March 1, 2024 | Rome, Italy

I know you. Or do I?

By |2018-03-21T19:46:35+01:00October 30th, 2015|"Lost In Translation"|
The perfection you saw in others in the first flush of love can crack open into recrimination.

ome months ago I had a brilliant idea. Or at least what I thought was a brilliant idea. While spending an afternoon with one of my best girlfriends and listening to her lament about not finding a “decent guy,” I proposed that she let me introduce her to a man I’ve know for some years. Admittedly I didn’t know him very well, but well enough to recommend that they meet. He was close to her own age, nice, handsome, liked the outdoors and dogs as much as she does and lived close enough that distance wouldn’t be a challenge.

She agreed, he agreed, and voilà, it began.

The next weeks were filled with chatter about the budding relationship, how interesting each one found the other, how well it was going. Love was in the air. Toothbrushes left near the others’ sink. Each proclaiming they had met the “perfect” mate. I gloated over my matchmaking skills.

Life for them was grand.

Until a few months later — when suddenly it wasn’t.

And so it was that the tone of the conversations began to change. I watched firsthand, as an outsider (and most days a therapist), just how often we let our best dating behavior slip ever so silently through the tiny cracks in our perfect porcelain facade. It isn’t as if we’re lying when we’re on our best behavior. On the contrary, we’re being the best possible person we can be. It’s just that cracks are uncovered over time. For these two, it took exactly four months.

I’ve had similar experiences throughout my dating life — some lasting less, and some significantly longer, than four months. Whether it’s one person deeming a partner perfect or the other partner buffing their image to seem ideal, it’s finally all part of the facade we erect in hopes of acquiring what humans have struggled with getting and holding on to since the beginning of time — love.

Alain de Botton, among my favorite authors, provides excellent insight. “We fall in love,” he writes, “hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.”

It is this “precarious faith” in ourselves and in others that keeps us trying time and time again. It’s certainly what kept me trying. My friend, like the rest of us, hoped that the cracks in both her and her newly beloved would somehow be filled in by acceptance — or spackle as I like to call it. If my cracks can be filled by your spackle, and my spackle can fill your cracks, then maybe, just maybe, we can be ourselves, stay hinged, and grow. After all, isn’t the ability to be oneself the basis of love? My own neuroses and frailties certainly don’t have to become yours. But in couple-hood, and certainly with regard to love, both must still be met with kid gloves, spackle at the ready.

Unfortunately, some cracks are so deep and wide that on closer investigation – which is part of the process of getting to know each other — they can suddenly seem as big as a canyon. Spackle can’t patch them. If we’re grown up about the mess, we can shake hands, pack our toothbrushes and bid each other adieu.

I’ve often wondered if there’s a magic formula for meeting someone without this mask of perfection, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think the facades and masks are important because if only for a moment we’re “forced” to be good, to be well-read, to look our best, to try harder.

This “best” sets a high bar. But shouldn’t it for the sake of love? Shouldn’t love and companionship begin with a high bar? It’s human nature after all. Ask Darwin. The bar exists so that when things get icky, and in my own experiences they do, we have something to look back at as a way reassuring ourselves that our beloved has the potential to be good, mask or no.

As for my friends, they took the high road. Seeing they couldn’t fill the cracks, they shook hands and parted. Me? I vowed to never play matchmaker again.

About the Author:

Jennifer Allison wrote the "lost in Translation" column from 2014 to mid-2018.