Our partners used to be found for us by parents and society; now we are expected to choose for ourselves. But we make these choices based on emotional and psychological currents running beneath our subconscious, which pull us toward problematic characters and dynamics. During our childhoods we develop unconscious scripts of whom we can love, how we communicate, how we compromise, and how we negotiate conflicts. Eventually we discover that compatibility is not a precondition of love. It is the achievement of love.
We fall in love based on the admiration of strength — often strengths that we ourselves don’t possess. We look for someone to complete us. But we stay in love based on generosity. Love is the willingness to be generous towards the aspects of a partner that are less admirable. Love is the forgiveness of weakness, not the admiration of strength.
Eventually in any relationship, we run into the incumbent problem. We think our partners are less interesting than other, potential partners. We should be fully satisfied in our current relationship, and yet we become infatuated with the good looking bartender and we fantasize what our life would be like with that person. We think the bartender may be more interesting because we don’t yet know her or him. The best cure for infatuation is to get to know someone better.
Love is hard work because it has grown into something mature and substantive. Love is the accurate, corrective reimagining of the inner lives of others — especially their most hidden and difficult aspects.
Hardly any of us are totally open with our partners about the full spectrum of our sexual imagination — our fantasies, desires, and fears. We don’t talk about it due to a mix of shame and wanting to be nice. But the more open we become, the more we’ll enjoy sex and the less anxious we’ll feel about our own sexuality.
Our desire for sex fades as we become more comfortable in our relationships. In fact, we must choose between a life of sexual adventure and the assurances of monogamy. The characteristics we associate with good sex and good relationships are often in direct conflict and competition. In sex we value decadence, vulnerability, unpredictability, roughness, naughtiness. In relationships we value comfort, security, loyalty, consistency. In our relationships, we desire to know a person fully. And yet it is is not knowing someone that makes us sexually attracted to that person. Sometimes we need closeness to strengthen our relationships and distance to strengthen our sexual desire.
Parents often feel that they must be perfect parents when in fact their children merely want “good enough” parents. Similarly, what most of us truly desire are “good enough” partners that continue to make an effort despite their inevitable flaws.