Yes, the title is provocative, but I truly mean it. To be clear I’m not speaking about a romantic relationship per se, but the romance that accompanies it. It is that initial perfection of the relationship. Robert Capon calls it The Angel of Romance (a lot of what I’m saying comes from him).
The Angel is the perfection of that initial relationship. It is the butterflies in your tummy, the expectation, or rather, the utter conviction that you finally found the person who you’ve been looking for your entire life. The one that is going to save you. It whispers in your ear “this is it”. It is the all too early dreams of eternity (which you know by now know are silly, but you can’t help yourself). It is all of that bullshit.
You might be thinking I have gone through a tough breakup, leaving me bitter and cynical “That must be why he doesn’t believe in love any more. He just needs some time and this will pass.” Quite the contrary, I’m in a wonderful, loving relationship, but I still despise The Angel.
Perfection is a lie. If we idealize perfection we need to pretend in order to uphold it. We try to impress the other person. To do so, you hide parts of yourself. In effect creating a shadow persona of yourself, presenting this version of you to the other person. Through the relationship you slowly inch the persona towards your true self: slowly revealing who you truly are and maybe all the while promising yourself you will become closer to this ideal version of yourself. Personally I would want to hide my inappropriate sense of humour and my equally inappropriate friends. Another good example is how many relationships start with faking or inflating an interest in hiking or jogging.
From the other person’s perspective: behind the perfect person they see, is an imperfect person trying very hard to impress. Holding their imperfection tightly against their chest, like a poker hand of shame. Wondering how and when to reveal which card… and which never to reveal.
What truly shocks me is that we know that this is the case, at least in part, but we want the lie. We fight against the truth that the other person is merely a person and that they are eventually going to disappoint us. And we fight against the fact that we are eventually going to disappoint them.
We often love the idea of perfection (i.e. a lie) more than we love the person. When someone turns out not to be the person you hope they are, your love for them takes a knock.
So we love the Angel, but the Angel hates us, because the illusion of perfection cannot last between two human beings: real people in a real world. This is why Romeo and Juliet ends so perfectly. In the end the broken people are gone and as the curtain falls the only thing left is the divine Romance. The Angel lives on, because the lovers died before reality could set in.
All of this is connected to the idea of finding “The One”. Religion doesn’t help in this regard: believing in an omnipotent, omniscient God means that your husband or wife is destiny (recall the emotion of “this is it”). I remember my stance towards relationships during my church days was not “do I want to be in this relationship?” or “do I enjoy relating to this person?” it was “is this The One?”.
I’ve come to realize it is not about finding The One. The secret of a good relationship is not so much about chemistry i.e. the way you work together, but more the capacity for relating that grows inside the two individuals separately.
My point is while a romantic relationship is a good thing, our expectations are counter productive. They can push people away from our true selves, instead of drawing them closer.
When I hear the words “I love how he/she makes me feel” it is a warning sign that it is not about relating to the person but rather the idea of the person. It is a fantasy and reality kills fantasy. Remember the person in your fantasy is not a real person and you can’t have a relationship with that person. The person in front of you is real.
Romance is a mangled coping mechanism to relate to each other while we are dealing with our shame. Ironically the solution to our shame is being truly, deeply loved with our shame in plain sight. This implies a deep vulnerability. (But of course also an appropriate vulnerability.)
In my relationship with my girlfriend our focus has shifted from expectations and dreams of the future to simply relating, in the present, to the person in front of me. I choose to be vulnerable. To know and to be known. I have even come to see her flaws (read: the things she’s insecure about) as opportunities to reinforce the truth that I love her, not my expectation of her.
Now don’t get me wrong the Angel is present in our relationship. I think the Angel will always be present in new romantic relationships, no use feeling guilty about it. The key is not to fight the Angel, but to acknowledge its presence, realise it can harm your very real relationship and then let it go. It is present, but we don’t build anything on it.
Our relationship is not romance in the normal sense. It is more like the absence of roaring sound. It is not candles, roses and red satin, but it is beautiful. Beautiful like a river.