Thirty-five years later, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor wrote a song called “Love is Not Enough”. Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and grotesque and disturbing videos, freed himself from all drugs and alcohol, married a woman, had two children with her and then canceled entire albums and tours for to be able to stay home and be a good husband and father.
One of these two men had a clear and realistic understanding of love. One of them didn’t. One of these men idealized love as the solution to all of his problems. One of them didn’t. One of these men was probably a narcissistic idiot. One of them was not.
In our culture, many of us idealize love. We see it as an excellent panacea for all life’s problems. Our films, our stories and our history celebrate it as the ultimate goal of life, the final solution to all our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overestimate it. As a result, our relationships pay a price.
When we believe that “all we need is love”, like Lennon, we are more likely to ignore core values like respect, humility and commitment to the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, why bother with all the other things, all the difficult things?
But if, like Reznor, we believe that “love is not enough,” we understand that healthy relationships require more than pure emotion or high passions. We understand that there are more important things in our lives and relationships than simply being in love. And the success of our relationships depends on these deeper and more important values.
Three hard truths about love
The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations of what love really is and what it can do for us. These unrealistic expectations sabotage the very relationships we love in the first place. Let me illustrate:
1. Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner to be with for the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t mix very well.
It is possible to fall in love with someone who doesn’t treat us well, who makes us feel worse about ourselves, who doesn’t have the same respect for them as we do, or who has a life so dysfunctional that it threatens to make us fall in love with them.
It is possible to fall in love with someone who has different ambitions or goals in life that are contradictory to ours, who has different philosophical beliefs or worldviews that clash with our sense of reality.
It is possible to fall in love with someone who sucks for us and our happiness.
It may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.
When I think of all the disastrous relationships I’ve seen or the people who emailed me, many (or most) of them were established on the basis of emotion – they felt that “spark” and then they went. headlong. Forget that he was a reborn Christian alcoholic and she was a bisexual necrophiliac junkie. He was just beautiful.
And then six months later, when she throws her shit on the grass and he prays to Jesus twelve times a day for her salvation, they look around and wonder, “Wow, where did he go wrong?”
The truth is, he went wrong even before he started.
When you go out and date, you shouldn’t just use your heart, but your mind as well. Yes, you want to find someone who gets your heart racing and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But it is also necessary to evaluate a person’s values, how he treats himself, how he treats his loved ones, his ambitions and his view of the world in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you … well, as the South Park ski instructor once said, you’re going to have a hard time.