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 are the effects we’re having on each other. We’re discovering that just chatting over the net is an extraordinarily positive experience. My guess is those effects wouldn’t be there — or at least they would not be so positive — if she and I were merely in love with our ideas of each other. I would not, for instance, expect to feel so light-hearted and liberated to be with her if I was only in love with my idea or image of her.
I think the most important thing, though, might be 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.
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.
It can be an interesting question whether we love someone or merely love our idea of them. I suppose TJ and I — if indeed we have begun loving — love each other. That description seems to best fit the rather passionate, but easy-going and uncomplicated way in which we get along. 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.