Psst! Want a hit of reality? Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with love. It’s our annual celebration of romance, the experience of idealizing another person to feed an intense sensual desire for him or her. Whether sweet or lusty, romance is a siren call that lures us into infatuation. We think of it as chemistry: our attraction to someone that signals the possibility of something more. Actually, it’s just our brain, saturated with amphetaminelike neurotransmitters, on a high that lasts between three and nine months. That’s right, we’re drugged. And tripping on the chemistry of attraction is why it is so easy to hook up with someone who is completely wrong.
When the brain’s attraction drug wears off (after three, six or nine months) our eyes are opened (infatuation is blind) to the reality of incompatibility. So why do we continue to pretend romance is love? We like illusion. We prefer denial. It’s easier to act foolish with our hearts or be the victim of our libido. Self-love begins when we admit and enjoy being enchanted by someone while remaining fully aware that we do not really know that person yet.
Romance is also about getting things right: arranging the right words in the right sequence for seduction, creating the right atmosphere and employing the right touch to stir a partner’s desire. Advertisements work overtime to establish the rhythm of expectation necessary to send men and women to flower shops, chocolatiers and jewelry stores. But what happens when the expectations nurtured by our culture and the advertising industry are not met? Conflict.
Expectations are the vision that each one of us has about how things should be. While it is normal to have expectations, it is also vital to understand that expectations teach us about ourselves, not about our partners. The better we know ourselves, the more awake we are to our expectations.
Marline Pearson, a university professor, has written about how expectations arise from our past experiences and childhood, as well as our previous relationships and the larger culture and media. She notes three kinds of expectations:
1. Unaware: These are the expectations that we are completely unconscious about, yet still drive our attitudes and behaviors in relationships. Investing time in learning about yourself reduces the possibility of clashing with your partner about expectations neither of you are aware of.
2. Unreasonable or too low: Some expectations are so high, no human can comfortably meet them. Or expectations are so low that it’s obvious a person cares little for herself or himself. Unreasonable or extremely low expectations are a red flag.
3. Unspoken: Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Communicate your expectation and explain why it is important to you. Then, work with your partner to find a solution.
In a healthy, committed relationship, partners meet each other’s most important and reasonable expectations. But it’s unreasonable to expect romance just because the culture, media and advertisers claim romance equals love. If you yearn to be swept away by romance, create it for yourself. Dress up and take yourself out to dinner. Or spend time in solitude, exploring your beliefs and attitudes. That’s romantic and it’s self-love in action. Then, when you’re ready, carry real love into the world: Donate supplies to schools, here and overseas, that need support. Fund a scholarship for a child in a developing country. Commit to replacing two regular grocery purchases with fair-trade items. Love the world. When you do, the expectation of romance wanes, and you are liberated from the culture’s power over you.
“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal [to be] that which others have made of us,” wrote philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Have you realized yet that “no” means “no”?