3 myths about love most people believe

Megan Holstein
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“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
— Rumi

There are a lot of things I can claim to have expertise in, but romantic love is not one of them. Unlike some people, who seem able to find fulfilling relationships the way college students find an extra fifteen pounds, satisfying romantic relationships have eluded me (so far).

Early this year, I decided to do something about that. In the last 20 days, I’ve read one book about how to find and maintain romantic relationships and started four more. The authors ranged from clinical psychologists to spiritual leaders to people who have been happily married for many years, sometimes all three.

After reading all of those books, some themes started to emerge. Different authors used different words, but they all communicated the same core concepts. This list is inspired by these core concepts. These are myths that either I or people close to me have doggedly believed in, myths I have discovered are lies:

Myth #1: Instant Infatuation Is A Good Thing

The myth: You’re looking for someone who fills your stomach with butterflies, who makes you weak at the knees, who occupies your thoughts day and night. You’re looking for someone who you fall fast and hard for — you’re looking for love at first sight.

Old Disney movies are a great example — the mermaid Ariel accepts a cursed deal with an evil octopus so she can chase after a man she’s never even spoken to. We the viewer are expected to view this wildly unstable and erratic behavior as sympathetic. Why? Because of the intensity of her infatuation. Her infatuation is so intense it must be true love… right?

The reality: The experts all said this is a dangerous myth. The majority of satisfying, happy relationships don’t start with a raging fire but instead, start with a series of satisfying casual interactions; dates that weren’t bad, but didn’t soak anyone’s undergarments, either.

That’s because intense early infatuation isn’t a sign of true love. In fact, early and intense infatuation seems to have very little to do with true love — most of the time, early infatuation is a red flag. Healthy marriages are characterized by low drama and high emotional safety, but relationships founded on early and intense infatuation are characterized by high drama and constant emotional turbulence. Emotional upheaval, no matter the source, is never a good foundation for a relationship.

In his book Deeper Dating, Clinical Psychologist Ken Page tells the story of a client who continued to date a man to whom she wasn’t immediately infatuated. Her risk paid off; they fell deeply in love.

My client Tina met Roberto in New York when he was visiting from Italy. She knew she liked him, but she wasn’t attracted enough to desire sex with him. She just wanted to cuddle and for them to hold each other. He invited her to visit him in Italy, but she wasn’t sure if she should make the trip. Speaking to her [friend], she said, “I don’t know if I should go all the way to Europe just to cuddle with someone.” Her wise friend replied, “Really? I can’t think of a better reason to go to Europe!” My client decided to take the trip, and over time she and Roberto fell deeply in love. She was wise enough to take all the time she needed, and he was wise enough to let her.
Ken Page, Deeper Dating

Of course, there exist stories of people who fell in love at first sight — but these stories are the exception, not the norm. In reality, the intensity of the initial attraction has little to do with the quality of the connection. True love isn’t about butterflies in your stomach. It’s about feeling at peace at your partner’s side. Imagine all the pain we could avoid if we took this lesson to heart.

Myth #2: Sexual Attraction Is About People’s Appearance*

*(Or style, or hygiene, or anything else superficial)

The myth: Sexual attraction is critical to a healthy relationship. A relationship can’t survive if the sexual fire goes out. Therefore, it’s important to pick someone you’re sexually attracted to — someone who makes your underwear wet when they wink at you, who keeps you continually filled with desire.

The reality: Sexual attraction is critical for a healthy relationship (assuming you’re not asexual or have a naturally low libido), but it doesn’t come from someone’s physical body, it comes from who they are.

Yes, the sexual fire of early relationships burns hot, but not because it’s a sign of true love. Early relationships burn hot because of novel sex and the end of a dry spell, not because of cupid’s arrow.

True sexual compatibility, the kind that lasts, comes from emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is built over years of vulnerability and courage, not a few weeks of passionate eye-gazing and novel sex.

