We’ve all either seen it from afar, experienced it ourselves, or know someone who has. It’s one of the few narratives that plays out as often in real life as it does in fiction, including the sexy novels I write.
We seek out love and connection, putting a sizable chunk of our time and energy into finding that perfect lover. It’s the basis of almost every iconic love story ever made, from Shakespeare to “Titanic” to almost every Disney movie ever made. It’s also the basis of family, elaborate social connections, and the entire wedding industry. By every measure, finding that special someone is a big freakin’ deal for us.
If it’s such a big deal, though, then why do we do such a lousy job of actually choosing our lovers? I don’t ask that question out of cynicism. I ask it with a straight face, a sober mind, and a never-ending need to understand romance so I can write sexier, more romantic novels.
I know that’s somewhat self-serving, but every question involving love and sex has major implications far beyond those of aspiring erotica/romance writers. In that context, the actual process of choosing a lover is one of the most important choices we can ever make in our personal lives. It’s right up there with choosing your smartphone or your internet speeds. So why is it that we do such a lousy job in making such a critical choice?
I’m not just referring to the frustrating divorce rate among married couples, although that is a sign. I’m also not referring to the documented fact that the average number of sexual partners a person has in their lifetime is not one or less, although that also is a sign.
We humans seem to understand the importance and value of love, sex, and intimacy. However, we do a piss poor job when it comes to actually making decisions about it. Good girls will fall in love with bad boys. Good men will fall in love with bitchy girls. Good, decent people will try to love one another, but for all the wrong reasons and not realize it for years.
It’s both tragic and unsexy. People want to love each other, but can’t seem to pick up on the right signs. Even if they’re not looking for love and just want sex, they still find a way to screw that up too, as evidenced by the orgasm gap.
I even have some personal experience with this myself. Without getting into too great a detail, I was once involved with a cute, sweet, yet naturally sexy young woman in college. She and I met through our mutual love of comics and she was, in many ways, my first serious relationship. I won’t deny that I actually did feel love for her.
However, the longer we were together, the more I noticed on some fairly telling signs that were hard to ignore. She and I may have had a lot in common, but we had very different personality types. She was one way. I was another. We were rarely on the same page and it did cause plenty of stress.
Being drunk on love, I sure as hell didn’t notice it. My parents did, though, and they weren’t afraid to tell me. They know me too damn well and love me enough to discourage me from making foolish decisions. Were it not for them, I probably would’ve cut my face off the first time I tried to shave.
I credit them more than anyone for keeping me anchored, with respect to my emotions. I admit I kind of resisted their insight and made my share of excuses. In the end, they turned out to be right. My girlfriend and I broke up. It hurt, but I can’t say it was entirely surprising.
The fact that I, a guy who writes and reads a lot about sex and romance, can be so blinded by the feeling should be as clear a sign. It shows that we, as a species, aren’t very good at making wise choices when it comes to our love lives. Why is that, though?
That’s a hard question to answer and I’m certainly not going to claim to be a definitive authority on that. It’s so hard to answer that you can kind of understand why marrying for love is such a novel concept and why it was actually discouraged throughout history. Even so, it’s still a question worth contemplating, if only to refine our understanding.
I feel as though being an erotica/romance writer gives me a certain insight into this issue. I won’t say I’m the best equipped to confront it, but I do think I can bring something to the conversation. So in the interest of furthering that conversation, here are my explanations/speculations on why we choose the wrong lovers.
Reason #1: We Commit And Promise For Misguided Reasons
When most people talk about being with someone for the wrong reasons, they almost immediately conjure images of the kind of big-titted, gold-digging skank whose sole purpose in life is to inherit money from a horny old guy. Thanks to Anna Nicole Smith, that sentiment is not wholly inaccurate.
However, I’m not just talking about the gold digging angle here. That’s actually a tiny part of this reason. When I talk about being with someone for wrong or misguided reasons, I’m referring to the mental and emotional gymnastics that people do to justify the status of an inherently flawed relationship.
We’ve all heard a variation of those excuses. It usually takes a pretty bloated excuse bank to begin with, but it often manifests in fairly familiar, sometimes distressing sort of ways. It often ends with statements like this.
“Things will settle down after we get married.”
“Things will settle down after we have children.”
“I don’t think I can handle being alone right now.”
“I need someone like him/her in my life.”
“We’ve been together for a long time so we might as well get married.”
Each one of these statements probably makes sense to the person saying them. However, a lot of weird things make sense when you’re in love or you think you’re in love. That’s why falling in love is often described as being intoxicated. You don’t always make good decisions when you’re drunk. The same applies to when you’re in love.
Reason #2: We Have False Or Misguided Ideas Of Who We Should Be With
This reason is a big less convoluted than the first. We’ve either known someone who has made horrible choices in their love lives or we’ve been that someone. A lot of those choices stem from having a skewed or erratic criteria for who should be our lover. Some people don’t even stop to examine that criteria and it only becomes painfully clear after the relationship fails.
This is actually something that plays out in one of my books, specifically “Skin Deep.” Early in the story, Mary Williams is the hot girl that every guy wants to be with. Not surprisingly, she ends up with a star basketball player named Zach Crenshaw. It’s the classic hot girl and male athlete hook-up that we’ve seen play out every movie inspired by “Varsity Blues.”
Initially, she doesn’t really give much thought to why she’s with him. As the story plays out, though, Mary realizes that she was with Zach because she thought she was supposed to be with him. There was this indirect assumption that because she’s the hot girl, she should be with someone like Zach.
That misguided idea becomes part of the many conflicts that play out in “Skin Deep.” It also plays out in real life with people seeking certain types because they think they’re supposed to. Sometimes it’s peer pressure. Sometimes the pressure comes from culture or religion. It’s hard to actually acknowledge these pressures until after a relationship ends, but they all work to skew our emotions in certain directions.
