Most people enter into relationships as a more or less untenable or false version of themselves—the curb appeal version of themselves; what Chris Rock calls the “representative” (see 2:10-2:40 of the following clip — [caution: strong language!])—
Relationships—easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it’s hard to keep up the lie. ‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can’t get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.
Which, as it turns out, would really be better described as the “misrepresentative.” The version of ourselves that most of us show up to a relationship as is, like it or not, an oversell—in other words, it’s a con, a ruse, a bait and switch. Even if we don’t mean it at the time, this is what almost invariably turns out to be. Women enter into relationships appearing more sexually adventurous and emotionally stable and reasonable than they actually are. And men enter into relationships pretending to be less into sports and more open to chick-flicks and their own emotions and having more of a sensitive side than they actually do (“Oh, I love a good Sandra Bullock movie.” The man, of course is really thinking about “Speed” or maybe “The Blindside,” but the woman is thinking “I can’t wait to snuggle with him and watch “The Proposal” or “Two Weeks Notice”). And then gradually—or suddenly—things begin to change. Each becomes a bit less accommodating of the other, a bit less flexible, each finds the other a bit less interesting, exciting, charming. People go into reruns; their routines and spiels become known. Habit, familiarity, predictability intrude, and so they each start to look elsewhere and go elsewhere to get another fix—they see less of each other and start spending more time alone preoccupied with this or that pet ego project—pet gratification or distraction or anesthetization.
But, of course, love—real love—isn’t when you present a false or untenable version of yourself and then backslide/regress into who you “really are”—a much less interesting and affectionate and loving and much lazier and selfish and chaotic version of yourself. People decry and lament the fact that they have to become someone different than they are in order to be loved; that in order to be loved they have to become more interesting, affection, loving, conversant, sexual, mature, stable, have better character, appear to be less codependent and or less of a hot mess than they really are. In other words, in order to be loved and to get the attention of someone they find desirable or that they’re interested in, most people have to put on the airs of being better differentiated and more mature and more loving and less deceitful and pathological than they really are. In other words, in order to be loved they have to grow up! They can’t just be who they are—lazy, unmotivated, impulsive, inconsistent, quick to anger, resentful, petty, bitchy, whiny, irritable, impatient—in short un-virtuous. No, once they reach adulthood most people have to try and be a bit better than that if they want to be loved.
But this isn’t what most people want—to have to grow up, be their best or near best in order to be loved and have a girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse. Most people want to be loved for who they really are deep down—their less (far less?) than best version of themselves—
“That’s what real love amounts to—letting a person be what he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending—performing.” – Jim Morrison
Now, of course, what some people try to downplay and cover over when meeting some new isn’t just their pathology and the skeletons in their past, sometimes it’s their uniqueness, their little eccentricities, perhaps even their kinkiness. But sometimes it’s also just their drug habits, excessive drinking, gambling, excessive online video-gaming, that they can’t hold down a job, et cetera.
And so most people, if they want some companionship and warmth and sex and to not be lonely and to have a family, cut a deal with themselves, they become different than who they are in order to attract the attention of the opposite (or same) sex. They oversell themselves, appear to be more in tact, together, interesting, sexual, mature, giving than they really are—than their “real self” is.
And so then what predictably happens 6-months or 2-years down the road? They begin to renege on their deal: they begin to bitch and whine and fight for their right NOT to have to be this person anymore! They begin fighting for their right to regress and backslide and be less mature and less accountable and have lower standards. Think about it: what we are really saying—and what we/they really fighting for—is our right to be who we really are—someone who is less mature than we first presented ourselves as being, someone who is less interesting, less virtuous, less emotionally together and intact, less proactive, less sexual, less affectionate, less warm, less noble, less principled than we first thought we were and (mis)led the other to believe, and instead someone who is more reactive, impulsive and who is lazier and more chaotic than we first showed. We clean up well when meeting someone new; we know how to sell (oversell) ourselves and give ourselves some real curb appeal.
But then what happens? . . .
