I can't help but take a moment's pause when I hear people profess to have experienced love at first sight; likewise, when men and women recount how they just knew their now-partners were their soul mates within minutes of meeting them. Are these sentiments possible to experience or are they, more likely, the projection of long-held fantasies -- stories people construct to tell themselves and the world around them that they made the best possible decisions in life and love? Frankly, the answer to why people say these sorts of things isn't important to me, but, as a dating coach, what is important is the way others may respond to such notions and impossible standards and the ensuing pressure they may feel to live up to them in their own love lives.
Lust at first sight, yes. Chemistry within minutes of meeting someone, sure. But knowing and feeling love and forever marriage instantly? Sorry, not buying it. In today's heady world of smartphones and texting and Tweeting, we might very well fool ourselves into believing that instant gratification can also apply to matters of the heart. If I can send and receive communication immediately, why can't I be in love with or love someone immediately? Just watch a few episodes of ABC's The Bachelor/ette to see this notion of instant love in action -- within three to four weeks of meeting the Bachelor or Bachelorette, while competing against 25 others for his or her heart, the "contestants" are already falling madly in love and declaring it so to the object of their affection. The phrase is bandied about more than a "get it, girl" at a toddler beauty pageant.
What does it mean to be in love or to love someone in the romantic sense, anyway? It sounds simple, but I think to love someone is to really know that person. But when we throw the term around so liberally, especially before really knowing someone, we ultimately dilute its meaning -- what it actually means to accept someone's heart and to give that person yours, fully. We also, as I mentioned, set up wildly unrealistic expectations for anyone looking for love, as if love has to be something that is experienced immediately.
In my work with women, I am constantly trying to snap them out of their fantasies when it comes to dating and love. It took years for me to learn these lessons: that love isn't about being swept off your feet, quickly winning someone over, feeling that elusive-yet-perfect lightning bolt from the very first meeting or feeling emotionally off-kilter. The seedlings of love begin when you let someone in the door. But, as I have learned, love only flourishes when you allow that person to come inside and stay awhile. It takes time to develop trust, vulnerability and real intimacy. It's not just about the good times and laughs (that's the easy stuff!); it's about loving someone despite their idiosyncrasies. It's not just about great sex (although I would argue that great love alone has the power to bring great sex; great sex alone rarely has the power to bring great love); it's also about feeling a sense of peace, comfort and emotional safety with someone. These things take time to develop.
We can't know if we love someone just by seeing them from across a crowded room; we can't know we are meant to be with someone after ten minutes of meeting them. So when you hear people talk like this, do not feel pressure to measure up to their notions of the perfect love tale. Understand that, often times, these are the fantasies people want to believe in, these are the romantic stories people choose to tell themselves and the world only after their love has had time to grow, after they've had time for a bit of a rewrite.
Follow Neely Steinberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/neelysteinberg