Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spark is Gone -- Should You Move On?

Of all my blog posts, none is so popular as “How to Get Over a Crush” (not even the one I did about Erin eSurance, LOL). It’s obvious this problem plagues a good portion of the population.

One of the commenters on the post raised a very good question last week, and I promised to address it with its very own post. Rachele told me about her crush on a work associate and her temptation to leave her long-time boyfriend for the man. The problem? She’s lost the romantic feelings for her boyfriend, even though she knows he loves her. But Rachele is no dummy; she recognizes that she may be chasing a dream that can never be realized.

I’m a fiction writer, not a psychologist, but you can bet I have a few things to say about Rachele’s situation. So at the risk of attracting lovelorn googlers in droves once again, I will share them with you.

Anyone can figure out that a person you don’t know as well as you know your partner can be misleadingly attractive. If s/he has enough traits that appeal to you, your romantic imagination will fill in the blanks with all kinds of irresistible qualities. Your mate, on the other hand, is very much a known quantity. You know all about his/her flaws. You’ve discovered the incompatibilities. The mystery is gone, you can’t help but take each other for granted, and you wonder if you should trade for a new model.

It may actually be possible that the new person has opened your eyes to the shortcomings of your current relationship. You may indeed have settled for less, or gotten involved for the wrong reasons, or truly grown apart. The important thing is mentally to set aside the new guy or gal, eliminate them from the decision-making process, and take a clear-headed look at the pros and cons of what you have.

The litmus test for a good, “keeper” relationship is not “spark.” Feelings of romance, adulation, and raging sexual attraction are wonderful (I should know, I write that stuff), but they are not requirements for long-term love. In fact, familiarity inevitably dims them.

Instead, look at your partner and ask yourself these ten questions:

1. Does s/he make sacrifices for you? Is the relationship one of fair give-and-take?

2. Is s/he honest, loyal, trustworthy, faithful? (That sort of person is not as commonplace as you think.)

3. Is s/he reliable, dependable, there for you even when it’s not pleasant to be so?

4. Does s/he respect you, bolster your self-esteem, treat you well in the presence of others?

5. Does s/he support you in your personal goals and believe in your ability to achieve them?

6. Do you share a similar (or mutually respectful) attitude about important issues like religion, politics, family values, having or not having children?

7. Is it typical, when the challenges of life don’t interfere, for you to enjoy being together doing just about anything?

8. Do you have a reasonable amount in common, shared interests and tastes? And for those you don’t share, do you take an interest just for the sake of the other one?

9. Can you communicate effectively in spite of your personality differences, especially when mutual understanding takes some effort? Are you both willing to put in that effort?

10. Do you have a mutually satisfying physical relationship? (This has nothing to do with any perception of “normal” or “average”; all that matters is that you are both content.)

I have had one marriage that was sorely lacking in nearly all these areas, and one that succeeds in all ten, so I know whereof I speak. My current marriage is not perfect, and yes, there was a rocky time when I was even tempted like Rachele. But enough of the ten areas were strong and healthy that it was worth it to work on those that needed improvement. On the other hand, in my first marriage (which scored about a 1 out of 10), there absolutely wasn’t enough to work with.

In my humble opinion, if you examine your current relationship and find most of these areas to be healthy, you shouldn’t throw over your partner no matter how thrillingly attractive the new person appears to you. You have a solid thing going. It may not always be exciting, vibrant, and exhilarating, but if you switch to the new love-object, in a few years (or even months) he or she will likewise lose that luster.

And the day will come soon enough, believe me, when having a caring, trustworthy, devoted best friend will mean a lot more to you than having a partner in heated romance.

For the latter, I recommend fantasy and fiction. Which brings us back to my real job. :-)


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Diana, for your insight. I'm in a situation similar to Rachele's and went ahead and had an encounter with my crush. I wished I'd had the wisdom of your blog post before this. My crush now is avoiding all contact with me, and I'm second-guessing everything about myself. The emotional pain I'm in right now is really of my own creation. But life goes on. . .

Diana Laurence said...

So sorry for your pain, Anonymous! Their really is some serious risk in doing that (I know from sad experience myself), in that a lot of people are rather traumatized at the prospect of being a "home-wrecker" and will back off in horror. Then, as you pointed out, you have a new problem: feeling bad about yourself and their altered opinion of you. I'm sure in time your crush will get over it and be able to treat you in a normal fashion, if circumstances are such that you do see each other continually. And don't be too hard on yourself; it's a common mistake. As emotional creatures we sometimes find it nearly impossible to do what we know is wise. This too shall pass. Best wishes!

rachele said...

