Like most of us, I’ve now and then had the peculiar experience of discovering I was loved by someone — not for who I am — but for who that person thought I should be.
It can be an interesting position to find yourself in. For one thing, you get to observe first hand how a person can have intense feelings towards you despite they have, in effect, mistaken you for someone else.
You are yourself, and yet perhaps they want you to be much more like their father than you could ever be while remaining true to your nature. Some times, they might even want you to be like Brad Pitt, or some other famous person. The fact you are not — fundamentally are not — the person they want you to be seems to have little or no effect on the intensity of their feelings for you.
In my life, I’ve been on both sides of that coin. For instance: There was a girl in high school I was immensely attracted to — not for who she was — but for who I thought she should be. Poor Janet wisely resisted all my efforts to turn her into an intellectual. Nevertheless, my feelings towards her were as intense as they were blind. I only stopped short of calling those feelings “love”. That is, I had the insight to realize I was only infatuated with her, but I lacked the deeper insight to grasp how little I understood her, how different she was from who I thought she was, and how foolish it was to try to change her to fit my mistaken image of her.
Lately, TJ and I have been exploring this issue together in our chats over the net. We’ve asked, “Are we in love with each other, or in love with our ideas of each other?” We’ve agreed the question is a good one, and that providing an honest answer to it is at least as important to us as making the best possible choice of which beers to drink.
Of course, the intensity of our feelings for each other are by no means a sure footed sign we love each other. Nor is the fact our feelings developed suddenly. And neither is the fact our feelings seem mutual. Those are signs TJ and I recognize cannot be relied on to accurately tell us whether we are in love with each other, or just in love with our ideas of each other. An infatuation with our ideas of each other could feel just as intense, develop just as suddenly, and be just as mutual.
What might be more telling is the fact that we’re not trying to change each other. It seems to me when people love their ideas of each other more than each other they almost always indulge themselves in trying to change the other person to fit their ideas. Yet, TJ and I haven’t attempted any such thing, and my intuition tells me it doesn’t seem likely we will. Of course, only time will tell whether my intuition is accurate.
By the way, I do not mean to imply here that any attempt to change another person bespeaks a lack of love. That is absurd. But there is a distinction between trying to change another person in a way that is in accord with their nature, and trying to change them in a way that is against or opposed to their nature. The former can be an affirmation of that person. The latter is always a denial of them.
Years ago, when I tried so hard to turn Janet into an intellectual, I was in effect trying to change her fundamental nature, because she simply wasn’t that kind of person. I wasn’t affirming her as a person, I was denying her as a person. Had I realized back then what I was doing, I would not have tried doing it. But I was blind to what I was doing because I was infatuated with my idea of Janet, rather than in love with the true her.
It can be an interesting question whether we love someone or merely love our idea of them. No doubt there is much more that could be said here about the differences between loving someone and loving an idea of them. But I’m pretty tired at the moment and not even coffee is working to keep me awake. So I’m going shut up now and turn the conversation over to you.
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This post was updated on April 9, 2017 to improve the quality of the writing.