Why Are We Attracted to the People We Are?
by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.
The mysterious stranger walks in. You see him or her; they see you.
Thunder. Lightning. Earthquakes. Dizziness. Etc. All the cliches.
Life is never the same again.
What happens when we meet that certain "someone"? Is there any method to this madness? Why are we sometimes attracted to the alcoholic, the unavailable, the abusive, the uncool?
Well, we don't know. But we, your inquisitive LiveReal Agents, launched an investigation to dig deeper. Because that's what we do.
And we definitely came across some interesting perspectives. We were going to write about some of what we discovered, but of course, we figured out that, at least for some of it, someone else had already written about it pretty well. And we decided not to reinvent the wheel.
So, that someone - Harville Hendrix - offers some pretty interesting suggestions here.
The following is a brief excerpt from
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide For Couples.
The Unconscious Marrige: The Mystery of Attraction
"The type of human being we prefer
reveals the contours of our heart."
- Jose Ortega y Gasset
When couples come to me for marital therapy, I usually ask them how they met. Maggie and Victor, a couple in their mid-fifties who were contemplating divorce after twenty-nine years of marriage, told me this story:
"We met in graduate school," Maggie recalled. "We were renting rooms in a big house with a shared kitchen. I was cooking breakfast when I looked up and saw this man - Victor - walk into the room. I had the strangest reaction. My legs wanted to carry me to him, but my head was telling me to stay away. The feelings were so strong that I felt faint and had to sit down."
The mystery of attraction.
Once Maggie recovered from shock, she introduced herself to Victor, and the two of them spent half the morning talking. "That was it," said Victor. "We were together every possible moment for the next two months, and then we eloped."
If those had been more sexually liberated times," added Maggie, "I'm sure we would have been lovers from that very first week. I've never felt so intensely about anyone in my entire life."
Not all first encounters produce seismic shock waves. Rayna and Mark, a couple ten years younger, had a more tepid and prolonged courtship. They met through a mutual friend. Rayna asked a friend if she knew any single men, and her friend said she knew an interesting man named Mark who had recently separated from his wife. She hesitated to introduce him to Rayna, however, because she didn't htink that they would be a good match. "He's very tall and you're short,"the friend explained; "he's Protestant and you're Jewish; he's very quiet and you talk all the time." But Rayna said none of that mattered. "Besides," she said, "how bad could it be for one date?"
Against her better judgment, the friend invited Rayna and Mark to an election-night party in 1972. "I liked Mark right away," Rayna recalled. "He was interesting in a quiet sort of way. We spent the whole evening talking in the kitchen." Rayna laughed and then added, "I suspect that I did most of the talking."
Rayna was certain that Mark was equally attracted to her, and she expected to hear from him the next day. But three weeks went by, and she didn't hear a word. Eventually she prompted her friend to find out if Mark was interested in her. With the friend's urging, Mark invited Rayna to the movies. That was the beginning of their courtship, but it was never a torrid romance. "We dfated for a while, then we stopped for a while," said Mark. "Then we started dating again. Finally, in 1975, we got married."
"By the way," added Rayna, "Mark and I are still married, and the friend who didn't want to introduce us is now divorced."
These contrasting stories raise some interesting questions. Why
do some people fall in love with such intensity, seemingly at first
glance? Why do some couples ease into marriage with a level-headed
friendship? And why, as in the case of Rayna and Mark, do so many
couples seem to have opposite personality traits? When we have the
answers to these questions, we will also have our first clues to
the hidden psychological desires that underlie marriage.
Unraveling the Mystery of Romantic Attraction
In recent years, scientists from various disciplines have labored to deepen our understanding of romantic love, and valuable insights have come from each area of research. Some biologists contend that there is a certain "bio-logic" to courtship behavior. According to this broad, evolutionary view of love, we instinctively select mates who will enhance the survival of the species. Men are drawn to classically beautiful women - ones with clear skin, bright eyes, shiny hair, good bone structure, red lips, and rosy chiiks - not because of fad or fashion but because these qualitites indicate youtha dn robust health, signs that a woman is in the peak of her childbearing years.
