It is natural and human to believe that something or someone outside of ourselves will make us feel whole and complete. Maybe you don’t feel this way, but if I’m being honest, sometimes on rainy cold days when I am alone binge-watching Netflix, I do believe there is someone out there that will fit into my life like a missing puzzle piece.
The need for someone to complete us is most likely due to narratives we are fed by our families and society telling us we need to find the ideal partner. We tend to internalize these themes starting at a young age, taught that these dream-partners they exist, ready for us at the right time.
But there is no right time, and there is no right person. At the end of the day, our ideal future partner is only a fantasy in our heads; a reflection of ourselves and the stories of who we think we are and how we think we our lives should be.
Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born British philosopher, published the most widely read New York Times article of 2016, “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.” His piece stirred criticism from many sources. Publications with large millennial readerships, such as Quartz and Verily Magazine, published pieces deriding the article as cynical, and dark.
So I did a little more research, and delved deeper into Botton’s argument. In>his 2017 talk for Zeitgeist Minds, Botton explains his message in further detail. He begins by reminding us that we are all strange, and none of us are easy to live with. Often, we do not even know about our own eccentricities.
“Our friends know more about us than we often learn in forty years of life,” he tells the audience. More often than not, our friends and families know more about how those eccentricities affect those around us, but tend to keep from sharing the details.
Another obstacle Botton emphasizes is our response in times of distress, claiming that when we need someone the most is when we choose not to act vulnerable. Oftentimes, we would rather sulk than be vulnerable because we expect our partners to know what’s wrong without the need to articulate the issue at hand with actual words. Like children with our parents, we hope that our lovers will be able to guess exactly what’s upset us, believing that a true lover will understand our feelings without needing any explanation.
Like our child selves, we want to find partners that feel familiar. But familiarity does not always equal happiness. Instead Botton says, “we want someone that will make us suffer in a way that we need to suffer” — we want to suffer in a familiar way. This forces us to confront unhealthy patterns in our own childhood and upbringing, and doing the work to break free of these patterns. Sometimes we are not attracted to who is best for us, rather we want whoever feels like home to us.
So where does that leave us in our quest for love and finding our ideal life partner? How do we find true love and keep it? Botton reminds us love isn’t always the butterflies and roses we imagined as children. He claims that to love “is to have the willingness to interpret someone’s on-the-surface, not-very-appealing behaviour in order to find more benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding.” In other words, love is the charity and generosity of interpretation.
So go out there and enjoy your Mr. or Mrs. Wrong, and be generous with your love, and understanding of their innerworkings.
Sara Shah is a novelist, freelance writer, and meditation teacher.