Just as reality intrudes upon the two-year-old’s fantasy of omnipotence so does reality intrude upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, individual will reasserts itself. He wants to have sex, she doesn’t. She wants to go to the movies, he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank, she wants a dishwasher. She wants to talk about her job, he wants to talk about his. She doesn’t like his friends, he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begin to come to the sickening realization that they are not one with the beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from their own. One by one, gradually or suddenly, the ego boundaries snap back into place; gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals.
At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.
By my use of the word “real” I am implying that the perception that we are loving when we fall in love is a false perception—that our subjective sense of being loving is an illusion. Real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love. To the contrary, real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking, when we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t particularly feel loving.
(M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 87-88)
Clearly not a pretty picture. And what is Peck euphemistically saying here with the phrase “individual will”? Individual will meaning self-centeredness? individual pettiness? distractive and discursive individual pet projects designed to temporarily numb or intoxicate oneself? (little ego projects that either temporarily numb/distract oneself from one’s emptiness and unproductiveness or do that do this by providing a temporary thrill or sense of intoxication and making a person temporarily feel more alive.)
Two people meet. They are attracted to one another. Each person is new, interesting, unknown, represents a world of possibility, the potential fulfillment of hopes and romantic fantasies. Then familiarity and predictability set in and the newness wear off and so does the automaticness of romantic love and the emotional free ride. Each person feels let down, disappointed, no longer as high and intoxicated and in-love.
Why do you stop talking? ‘Cause at some point, you have heard everything this person has to say and it makes you sick to your stomach. You know what they’re gonna say before it even comes out their mouth and you just wanna stab them in the neck with a pencil! You can’t take the shit no more! And they’re like, “Remember that time?”
“Yeah, l remember that time!”
“Did l ever tell you about—”
“Yeah, you told me about that time! Stop telling me the same shit over and over again! Why don’t you go out and get kidnapped ‘n have some new shit happen to you?”
(Chris Rock, from “Bigger and Blacker”)
And so what do two people who get to this point do? Stay the same (as they were in the beginning stages)—or even escalate and become even more interesting, more giving, more attentive, more proactive, more mature, more grateful, more understanding, and actually slowly gradually begin transforming themselves into something resembling a truly loving and mature and principled human being? Do they do the work and grow up and really start to Love each other?
Or do they take the path of least resistance and fight and bitch and complain for their right to be who they really are, to renegotiate their original deal (their oversell), and have the standards and expectations of them softened and lowered? In which case, then just look at what the person is really saying about him- or herself—“Look at me, this is really who I am—self-centered, lazy, undisciplined, petty, resentful, bitchy, complainy, boring, un-sexual, unaffectionate, unwarm, stingy, self-preoccupied, codependent, erratic, looking to get rather than give, needy,” et cetera. What a hideous unconscious message to broadcast to oneself and to others!—I don’t want to change and grow; I just want to be who I am and what I’ve been mis-raised into being—lazy, petty, self-centered, dependent, impulsive, undisciplined, erratic, unkind, unappreciative, stingy, selfish, et cetera.
That’s not love. And that’s not what truly decent people do when faced with the choice of how to deal with their oversell. Truly decent people try to make the best of a situation and become a better—which usually just happens to be some the person they first showed up as and presented themselves as being. And they get over this bullshite of their “real self” really quickly, because they realize that almost everyone could have a “real self” that is lazy, addiction-prone, escapist, avoidant, immature, dependent, if they were raise under certain set of conditions, just as they could have a more mature and together and loving and kind and understanding self if they were raised under a different set of circumstances—if they were raised by the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.
But most of us don’t come from that lineage and didn’t get that level of love and care and nurturing from our parents. And so we are stuck in the middle. And we have to decide who we become. We have to feed ourselves, determine what will influence us and what set of possibilities will win out in us—the good wolf or the bad wolf, the wolf of love and maturity and virtue and goodness, or the wolf of pettiness, immaturity, selfishness, our particular pathology, et cetera—
“A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful, resentful, and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his father which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And his grandfather answered, ‘The one that will win will be the one I choose to feed’.”
When we really love another, we want to be our best for that person and to that person—we want to bring the gift of our best self consistently to the relationship and our interactions with the other person—our beloved, our partner, the love of our life. We want to be a better John or Jen or Jack or Jill or Melvin or Carol, et cetera.—
Melvin Udall: I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true.
Carol Connelly: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.
