It is so intriguing and interesting to understand why specific people are attracted to one another in romantic relationships. Many factors play a role in this. In this article I will discuss three of the most powerful forces in romantic relationships, namely love, lust and dependence.
For most people, when we first fall in love, we idealize the other person. This means that we struggle to see them realistically with their shortcomings. When idealization becomes disillusioned – when we start seeing the other person more realistically, the relationship may be at risk. If we end up not really liking who the person really is or if we cannot accept others with their flaws, but, seek perfection the relationship could end.
When we think about dependence Garfield’s words in the Garfield movie comes to my mind. Garfield says to his owner “Love me, feed me, never leave me”. Depending on how well our childhood dependency needs were met we may seek a romantic relationship in order to meet such needs. This could even lead to relationships that are not based on loving, or even liking the person, but on the longing to be taken care of, to never be abandoned and to feel that there is someone bigger and stronger than you who will take care of you. These relationships have the risk of not being relationships of equal giving and receiving. The person who is in the caregiver role will give much more than the person who is in the dependent role or the dependent person may give excessively in an effort not to be abandoned. We all have dependency needs, even if we are not in touch with these needs. Very strong unmet dependency needs can cause one to seek a relationship where you long for constant availability of the other and for someone to take care of you. Or you could meet these needs indirectly by choosing a relationship where you take care of the other person.
A second factor that plays a significant role in romantic love is lust. Lust is concerned with our sexual instincts and our sexual excitement. In the words of Robert Stoller lust means “thick, mindless excitement”. Sadly, for most people, the qualities in another that makes us love them often works against lust. Underlying lust is very often a level of hostility. Without some aggressive energy sexual boredom is common. Factors like hostility, revenge, risk, mystery and reversal of trauma and frustration are all significant for sexual excitement and thus for lust. If a relationship is mostly based on lust it runs the risk of dehumanizing the other as an object to use, control, power and triumph over. The exact details of the fantasy that feeds lust for each person is dependent on each individual’s life story, relationships and early events that were experienced as traumatic, frustrating or painful. Most people will not easily confess their sexual fantasies because of the hostility, power issues and revenge often built into them that make them feel bad and sinful. With too much guilt about hostility lust can be inhibited and boredom and indifference can follow. The balance of lust or inhibition of lust in each person play a role in who we choose. What is exciting to one person can be meaningless to another.
Mature love is the ability to really see another person, not just an object to use and control (although this could be a part of the relationship, specifically during episodes of sexual excitement). In mature love there is giving and receiving and the ability to accept and love the other for who he/she really is with their vulnerabilities and flaws. In love the partner matters as a human being with feelings and needs and not just as a means to an end (not just someone to depend on, not just someone to control etc.). In mature love you allow the other to be who they are even if it is very different to you. You see the other as a real, unique, equal and precious human being to who you give and from who you receive. For mature love you also need to value yourself as a precious human being who deserves love, acceptance and respect. In the words of one of the characters in the movie “The perks of being a wallflower”: “we accept the love we think we deserve”.
The mix of dependency longings (or fear of dependence), lust (or boredom as a result of inhibition of hostility) and the capacity or lack thereof to really see the other (and oneself) as a unique and precious person with needs, feelings and shortcomings play a role in who we consciously or unconsciously choose. Our life histories starting from birth creates the complex mix of these factors that play an intricate role in each person’s longings and fears and who we eventually enter a romantic relationship with.