by Mari Ruti, author of The Case for Falling in Love
Saving the soul of love is, in a nutshell, the goal of my book. Our pragmatic culture tells us that there are ways to control and manipulate love to our satisfaction. Women in particular are conditioned to think that to make romance work, they need to make a superhuman effort: learn to read the male psyche, figure out a game plan, play hard to get, show just the right amount of vulnerability, etc. And we tend to believe that when things don’t work out, it’s our fault – that somehow we destroyed our relationship by taking the wrong step somewhere along the line. Did we come on too strong? Did we reveal too much of ourselves? Did we seem too desperate? Did we step on the fragile male ego? Did we return his call too quickly? Should we have let him drive around aimlessly rather than insist on asking for directions?
I wrote The Case for Falling in Love because I want us to stop torturing ourselves with these kinds of questions. When love doesn’t thrive, it’s not because we did something wrong. It’s definitely not because we left our toothbrush in his bathroom. Love is inherently fickle and volatile. A lot of times it’s not meant to last. We are used to thinking that its job is to make us happy, and often it can; it can make us happier than pretty much anything else. But this is not its only mission: it may be trying to teach us a lesson that we can only learn through its failure.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim to have fulfilling relationships. It’s just that there is no clear correlation between effort and happiness, and that the more we try to force love into a mold, the more we stifle what is most alive, magical, and interesting about it. Take the Mars/Venus mentality that permeates our romantic culture. This causes us to focus on the most superficial aspects of love (what men are “supposed” to be like, what women are “supposed” to do) so that we no longer see our partner for who he actually is: we fail to respect what is distinctive about him, and instead reduce him to a “category” (the male ego, the male psyche, etc.) that has been handed to us by our culture.
I think that love isn’t in the least bit interested in such categories. It couldn’t care less about our gendered games. And it doesn’t have much patience with our poker-face. It aims at the very core of our being – at the spirit that makes each of us a unique and irreplaceable creature. What’s so sad is that the more we let stereotypes rule our romantic behavior, the less likely we are to release this spirit. And why, for heaven’s sake, would any woman want to date a guy who falls into the stereotype – who thinks that women are “prey” to be conquered, or who claims that it’s in men’s “nature” to stray, fear commitment, forget your birthday, or fail to understand emotions. Why are so many self-help gurus trying to sell us a guy like this? My advice would be to run in the other direction.
I think that most quality men – that is, men worth dating in the first place – share a lot of the same romantic confusions and insecurities as women do. And a lot of them are looking for a strong woman with whom to build an emotionally complex relationship. When we replace the soul of love with stale gender formulas, we can’t recognize this. And we give men a convenient excuse to treat us badly. So let’s toss those self-help guides in the recycling bin and focus instead on saving what is most mysterious, least formulaic, about love. And let’s have faith that a guy who genuinely likes us is not going to walk away just because we know how to parallel park, change a light bulb, or read a map. A guy worth our attention would never be that dumb!
GIVEAWAY: I have a copy of The Case for Falling in Love. Open to US readers/addresses. Enter by leaving a relevant comment – perhaps something along the lines of what rules you usually set in place, if you do so, or one you’ve heard of from your friends. Multiple comments/entries allowed. Last day to enter: February 14, 2011.