Why It's Okay to Have Your Perspective on Love Destroyed

Today I saw a the following quote on Facebook (accompanied by an image). It was shared 27,000+ times:

"I could never cheat on anyone. It’s the type of mistake and wrong doing I couldn’t live with. Knowing that you destroyed someone’s trust is bad, but destroying someone’s perspective on love is far too worse." —Amino Auditore

I'm not about to write a piece justifying cheating. In fact, I already wrote about how our tendency to self-decieve and justify immoral behaviour causes us to evade our responsibilities to both ourselves and those we love. Cheaters often rationalize their own cheating and think of themselves as the privileged exception to the rule. They almost never are.

What I will do is say this: I think unrealistic, pure notions of romantic love are pervasive and harmful. The desire for pure love is why we feel something irreparably shatters when we have our first fight in a new relationship. Supposedly, pure love is untainted. Pure love is seamless. Pure love is uncomplicated.

Pure love is a fairytale. People are flawed, people change, and people make mistakes.

How presumptuous, arrogant and judgmental to say from a standpoint removed from the complexities of any future relationship in my life that "I could never cheat," and furthermore, this is because of my altruistic unwillingness to "destroy someone's perspective on love." Humans do things all the time that they previously vowed never to do. By publicly asserting the moral high-ground of the impossibility of making a mistake or even of betrayal, we contribute to the myth that relationships are not work and that forgiveness ought not to be a part of them.

But pure love is not just a fairytale because we are all developing, defective beings. It is also a fairytale in the literal sense. Humans are natural storytellers. We narrate the history of our relationships to ourselves and others, carefully editing and curating the content of the story. There are countless models that guide us in this endeavour, from Hollywood and Disney movies, to love ballads, to cultural norms, to our own parents, to Facebook timelines. If you thought the idea of looking like a princess on your wedding day was your own spontaneous wish without cultural references or societal significances, I'm sorry to burst the bubble. 

We don't need to look far to see how appealing the idea of pure love is to us, and furthermore, how commercially successful it is when packaged and sold. Take the ubiquity of Ed Sheeran's song "Perfect," which has now hit number one on almost all North American and European music charts. I'm not going to duplicate the lyrics of the entire song here —you can find them easily enough online (or you've already recalled them because you've heard the song a thousand times on the radio by now). But the whole text is a fantasy about pure love between a flawed dude and an allegedly perfect girl. A pure, all-or-nothing, child-like love which also, inevitably, involves ownership ("your heart is all I own"), sharing everything and bearing children. And all of this from someone who asserts he doesn't deserve the other.

This uncompromising fantasy has been neatly assembled and successfully marketed to millions of people. But it is a "perspective on love" that has either been destroyed or is downright non-existent for most of us.

Interestingly, the refrain of "Perfect" plays on the familiarity of a memory which seems to be from be the beginning stages of a relationships (i.e., "I'm dancing in the dark with you between my arms, barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song...you look perfect tonight"). As an aside, I often wondered whether these lyrics were semi-plagarised from Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," which I think is the version of "Perfect" for the generation before mine (incidentally, both Sheeran and Clapton see love and the future in the eyes of the other...why do we keep falling for this kitsch!?). Anyway, "Wonderful Tonight" tells the same story as the former song. An imperfect man venerates an ideal girl with whom he shares an uncomplicated, immaculate love, and he highlights a specific memory involving her (Clapton and his muse go to a party where everyone recognizes the woman's beauty). 

We all remember the big bang of the beginning and the subsequent opening scenes of our romantic relationships. In all likelihood, we have recited the infatuation-fuelled anecdotes of "how we began" dozens of times. Holding hands, running through the streets of wherever without a care in the world. Defying everyone and everything else to be together. Dancing in the living room or in the grass to 'our song.' Dangling our feet from rooftops with wine chatting until the wee hours of the morning. Don't get me wrong — I, too, revere such memories. They make my heart swell to this day. But the 'love' that takes the form of a wild life of intense captivation is unsustainable. And although that fact feels sad, I really do not think it has to be. 

The difficulty, it seems to me, is transitioning from the initial novel adventure and discovery-phase of a relationship to long-term love. The love that keeps on loving through hard times and disappointment. Love that isn't perfect, or even pure. 

Chances are, the love story you imagined as you danced in the grass or ran through the city streets together with your partner-to-be is not going to play out as you envisioned. In fact, your perspective of love with that person is probably going to be destroyed time and time again. 

The reason I say that this is okay is that because with destruction comes reconstruction. How many of us would truly like to love someone else in the same way as we thought we could as we were 16 years old? In my experience, love involves far more compromise, patience and forgiveness than I thought it did back then. The bad times and the reconstructions — along with the contingent, precarious nature of the relationship — have become part of my love story, and that's also okay. Because through them I have grown, become stronger, and am ready for the next time my "perspective on love" will be destroyed once again.

The most difficult task remains to combat the societal shame that comes along with admitting the imperfection of one's romantic relationship. It often feels humiliating to acknowledge the painful moments which have contributed to our past 'destructions of love' and failures. But to recount our love stories without these elements is to impede the possibilities of mutual disclosure with others that we love, such as friends and family. In other words, dishonestly denying that we have failed or been broken in our relationships limits how close we can become to those we love in any capacity. It contributes to the feeling that one cannot trust or reach out to others. Furthermore, omitting any and all mistakes or failures from the narrations of our relationships is to risk to repressing these challenges in view of a fantasy that one plays out in public, but which does not match reality. The final result seems to be alienation from one's partner, one's social circle, and oneself.