It’s also part of why good girls fall for bad boys and good boys fall for bad girls. We have a false impression of why we’re with these people. We may call it love, but sometimes it’s something as simple as the adrenaline rush we feel when we’re with someone who might crash a motorcycle into septic tank on a bar bet.
Granted, that can be a good time that results in some pretty hot sex, but that’s not love, nor is it the foundation for a meaningful relationships.
Reason #3: We Underestimate AND Overestimate Our Ability To Love Someone
This one is a bit more subtle and self-reflective, compared to the other reasons on this list. Some of it has to do with our eagerness to love someone outstripping our ability. That does happen a lot with people who try their best to make a failing relationship work. Sometimes they succeed. Most of the time, though, it just delays the inevitable.
A better manifestation of this concept plays out in nearly every wedding ceremony, but not in the way you might think. A man or woman at their wedding is so overwhelmed by emotion and passion that it’s easy to love someone and imagine loving them until your dying days. That moment, and everything surrounding it, makes it seem so easy.
However, it’s all the days after that wedding ceremony that someone really has to worry about. A person is usually at their best on their wedding day. It’s only when we deal with someone when they’re having a really bad day that we understand the breadth of our love for them.
It’s when things go wrong that the strength of a relationship, or lack thereof, really shows. It’s in those moments when we realize that we don’t love this person nearly enough to deal directly with these issues. It’s also in these moments when we realize that we may love this person too much because their issues become hugely detrimental to our own.
Our capacity for love varies from person to person. It even varies from situation to situation. The key is finding a person whose capacity for love is similar to our own and who knows how to deal with those situations. That’s how some people can stay in love for half-a-century while others leave a trail of failed relationships wherever they go.
It’s like an extension of the laws of entropy. When you’re not on the same page as your lover, things just tend to fall apart in the long run. It’s only when you and your lover truly complement each other that it grows stronger over time. We see it in in real life and in the occasional X-men comic. It’s a perspective worth heeding.
Reason #4: We Fail To Know Ourselves Or Our Lovers Well Enough
This is basically the ultimate manifestation of not seeing the forest from the trees with respect to your love life or yourself. It also happens to be the reason that is almost impossible to realize until after it’s too late. You’re not going to see it on the first night you have sex or on your wedding day. It’s only going to become clear after the damage has been done.
This often happens with couples who marry young and divorce quickly. I actually know a few people who have endured this. One of them described it as akin to getting blackout drunk for seven years, waking up in a strange new city, and almost dying on the spot from sheer shock. In this person’s defense, he married someone who just wanted kids and that’s it. The lack of love or meaningful connection was an afterthought.
It’s somewhat tragic, but understandable to a certain extent. Some people really don’t know themselves as well as they think. Some are just really good at lying to themselves about the kind of person they are. We see it frequently in alcoholics and people with poor impulse control. They never think too much about a situation or themselves, never realizing their mistake until it’s too late.
The best illustration of this comes from another friend of mine who went through a nasty divorce early in life, but met the love of his life and has been happily married for decades. He told me outright that he and his first wife really didn’t know each other that well. They knew enough to want to hook up and that was it. It wasn’t until after they divorced that it became painfully obvious why they were wrong for each other.
Then, he met his future wife and he knows pretty much everything about her. He can tell me how she takes her coffee, what her favorite movie is, and what she throws at the TV whenever a referee calls a bad penalty during a football game. He and his wife know each other so well and not just with respect to their anatomy. It’s that knowledge and understanding that helps make their relationship so strong.
Sometimes, we get ahead of ourselves in wanting to be with someone. We love them before we truly know them and marry them before we’re ready. It creates a lot of complications for ourselves and our lovers, some of which become ticking time bombs in a relationship that can sometimes go off in the worst of ways.
Reason #5: We Fail To Understand That Love (And Sex) Is An Ongoing Process
I look at this reason the same way I look at foreplay. For one, I am totally in favor foreplay. It is one of the best parts of sex. It helps turn what is already an inherently intimate experience into something more awesome.
Sex without foreplay is still sex. It still can have the same end result, preferably a mutual orgasm. However, the process behind it, namely the foreplay, is what makes it meaningful. It’s that process that tends to get overlooked in both sex and love.
It happens with marriages that grow stale. It happens with relationships that burn out quickly. Those involved eventually stop putting work into the process of love and sex. Some think that the work is done when they get married or after they start having sex. They see that as an endpoint. It’s not. That’s just the beginning of a new process.
I’ve learned this in my own personal life. I’ve seen it play out with friend and family as their relationships evolve. Seeing love and sex as an endpoint is usually setting yourself up for disappointment, heartbreak, and a lack of quality orgasms. Emotions don’t end until we’re dead. Treating them otherwise will just turn us into the Bundy family.
Now, that’s not to say that the process always gets harder and more tedious over time. That only applies to relationships that are flawed or doomed from the start. Ideally, the process gets smoother over time if you’re with someone that you love for all the right reasons.
You shouldn’t have to do quantum physics to keep being with someone. Just being yourself, always trying to improve along the way, should be sufficient and complementary to the efforts of your lover. It’s a process that never ends, but is always rewarding if done right.
Once again, I want to emphasize that I am not an authority on love. I just write a lot about it and try to tell sexy stories. This is just my way of exploring this question that doesn’t get enough scrutiny, in my opinion.
If anyone has any insight that they would like to add, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to turn this into a larger conversation about the poor and not-so-poor decisions we make about our live lives. Until the day comes when super-intelligent machines can make those decisions for us, which may eventually happen, this is an issue that we’ll continue to struggle with.