Valentines day reminds me of how good we are at burdening ourselves with unrealistic expectations
I saw something cute on Facebook this week. It was someone talking about being a working mother.
She said, “Working mothers are expected to work like they don't have children, and mother like they don't have a job.”
If it's one thing we've become very skilled at in the west, it's placing totally unrealistic expectations on ourselves
… and then beating ourselves up with a spiky stick when we don't live up to our own ridiculous ideals.
How much misery is this causing us right now? I'm not just talking about moody teenagers – at least they have the luxury of imagining that their future might be different.
I'm talking about everybody.
We should be cut like an Olympic athlete (no matter how old we are), as creative as cocaine-happy graphic designer, as up-to-date as a news anchor, as enlightened as a Himalayan man with no pants, as compassionate as a nun but as staunch as Donald Trump…
Ok, maybe I'm being a little specific here. Perhaps some of these are just me. But you get the point, and you probably have your own version of this drama playing out in your own head.
Unless we're careful, we tend to ask too much of ourselves, and then make ourselves miserable trying to keep up. It's a contemporary epidemic.
And love is the worst.
As I wander past the post Valentine's Day clutter in the dumpster outside my office – wilting roses and teddy bears and all that guff…
(seriously, ladies, I'm married. To the fellah who dropped off the golf clubs… thanks. They're very nicely weighted.)
… I'm reminded at just how much industry and endeavour is geared up into making us feel totally inadequate about our relationships.
And I feel like I'm seeing a shift.
We used to worry about whether our partner was ‘the one'. Taking our cue from 90s romantic comedies, we felt that our lover should knock us off our feet, and keep us there on the floor. If we tried to get up, they should knock us down again. And again.
Even at 5.30 in the morning, after you've both been up feeding the baby all through the night, she's got breast milk stains all down her singlet, he doesn't even know where his pants are… even in that moment, the sheer attractive power of your immutable soul bond should knock you on your arse.
Love is not being able to get up off the floor. Ever.
This is the fairy-tale and it's incredibly seductive.
It's starting to lose its grip on us though, slowly but surely.
At a conscious level (if not wholeheartedly) we can see that the fairy-tale is unrealistic BS. We get it.
However, I see it being replaced with fluffy personal development mantras. About being, self-sufficient, independent, complete on my own.
That we should love our partner like we love our I-phone. We deeply appreciate its sleek design functionality, and would be proper pissed if someone stole it, but ultimately, they're easily replaceable.
And you know, it is good to be independent. It's good if your own sense of self worth has nothing to do with whether there's someone on your arm or not.
However, a relationship should not be a theatre for the expression of independence.
That's not what relationships are about.
To me, relationships are a shared journey – towards shared and independent goals. To make it work, you need to think of yourself as a team.
And I mean that in a very sporting sense. You have to work as a team. You have to share your vision of what life is going to be about, and you have to work cooperatively, picking up slack and supporting each other wherever possible.
Great relationships work like well-oiled teams. Each person in the pair is independent and autonomous, but they understand their place and their role in the team, without saying.
It's not a theatre for expressing independence. There's no “I” in “Get with the program, dickhead.”
And what we don't realise is that both of these misguided notions of love – the co-dependent and the independent – both of these have been driven by the same merciless machine that makes us all miserable.
Our ancients never put so much stress on their relationships. Why?
There's probably a myriad of reasons, but I think on the whole, they were just generally more secure. They didn't need their relationship, or their relationship to the relationship, to make themselves feel ok about themselves.
And that's because advertising.
The marketing industry has totally inflamed our sensitivities to comparative worth. It's human to compare yourself to others. But only modern humans compare themselves to photo-shopped waifs on massive billboards…
… and to the centre half forward for North Melbourne, and to Richard Branson, and to the Dalia Lama….
And so we crave love because we want to know that we're ok. That we have a place within it all.
But love was never meant to carry this burden. Love was only ever meant to unite us in a hormone-driven dance of horny pants, and then transmute gently into a content shared-sense of companionship.
(That'll never be a pop song, but I think it's the reality of it.)
Asking anything more of love – and especially asking it to make you feel ok about yourself, is just asking too much.
You've got to find the right donkey for the right burdens.
How do we get back to the old ways of thinking about love? Do we want to?
How do we cultivate a greater sense of ‘team' in all our relationships?
How do we separate love from the need to feel ok about ourselves?