By Bryan Reeves
I’m a huge fan of disillusionment. Having an illusion ripped away from us can be profoundly liberating.
Dorothy had to discover the Wizard of Oz was just a con man before she could discover she already had the power to get herself home.
When it comes to love, disillusionment is essential, if also profoundly painful. It’s also inevitable. For there’s a core reason why our relationships and … well, our entire lives, really, are so fraught with struggle and heartache:
We’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
We spend most of our lives looking for love outside ourselves, expecting other people, circumstances, experiences, to give it to us. Eventually we realize—if we’re lucky—that love from outside sources is completely unreliable. Other people inevitably disappoint us, let us down, change in ways we don’t want them to, or simply leave.
Sometimes they leave mentally or emotionally even when they stay physically.
I once married a French woman only five weeks after we met. I was fresh out of the military and felt completely disconnected from my heart. The day we married on a pristine sunset beach in South Florida, my heart already knew what my head refused to accept: this love adventure was going to destroy me. I expected this luscious French woman to love me in all the right ways.
Pretty quickly, though, she proved she wouldn’t love me in any of the ways I really wanted!
She wouldn’t kiss me good morning. She wouldn’t scratch my back. She wouldn’t let me spoon her at night. She would play with the dogs and not me when she came home from work. She wouldn’t even make love to me for most of the 8 months we were together; we didn’t even have sex during our epic honeymoon adventure in Mallorca, Spain!
Disillusionment hit me like a 105-pound French woman with a cigarette and an attitude!
Here’s the real gift: She woke me up to how conditionally I loved.
The moment she didn’t give me what I wanted, I immediately found a way to withdraw my love from her. I’d get upset, complain about her behavior, check out emotionally, stop doing things for her, even threaten to leave.
I thought she was the nightmare. Turns out, I was!
This experience was a genesis for perhaps my biggest life lesson:
The only way to lasting fulfillment in relationship is by offering my love freely without expecting anything in return for it.
Which brings me to the Three Stages of Love. Which stage you live in affects the quality, depth and magic of your experiences in life and love.
Stage 1: I need you to love me.
In Stage 1, I need the outside world to appreciate me, validate me, respect me, love me. To experience love, I need the outside world to be a certain way. My parents have to approve of me. I need to make this much money. My girlfriend has to behave in ways I like. My friends have to treat me a certain way.
Oh my, what an unstable existence!
Love just evaporates the moment the world stops meeting our conditions!
If we can avoid cynicism, eventually we simply realize Stage 1 love isn’t reliable. It’s completely ephemeral, and thus not consistently fulfilling.
Disillusionment sets in.
Welcome to Stage 2.
Stage 2: I will love myself.
I don’t need you to love me. I’ll give love to myself. I’ll take myself on dates and vacations. I’ll pamper myself with good food and clothes and trips to the spa.
In fact, I’ll do something awesome for me everyday. I’ll meditate and do yoga, maybe go find myself in India. I’ll be kind to me and say affirmations in the mirror about how wonderful, beautiful, brilliant and delicious I am! I’ll say to myself, “I love you!” and I might even marry myself (self-marriage ceremonies are now coming into fashion).
I’ll develop both my masculine and feminine qualities so that I am a whole, complete individual.
My life is more or less great with or without a partner. Not needing a partner feels really empowering to me, and safe.
Before long, though, I realize that safety becomes stagnant, maybe even suffocating. Although I love myself consistently which feels nice, I only give love to others when it’s appropriate and feels good, because I know they’re responsible for their own self-love, too. I may not fully accept another person’s love because I know it’s unstable.
Something is missing. Disillusionment is stirring.
Welcome to Stage 3.
Stage 3: I am love, itself.
I have discovered an endless well-spring of love sourced deep within my very own heart. I can radiate love into the world because I now know I could never possibly run out!
Effortlessly, I give love to myself and my partner, to bored workers at the DMV, to democrats and republicans, to the whole world. I still work towards a better world, but no longer with anxiety. I have finally learned to love everything this crazy life throws at me.
I instinctively move away from people who want to hurt me because I love myself deeply. Where I used to leave in anger, now I leave in love because I know only people in pain want others to hurt, too. Still, I’ll love them from a distance.
I’m free to live my authentic truth everyday. I don’t need validation from outside me.
Disillusionment is welcome, because I know it just points the way towards a deeper love within me that doesn’t depend on outside conditions.
If I have a partner, I love her with all of me, always curious to explore how I might make her life richer. She’s free to show up however she wants, because I simply love doing this exquisite dance with her. We’re also both free to end this dance whenever we feel that’s our deepest truth.
We let love show the way.
(Auth note: Inspired by David Deida’s 3 Stages of Intimacy)
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.