The compulsive search for the perfect other arises in people who cannot tolerate the beloved having problems. Flaws in the beloved cause the person to trash the relationship and pursue a new quest for a perfect beloved. The person becomes so profoundly disillusioned with a flawed beloved, that he is unable to work on problems and resolve them.
The experience of falling in love is in direct response to special qualities of the beloved. By insisting that it is this unique man or this unique woman, the lover rejects any notion that individuals are interchangeable. In this way, love becomes a celebration of individuality. Romantic love is antithetical to promiscuity in which the interchangeability of lovers is stressed.
The lover comes to value all the characteristics of the beloved. This does not mean love is blind, as some claim, but that the lover’s appraisal will be significantly different from that of objective acquaintances. Love has always been experienced as a response to something outside of us-if not the qualities of the beloved, Cupid’s arrows, or love potions. The author, Stendahl, describes this as the thunderbolt. This song from South Pacific, ”Some enchanted evening”, conveys the experience.
Some Enchanted Evening
Emile: Some enchanted evening You may see a stranger, you may see a stranger Across a crowded room. And somehow you know, You know even then That somewhere you’ll see her Again and again.
Some enchanted evening Someone may be laughing’, You may hear her laughing’ Across a crowded room. And night after night, As strange as it seems The sound of her laughter Will sing in your dreams.
Who can explain it? Who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, Wise men never try.
Some enchanted evening When you find your true love, When you feel her call you Across a crowded room. Then fly to her side, And make her your own Or all through your life you May dream all alone.
Once you have found her, Never let her go. Once you have found her, Never let her go!
Click on the link below to hear the song:
A barrier to loving is a person who cannot tolerate her beloved having problems. These are people who begin with very high hopes for the relationship. They rapidly idealize her beloved. How do we understand this process of idealization? The child creates a concept of the good mother who will gratify all his needs. This is based on the image of mother’s ability to gratify many of her needs, but the child superimposes on the real life mother the fantasy of total bountifulness.
Parents inevitably disappoint the child and the child devalues them. However, the child cannot exist in a world without parents because that would mean no hope of being loved and protected. The child splits off the disappointment in the parent and creates a bad parent in his mind distinct from an ideal good one. The split off bad experience of the bad parent is forgotten about. There develops a concept of an ideal perfect other that remains in the forefront of consciousness. This image of the ideal parent becomes part of the lover’s quest for the beloved. The disappointing beloved is devalued. The person cannot exist in a world without a dream of a perfect beloved and so she is compelled to create and search for a perfect dream beloved as soon as she trashes the former beloved. This is essential to do to sustain hope of finding love. That ideal perfect other is projected onto the beloved and is one source of idealization.
This ideal good parent or beloved is defensive. This image defends against the unbearable fear that the parent or the beloved is really bad; a monster. People who have difficulty tolerating imperfections in the beloved are people who expect the beloved to have no flaws. The beloved is either all good when he/she gratifies or all bad; a monster, when he disappoints. When the beloved disappoints, all the disappointing experiences with the disillusioning parent come flooding back. The beloved is trashed. Lovers who can’t tolerate imperfection in her beloved have very unstable social lives. He repetitively trashes his imperfect beloved and is compelled to search for a new one to replace her. Her work life might be quite stable in contrast to her love life. He cannot tolerate the beloved having problems of her own and work with these problems as part of working on the relationship. Psychoanalytic Theory calls these people borderline. Love’s critics point to this phenomena when they call romantic love – madness.
Psychoanalytic therapy offers a remedy for people who are prone to this kind of rapid disillusionment. People transfer feelings that they have about their parents onto the therapist. She may transfer an expectation that the therapist be selfless and devoted to her needs above all else. The therapist, for example, should never leave them or always be available immediately if they are in crisis. When the therapist fails to do this, the person becomes disillusioned with the therapist. He then can be helped to be less disillusioned if the therapist can help the person understand the therapist’s unavailability in more benign terms. The person over time develops a capacity to tolerate a less than perfect therapist. Since the therapist is a representative of the larger community this tolerance is extended to the yet undiscovered beloved waiting to be found.
Early idealization involves a global overestimation of all the beloved’s qualities. Early idealization is vulnerable to disillusionment. Later idealization of the other is less global. Later idealization evolves into an idealization of the beloved’s value system and his ethical, political, cultural and aesthetic values. This more realistic appraisal will guarantee love lasting. Later idealization is possible with people who haven’t suffered too much disappointment in childhood. This enables them to develop an idea that the same mother may sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. A more gratifying childhood enables the person to tolerate ambivalence in relationships.
The movie “Fatal Attraction” illustrates the process of early global idealization. Glen Close and Michael Douglas meet in a bar. She is seductive and compliant; he is charming. They decide to go to bed together and have a wonderful time. He tells her in the morning that it was a great night together, but he’s married and won’t be seeing her again. She is so disillusioned that she flies into a rage and proceeds to try to kill his wife and children. Michael Douglas becomes the bad parent and all Glen Close’s disappointments in prior loves come flooding back. She simultaneously creates in her mind the image of a perfect beloved that she will later be compelled to search for.
I can understand Glen Close being a bit miffed by Michael Douglas’s disclosure. I could see her being somewhat disappointed that he didn’t disclose this in the beginning before they went to bed together. However, one would think that if there had been enough love for Michael Douglas for Glen Close to choose to go to bed with him to begin with, the love would have tempered the hate. Why didn’t it? One reason is that Glen Close, in her initial idealization of Michael Douglas, projected a very high ideal other onto him. She projected a perfect man who had no flaws. She needed to project this because of underlying fears that he had many flaws. Her idealization defended against an unconscious fear that he was a monster. When he failed to achieve perfection, she became very disillusioned. He became a monster, a devil.
The movie “As good as it gets” illustrates another form of loving. Helen Hunt works as a waitress in a restaurant. Jack Nicholson is a customer who frequents the restaurant. He suffers from a severe obsessive compulsive neurosis that make it difficult to wait on him and causes some discomfort to other patrons of the restaurant. He has several obnoxious habits and mannerisms that are at times offensive. He also has some charming, tender qualities that are endearing. He becomes romantically interested in Helen Hunt. Although Helen is aware of Jack’s good qualities, she is concerned about his obnoxious habits and talks with her mother about her dilemma. Her mother says, “Honey, maybe this is as good as it gets.” The capacity to tolerate ambivalence and realize no one is perfect is characteristic of later idealizations. One might suspect that Helen Hunt can do this because in her idealization of Jack, she has a more toned down ideal other that she has projected onto him. Similarly, her ideal other is probably more focused on the values and interests that her beloved has and that they share. The capacity to tolerate ambivalence is essential for romantic love lasting and for deep relationships.