By Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., PhD in Traversing the Inner Terrain
Originally published in Psychology Today
You’ve loved him for five years, but he makes you crazy. You would do anything for her, but she makes you crazy. He won’t initiate a single solitary thing to make his dull life any better, and it makes you crazy. She’s chattering away all the time to her friends and family and just doesn’t have much time left over for you—and it makes you crazy. But, you say, I love him, I love her. So what’s to be done?
Mostly what makes us crazy is that our partners are not living up to our expectations. And where did we get those expectations? We got them from the drawing room floor, when we cut out that picture of our fantasy lover. And our real-life partner was supposed to fit right into the exact shape and size of that empty hole we left in our hearts, especially made just for Dream Lover.
“Dream lover where are you, with a love, oh so true.” That’s just a few of the words from the lyrics of Bobby Darrin’s 1959 song, “Dream Lover.” And that notion of the Dream Lover is way older than the song. We all sing that song in our own way for we want Mr. or Ms. Right to know exactly what we mean by “a love, oh so true.” What will that love look and feel like? Well, he’ll know that we want flowers and candlelight. She’ll know that we want respect and someone to be there when we’re troubled. He’ll know that we want certain chores done in a timely fashion, and she’ll know how to hang his favorite shirts. And on and on the list goes.
And when we’ve found what appears to us to be Mr. or Ms. Right, we just slip that image of the Dream Lover right in over him or her and assume that if they love us, they will do all the things the Dream Lover would do. And then…they don’t.
What’s to be done for this but to use on our partners the most effective manipulative or controlling patterns we’ve developed over the years? Nagging. Cajoling. Sulking. Pity-partying. Begging. Pleading. Following. Snooping. Stalking. These are the things we are willing to use to get that person we’ve chosen as a partner to be that fantasy image we placed in front of them so we would never have to see that they weren’t really the Dream Lover.
And when, years down the road, we begin to really get it that we’ve put lots of time, energy and emotion into bargaining with this Dream Lover image, we find ourselves in bed with a stranger and wondering how we, and they, got there.
The generations before us passed down an idea about what relationships were supposed to be like in the same exact way that they passed down stories of Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Were they still holding up the fantasy image themselves, or did they just hope that we wouldn’t have to experience what they’d experienced?
And the worst part of this problem is that if we could stop looking for the Dream Lover, in some cases we wouldn’t have leave. In fact, in many cases, we could probably find and become intimate with our current and truest partners. If we could stop and consider this Dream Lover we envisioned when we were 16 and still had plenty of unresolved issues with our parents, all of which were socked into our image of this Dream Lover, we might learn that we’ve not really been looking for a Dream Lover, but a dream parent. We’ve been looking for someone who would just magically know what we want and give it to us before we even have to ask. We need someone who will take care of our every need. In other words, we are looking to go back to the womb where all was provided without any work whatsoever.
Authentic relationships happen between two people who know themselves and are willing to let go and be known at their most profound depths by a significant other. One cannot be known if one does not do the work of self-revelation. And one will not know another to whom one is not listening. When we stick Dream Lover up in front of our partner’s face, we don’t hear our partner, we hear Dream Lover. And when later we begin to realize that our partner isn’t the Dream Lover, the comparisons only mean we listen that much less.
While it isn’t true that we have to sacrifice pieces of our soul’s to be in relationship with another, it is true that we must be willing to do the work of developing real relationships skills and take responsibility for our parts in the relationship. Dream Lovers ask nothing more of us than that we be willing to be swept away into a romantic illusion of light and love. And when we demand that our partners become our Dream Lovers we might just miss out on building a dream with the right partner.