My favorite illustration of this concept is also from Deeper Dating. In it, Ken shares the full story of Mark, a man who mistakenly believed he should prioritize a woman’s physical appearance over the quality of their emotional connection:

Mark had a tough upbringing. His mother died when he was young and his dad was very passive. Mark had no real mentors, no guides to help him get through the trauma of the loss of his mother. His life felt like a constant struggle until he found his calling as a physical therapist. That’s when he met Sarah.
Mark had only been practicing for about six months when he got his first referral to work with someone at home. The first session was terrible. In his words, “I knocked on the door and there was this woman with a little girl next to her. She actually ordered me around, telling me how to work on her. There was no physical attraction for either of us. She was quite difficult.” Mark never thought the arrangement would last.
Well, it did last. They’ve been together twenty-two years and counting. “That door I knocked on? That was the door of the house I’m standing in right now, twenty-two years later. And that little girl is now my stepdaughter, and I have a stepson as well.”
As they worked, Sarah and Mark grew very close, but it was strictly platonic. They became each other’s best friend. One day, something shifted without their even realizing it. They looked at each other in a strange way, and that was it. Lust was in full bloom — and it was amazing for both of them. After that, Sarah started to get serious about Mark, but Mark was sure she wasn’t a good match for him. He was used to dating stunning model types, and Sarah, though attractive, was not a model type. He didn’t want to settle. Attraction was too important. Great friends, yes. Great sex, yes. But marriage? No way!
Mark says, “Now I can admit that I was a shallow person. I wasn’t in touch with my intimate feelings. I wasn’t in touch with love. And now all of a sudden I was starting to feel deeply for this person. I was completely confused. One part of me felt, ‘Wow, she’s amazing, she makes me happy. I have this incredible friendship and fantastic sex with her. She’s so smart. I feel so good around her, I feel so empowered and so great.’ And the other part knew I wasn’t physically attracted to her enough. That was huge for me.”
Mark was in such turmoil that he knew he had to go back to therapy to work on this issue. He had to face that the issue was rooted in his need to build his self-esteem by having someone attractive on his arm. There was so much rich love, intimacy, and sexual adventurousness with Sarah. Mark knew that if he could work through this and break through his barrier, it would make him a better person and that he would have a happier life. That was the guy he wanted to be. But Mark wasn’t that guy yet.
“The pain was so powerful, I can’t explain it,” Mark said. “I was killing myself thinking, ‘How can I let this relationship die?’ It was like a roller coaster every day. Because if I didn’t marry her, I didn’t know what would happen to me. She completed me. She made me a better person. And I knew we would both flourish further if we could be together. But that one hang-up about looks was so powerful that I couldn’t shake it.”
Finally, Mark just broke it off. He told Sarah, “I just can’t do it.” Sarah agreed that it wasn’t working and that it was time to stop trying. They spent three months apart. After about a month or two, they didn’t even e-mail. They were over. Mark barely even thought about her.
Sarah went through her own tumultuous journey as she wrestled with her relationship to Mark. She had previously been in a very painful marriage, and had finally ended it. In retrospect, she sees that though she was brave enough to end the marriage, she was still looking for a Prince Charming to save her. Mark may have wanted a swimsuit model, but Sarah wanted a successful guy with a lot of money. For two years she and Mark had been on again, off again. At a certain point they stopped telling their friends when they were breaking up or getting back together because they felt they had lost all legitimacy as a couple. When Sarah agreed with Mark that they should end it for good, she warned him not to come back unless he was 100 percent ready to get married. And when she did that, a calm came over her that she hadn’t felt in years.
Sarah says, “When I broke up with Mark, that’s when I finally felt like I was steering my own ship. I really was great with the kids. I became a much better mother, I just became much more relaxed. And surprisingly enough — I guess it’s not that surprising — I became very popular. I started dating like crazy.”
One of the people Sarah dated was getting very serious about her. He even wanted to marry her. Sarah wasn’t ready, but she was happy with how things were going — with him, and in her life as a whole. Mark was content too — until his whole world changed.
To this day Mark is still shaken as he remembers what happened next. He was back in his apartment with an old girlfriend of his. She was stunning, and the sex was great, but there was nothing of substance there. It was about one o’clock in the morning, and Mark was fast asleep. All of a sudden he woke up, startled. It was as if someone started shaking him, saying, “What are you doing, Mark? What are you doing?” He jerked awake, in a cold sweat. He remembers his sense of panic as he thought, “Oh, my God, what have I done? I’ve lost Sarah.” He asked himself over and over again, “What am I going to do?”
This is what Mark did: First thing in the morning, he grabbed his best friend to shop for a ring. Then he rushed to Sarah’s house to propose to her. Sarah turned him down — for about thirty minutes. She was still angry, but she knew she loved him, and she knew he loved her kids. The marriage was for all four of them, and she knew it was what they all wanted.
Remembering his experience that night, Mark says, “I believe it was my mother who shook me awake. She died when I was really young. I could feel that this person who ‘shook me’ cared deeply about me and my life. It was as if she were saying, ‘Listen, wake up. You’d better get over there fast or your life is not going to be what it could be.’ And I felt my mother’s presence.”
Mark had one more thing he wanted to tell me: “Once I made that decision, the roller coaster ended for me. I didn’t feel that anguish anymore. I look at Sarah today and she’s twenty years older than when I was having concerns about her appearance. She’s older, she’s not as toned; that’s just what happens with age. I’m not blind to reality. Yet it doesn’t bother me. I love her more than ever. I love her completely.
“But it wasn’t an intellectual choice. That’s the beauty of it. I believe that what happened with me is that I changed. I was willing to really look deep into myself and grow. My choice made me so much of a better person. I almost spent my whole life trying to pick the person who fit my exact physical type, and in the end, it wouldn’t have meant anything. I’ve grown so much over the last twenty years, and I continue to grow, and it’s because I have the person of my dreams who is helping me grow. That’s the most important thing of all.”
Ken Page, Deeper Dating (pp. 94–97)