Women select mates for slightly different biological reasons. Because youth and physical health aren't essential to the male reproductive role, women instinctively favor mates with pronounced "alpha" qualities, the ability to dominate other amles and bring home more than their share of the kill. The assumption is that male dominance ensures the survival of the family group more than youth or beauty. Thus a fifty-year-old chairman of the board - the human equivalent of the silver-backed male gorilla - is as attractive to women as a young, handsome, virile, but less successful male.
If we can put side, for a moment, our indignity at having our attractiveness to the opposite sex reduced to ou breeding and food/money-gathering potential, there is some validity to this theory. Whether we like it or not, a woman's youth and physical appearance and a man's power and social status do play a role in mate selection, as a quick scan of the personal messages in the classified ads will attest: "Successful forty-five-year-old S.W.M. with private jet desires attractive, slim, twenty-year-old S.W.F.," and so on. But even though biological factors play a key role in our amorous advances, there's got to be more to love than this.
Let's move on to another field of study, social psychology, and explore what is known as the "exchange" theory of mate selection. The basic idea of the exchange theory is that we select mates who are more or less our equals. When we are on a search-and-find mission for a partner, we size each other up as coolly as business executives contemplating a merger, noting each other's physical appeal, financial status, and social rank, as well as various personality traits such as kindness, cereativity, and a sense of humor. With computerlike speed, we tally up each other's scores, and if the numbers are roughly equivalent, the trading bell rings and the bidding begins.
The exchange theory gives us a more comprehensive view of mate
selection than the simple biological model. It's not just youth,
beauty, and social rank that interest us, say the social psychologists,
but the whole person. For example, the fact that a woman is past
her prime or that a man has a low-status job can be offset by the
fact that he or she is a charming, intelligent, compassionate person.
A third idea, the "persona" theory, adds yet another dimension to the phenomenon of romantic attraction. The persona theory maintanis that an important factor in mate selection is the way a potential suitor enhances our self-esteem. Each of us has a mask, a persona, which is the face that we show to other people. The persona theory suggests that we select a mate who will enhance this self-image. The operative question here is: "What will it do to my sense of self if I am seen with this person?" There appears to be some validity to this theory. We have all experienced some pride and perhaps some embarrassment because of the way we believe our mates are percieved by others; it does indeed matter to us what others think.
Although these three theories help explain some aspects of romantic love, we are still left with our original questions. What accounts for the intensity of romantic love - as in the case of Maggie and Victor - those feelings o ecstasy that can be so overpowering? And why - as in the case of Rayna and Mark - do so many couples have complementary traits?
In fact, the more deeply we look at the phenomenon of romantic
attraction, the more incomplete these theories appear to be. For
example, what accounts for the emotional devastation that frequently
accompanies the breakup of a relationship, that deadly undertow
of feelings that can drown us in anxiety and self-pity? One client
said to me as his girlfriend was leaving him: "I can't sleep
or eat. My chest feels like it's going to explode. I cry all the
time, and I don't know what to do." The theories of attraction
we've looked at so far suggest that a more appropriate response
to a failed romance would be simply to plunge into another round
of mate selection.
There is another puzzling aspect of romantic attraction: we seem to have much more discriminating tastes than any of these theories would indicate. To see what I mean, take a moment to reflect on your own dating history. In your lifetime you have met thousands of people; as a conservative estimate, let's suppose that several hundred of them were physically attractive enough or successful enough to catch your eye. When we narrow this field by applying the social-exchange theory, we might come up with fifty or a hundred people out of this select group who would have a combined "point value"equal to or greater than yours. Logically, you should have fallen in love with scores of people. Yet most people have been deeply attracted to only a few individuals. In fact, when I counsel single people, I hear again and again that "there just aren't any good men (or women) out there!" The world is littered with their rejects.
Furthermore - and this is a curious fact - those few individuals that people are attracted to tend to resemble one another quite closely. Take a moment and think about the personality traits of the people that you have seriously considered as mates. If you were to make a list of their predominant personality traits, you would discover a lot of simlilarities, including, surprisingly, their negative traits.
