Love. Luuuuuv. Oh, how we love to love. Yay, love. And I’m with you. Love is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Since bread itself!
But you gotta stay out of the love trap.
What is the love trap? Only the most dangerous thing in the world, that’s all. And it happens when you fall in love with someone BEFORE you have enough information about that person and how they operate and how you fit together to make choosing to be together a prudent decision.
In other words, look before you leap.
Over the course of our combined 90 years of clinical practice, this is what we’ve consistently seen in couples who find themselves in a troubled relationship. A meets B. They decide it’s worth seeing each other again. So they do. And then, in an unreal state of no shared responsibilities and no real world problems—finding money to pay the rent, bringing up children—they get to know a person who is mainly showing the best side of themselves.
And if there’s any sexual chemistry at all, they hit the sheets—a lot!—which makes the wonderfulosity of all this seem all the more wonderfulicious.
It’s really hard in this situation not to start “having feelings” for the other person, then “really caring about them,” then “I think I’m falling in love with you,” then—Boom!—“Oh, my darling, I love you so much...”
Here's an illustration of what I'm talking about. You know why so many lawyers have such low job satisfaction? It’s because they fell in love with the idea of becoming a lawyer because their introduction to the law was its most interesting and meaningful aspects. And before they really checked it out. So eventually they come to realize they’d never have fallen in love with becoming a lawyer if they’d seen what actually practicing law was like on a daily basis for the vast majority of lawyers.
Well, it’s the same thing here, with love. If you fall in love with a person before you know their whole deal, you’d be really falling into trap. The love trap. It’s a trap because as warning signs start popping up, your being in love will lead you to ignore them or minimize them or explain them away.
“Yes, A doesn’t have much time for me, but I really respect what a hard worker A is and also at a crucial point in his career.”
“Yes, B has a bad temper sometimes, but only because of being under a lot of pressure. Otherwise, B is sweet as candy.”
So what should you do to avoid the love trap and avoid wasting years of your life in a crappy relationship?
I don’t know if I should tell you, because if you’re like most people you won’t want to do it. You simply won’t do it.
But if you were smart enough to insist of doing it, here’s what you do.
Think of it like buying a car. Some cars look great. Some cars are prestigious. But unless you’re an idiot you wouldn’t buy the car unless you knew it was a good car: one that was reliable, functioned well, and suited your needs. Then you could fall in love with it.
Same with your next budding romance. Just promise yourself you won’t flip the love switch until:
You’ve spent long periods of time with the other person, just the two of you, with minimal distractions
You’ve seen how they handle real stress
You’ve seen how they really like to live
You’ve seen how they manage their affairs: spending and saving money, making decisions, being organized
You’ve seen how they are with all kinds of other people: family, friends, colleagues, waiters, strangers
You’ve seen enough to gauge their mental and physical health
You’ve seen how and how much they prioritize you once the routine of your life together settles in
Because look: your love is precious. You can’t afford to waste it. You can’t piss it away on go-nowhere relationship. You can’t offer it to people who won’t, in the end, make you feel loved in ways that actually mean something to you.
One reason it’s so hard to do what I’m asking has to do with the ways we’re all victimized by popular culture. And in the pop culture view of life—a very mistaken view—it’s love that’s the measure of whether you are on the right track with someone. All you have to do is tell your friends you love the other person, and they’ll be all about wanting the two of you to be a couple.
Or if you talk to a friend about concerns, they’re ever so likely to ask, “but do you love A?” And if you say yes, they’ll be all like, “Oh, well, then that’s all you need to know.”
What the real truth is, the truth pop culture doesn’t want us to see, is that “But I love A” is a terrible basis for going forward in most cases. Love feelings are simply lousy, rotten, crappy information about whether your relationship is going to work. Especially when it's based on bad and limited information. Why would you trust any impulse based on bad and limited information? Just remember: just because you love cheesecake doesn't make it good for you.
Except most of the time, most people do just that--jumping in before they know what's what. So . . . do you want to be like most people?
Or do you want to have the best life you can have? If that’s what you want, now you know what to do.