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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

Healthy Romanticizing and Vulnerability

After more than ten years of observation and studying 168 couples, a University of Texas study found that idealization was instrumental to the success of happily married people. According to Professor, Ted Huston, the study's lead investigator, “Usually, this is a matter of one person putting good spin on the partner, seeing the partner as more responsive than he or she really is. People who do that tend to stay in relationships longer than those who can't or don't.’’

While many people would argue that idealization is a form of “unreality,” it does appear, to some extent, as though a certain amount of it is necessary in order to build longer-term relationships. According to author Pamela Regan, a Cal State L.A. researcher, “If you don't sweep away the person's flaws to some extent, then you're just as likely to end a relationship or not even try. This at least gives you a chance. If you think of romantic attraction as a kind of drug that alters how you think, then in this case it's allowing you to take some risks you wouldn't otherwise.” (“The Mating Game”).

Nonetheless, those studying “romantic love” have often found that there are underlying characteristics necessary in order for mature, romantic love to endure. A general view of self-esteem offers that the role of positive and negative predictability and uncertainty do impact the nature of romantic relationships.

In another study from psychologists at the State University of New York at Buffalo, 121 dating couples provided answers to questionnaires every few months, designed to determine if each person idealized their partners, in contrast to the success of the pair overall. It came as no surprise, that the couples’ success rate was directly connected to those who romanticized each other the most. Idealizing appears to contribute to the success of a couple during inevitable trying times, concluding that, the couples “appeared more prescient than blind, actually creating the relationships they wished for as romances progressed."

However, the overall findings are mixed. Mr. Huston's research pertained to three levels of early courtship: fast and passionate, slow and rocky, and in-between. The fast-track group, about 25% of the total, usually became interdependent within weeks, tending to ignore initial problems, committing to marriage within several months. In comparison, the slow-motion group spent up to six months in each early stage, reaching commitment only after an average of two years.

According to many psychologists, a high level of self-esteem garners a greater tolerance of vulnerability, i.e., the ability to stay open to the feelings of a partner, rather than shut down and withdraw emotionally, even during times of difficulty. While disclosing very private areas can expose one to exploitation, hurt, or rejection, it can also serve to enhance and enrich relationships.

Therefore, it would seem that the limit of tolerance of vulnerability might determine the degree to which a person may reveal to a partner, and perhaps even the degree to which a person can give and receive love. It also makes sense that the individual who has a better sense of self, will not only be in a better position to risk vulnerability, but will be aware enough about themselves to even have something to reveal. According to researchers Branden and Maslow, the lack of that kind of self-awareness disallows true intimacy.

According to a report by Snyder & Simpson in 1987, 90% of all adults in America marry at some point in life, with 50% of those marriages ending in divorce. Per a study completed by Aron & Aron, most couples report a decline in marital satisfaction, during the first decade of marriage. This trend is recognized as due to decreased companionship, common interests, and attitudinal agreement, in addition to fewer expressions of love and affection, usually as a result of lesser emotional intensity and fascination.

However, when the 13-year mark approached, the slower-paced relationships were victorious. Author and Cal. State L.A. researcher, Pamela Regan, explained, “The more boring and deliberate the courtship, the better the prospects for a long marriage, I'm afraid. People who had very intense, Hollywood-type romances at the beginning were likely to have a big drop-off later on, and this often changed their view of the other's character.”

Interestingly, it appears that, if passionate romance is like a drug (as MRI images have suggested), then it's bound to eventually lose its potency. Other studies of dating and engaged couples have found that passionate love and infatuation tend to fade quickly in the first year, and a year or two later often are all but gone, said Ms. Regan. In addition, having a strong romantic inclination doesn’t guarantee wise usage of it. Ms. Regan continued, "The drive is there simply to focus your energy on one person. People make wrong choices all the time."

The emotional repercussions from those types of decisions are no less difficult, just because they are “wrong,” however, thinking of romance as a biologically based, drug-like condition, can serve to provide a kind of explanation and soothing device. "Like a drug addict would tell you," added Ms. Regan, "the highs don't last, but neither does the withdrawal. With time, the craving and pain go away and the brain returns to normal."

Therefore, if you are meeting lots of people that usually start out intensely, and then quickly fizzle, it could be that what is really happening, has nothing to do with “love,” but merely a slightly distorted, romanticized view, or physical lust. Depending on what your dating goals are, this could be a plus or minus point. Obviously, if your dating goal is to simply meet many people and get to know them only on a surface level, that situation is fine. But if your goal is more long-term, and you find yourself very quickly “falling” for people who turn out to disappoint, you may want to assess your situation so that you train yourself to “take it easier,” upon meeting people, in order to really analyze your feelings.

Similarly, if you are finding that your interest level piques with certain individuals, but that those you come into contact with quickly lose interest, you may wish to take a look at why that is happening. Are you making it clear enough to people that you are interested? Are you allowing personal, natural chemistry to take place, along with the vulnerability risks? Any time a person allows himself or herself to “admit” they care about someone, a certain level of vulnerability is present. Also, in order for the “point” that you care, to come across, it’s often necessary to indulge in a certain amount of idealization.

However, problems seem to arise, when people are so caught up in their own self-imposed specifications about what their partner should be, that they couldn’t see a good prospect when one presents him or herself. It’s all fine and good to have standards; just don’t let anyone else dictate to you what they should be, whether it be friends, family, current social values, or even, the media. Trust your instincts, and “let nature take its course.” Love, after all, was meant to be natural. If you can allow yourself the privilege of experiencing the natural flow of human chemistry, balanced with vulnerability and romanticism, you’re much more likely to find the types of people you want in your life.

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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