From my vantage point as a marriage therapist, I see the unmistakable
pattern in my clients' choice of marriage partners. One night, in
a group-therapy session, I was listening to a man who was three
months into his second marriage. When his first marriage broke up,
he had vowed to the group that he would never be involved with a
woman like his first wife. He thought she was mean, grasping, and
selfish. Yet he confessed during the session that the day before
he had "heard" the voice of his ex-wife coming from the
lips of his new partner. WIth a sense of panic he realized that
the two women had nearly identical personalities. It appear that
each on of us is compulsively searching for a mate with a very particular
set of positive and negative personality traits.
Plumbing the Depths of the Unconscious Mind
For this high degree of selectivity to make any sense, we need to understand the role that the unconscious mind plays in mate selection. In the post-Freudian era, most people have become quite adept at rummaging around in the unconscious for explanations of daily events. We talk knowledgeably about "Freudian slips," analyze our dreams, and look for ways in which the unconscious might be influencing our daily behavior. Even so, most of us vastly underestimate the scope of the unconscious mind. There is an analogy that might give a better appreciation for its pervasive influence. In the daytime, we can't see the setars. We talk as if they "come out" at night, even though they are there all the time. We also underestimate the sheer number of stars. We look up at the sky, see a smattering of dim stars, and assume that's all there is. When we travel far away from city lights, we see a sky strewn with stars and are overwhelmed by the brilliance of the heavens. But it is only when we study astronomy that we learn the whole truth: the hundreds of thousands of stars that we see on a clear, moonless night in the country are only a fraction of the stars in the universe, and many of the points of light that we assume to be stars are in fact entire galaxies. So it is with the unconscious mind: the orderly, logical thoughts of our conscious mind are but a thin veil over the unconscious, which is active and functioning at all times.
Let's take a brief look at the structure of the brain, that mysterious and complex organ with many different subdivisions. For simplicity's sake, I like to use neuroscientist Paul McLean's model and divide the brain into three concentric layers.
The brain stem, which is the inner and most primitive layer, is the part of the brain that oversees reproduction, self-preservation, and vital functions such as the circulation of blood, breathing, sleeping, and the contraction of muscles in response to external stimulation. Located at the base of the skull, this portion of the brain is somtimes referred to as the "reptillian brain,"because all vertebrates from reptiles to mammals share this portion of the anatomy. For the purpose of this discussion, let's think of the brain stem as the source of physical action.
Flaring like a wishbone around the top of the brain stem is the portion of the brain called the limbic system, whose function seems to be the generation of vivid emotions. Scientists can surgically stimulate the libic system of laboratory animals and create spontaneous outbursts of fear and aggression. In this book I use the tern "old brain" to refer to the portion of the brain that includes both the brain stem and the limbic system. Think of the old brain as being hard-wired and determing most of your automatic reactions.
The final area of the brain is the cerebral cortx, a large, convoluted
mass of brain tissue that surrounds the two inner sections and is
itself divided into four regions or lobes. This portion of the brain,
which is most highly developed in Homo sapiens, is the site
of most of our cognitive functions. I refer to the cerebral cortex
as the "new brain" because it appeared most recently in
evolutionary history. Your new brain is the part of you that is
conscious, alert, and in contact with your daily surroundings. It's
the part of you that makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, anticipates,
responds, organizes information, and creates ideas. The new brain
is inherently logical and tries to find a cause for every effect
and an effect for every cause. To a degree, it can moderate some
of the instinctual reactions of your old brain. By and large, this
analytical, probing, quesitoning part of your mind is that part
that you thing of as being "you."
In sharp contrast to the new brain, you are unaware of most of the functions of your old brain. Trying to comprehend this part of your being is a maddening task, because you have to turn your conscious mind around to examine its own underbelly. Scientists who have subjected the old brain to this kind of scrutiny tell us that its main concern is self-preservation. Ever on the alert, the old brain constantly asks the primeval question: "Is it safe?"