Obviously, if you’ve built some emotional intimacy with someone and you still have no sexual desire for them, it’s possible you’re just not attracted to them. But sexual compatibility is about so much more than someone’s physical appearance; it’s about who they are inside as well.

Myth #3: You Need To Do Something To Stand Out In The Dating Marketplace

The myth: The dating market is a meat market. You need to be at the top of your game to stand out — you need to be in good shape, doing well in your career, charismatic, and funny, or you will be passed over in favor of something better.

The reality: Your dream relationship is presumably one where you are loved for who you are, not what you look like or how much money you make. But if you spend your time worrying overmuch about how you look or how much money you make, you are going to end up with someone who values you for those things instead of who you are on the inside.

Instead, focus on being the best version of yourself that you can be. Decide what makes you happy, and chase that with all your heart, regardless of what people think. Become someone you like, not someone you think others will like. Nobody can love you for who you are on the inside if you do not show people who you are on the inside.

My favorite quote on this topic is from a great article called “Am I Single Because Of How I Look”:

I’m not single because of the way I look… I look the way I do because I want to. Because this version of my physical appearance makes me happy. No, I don’t look like the pouting Instagrammer in an infinity pool in Thailand, and I never will. But the way I look is no less desirable to the person who is right for me. In my house, in my mirror, beauty will always be up to the individual, and their unique tastes, and nothing will ever be altered or “improved” in order to get the attention of a member of the opposite sex. Because in the right relationship for me, the way I look right now will already have it.
Refinery29, Shani Silver, “Am I Single Because Of How I Look

Ultimately, you will need to work hard to attract someone — but instead of working hard in order to make someone desire something superficial about you, you will be working hard to be the best version of yourself, so that the one who will love you for who you are inside can find you.

Like anything that’s important in life, there is no formula for success. There’s no system that will instantly make manifest the relationship of your dreams. But if we keep the right beliefs in mind and keep searching, I firmly believe we’ll all find our perfect match eventually.

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Self-help writer with 3M+ views on Medium and Quora. Covering personal growth, relationship skills, and career growth.

Columbus, OH
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