fisher, PhD, at Psychology Today.
That’s not all. Dopamine release increases levels of testosterone, leading to heightened sexual drive and a desire to pursue. As attraction grows with time and bonding, the dopamine and testosterone releases around this “special someone” lead to floods of two other chemical love agents, norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine). While both lead to intense focus on your lover, norepinephrine also creates a more alert state, which can often result in an inability to sleep, says Fisher. It also heightens detail recall around the individual, while PEA is to blame for that insane giddiness and lack of appetite you might feel.
These dopamine hits, like any drug, fade over time. That’s when the honeymoon period ends?—?and the doubts begin.
Fools rush in
When the reality of a self-sacrificing contract instead of a “terminal sexual contract” sets in, our instinct may be to rebel, writes Timothy Keller in “The Meaning of Marriage.”
A recent study by the University of Toronto found that those who think in terms of “The One” and “soulmates” are far more likely to have relationship troubles. Their idealistic worldview holds that, if this person is The One, the relationship should proceed sans disagreements and drama.
So when the shit does hit the fan, these people are less satisfied and less willing to fight through normal conflicts.
What’s more, modernity is the first era in human history in which we’ve been encouraged to pursue marriage with the person we most love. And our culture pushes the notion that love will hold us together. So why are the divorce rates higher than they have ever been? Why do only three in 10 couples stay happily married, according to Ty Tashiro in “The Science of Happily Ever After”? Why are we more disillusioned with marriage than ever?
Tashiro points to a pervasive belief that if love fades and conflicts arise, you must not have married “The One.” Better to let go of the wrong person so you can open yourself up to the right one, right?
In some cases, you should. But most of the time, the answer is: No.
If you’re willing to work at your union, your love will shift over time. That giddy, heads-over-heels infatuation you felt at the beginning is replaced by a deep river of love that’s less crazy and more real. The longer you know your lover, the more real—and more unattractive—some aspects of them become. It is loving them through these discoveries that builds true love. And, paradoxically, it’s that willingness to accept your partner’s flaws that transforms her or him into “The One” in your eyes.
In one study of unhappily married couples who were considering divorce, two-thirds of the pairs that chose to stick it out for five more years actually came out happier than before. These couples were able to transcend our culture’s consumer mindset of satisfaction-based love, and in so doing, they came out feeling more joy.
We don’t want to believe that love is a choice, because that’s not romantic. But that’s exactly what love is. And the more you choose to love someone, guess what happens? You grow to love them more.
The magic formula
According to the US Bureau of Statistics, 80% of couples in the 1940s lived within six miles of each other when they met. Sixty-two percent lived on the same block, and over 30% lived in the same apartment building. The statistical likelihood that only ONE OF THE FIVE BILLION PEOPLE on the planet (at that time) each of these people was meant to marry somehow lived within six miles is… inconceivable. Yet, only 14% of these marriages ended in separation not caused by death.
As Emily Smith notes in The Atlantic, it all comes down to two crucial values: kindness and generosity. According to psychologist and renowned love expert John Gottman, the likelihood that a relationship will last rests largely on “the spirit the couple brings to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity, or contempt, criticism and hostility?”
When viewed through this lens, marriage sounds like a covenant of sacrificial friendship, sustained by the character and integrity of the partners—not a relationship built on some flimsy notion of destiny.
So if you’re looking for The One, stop. Remember that love is much more a matter of mindset than sweeping emotion. It is choosing to love in both the easy and hard times, choosing to value and esteem, to see the best, to respect and encourage, that grows love. Only by making this choice, day after day, will your significant other become the best version of him or herself. Only then can he or she become The One?—?for you.