As it goes about its job of ensuring your safety, your old brain operates in a fundamentally different manner from your new brain. One of the crucial differences is that the old brain appears to have only a hazy awareness of the external world. Unlike the new brain, which relies on direct perception of outside phenomena, the old brain derives its incoming data from the images, symbosl, and thoughts produced by the new brain. This reduces its data to very broad categoreis. For example, while your new brain easily distinguishes John from Suzy from Margaret, your old brain summarily lumps these people into six basic categories. The only thing your old brain seems to care about is whether a particular person is someone to: 1) nurture, 2) be nurtured by, 3) have sex with, 4) run away from, 5) submit to, or 6) attack. Subtleties such as "this is my neighbor," "my cousin," "my mother," or "my wife" slide right on by.
The old brain and the new brain, different in so many ways, are constantly exchanging and interpreting information. Here is how this takes place. Let's suppose that you are alone in your house, and all of a sudden, person A walks through the door. Your new brain automatically creates an image of this creature and sends it to your old brain for scrutiny. The old brain receives the image and compares it with other, stored images. Instantly there is a first observation: "This humanoid is not a stranger." Apparently encounters with this creature have been recorded before. A millisecond later there is a second observation: "There are no dangerous episodes associated with this image." Out of all the interations you have had with this mystery guest, none of them has been life-threatening. Then, rapidly, a third observation: "There have been numerous pleasurable episodes associated with this image." In fact, the records seem to suggest that A is someone who is nurturing. Having reached this conclusion, the limbic system sends an all-clear signal to the reptilian brain, and you find yourself walking toward the intruder with open arms. Operating out of your new brain, you say, "Aunt Mary! What a pleasure to see you!"
All of this has taken place outside your awareness in only a fraction of a second. To your conscious mind, all that has happened is that your beloved Aunt Mary has walked in the door. Meanwhile, as you visit with your aunt, the data-gathering process continues. This latest encounter produces more thoughts, emotions, and images, which are sent to the limbic system to be stored in the part of the brain reserved for Aun Mary. These new data will be a part of the information scanned by the old brain the next time she comes to visit.
Let's look at a slightly different situation. Let's suppose that the person who walked in the door was not Aunt Mary but her sister, Aunt Carol, and instead of greeting her with open arms, you found yourself resenting the interruption. Why such a different reaction to these two sisters? Let's pretend that when you were eighteen months old you spent a week with Aunt Carol while your mother was in the hospital having another baby. Your parents, trying to prepare you in advance for this visit, explained to you that "Mommy is going bye-bye to the hospital to bring home a little brother or sister." The words "hospital," "brother," and "sister" had no meaning to you, but "Mommy" and "bye-bye" certainly did. Whenever they mentioned those two words together, you felt anxious and sucked your thumb. Weeks later, when your mother went into labor, you were lifted out of your crib in a sound sleep and transported to Aunt Carol's house. you woke up alone in a strange room, and the person who came to you when you cried was not your mother or father but Aunt Carol.
You dwelled in anxiety for the next few days. Even though Aunt
Carol was loving and kind to you, you felt abandoned. This primal
fear because associated with your aunt, and for years the sight
of her or the smell of her perfume sent you running from the room.
In later years you had many pleasuable or neutral experiences with
Aunt Carol; nonetheless, thirty years later, when she walks into
the room, you feel the urge to run away. It is only with great discipline
that you rise to greet her.
No Time Like the Present
This story illustrates an important principles about the old brain: it has no sense of linear time. Today, tomorrow, and yesterday do not exist; everything that was, still is. Understanding this basic fact about the nature of your unconscious may help explain why you sometimes have feelings within your marriage that seem alarmingly out of proportion to the events that triggered them. For example, imagine that you are a thirty-five-year-old woman, a lawyer in a prestigious firm. One day you are sitting in your office thinking warm, loving thoughts about your husband and decide to call him on the phone. You dial his number, and his secretary informs you that he is out of the office and can't be reached. Suddenly your loving thoughts vanish, and you feel a surge of anxiety: where is he? Your rational mind knows that he's probably calling on a client or enjoying a late lunch, but another part of you feels - let's be honest - abandoned. There you are, a sophisticated, capable woman, and just because your husband isn't available you feel as vulnerable as you did when your mother left you all day with an unfamiliar babysitter. Your old brain is locked in an archaic perspecitve.
