She was the go-to guru on Married at First Sight, and now relationship expert Dr Pani Farvid is examining modern love in a special Weekend Herald summer series. This week, why the perfect partner doesn't exist.
Last week I outlined how, under the tenets of Romanticism, we tend to rely on our instincts to find that special someone. Given that about half of marriage-type relationships dissolve, the way we are choosing our partners, and how we are conducting ourselves in intimate relationships, is not garnering any more success than flipping a coin.
Romanticism will have us believe that there is a special someone out there who is perfect for us, and we perfect for them. Yet, no one is perfect and imagining that they are not only sets us up to fail, but is rather toxic.
We are all deeply complex psychological beings who are often much more damaged than we realise. Philosopher Alain de Botton goes further to argue, not only are we damaged, but that we all 'deeply mad' in our own special way. He argues in jest, but rather accurately, that "none of us make it through the gauntlet of early childhood and adolescence, with our sanity entirely intact".
We are all psychologically patterned in very specific ways, and not all of these are constructive. Based on our background, our childhood, and the society we are raised in, we are intricately moulded in very distinctive ways.
If we've made it to adulthood, we are all, in one way or another, somewhat flawed. But this is not a bad thing. Instead, it makes us who we are in a rather a beautiful way, that reflects our life's journey.
What we need to have more success in love (and life), is not only a good grasp of the ways we are psychologically patterned, but to develop the capacity to accept this, and summon the courage to share it with those close to us.
The work we do on ourselves on understanding this patterning gives us much more self-awareness and therefore more options when it comes to the choices we make in love and life. Yet, we have very poor psychological awareness as a society. Overall, we are pretty ill-equipped to understand what resides deep in our psyches or how this shapes who we are and how we behave.
Many of us spend huge amounts of time and energy working or attending to others' needs, without putting aside one hour a week, let alone one hour a day, to work on ourselves. Granted, self-awareness is a hard task. And I think this is why we try so hard to get away from ourselves.
We get busy, become workaholics, we drink too much, we game too much, we watch too much TV, because it can be hard to just sit and be present with our own thoughts, feelings or face our fallibilities. We seek to avoid the discomfort that comes with being a psychologically complex, contradictory and damaged individual.
This is why when we fall in love, via instinct, we hope that we will never have to traverse the painful world of loneliness or have to deal with the harsh realities of what it is like to be truly present with ourselves. As I noted last week, once we find 'the one', we assume that we will accept each other exactly as we are and that it will all be smooth sailing.
In the first few months of a new romance, life is bliss. Our hopes and dreams are foisted upon this person who looks to be able to make the world and our lives a much better place.
But, as psychoanalysis has long asserted, we don't always choose our partner because they are good for us, or because they will make us happy, but because they feel 'familiar'.
When we fall in love, we are most likely re-creating a pattern of love we learnt during childhood that is buried deep in our unconscious. We learn about love not only from our culture, but from the first-hand experiences of love while growing up. Even if this love was problematic.
Maybe we loved a parent who was distant or volatile, under a lot of stress, or dealing with an addiction. Maybe our parents modelled a dysfunctional relationship with little care or compassion for each other. Maybe the love we needed was not necessarily the love we got, but it was the only love we knew.
If we don't delve into how we become patterned to 'love' and 'be loved', we are bound to re-create a pattern of love that can leave us dissatisfied. This can be why we meet someone who looks great on paper, but tend to find them a bit boring or unattractive. They are, to put it simply, probably just a bit too functional for us. They don't satisfy your particular kind of (dysfunctional) imprinted pattern of love.
The more self-awareness we have about what makes us who we are, and what our underlying needs are in love – rather than our surface desires or fallible instincts – the more likely we are to choose a partner that is better suited to us.
And, if you suspect that you've already chosen someone based on instinct with whom you might be recreating a familiar love, versus the love you want, don't fret or call the divorce lawyer just yet.
Next week I will delve into how to work with your partner to create the love you want, rather than the love you are patterned to have.
• Dr Pani Farvid is a senior lecturer in psychology at AUT.