Idealize others in romantic love

This is the second part of a series. Read part 1 here.

A “Big O” is a person, an Other, who generates in us a strong emotion and a strong attachment constraint. They are different from the others (little o’s) who don’t. We can be “in love” with all kinds of Big O, including our partners, children, celebrities, political and religious figures, and gurus.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore the issues that come with Big O’s love, and how other people’s overinflation diminishes and hurts us.

Love me save me

Most of us believe and hope that there is someone out there “for us”. An intimate partner with whom we will share our bodies, our minds, our desires and our fears. This belief is motivated by an often unconscious
for someone who will discover and come to know the good and the bad within us and, by their acceptance of our whole self, will integrate, heal and soothe that within us that has been invalidated, fragmented and hurt by what I describe as the five curses of being human.

Redemption by the Intimate Other is such a powerful ideal that it cannot fail to seduce us. What could be more liberating, joyful and heartwarming than to be known and loved for who we are?

When the love spell works, sex and bodily intimacy (which is a compelling part of romantic love) help us to be less
. Intimacy like this brings oblivion, ecstasy, and a release from the curse of consciousness and vulnerabilities that come with the ability to think about ourselves. In love, we feel both oneness and expansion which carries us far beyond the trivial, unpleasant, and boring concerns of mortal life.

We aspire to be with this person, to give up friends, work and established routines. The banal and limited thoughts of rational consciousness are called into question. We experiment
beyond consciousness
, floating, propelled and compelled by sensations, feelings and thoughts that now make the impossible feel within our grasp. With our beloved, we can make our dreams come true.

Unfortunately, we know, probably from personal experience, that this spell doesn’t last very long at all. In a regular drip or a sudden shower, we begin to notice that our loved one is not the perfect person we thought they were. They don’t meet all of our needs or remove that sense of unease, doubt and dissatisfaction that simmers beneath the surface of our lives. They have boring habits, smells, and beliefs. They frustrate us and forget about us. They or we cease to be the center of attention, and the vulnerabilities we share
we are now dismissed as failures and flaws.

Then, when sex is no longer new or exciting, and we still have to be intimate with our Other, this bodily proximity begins to remind us of the
body (theirs and ours). The rolls of fat, the squinting eye and the Roman nose that defined our lover and attracted us to him, and
him, are now peculiarities that must be corrected. We start to hint and suggest.

Why we fall in love with people like our parents

It is in our early relationship experiences, especially with our parents, that we learn what it means to be cared for, safe, approved, and loved. When love, security, and approval are highly conditional or absent, our earliest and most powerful memories of a relationship revolve around how to
to survive
rather than prosper. And this is the
in the parent-child relationship – the curse of the family – stored in our indestructible and easily activated threat brain, which then becomes our model for “love”, and which forces us to unconsciously seek people, especially in our most intimate relationships, which fit this problem pattern.

It’s a complex dynamic, and at first glance it seems totally irrational. Why on earth would we seek and fall in love with people who allow us to repeat our childhood problem patterns? Yet many of us are doing just that! Extreme examples are easy to recognize. Sexually abused children, for example, who end up with sexually abusive partners, or children of drug addicts who become or want to “save” a drug addict, and those from violent homes who associate love with aggression, jealousy and control.

One explanation for this seemingly irrational repetition compulsion is that our Romantic Other allows us to experience the same feelings and challenges that we faced growing up. This has two magical effects. First of all, we experiment
how to be with this person because we learned this particular dance in childhood. Feeling “in tune” with our Other creates the illusion of a match or adjustment, that that person is “the right one”.

Essential readings on relationships

Second, our subconscious sees an opportunity to
the past. This is
irresistible. The Romantic Other, by recreating the problematic patterns of our past, offers us the opportunity to relive those patterns, but in one way or another, this time,
them. By being nicer, smarter, more adoring and attractive, we can make
no one loves us and, as if the magic was really at work, where we once were not loved as children, we are now loved, where we were once incompetent, we are now able to. The sense of belonging, oneness and worth that we feel when we are with our romantic Other erases the pain and loneliness of the past.

Since we are all cursed to some degree, it’s not just those with extremely traumatized childhoods who look for other romantics to piece together and resolve issues from the past. When we set the bar for “abuse” so high, we fail to see how we
making relationship mistakes and how many of us have gone through the misery of waking up to the spell of romantic love.


And when we wake up, we dull back into the unwanted awareness of the ordinary, the imperfect, and the mortal. We have come full circle from forgetting ourselves to awakening – and awakening is still cruel.

Upon awakening, as anthropologist Ernest Becker writes,

We reclaim a reflection of our loved ones that is less than the greatness and perfection that we need to nurture ourselves. We feel diminished by their human flaws. Our interiors feel empty or anxious, our lives worthless, when we see the inevitable meanness of the world expressed through the human beings therein.

This is why we end, if we are not careful, to destroy the Others whom we once loved. We can’t bear to remember our failed solutions – something Oscar Wilde long contemplated during his lonely days in Reading Prison,

Yet every man kills the thing he loves,
By everyone let it be heard,
Some do it with a bitter air,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

The idealized romantic Other does not exist. None of us live without a curse, and the only people who can deliver that spell should be shadowless superheroes. Instead, in every relationship we do, to some extent, shadowbox with the other person’s unresolved issues and fears.

But because we’re under the spell, we can’t see their dark side. And so we persist and pursue the Intimate Other. Yet, it is only a matter of time before the spell breaks and the Other’s ordinary needs and shortcomings emerge.

learn from our cycles of illusion and disillusion as you explore our patterns of deeper, more honest relationships. Or, like many of us, we can turn away from these truths and find ourselves once again in the same repetitive relational loops.

About Harold Hartman

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