The fantasy about the perfect “One,” waiting for each of us somewhere, makes for good romance novels. But, it is not real. Still, I think that for all of us there exists at last a tiny thought that there is One out there; there is an Ideal person. This idea can come between us and the people we are intimate with. Set against the perfection of the One, everybody falls a little short. However, if you learn to communicate with another person heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul, you can give up the fictional ideal and learn to experience the wonder of the person you are with.
I remember sitting and talking with a friend of mine in his mother’s second story apartment. I was 19 or 20 at the time. He was telling me about his “One.” The apartment was on a corner, above a shop of some kind. It was only him and his mother living there. We were just a couple of nerds hanging around, doing nothing on a humid summer day. Then, he said something I have never forgotten. He said that he was sure there was a girl out there somewhere that he was going to be with, someday. He did not know who she was or what she was doing, but he knew she was there, and that she would be perfect for him.
He talked about how he imagined the things she did. Not anything dramatic. Just the little things she did as she went about her day, all the while not knowing that she would one day be with him. He seemed to be very taken by these mundane activities of her life, and how someday she would be doing them with him. Decades later I still remember him talking about this unknown girl — this perfect One. I also remember his palpable, lonely urge to be with her — this One who was waiting for him, somewhere.
I don’t know if he ever dated. We hung out a lot together. We were not cool guys. I do know that my life in the dating pool was pretty dismal. But, I don’t recall ever thinking that the “One” might be out there for me somewhere. I guess that I was so depressed about dating that I could not get this much hope together.
Not quite ten years later I met my wife. After a long time we are still married, and I have come to love her more and more as the years go by. She is the one I have chosen to spend my life with. Did I know when I met her that we would still be together, loving each other. No.
Like I said, I do not remember ever consciously thinking that there was one person out there, waiting for me. However, while I might not have thought that there was a perfect one for me, I did have images in my mind of perfect women. My wife was not perfect when measured against these ideals. Nobody was. The fact that she was not my idea of perfection may have prevented me from allowing our early relationship to be as deep as it could have been. I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that one day I became conscious that I had given everything I had to my wife. I was all in. Perhaps I had let go of any barriers or resistance I had to being in our relationship. Since then, my wife has become more and more beautiful (even as she complains about needing a face lift.)
I say that I became conscious that I had let go of any resistance — I did not say when this happened. I don’t know when it happened. Perhaps many years earlier … perhaps from the very beginning. So much happens beneath the surface of any relationship. The conscious mind is the last one to know; and sometimes never knows.
The lake analogy describes most of our relationships. At the surface of a deep lake there are lots of little waves that flash in the son and catch the eye, and some naively think that the waves are the lake. The real lake, however, lies below the surface. The same is true of a relationship. The day-to-day fun and friction of a relationship may be mistaken for the entirety of it, because that is what we are conscious of. The real relationship is often unseen; it is mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. If we work at it, we can learn to see below the surface. Perhaps I learned to see the real depths of our relationship, and became conscious of how complete it was.
I say all of this to put in context what I want to talk about in this article: The One, or the Ideal. The idea of the One is that there is some person, above all others, that exists for each of us. It is the idea that for everyone there is an ideal person who will fit perfectly and bring all the things that are missing in one’s life. You may call this person a soul mate, spiritual twin, other half, or whatever. Still, this person apparently possesses whatever it is that one lacks. The Ideal, on the other hand, is that perfect person against whom we measure the worth of all of the people we are with. Set against the One or the Ideal, pretty much anyone you or I know is not good enough.
I have asked myself the following question: I have only one life; is my wife someone to whom I can commit this one chance at existence? My answer is yes. The main reason I can say “yes” is that I have learned to be happy, and being happy makes possible my ability to be more open to our relationship, and to be satisfied with it. It is as simple as that. It took a long time to learn to be happy, and the culture in which we live did not help.
Unfortunately, society as it exists today is not about being happy. In today’s society, life is about getting stuff, doing stuff, and getting people around us who will make us happy. That is the way of the great consumer society that is Us.
The Great Lie of our culture: consumption = happiness
Consumption does not equal happiness. It just brings a desire for more consumption, until one explodes from over-consumption. I have written a lot about happiness; what it is, where it comes from, and what it is not. Each time I sit down to write about it the realization that consumption does not bring happiness hits me hard; because everywhere I look I see lives that revolve around endless consumption.
The ideas of the One and the Ideal are products of the desire to consume — to have more and better. They are based on life not being full, and not being satisfying. They are based on dissatisfaction with what is, and the belief that all of the things that we do not have are better than what we do have; and that having them will make us happy.
When we first get into a relationship with someone, we may believe that “Yes, this is the One.” Any relationship has a honeymoon period, and during this period that belief continues. In the case of marriage, the honeymoon seems to last a few years. One large study showed that getting married gives both the husband and wife a happiness boost for about two years.
