The “One” Does Not Exist: Or, go ahead and pretend that it does…

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I must admit, as an independent and self-proclaimed feminist, I feel somewhat shameful about wanting a partner and feeling not quite whole without one. But it seems impossible to avoid. We live in a culture obsessed with love, romance, and finding the perfect partner—the one. It’s in our love stories, myths, legends, and poems: that one person who will sweep us off our feet and accept us unconditionally, with all our endearing, or not so endearing, quirks. It seems that girls are particularly programmed to grow up wondering, “Where is this person who holds the key to my happiness?”

So, is there a one that we should be searching for? Are our relationships failing simply because we haven’t met the one?

Not according to American columnist and sex expert Dan Savage. “The one does not fucking exist… Everyone in reality, at best, is more like a .67 and you round up! The one is a lie… But the beautiful part of the lie is that it’s a lie you can tell yourself.”

So how do we make sense of this? Should we give up on searching for our soul mate and just settle?

For all you romantics out there (and I am one of them), just because the one does not exist does not mean that you cannot find deep, meaningful love. According to many researchers and love experts, the real challenge of a relationship is not finding the perfect match, but rather learning to tolerate imperfections.

Oh shit, you’re not perfect

It’s important we recognize that the idea of being deeply in love with one special partner over a whole lifetime, what we call romantic love, is a fairly new idea. Prior to the 20th century, people lived together without very high expectations of being blissfully content doing so. “You work and provide, I’ll pop out the babies,” was pretty much the gist of it. Historically, marriage was primarily driven by socioeconomics and the idea of marriage based solely on romantic love began to spread only in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Today, we can become overwhelmed trying to find the perfect blend of sex, affection, raising a family, career, and material security. No wonder dating and relationships are so hard! We seek a partner who embodies all of these things, and often find ourselves disappointed and unsatisfied. The disillusionment that naturally occurs, according to couples therapist Melissa Schneider, is the crux of the problem: “As we grow unhappy or hurt, we spend a lot less time thinking about the things we appreciate, admire, or love about our partner.” Our attention grows selective and we tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive traits of our partners. Did she always chew her food so loudly? How many times a day does he need to talk to his mom? Where is this joke even going? The snoring you once described to your friends as “adorable,” makes you want to put a pillow over his head (ok maybe that’s too far).

Four Simple Steps to Letting Go of Your Anger

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative

couple holding hands sunset

If we are doomed to be disappointed in our partners, does that also mean we are doomed to fail at our relationships? The good news is research says that’s not necessarily true. Scientists have found that if you can fight this negative attention bias by purposefully shifting your focus to your partner’s good qualities, you can enhance the quality of your relationship. It’s fine if your partner isn’t perfect, but you can tell yourself that he or she is pretty close to the ideal partner for you. This won’t be easy (or natural) for a lot of us, but the research behind it is strong! Practice positive illusions.

For years, researchers have found a consistent, positive correlation between partner-enhancement and relationship satisfaction. These partner-enhancements, what psychologists call “positive illusions,” suggest that feeling better about your relationship because you think your partner is better than they actually are also leads to an increase in your overall well-being. You might be wondering how thinking your partner is great could be beneficial. The benefits of illusions may occur because we can’t always distinguish between reality and illusions. As a result, it appears as beneficial to merely believe that a partner possesses desirable characteristics that he or she actually does not have than to have a partner who actually possesses those desirable characteristics.

Illusions, or the narratives we choose to create, may be central to long-lasting romantic love. Yes, this requires creating an elaborate, and somewhat fictional, story that either embellishes a partner’s virtues and overlooks, or at least minimizes, various faults. Enhancing a partner’s qualities is critical for maintaining the belief that this partner is the one and for protecting the relationship from doubt. Helen Fisher explains that this attitude is not that of faking, but rather of “making belief.”

 

You’re not perfect, but I can pretend you’re pretty close

“Love sees not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is wing’d
Cupid painted blind.” – William Shakespeare

In the early stages of romance, lovers are often blind to the beloved’s negative traits and tend to create an idealized image of the beloved. If only we could remain blind! It seems that if we maintained some of those illusions and idealizations that drove us together, we would be able to sustain our relationships for the long haul.

Now, there are some things you should not be blind about. For example, you cannot, and should not, hold on to a positive illusion of an abusive and dishonest partner. You should, for the most part, feel happy and satisfied in your relationship.
You get to decide what flaws you can tolerate in a partner. List the things you’re willing to put up with in a relationship and the things that you’re not. This is what Dan Savage calls “The Price of Admission.” And knowing the things you want and don’t want often comes from failed relationships. I used to think that it was so important for my partner and I to share the same taste in music, podcasts, and TV shows. Now I know that my partner and I don’t have to have everything in common and what I value more is someone who is adventurous and likes to go out. I can watch Making a Murderer and dance to Manu Chao with other people, or by myself.

Disney-ish Ending

A beautiful thing about all of this is that we are often aware of our partners’ positive illusions of us, and according to Dan Savage, “we then are obligated to live up to the lies we told each other and about who we are – we are then forced to be better people than we actually are, because it’s expected of us by each other.” This is how relationships can be transformative, and wonderful.

 

 

Negar Morshedian, MHC-LP
KIP Fellow

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