Melvin Udall: Don’t be pessimistic, it’s not your style. Okay, here I go . . . I’ve got this, what— ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I *hate* pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I’m using the word “hate” here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never. . . all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.
Carol Connelly: I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment for me.
Melvin Udall: You make me want to be a better man.
Carol Connelly: . . . That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.
Melvin Udall: Well, maybe I overshot a little, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out.
Real love makes us want to be our best. For most of us, this is a major metanoia—our radical change of heart and mind, our transformation life goals and direction, our waking up to the reality that it’s not just about us and our little wants and needs, that there are other people out there who are real and who are just like us. And so love, compassion, understanding, kindness, become our religion, as the Dalai Lama might put it.
And it doesn’t matter at first whether it’s another person and our desire to be loved by him or her that gets on this path or whether it’s from reading a certain book or blog or years of study or good parenting. The point is to get on this path—and pronto—and to stay on it—to stay on the path, because this is how we ultimately make the world a truly better place. If more of us would become more truly Loving and understanding and compassionate and wise and aware and face and wrestle with our own inner demons and weaknesses, et cetera, then the world too will become more Loving, kind, understanding, friendly, for as we are, so too is the world. The world around is simply a reflection of who we are and who we interact with one another, the sum of our virtues and vices, our goodness and sickness. And the world is the way it is right now because too many of us right now are what we are—immature, petty, vindictive, impulsive, unthinking, addicted to the path of least resistance and shortcuts, lazy, undisciplined, dishonest, manipulative, exploitative, resentful, unforgiving, closed-minded, afraid, uncourageous, self-centered, reactive, overly emotional, angry, looking out only for number one, attached to our dependencies and addictions and our sick mis-raised self—what Morrison calls our “real” self.
Our “real” self is not some wacky creative drug-addicted ‘shrooming sex-machine. That how some people become if they are mis-raised or have to raise themselves or are raised by a pack of wolves. But it’s not what god or the gods intended. It’s not what we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be something more Godly or God-like, someone and something more Loving, wise, discerning, virtuous, principled, insightful, kind, caring, compassionate, warm, heroic, courageous, honest, transparent, self-disciplined, giving, appreciative, generous, attentive. Yes, you were called to be a god, to be a saint, someone and something divine. But you’re likely going to have to work and bust your hump to get there and lay off the pot and escapist substance and the x-Box and double bacon cheeseburgers and TV and instead read some decent books and surround yourself with some solid influences like the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Buddha, Jesus, Rumi, Merton, C. S. Lewis, Pema Chödrön, and their thoughts and ways.
Yes, you’ll be a sellout; yes, you’ll not be your “real” self—but, the odd thing is, by following healthy influences and role models and doing your best and being your most loving and aware and wise self and giving up your sick or weaker self, you’ll actually become more of who you truly are and what was intended than if you didn’t do this, than if you stayed who you are and stay mediocre, lost, conditioned, unaware.
Melvin Udall: I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you’re the greatest woman on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, and how you are with Spencer, “Spence,” and in every single thought that you have, and how you say what you mean, and how you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food, and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive. And the fact that I get it makes me feel good—about me.
Is that something that it’s bad for you to be around?—For you?
That’s what real love is all about—becoming our best, being someone who when we speak almost always means something that’s all about being straight and good. And then meeting another like this or who is becoming like this and noticing this about each other and supporting and encouraging it in each other. Real love arises when two people grow in this common direction—the direction of becoming psychologically healthier, more awake, loving, kind, understanding, grateful, generous. A relationships needs commonality to survive. As Chris Rock put it:
Whatever you into, your woman gotta be into, too, and vice versa or the shit ain’t gonna work. lt ain’t gonna work. That’s right. lf you born-again, your woman gotta be born-again, too. lf you a crackhead, your woman gotta be a crackhead, too. . . or the shit won’t work. You can’t be like, “l’m going to church, where you going?” “Hit the pipe!” That relationship ain’t going nowhere. Two crackheads can stay together forever.
(From “Bigger and Blacker”)
And for a truly loving relationship to arise it requires that two people both not be crackheads, but instead grow in the common direction of greater Love and wisdom and self-discipline and understanding and appreciation, et cetera.