So, what happens when the honeymoon is over? You start to look at your partner and think, “I have seen this movie before — many times.” The habits and quirks start to become annoying. Against the One or the Ideal, the person does not measure up. You may both start looking for something else to do.
Earlier I used a lake analogy. Let me use another one. The faults that you may begin to see in the person you are with are like bright tinsel-like flags that growers here in Northern California put in vineyards to distract the birds and keep them away from the grapes. Blinded and distracted by the tinsel the birds miss the good stuff.
It is the same with people. Someone may have a weight problem, may spend too much time working, or may not be good in bed. These are all far from the attributes of the One or the Ideal. The mind may consider all of these legitimate reasons to begin looking for someone else. They were not a problem during the honeymoon, but once that was over they can loom large. They can be the shiny tinsel that keeps you from the good stuff. If you are blinded and distracted by the tinsel, you may start to think that there must be someone else. You may start to believe that if you keep looking you will find your One or your Ideal.
Or, perhaps even worse, you stay with the person you are with, but you get stuck. Your relationship with that person stalls at the surface. You keep expecting perfection and the person persists in being what he or she is — “warts and all.” You allow the imperfections to stop you from accepting the person exactly as he or she is, and you never get to see the real wonder of that person.
There is no One out there waiting for you. There is no Ideal against which you should measure the person you are with. These are myths. Chasing after them is a waste of the one perfectly good life that you have been given. For a person bent on consumption — bent on finding the One or ideal — nobody is ever good enough. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is worth spending a lifetime with.
If there was enough to initially attract you to another person, and stay with that person long enough to get through the honeymoon period, then it is worth finding out if you can learn to experience the real joy of getting to know that person. Your mind may be giving you all kinds of reasons to start the process of withdrawal. Here is where you need to let go of the mind’s reasons for moving on — which admittedly may be convincing, since it is the job of the mind to be convincing.
Sure, sometimes one should just move on. Every relationship is not destined to be long term. However, it seems that many relationships that could have gone the distance were cut short because of the mind’s focus on the trivial obstacles of everyday life. Sometimes we head for the door before really getting to know the other person.
What lies below the surface of every being is an amazing person. It may require a leap of faith to be willing to look beyond surface appearances. But if you can, you may find something that you can experience in no other way. If you can get to the point where you are able to communicate soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart, then you can realize the promise that you perhaps felt when you were first attracted to the person.
What to do
If you want to find the kind of intimate relationship that you dream about, you need to learn to look beyond the obvious. There may be incredible joy in being with a person, but to find it you have to let go of the mind’s obsession with surface appearances; its obsession with the world of consumption.
As I learn to be happy, my relationship with my wife seems to get better and better. Learning to develop better relationships and learning to be happy seem to happen simultaneously. They both require that you let go of your attachment to your mind’s obsession with surface appearances and the world of consumption. They require you to be in the moment, in the here and now, so that you can see what is really happening inside of yourself and those around you.
You have to take control of your attention. You have to pull it away from your mind’s constant stream of commentary, which we call the stories of our lives. Once you can do that, you can find the happiness that is your true self, and you can begin to see the wonderful things lying below the surface of the people you are with.
Here is an exercise:
Sit in a meditative posture and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths to relax.
Bring to mind a person with whom you have (or had) an intimate relationship. Think of something about that person that you do not like. While holding that thing in mind, bring up a feeling of love for that person. As you continue to hold that thing in mind, bring up an intense feeling of love for that person.
Now, try to imbue with love whatever it is you do not like about that person. Try to turn that thing into something you love about that person.
For example, think of a time when the person embarrassed you. Envelop that thought with love. Think of a time when the person did not look very good. Turn that thought into love.
Remember a time when the person was unfairly angry with you. Turn that thought into love.
Turn all of your thoughts of the person into love, even if it seems unreasonable to do so.
What we are trying to do here is learn how to take control of attention, and focus it on love. Make no mistake, this is a radical act. The mind wants to focus on surface activities. It wants to focus on the story or drama of the other person. What we are trying to do here is turn that focus to the person’s core. The channel for doing this is love.
Love for each other is natural to us. Humans evolved to love each other and care for each other. As you focus on love for another you move closer to that person’s core. You disregard the drama. As you focus on love you also disregard your own drama (including your reactions to the drama of the other). By doing so you move closer to your own true self. You come closer to the happiness inside of you.
As you focus on love, you minimize the importance of the things that the person does, what the person looks like, and all of the other physical characteristics that are part of the world of consumption. They are not who the other person is. Just as your own physical characteristics are not you.
In a close relationship, where do you want your attention? You want it directed at the other person’s heart and soul. The communication that creates a deep loving relationship is heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. People are often boring. They do the same things, over and over. Hearts and souls are never boring. The depth of another person’s true self, when you come to know it, is endlessly fascinating.
 Lyubomirsky, Sonja, The How of Happiness (p. 49).