Notes from the dating world:
Over sushi, we talked about couples who spend the majority of their time together —working, playing, family events – and couples who do their own thing and then come together for twenty minutes to an hour at the end of the day. He said he preferred to spend the majority of his time with his partner, including running errands, childrearing, leisure activities, etc.
I found his response both wistfully sweet and slightly unsettling.
While one part of me imagined lightheartedly playing bumper carts at Costco another part recalled a time of uneasiness when my then-husband decided it would be nice to run on the treadmill next
to me at the gym every week. Back then, that hour on the treadmill —headphones in place, daydreams in sync with my iPod selections — was a precious time of reflection and self-renewal. His close proximity and sporadic attempts at conversation popped that personal bubble. I remember desperately needing that space but also feeling sickly guilty for not wanting to be by his side like he wanted to be by mine.
Lover = Best Friend?
I remember a snarky article in Oprah’s O Magazine a few years ago that said spouses who call their mate their best friend don’t have a real best friend (picture Oprah/Gayle). Insinuating that the closeness, honesty and big laughs granted a good friend are not possible or very different from the relationship you have with your spouse.
At that time in my life, I agreed.
In the Wall Street Journal article, Advice for a Happy Life by Charles Murray – Murray defines a soul mate as, your closest friend to whom you are also sexually attracted. My ex-husband and I were not especially emotionally intimate or passionately sexual. We were a team, a partnership. We ran errands together, had our weekend routines and upheld traditional roles within our home. I didn’t feel a soul mate or best friend connection.
Fantasy bond or real love?
I find the word lover more appealing than the word husband. I think I know why. Lover implies an individual who you are sexually active with and intensely attracted to. Husband is a conventional role that conjurs up images of someone who is half of a whole. Not an individual but a component in a relationship. Someone you run errands with instead of gazing into each other’s souls.
In his article, The Fantasy Bond:A Substitute for a Truly Loving Relationship, Dr. Robert Firestone describes a fantasy bond as, the antithesis of a healthy personal relationship where individuals are free to express their real feelings and desires. Couples in the throes of a fantasy bond appear like a solid whole unit from the outside but have no substance underneath. They rely on habitual contact and routines to serve as affection. Lovemaking is less frequent and mundane. Individual interests are sacrificed for the good of the family/relationship.
Why do fantasy bonds form?
Most people have some fear of intimacy and become self-protective. Perhaps they have been psychologically hurt as a child or a previous relationship failed causing them great pain. Exposing yourself to rejection or potential loss (including death) is anxiety provoking. In order to save themselves from suffering they develop illusory intimacy based on safe routines and conventional actions. I love you said as a habit as you turn off the lights. Pecks on the cheek instead of slow tender kissing. Using we way more than I. I’ll do the laundry for you if you take my car in for an oil change. While thoughtful caregiving and household teamwork is practical and always appreciated, it can spell trouble when it is substituted for true intimacy.
While some of us may fall in love with the idea of being a couple, most of us fall in love with the enthusiasm, perspective, sense of humor, passion, style, integrity, etc. of the person who captures our heart. If we stop seeing our partner as an individual we fall out of love with them. Our relationship feels hollow because it’s based on form rather than substance, the forest rather than the trees.
How to Reconnect
How do you get that loving feeling back? According to Dr. Firestone you:
1. Start by admitting there is a fantasy bond in place.
2. Investigate fantasy bonds in childhood development. Did a parent disappoint you? Did you become overly self-sufficient because of it?
3. Face the pain involved with being honest and vulnerable with your feelings. Pierce the protective veil.
5. Establish independence and respect for each other. Disrupt patterns of dominance or submission.
6. Communicate non-defensively. Share feedback in a healthy way.
7. Expand personal interests beyond the home or relationship.
Is it possible to spend the majority of your time together and maintain individuality, engagement and sexual interest?
I hope so.
I still have a slight fear of being engulfed in a fantasy bond where we both fall asleep in the relationship. As an introvert, I crave solitude occasionally, but ultimately, I don’t want to be alone. I want a mate. A best friend and a lover.
How awake are you in your relationship? How could you re-dedicate yourself to conscious engagement? Do you believe your partner can be your best friend and your lover?
If this post spoke to you, you may also enjoy:
Stay in Love by Staying Out of Fantasy (PsychAlive)
Emotional Intimacy: An Introvert’s Ultimate Turn On? (space2live)