There’s no such thing as the perfect soulmate, someone who meets all your specifications. Deep love is a lot messier than that.
You tell the stories of many people—including yourself—who seem to have been almost emotionally destroyed by unrequited love. Is this just a natural, if unpleasant, part of being human?
Unrequited or obsessive love—the kind that hurts the most and inflicts the deepest damage—is so common that it cannot legitimately be considered pathological; studies have shown that 98 percent of people suffer from such passions (on one side or the other, and mostly on the receiving end) at some point in their lives. But it’s important to remember that even people who are entangled in such relationships usually function quite well in other aspects of their lives; even though it’s a wretched experience, the emotional destruction is not fatal by any means. And, luckily, most of them—thank goodness I can count myself among their number—eventually get over the compulsion to love those who cannot return their feelings. There are exceptions, of course—people who compulsively get involved in these excruciating types of relationships their entire lives, as though inaccessibility is a prerequisite for them to feel desire.
What can help those who are consistently drawn to people who don’t love them back?
What allows a person to turn from the unloving to the loving is self-knowledge, experience in living, and maturity. Therapy is of enormous help in figuring out what in your past and in your relationships with your parents predisposes you to this. In the book I explore my own doomed affair at age 19 and the insights that liberated me from it; I think readers can relate.
What's the most common misconception people have about romantic love?
The most common misconception that I have seen among patients, friends, and interview subjects is that somewhere there is a perfect soulmate, tailored to your specifications, who is waiting to be discovered, and that only he or she can fulfill you and meet all your needs. Another related, equally pernicious fantasy is that you can get someone to love you even though that person does not love you. However, by understanding your past and what attracted you to those who cannot reciprocate your devotion, you can find a true soulmate at any age, even if the person is radically different from your youthful ideal. Luck, as Louis Pasteur said, favors the prepared mind.
Why can people become so obsessed with former or fantasized lovers? Is it that they really want to be with this person, get married, and experience the humdrum of daily life and chores together—or is it something else?
I don’t think the urge to share the humdrum of daily life has a central place in our fantasies about undoing rejection, betrayal, or the torments of obsession. What we are really trying to do is undo the past, to repair childhood experiences of devastating abandonments, usually by parents, by making a latter-day relationship come out differently. It is a refusal to mourn and to accept that we were powerless to change pain that has already happened that causes us to continue to pursue those who don’t love them.
What led you to write The Golden Condom?
The first essay in the book, “Leaving Unloving Lovers and Unfriendly Friends,” tells the story of abandonment by a friend. When I was in the hospital for a month with a serious illness and asked my most intimate woman friend to come to see me and bring me food, she failed to appear, leaving me to wait desperately for her into the night. She never explained or apologized, but called two years later to ask advice from me when she was hospitalized herself. As I struggled to decide whether to return her telephone message, I found myself singing songs about betrayal by lovers. Why, I wondered, did these songs some to mind? An earlier, equally devastating and strangely similar memory came flooding back: how the man I loved in college, who was maddeningly inconstant, had also kept me waiting by the phone the night before he was to leave forever and said only a cursory goodbye the next morning on his way out of town. The identical abandonment by two people who felt indispensible to me, one whom I loved passionately and the other who had been my soulmate for decades, made me realize that feelings for friends and for lovers are much more closely related than we imagine. A woman can hurt you as much as a man, you can behave masochistically with either one, and whoever it is should be left behind.
What is the most important point that you want to get across?
I want readers to know that it is often possible—if you really work at it—to recover experiences of joy and meaning from even the most devastating relationship. These can never be taken from you, even if you are abandoned by the one you love. In the last essay, “Recovering the Good from a Love Gone Bad,” I recount my own successful efforts to rediscover precious things that I got from both the lover of my youth and the intimate friend of my maturity, despite the ways each of them ultimately betrayed me. I did this without forgiving either of them or wanting to rekindle either bond, but by containing in consciousness both the wonderful and terrible aspects of my relationship with each of them.
Who would most benefit by reading this book?
I hope and believe that all lovers and would-be lovers, of any age, can identify with someone in this book and that these intimate stories of love’s many faces will illuminate their own experience.
About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.
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