Valentine’s Day and the Romantic Delusion

A pink heartHappy Valentine’s Day!

Today is the day that the romantic delusion is the strongest. People have expectations for themselves and their relationships that, more often than not, only cause heartbreak and self-destructive obsessions.

The romantic ideal of modern culture is fixated on the idea that there is _one_special_person_ that can meet all my needs. I’ll have a best friend, lover, confidant and booster that can also meet a raft of other expectations. It’s an ideal of that perfect someone, yet perfection is an inherently unrealistic illusion.

Why is the romantic ideal so strong and persistent? It’s supported by strong feelings and emotions at the start of a relationship. One can see so may possibilities and a happily-ever-after together. Her heart skips a beat when she sees the other. He understands me before I even speak.

Hollywood as has no problem bringing the idea to life with dozens of romantic plots. Cinderella meets the perfect Prince. Snow White gets loves first kiss. Lady starts a family with the Tramp. Shrek marries Fiona and carries her across the threshold of the honeymoon cottage. In return she hurls a mermaid interloper back into the sea.

Popular culture also helps make the concept seem so real. Look at the names of several genres of entertainment… Romance novels, romantic comedies, news reports of a celebrity romance between, say, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. A story about four siblings who together have 225 years of marriage to their respective spouses won’t make a compelling film and is barely plausible.

From one point of view, the passion of a new love is mutual yet selfish. _I_ feel so fulfilled with her. _I_ know that he is going to be the perfect partner. Even though the feeling is mutual, it’s about subjective pleasure. The romantic feeling is reinforced by each others experience of a passionate connection, but it is still about how the self feels. _I_ feel _in_love_ and you’ll be able to help me keep that energy (probably, though, only until enough bumps happen along the road.)

Valentine’s Day is the commercial culmination of the delusion. Buy her roses. Give him the ring that to signifies forever. Let your high school sweetheart know they are their true love with a Hallmark card. Impetuously propose on a trip to Cancun.

What is the true cost of the scripts that prescribe a romantic life for everyone?

Imagination Cuts Delusion

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes how people are trapped in a cycle of fear, hatred and delusion. If you look at front page news stories, you can usually find one or more of them very close to the surface.

clouds with a ladder leading to one of themIf these three are negative qualities, there must be counteracting positive qualities. There are obvious candidates like love to counteract hate, but I don’t think love has been very effective. Fear can feed hate and love has no power over that mixture.

In my past couple of blog posts, I’ve described the three qualities as elements of a game reminiscent of rock, paper, scissors. I claim that trust covers fear and curiosity smashes hatred. These pairs of spiritual qualities are mutually exclusive. They cannot exist together.

It is challenging to find the third element of a celestial elixir to replace the last element of delusion. One idea is understanding, another is knowledge. The one I like best is imagination, but none of these three are mutually exclusive to delusion.

A delusion is a fixed idea that stands up despite evidence to the contrary. The mind grabs onto a thought and runs with it. Paranoia which is supported by fear and prejudice that is fed by hatred are two of the strongest delusions. Since they’re both based on the other parts of the trio: fear and hate, it’s understandable that they have such power.

Consider whether imagination cuts delusion. A fixed idea is like the flowing of a river, it has deep banks and a straight path. Imagination looks around the landscape and can see that there are quiet pools and beautiful tributaries. A clump of dead leaves that follows the natural route will never find these bounties..

The application of spiritual principles takes work. If they were easy, people could accept and act on them continuously. Trust, Curiosity and Imagination are three qualities that are positive spiritual principles. They may not be spoken of in the church, synagogue or mosque, but they are still important.

Faith, hope, and love are necessary utensils for the spiritual kitchen. Trust, Curiosity and Imagination are like spices to keep in the cupboard. They can help everyone share spiritual feasts.

Original image: Access to Cloud / Ladder to Heaven. By FutUndBeidl [Image license]