First of all, I have to say that I was really surprised to see you dedicate a blog about my comment. That’s pretty cool considering I have never blogged before.
I feel a lot of compassion for the Anonymous friend. I saw my “crush” yesterday and again I proved to myself that my emotions have nothing to do with him and most importantly nothing to do with my partner either, although God knows he can be quite predictable. It is about ME and the fact that I instinctively want to escape my reality, not because it is bad, but because it just IS. My crush COULD BE this or COULD BE that. I simply AM.
Anyways, before I saw him I spent a tremendous amount of time (all weekend) fantasizing about our encounter which ended up being not special at all and about 5 minute long. The worst part of fantasizing is that when we do that we are mentally writing a script of what is going to happen between us and our love interest. Obviously, to my own frustration, things never happen like I write them in my mental script; in that plot I play all the characters and control everything. When it comes to the “real encounter” I am unavoidably “crushed” and disappointed. Why can’t I have that over the top romance that will make me feel like I am living in a fairytale?
The real question should be: Why do I need to be Cinderella to feel like I am special? Why do I need ANYONE to make me feel that? Am I not special enough on my own?
Clearly I got to work on this more than on getting my prince charming. I think getting my sense of self would be a better investment of my time and of my heart …yet it is so difficult.
In regards to Anonymous, one thing I learned that goes completely against my upbringing is that guilt and self punishment are absolutely useless. My suggestion to anonymous is to breathe and realize that everything you are feeling today, no matter how painful and “real” it may feel, will unavoidably pass.
You will overcome this crush like you overcame many other situations in your life before. This is a fact and since it is a fact, don’t forget to breath and remember that you are here, you are alive, and you have a lot of things going for you. What makes no sense to you today will make sense to you in a while. Trust that and please my friend, PUT YOURSELF FIRST. We all make mistakes but as long as we learn something from our actions, every mistake is worth living.
Be strong!
Much love,

Diana Laurence said...

We all crave excitement and the adrenaline rush of romantic love, Rachele. But you are very insightful in recognizing that the best approach is to find excitement and adventure in your own life, related to your own self. I found that the ultimate "cure" for my own crushing problems: Expressing myself and using my gifts, and learning to appreciate what I had to offer to the world. And thanks for your compassion towards Anonymous!

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Anonymous here from the first post. Thanks, Diana and Rachele, for your encouraging words. I can't convey properly how comforting they are! Wishing you both well.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. so this blog is sufficiently recent for someone to still be reading, at least I hope. I am finding myself in this exact situation and got here by googling the now infamous 'how to get over a crush' query.
What is driving me completely crazy is that a) i used to think of myself as a fairly rational person b) i am happily married and over thirty c) my crush is on a celebrity.
Just how childish/infantile/egotistical can I be? how did a couple films turn me into a teenager again?
The worst of it is, I rationally understand and even embrace the explanations that I've read here and elsewhere on the web. I know I am projecting onto this person; I know I know nothing about this person, who may be an absolute cretin in real life; i realize that whichever qualities this person projects are not necessarily to be considered a 'personality' and I have no way to gauge his real personality. As you may also notice, I use the word 'real' a lot and so am quite aware of the difference between reality and imagination.
Still, I find mysef craving the spark; the narcissistic pleasure of thinking that such a god might ever take an interest in me, thus generating the all-important feeings of validation we are all really in love with.
Also, it doesnt' hurt that this person is drop dead gorgeous, at lest to my eyes.
And here, enter my husband. What makes me feel really guilty is that we connect on so many levels that he has not only figured out what has been going through my head, but hasn't judged, felt threatened or insecure, and has simply talked to me and let me talk, held my hand and diagnosed me correctly. he has understood that this person is NOT real, but simply represents something to me.
so I'm left thinking, how crazy can I be? my husband may be less than perfect looking, but then so am I, however he understands things about me a stranger never could.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. and sorry for rambling...

Diana Laurence said...

Anonymous, one thing that comes to mind: You need to recognize the completely unruly nature of emotions. The fact that you feel all these things, apparently irrevocably, for this celebrity does not say anything about your intelligence or maturity. I can see from your comment that you are very intelligent and mature (as is your husband). That's a fact. Emotions, on the other hand, are quite often stupid and immature. That is their nature.

