In high school, one person defined everything I could ever need in a partner: Leonardo DiCaprio. Growing up in Los Angeles, I did cross paths with him, he even went to my high school, but this isn’t an article about my crazy obsession with DiCaprio or an even crazier quest to begin a relationship with him. This is just to say that I had a picture in my mind of who I would meet and why they would be perfect for me, and I found him.
A charismatic, tall and slender, boyishly handsome, cigarette-smoking blond became my first love before I turned 18. He was slow to grow any noticeable facial hair, just like DiCaprio. He played bass, unlike DiCaprio, but this only worked in his favor. Perhaps it goes without saying that he and I did not marry or have children. We didn’t even make it four months. And while this micro example can’t accurately represent relationships as a whole, I was slow to learn a valuable lesson in this experience.
As an adult in later relationships, I found that the same tendency to paint a pretty picture of the “perfect man” followed me. That picture changed—more facial hair—and perhaps got a little more complex—gets along with kids, eats healthy, drives safely—but the essential design in my approach to meeting dudes was identically flawed. The long and unarticulated list of needs and desires projected onto an ideal body type and personality was a real set up for failure. And not just for me. No human being will fit a premeditated list, and in merely attempting to, he has already failed. Who wants somebody who’s always busy trying to make somebody else happy? And who’s gonna keep time until those efforts become a minefield of resentments and pent-up anger bombs?
And my failure in such a circumstance is of course that I don’t ever get to know a real person. It’s a fantasy, a life away from the unimaginable and surprising joy and fulfillment that comes from learning to live with and love another person exactly as they are. Of course, there is inevitable pain, annoyance, and struggle that comes from such an endeavor, but a wise woman once told me that the degree to which you feel pain is the degree to which you open yourself up for happiness. Tell me that ain’t the truth? But be sure not to get it twisted: I’m talking about pain as a result of life experience: death, loss, bankruptcy, heart break, divorce, even poverty and tragedy. These things, while horrible and inexplicable and unfair, crack us open to a spectrum of feeling and experience in life we never could have otherwise. That is, unless we allow them to get the best of us and we shut down. That shut down is a kind of pain that can be helped and prevented in most cases, and it’s also the kind of pain that will wreck relationships before they ever really have a chance to begin.
I wonder if it’s that shut down state that makes us—men and women—create these fantasy lists for a significant other. That our own fear of feeling any kind of pain again and our own immaturity in being able to cope with pain keep us from allowing for possibility and mystery and unexpected experiences and people from coming into our lives. I wonder if we make those lists based on the latest rom com we’ve seen or on a pop ballad on the radio while driving home at sunset because the fantasy seems safe.
The trouble is that it always catches up with you, one way or another. Pain is unavoidable, in other words. Well thanks, lady, you might be thinking. But here’s the good news, as far as I’m concerned: life faced ready for hardship and excited for adventure and challenges and wonderful twists of fate that land you in a place you never could have dreamed of or even seen on the big screen is what makes all this worth doing.
So the next time you’re across from a new sweetie at a dinner table, or even from your old one, and thinking about all the things s/he is doing that doesn’t fit your dream mate, consider tossing that dream in the trash and looking for the dreaminess in the character right in front of you.