08/10/2013 11:35 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2013

When Love Is Longing

Hollywood has done a number on all of us. From the time we're old enough to ingest information, we're inundated with images and messages about love, romance, and marriage that are shrouded in a shimmery cloud of fantasy. There's nothing wrong with fantasy; the problems arise when fantasy and reality become blurred and we unconsciously absorb the unrealistic messages of, "You can have it all," and "Your Perfect Partner is waiting for you around the next corner," and "When you meet The One, you'll 'just know.'" We watch film after film and read novel after romantic novel that reinforce these damaging messages and then we wonder why our culture is so dysfunctional when it comes to love.

Much of Hollywood films are predicated on the theme that the story ends when the relationship begins. This means that for 90 minutes we're hooked on characters who are chasing after each other, always missing each other, both literally and emotionally, our longing building in direct proportion to their longing, watching them miss and then kiss and then miss each other again until -- ah! at last! -- they make mad, passionate love and then ride off into the proverbial sunset.

As a result of this programming, we're wired to equate love with longing, which means that the only time we feel in love and certain is when our partner isn't fully available.

We chase. We long. And then we think we're in love.

Here's the news flash: Love is not longing.

In order to understand this, you must understand a key dynamic that afflicts Western culture: The Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic. In a nutshell, in almost every relationship there's a pursuer and a distancer. The pursuer is the one who holds the certainty, the in-love feelings, and the apparent lack of fear. The distancer is the one who carries the doubt, the lack of love feelings, and is more often the one erecting walls and barriers of various kinds.

So when a client says, "I was so in love with my last partner. I didn't have any doubt at all," I immediately ask, "Were you the pursuer or the distancer?" To which they invariably respond, "The pursuer. My partner was never fully available and I always had the sense that there was one foot out the door." There's usually a thoughtful pause, and then,

"The only time I've experienced butterflies and certainty is when my partner wasn't fully available. Once the chase ended and I knew that he/she wasn't going anywhere, the walls went up and the doubt set in."

Most people who find their way to my work do so because they're the distancer and they're struggling with their lack of certainty, attraction and feelings of love. While it's not as fun to be the distancer, it also presents the opportunity to heal layers of fear that aren't activated otherwise. While it's difficult not to feel love and attraction for your partner, it's not a dealbreaker when you learn the Love Laws and consequent Loving Actions that will help you open your heart and grow your love garden.

In one of my favorite books, "We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love," Robert Johnson writes:

So much of our lives is spent in a longing and a search -- for what, we do not know. So many of our ostensible "goals," so many of the things we think we want, turn out to be the masks behind which our real desires hide; they are symbols for the actual values and qualities for which we hunger. They are not reducible to physical or material things, not even to a physical person; they are psychological qualities: love, truth, honesty, loyalty, purpose -- something we can feel is noble, precious, and worthy of our devotion. We try to reduce all this to something physical -- a house, a car, a better job, or a human being -- but it doesn't work. Without realizing it, we are searching for the Sacred. And the sacred is not reducible to anything else.

Our culture misdirects the basic and essential human longing for the sacred onto people and things, primarily love relationships. So what happens when you find yourself with someone who's fully available and there's no longing? Or if you fall "madly in love" only to find the feelings fade or disappear one day? Or if those intense feelings of passion were never there to begin with?

What typically happens is that you mistakenly assume that you're with the wrong person and that you don't really love them or love them "enough." And if you're prone to anxiety or are an over-thinker -- and you don't understand the normal, healthy trajectory of love and concepts like projection -- you'll likely find yourself spinning on the hamster wheel of anxiety asking unanswerable questions. (Do I love him enough? How can you answer that since love can't be quantified!)

That's when the work of learning about real love begins. And here's the paradox: When you let go of chasing the feelings but follow the Love Laws and take the subsequent Loving Actions, you can grow the feelings of love and attraction that you were seeking. Are you ready to learn about real love?

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at Conscious Transitions. She's now accepting registration for her new course, "Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner," which will begin on September 7th, 2013.

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