There is no shame in feeling such things. However, you do have free will and this is the time to let that will be ruled by your rational thoughts. You know what's going on, that's obvious. Rely on that knowledge and trust it. As for the feelings, all you can do is not put more stock in them than they deserve. You can have them--even enjoy them if possible--but they are as you say no measure of reality.

It may be possible for you to contemplate what it is you see in this celebrity that has such power to you, and thereby get a better handle on your feelings. Sometimes is it nothing more than your craving for the excitement and suspense that you no longer experience, being in a happy and secure long-term relationship.

That's the thing: sometimes we just crave adventure, the road not taken, mystery, and desire. But at the same time, we know we have a good thing going and have no rational wish to give it up. Embrace and be grateful for the latter, and leave the former to fantasy, daydreaming, books and movies. Trying to make the fantasy real almost always leads to bitter disappointment. But then, in spite of your feelings, I'm sure you are very cognizant of that!

Best wishes and thanks for your very intellent comment. And my best to your awesome husband too!

Anonymous said...

Dear Diana, thank you so much. Just the thought that you would take the time to answer a complete stranger...again, thank you.
And incidentally, I think you're right on, and the best expression you used was 'the road not taken'. This person, I think, represents the glamorous side of life I sometimes think I've left behind, with all the responsibilities of a marriage, an apartment, possible kids, etc. What I tend to forget is that would still have all those challenges, and probably more, with anybody!
I think, to use a strong term, I'm in mourning. I'm mourning the passing of time and the sense that you had as a teenager that anything could happen to you.
Also, come to think of it, this celeb has the same kind of baby face, expression, smile, hair, of my first real big-time crush at age 15.
And, at least on the surface, he represents perfect beauty, which always gets a romantic and sensitive soul.
I could go on and on about the possible reasons... thank you for helping me open up this can of worms and reassuring me that feeling like this does not diminish my intelligence. I still feel a weight on my heart, and think I need to stop looking for pictures and news on the internet and I'm not yet in a position to just enjoy my crush. but I'm ready to take a good long look at myself and figure out if this obsession is feeding a slight touch of depression I need to take care of.
I will be following your blog to read about the healthy way' to crush.
Much love and thanks
(I'm so sorry not to be signing my name, but i'm still really embarrassed...)

Diana Laurence said...

You are VERY welcome...and I hope it helped. Sounds like more insights are coming to you. And I think it's safe to say, this too shall pass. Bottom line, what's helped me most in life with things like this is just getting older and gaining experience and understanding!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the ten questions you listed in this blog entry.

SABH said...

Hi Diana. Very interesting, and realistic blog that seems so appropriate and relevant. I have recently just took that horrible, step that took months to make. I left my boyfriend of 2 years because I had a crush on a more mysterious, makes-my-heart-race man. I didn't leave my boyfriend to be with this man. But things hadn't felt quite the same for a while and the entering of this crush into my life made me realise it and thought I had to do something about it. I just felt there had to be more to life. I am only 19. Its been about a week since I broke up with my boyfriend and I'm feeling really down about it all, not that I regret, because I would still be in the unhappy situation if I hadn't of done it. And i'd much rather be unhappy on my own than with someone, it wasn't fair on him. I hope this hole in my heart that I feel will ease away, and that it's just because such a big part of my life has vanished, almost overnight. But I am scared. I am scared of regretting, realising the grass isn't greener, and most of all I'm scared of being alone, and never finding anyone else.
I'll be sure to update regarding how I feel in a few weeks/months, whether I feel better or worse.
Thanks for all the comments they're helpful, but have really made me doubt what I have done.

Bob33 said...

It is so comforting to find others facing similar realities. Over the last year I have encountered attraction towards two separate people. Having never acted on them.Which has led me to question why I have felt this way. I have questioned what I have in my life for months now which on paper is a stable marriage, a career and a mortgage. At 31 however I am beginning to feel as though I am 75 and encompassing a journey that I question is right for me. My personality over the years has become subdued and almost reclusive which I think 10 years ago (prior to husband) was the reverse. Is that why I crave these people? Do they let me be myself? My husband has started saying recently as i hve begun to question our relationship he wants the old me back. The original old me like i was when i met him isnt the one he refers to.
our relationship would receive approximately a 50% mark. Leaving me hanging in the balance what do I do?