Perhaps one of our greatest challenges is to let go of our romantic fantasies of love.
Shorter love affairs may not force us to examine our fantasies because our hopes and dreams can still survive. But when we enter into a long-term relationship, we may become disappointed and discover that our ideas of what love or relationship means are not fulfilled in the way we had hoped.
Sometimes this realization can be so shattering that it can make us question if we want this kind of love relationship at all or we can move into despair and even depression.
There are two basic problems with our romantic fantasies.
First of all, they can prevent us from seeing the other person clearly. We can easily be blinded by our longings and dreams. For instance, when Sara met Peter, she was convinced that he was “the one” because on the surface, he met all her requirements. He was wealthy, confident, gracious, and attentive. She moved in with him soon after they met, but after some time together, she discovered that he was not honest about having affairs with other women, he was controlling, and could easily become enraged and be hurtful and shaming. It takes time to get to know someone but our longing and desire to be with someone can hinder our taking that time.
The second reason that fantasies can destroy our love is that that they lead to expectations that we project onto our partner or friends. When those expectations are not met, we can easily act out with anger, drama, or resignation. The fantasies set up a painful process in motion that leads to great suffering. So it is important to examine these fantasies directly because they are the root cause of this painful cycle.
Natalie firmly believes that her man should be there for her with consistent affection, presence, and attention and make time for them to be together. She is horribly disappointed that he gets so absorbed with his work and doesn’t prioritize their relating in the way she hoped. She insists that if he loved her, he would attend to her needs for closeness and connection.
Helene is miserable because her husband is not providing the kind of luxurious lifestyle that she had in the first years of their marriage. When he suffered financial difficulties and was forced to cut back on their expenses, she felt betrayed.
Ronald is upset because his girlfriend isn’t as alive sexually as he would like and he feels he has to sacrifice a vital aspect of his life to be with her. She is open to the kind of “slow sex” that they learned in a seminar they took together but is not interested in the kind of wild and passionate sexuality that Ronald craves.
When our fantasies get disappointed, we can sink into despair because we have put so much hope in them.
Our dreams of love have their roots in both our experience of being loved (or not loved) as a child and also in our cultural and family conditioning. Most of us have and continue to be bombarded with ridiculous ideas of what will happen when we find “the one.” And one or both of our parents may have supported these illusions in some way with indoctrination, complaining of their own disappointments, seeing our parents fighting, and so on. Our love fantasies get additional fuel with the ways that we were deprived as a child of essential needs for affection, attention, appreciation, support, attunement, and inspiration.
When any of these essential needs were not provided when we were small, it is natural that we will hunger for them today. And where better to place these longings than in the hope of finding an ideal love partner.
All our hunger and unmet needs wake up when we fall in love.
Natalie was abandoned by her absent mother, Helene grew up in poverty without ever feeling secure financially, and Roland’s life energy was repressed by strictly Christian parents. It is not surprising, therefore, that missing these qualities in their current relationships can be very difficult to handle.
But unfortunately, more often than not, we will get disappointed today in our most important longings.
Why does that happen?
Most of us approach our love relationships but also all our significant relationships with conscious or unconscious fantasies of fulfillment.
We call that “shopping from the child space of consciousness.” In that space, we do not see the other person clearly, we see them through the filter of our hopes, dreams, and expectations. And perhaps the disappointments we meet later in our relating were not predictable in the beginning because these dynamics don’t surface right away.
In that space, we approach our love life with the expectations that we will have our basic needs met. And depending often on what we missed as a child, those needs will vary in importance. For Natalie, it is consistent presence, attention, and affection. For Helene, it is financial comfort, and for Roland, it is aliveness and passion.
How can we overcome our love fantasies?
First of all, it is a rude awakening when our dreams crash. We can only accept that shock if we understand that we absolutely will get disappointed in our most sensitive places. Our growth is to understand that believing that our expectations will be fulfilled is a childish hope. One of the most important points of emotional and spiritual growth is having the realization that disappointment is a big part of ongoing love. And that we can use that pain and disappointment to grow and become more mature.
Secondly, it is important to identify the specific conditioning we received that supported our fantasies and seeing how we were indoctrinated to believe that love will save us. It is also important to identify the specific need or needs that are not being met and find the connection to what we missed as a child.
Thirdly, we have to learn to lean into the pain of frustration and disappointment instead of getting lost in blame. Blame is part of the child state of consciousness, allowing ourselves to feel that the pain of loss is part of the mature state of consciousness. So part of growing up is also grieving what we did not receive as a child and realizing through the pain that we are able to nourish ourselves.
Finally, as we allow ourselves to go through the first three steps, we naturally begin to realize that real love is not based on fantasy. It is based on seeing and accepting the other person as he or she is. It is based on loving ourselves enough to take time to tune into our feelings and needs, finding ways to give that to ourselves. Realizing that love is about giving and not about taking. Love is about first of all giving to ourselves and out of that self-love a natural overflowing starts to happen. Being with the other person then becomes a luxury…the added sweetness to an otherwise rich and fulfilled life. The beauty of being with the other person from that space is two adults coming together, sharing their life, enjoying being together.
This realization only comes when we let go of our fantasies.