Or let's supose that you are a middle-aged man, a middle manager in a large company. After a hectic day at work, where you manage to placate important clients and put the finishing touches on a multimillion-dollar budget, you drive home, eager to share your successes with your wife. When you walk in the door, you see a note from your wife saying that she will be late soming home from work. you stop dead in your tracks. You had counted on her being there! Do you recover from the disappointment and relish the time to yourself? Do you use the time to do a final check on the budget? Yes. But not before you head straight for the freezer and consume two bowlfuls of bland, sweet vanilla ice cream, as close a substitute for mother's milk as you can possibly find. The past and the present live side by side within your mind.
Now that we've spent some time pondering the nature of the unconscious mind, let's return to our original discussion of mate selection. How does this information about the old brain add to our understanding of romantic attraction? The curious phenomenon I noted earlier in this exploration was that we seem to be highly selective in our choice of mates. In fact, we appear to be searching for a "one and only"with a very specific set of positive and negative traits.
What we are doing, I have discovered from years of theoretical research and clinical observation, is looking for someone who has the predominant character traits of the people who raised us. Our old brain, trapped in the eternal now and having only a dim awareness of the outside world, is trying to re-create the environment of chioldhood. And the reason the old brain is trying to resurrect the past is not a matter of habit or blind compulsion but of a compelling need to heal old childhood wounds.
The ultimate reason you fell in love with your mate, I am suggesting,
is not that your mate was young and beautiful, had an impressive
job, had a "point value"equal to yours, or had a kind
disposition. You fell in love because your old brain had your
partner confused with your parents! Your old brain believed
that it had finally found the ideal condidate to make up for the
psychological and emotional damage you experienced in childhood.**
** Preview of Chapter 2:
"When you hear the words "psychological and emotional damage of childhood," you may immediately think about serious childhood traumas such as sexual or physical abuse or the suffering that comes from having parents who divorced or died or were alcoholics. And for many people this is the tragic reality of childhood. However, even if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment, you (may) still bear invisible scars from childhood, because from the very moment you were born you were a complex, dependent creature with a never-ending cycle of needs. Freud correctly labeled us "insatialble beings." And no parents, no matter how devoted, are able to respond perfectly to all of these changing needs."
...and that's not all! Bonus Section!
The Introduction by Harville Hendrix
In today's society, you are encouraged to view marriage as a box. First you choose a mate. Then you climb into a box. Once you've had a chance to settle in, you take your first close look at your boxmate. If you like what you see, you stay put. If you don't, you climb out of the box and scout around for another mate. In other words, marriage is viewed as an unchanging state, and whether or not it works depends upon your ability to attract a good partner. The common solution to an unhappy marriage, the one chosen by nearly fifty percent of all couples, is to divorce and start all over again with a new and, hopefully, better mate.
The problem with this solution is that there is a lot of pain involved in switching boxes. There is the agony of dividing up children and possessions and putting aside trasured dreams. There is the reluctance to risk intimacy again, fearing that the next relationship, too, might fail. And there is the emotional damage to the other inhabitants of the box - the children - who grow up feeling responsible for the divorce and wonder if they will ever experience lasting love.
Unfortunately, the only alternative many people see to divorce is to stay in the box, tighten the lid, and put up with a disappointing relationship for the rest of their lives. They learn to cope with an empty marriage by filling themselves up with food, alcohol, drugs, activites, work, television, and romantic fantasies, resigned to the belief that their longing for an intimate love will never be realized.
