It’s easy to be pessimistic about many things: the state of the planet, the economy, the future of humanity. Yet there is one area where many of us retain a curious sense of optimism –love.
We have faith that, from among the millions of our fellow human beings out there, will one day be able to locate a very special person, a being uniquely well suited to our temperaments, tastes and aspirations; someone who will feel like the missing bit of the complicated jigsaw of deep selves –someone who can make us whole.
We know it won’t be easy to find them. So many people seem nice, at first and then the problems emerge; it turns out they have a very annoying sister or they are far too nervous about things –always insisting on arriving at the airport three hours too early or they have appalling taste in music or their conversation after a long day at work leaves a lot to desired.
That’s why we keep searching: calling for space, taking a break, getting divorced and scrolling through future possibilities online. That seems like we must be very romantic to put such efforts into finding the right person in truth, our perpetual search is really a refusal of love. It is a guarantee that we can never succeed at relationships, because in the end the deep secret to love is that there is no right person.
There are perfect beings, we can imagine them very clearly, but –tragically –they exist only in the upper atmosphere and even down here the earth. It is the insistence on people being Right that at the root of rage and intolerance, for we never more furious that we believe we had signed up to perfection.
And given what the human animal is like, we can be guaranteed always to find something that is entirely right. To be really romantic, truly committed to what love requires we need a vital and rarely mentioned quality. A healthy dose of PESSIMISM1
Pessimism about what even the most perfect-seeming person will really be like once one gets to know them and with that pessimism comes forgiveness for the inevitably very long range of flaws that we will discover in them, and they will –of course discover in us.
Optimistic search for the perfect person commits us eventually to throwing away everyone we are ever likely to meet. Yet in truth, the person who is really best suited to us is NOT the person who shares all our tastes, but the person who negotiates differences in taste intelligently and wisely. Compatibility is an achievement of lover; it can’t be its precondition.
To be able to love properly, we have to attend a funeral first; we have to bury a lot of our hopes deep in the ground, that funeral is the most important thing we could ever do. It will liberate us to go back into the world and have proper human relationships that can endure and flourish.
- 1: A tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future