In this book I propose a more hopeful and, I believe, more accurate
view of love relationships. Marriage is not a static state between
two unchanging people. Marriage is a psychological and spiritual
journey that begins in the ecstasy of attraction, meanders through
a rocky stretch of self-discovery, and culminates in the creation
of an intimate, joyful, lifelong union. Whether or not you realize
the full potential of this vision depends not on your ability to
attract the perfect mate, but on your willingness to acquire knowledge
about hidden parts of yourself.
When I began my career as a therapist, I counseled both individuals and couples. My preference was to work with one person at a time. My training was geared towards individuals, and when I saw clients singly, I felt competent and effective. Not so when a couple walked into my office. A marriage relationship introduced a complex set of variables that I was not trained to deal with. I ended up doing what most therapists did - probem-oriented, contractual marriage counseling. When this approach didn't work, I'd split up the couple and assign them to separate groups or counsel them individually.
In 1967 my confusion about the psychology of love relationships was compounded when I began to have problems with my own marriage. My wife and I were deeply committed to our relationship and had two young children, so we gave our marriage eight years of intensive examination, working with numerous therapists. Nothing seemed to help, and in 1975 we decided to divorce.
As I sat in the divorce court waiting my turn to see the judge, I felt like a double failure, a failure as a husband and as a therapist. That very afternoon I was scheduled to teach a course on marriage and the family, and the next day, as usual, I had several couples to counsel. Despite my professional training, I felt just as confused and defeated as the other men and women who were sitting beside me, waiting for their names to be called.
In the year following my divorce, I woke up each morning with an acute sense of loss. When I went to bed at night, I stared at the ceiling, trying to find some explanation for our failed marriage. Sure, both my wife and I had our ten reasons for divorcing, just like everyone else. I didn't like this about her; she didn't like that about me; we had different interests; we had different goals. But beneath our litany of complaints, I could sense that there was a central disappointment, an underlying cuase of our unhappiness, that had eluded eight years of probing.
Time passed, and my despair turned into a compelling desire to make sense out of my dilemma; I was not going to walk away from the ruins of my marriage without gaining some insight. I began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning what I could about relationship therapy. As I researched the professional books and journals, I was surprised to find few meaningful discussions of marriage,* and the material that I did find was invariably slanted towards the psychology of the individual and the family. There seemed to be no comprehensive theory to explain the intricacies of the male/female relationship. No satisfactory explanation of the powerful emotions that can destroy a marriage. And there was nothing that explained what I found so painfully missing in my first marriage.
To fill in the gaps, I worked with hundreds of couples in private practice and thousands more in workshops and seminars. Out of my research and clinical observations, I gradually developed a theory of marital therapy called Imago (Ih-MAH-go) Relationship Therapy. My approach was eclectic. I brought together dpeth psychology, the behavioral sciences, the Western spiritual tradition, and added some elements of Transactional Analysis, Gestalt psychology, systems theory, and cognitive therapy. In my view, each of these schools of thought made a unique and important contribution to the understanding of the psychology of the individual, but it was only when they were all brought together in a new synthesis that they illuminated the mystery of love relationships.
When I began implementing my ideas, my work with couples became immensely rewarding. The divorce rate in my practice sharply declined, and the couples who stayed together reported a much deeper satisfaction in their marriages. As my work became more visible, I began to lecture to both singles and couples. Eventually I developed an introductory workshop for courples, called Staying Together. In 1981 I began a training course for professionals. To date, more than thirty thousand people have been exposed to my ideas through counseling, workshops, and seminars.
My purpose in writing this book is twofold: to share with you what I have learned about the psychology of love relationships, and to help you transform your relationship into a lasting source of love and companionship. In short, it's abook about the theory and practice of becoming passionate friends.
This book is divided into three parts. In Part I, I chronicle the fate of most relationships: attraction, romantic love, and the power struggle. As I describe the familiar details of married life, I invite you to see them as an emerging psychological drama. I call this drama "The Unconscious Marriage," and by that I mean a marriage that includes all the hidden desires and automatic behaviors that are left over from childhood and that inexorably lead couples into conflct.
In Part II, I explore a radically different kind of marriage, "The Conscious Marriage," a marriage that helps you satisfy your unmet childhood needs in positive ways. First, I will explain a proven technique for rekindling romantic love. This process restores a spirit of cooperation and gives you the motivation to work on your underlying problems. Next I will show you how to replace confrontation and criticism, tactics learned in childhood, with a healing process of mutual growth and support. Findlaly, I will describe how to convert your pent-up frustration into empathy and understanding.
Part III takes all these ideas and packages them into a unique, ten-week course in relationship therapy. Through a sweries of proven, step-by-step exercises that you can do in the privacy of your home, you will not only gain insight into your marital problems, you will be able to resolve them - perhaps without the expense of a marital therapist.
This book can help you creat a more loving and supportive relationship,
and it is within this revitalized marriage that you will find peace
- again, from Getting the Love You Want: A Guide For Couples
"I began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning what I could about relationship therapy."
Comment: Note that this happened after many years of already being a marital therapist.
Let's unpack the implications of the above: What does it say about marital therapy in general? If there are "few meaningful discussions of marriage" in the "professional books and journals," then honestly, what, exactly, are they doing?
Why did Henrix have to "embark on a personal search for answers," after he had already been trained and certified, if, as "marital experts" suggest, they already know what they're doing?
We are grateful that Hendrix did do what he did, and was honest about it. If only the rest of them would follow suit.
Appendix and Analysis: Part I
Here's a passage from Neil Straus in The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships:
"They say that when you meet someone and feel like it's love at first sight, run in the other direction. All that's happened is that your dysfunction has meshed with their dysfunction. Your wounded inner child has recognized their wounded inner child, both hoping to be healed by the same fire that burned them.
In fairy tales, love strikes like lightening. In real life, lightning burns. It can even kill you."
OK, let's unpack this a little.
First of all, this might be a key ingredient of what we describe as "The Typical Cycle," which is an examination of "ordinary" relationships and why, so often, they fail.
Secondly, this is testament that the bumper-sticker platitude that passes for wisdom among the ADD crowds - "Follow your heart!" - really is not a great idea (your "heart" in this scenario actually being your "dysfunction" masquerading as your "heart." Something we explore more here, in The War Against Psychobabble.
Finally, if it's really true that "love at first sight" is really something along the lines of "your dysfunction meshing with their dysfunction"...well, honestly, that might explain a lot. (It seems to us that Neil understands a few things about psychology, which makes sense, in that he's apparently spent a great deal of time and energy studying it.)
But where does that leave us?
Well, first of all, there's the problem of "our dysfunctions," also known as "issues."
There seems to be a choice here: you can either be controlled by your dysfunctions/issues (and allow them to lead you into potentially destructrive relationships)...or to dig in to your issues, and work on or even potentially "solve" them.
"Understand the root cause of your fears -
estrangement from yourself;
and of desires - the longing for the self,
and your karma will dissolve like a dream."
- Sri Nisagardatta Maharaj, I Am That (411)
To take it down a few notches...
According to the above passage by spiritual teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "the root cause" of all "desires" is "the longing for the self."
This little phrase says a lot.
By "self," (it is our interpretation that) he is referring to what is also known as "God."
This is a pretty radical statement. Because if "the root cause...of desires" is "God," then logically, this must include the "desire" for the perfect mate.
But is this really the case? Is Maharaj on to something, or is he fit for a straightjacket? Is this a misapplication of what he's saying? What, exactly, is this "longing for the self"? What, exactly, is it a longing for? And how, then, would we actually find it? And can this apply to someone who is honestly just trying to understand their own relationships?
"It is not for the love of a
husband that a husband is dear;
but for the love of the Soul in the husband that a husband is dear.
It is not for the love of a wife that a wife is dear;
but for the love of the Soul in the wife that a wife is dear.
It is not for the love of children that children are dear;
but for the love of the Soul in children that children are dear.
It is not for the love of all that all is dear;
but for the love of the Soul in all that all is dear."
- the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad
We are still investigating questions like these, and many more. And our investigations will continue.
To be continued...