Love In The Age of Hyperbole: Our Culture vs. Love

Neil StraussNeil66 Comments

According to Billboard magazine, the greatest love song of all time is the Diana Ross and Lionel Richie duet “Endless Love,” in which she sings, “You’re every breath that I take/You’re every step that I make.”

Spotify reports the most popular wedding song is John Legend’s “All of Me,” in which he proclaims, “Give your all to me/I’ll give my all to you.”

And just last week, Time Out named the Beach Boys’ seminal “God Only Knows” as its favorite love song, with Carl Wilson crooning that if his lover should ever leave him, “then what good would living do me?”

As beautiful and moving as they are, these songs and countless others like them point to a serious cultural problem—and the reason many of us are disappointed, even shattered by love: We have unrealistic expectations of what it is to love and be loved.

As any good therapist will tell you, these aren’t lyrics about healthy love. They’re about dysfunctional and codependent relationships.

I know this because, after some two decades of relationships that began with passion but soon ended with grief, I dedicated five years to discovering the truth about love—how to find it and how to keep it. The journey transformed me from arguably the most infamous bachelor in the world (as the author of the pick-up bible The Game) to the most committed married man and father I can be (and the author of a relationship bible The Truth).

So with Valentines Day upon us, it’s time to take a look at how, as a culture, we mistake unhealthy obsession for romantic love. When we make another human being as essential to our survival as air, that isn’t actually love. It’s addiction. Literally.

These lyrics so many of us know by heart could easily be mistaken for the diagnostic symptoms described by Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. These include tendencies to “confuse love with neediness,” “feel empty and incomplete when…alone,” and “assign magical qualities to others.”

In order to have love in our lives, and to have powerful, fulfilling, connected relationships, we must recognize that there is a difference between childish love and adult love. Childish love is dependent. An infant cannot survive without a parent or caregiver.

Adult love, on the other hand, is inter-dependent. It’s when two people who can take care of themselves on their own create a third entity—a relationship—which they cherish and nurture together.

Think about the famous Jerry Maguire line “you complete me.” It may sound romantic, but one must be complete on one’s own before attempting to have a successful relationship.

When Julia Roberts proposes to Dermot Mulroney in My Best Friend’s Wedding by telling him, “Let me make you happy,” most people sigh, “true love.” But the truth is we can’t control someone else’s emotions. It’s not our job to make our partners feel anything. We are each responsible for our own happiness.

Pick any movie or song where someone says they can’t live without another person. And recognize that this is a pathology. It’s a fear of abandonment that has nothing to do with the other person, but a deep childhood wound created by a neglectful or absent parent.

Love is great. It is powerful. It is an emotional home worth living in for as much of our lives as possible. But only when it comes from the whole person, not the hole in a person.

So if we want to be not crazy in love, but truly in love, and we want to create great models of relationships for our culture and our children, then we have to throw out the old tropes and create new ones.

And not only can they still be as lofty as any pop song or romantic film, but they can actually be more powerful:

Instead of saying “I can’t live without you,” we can declare, “I can live without you, but I choose to be with you.”

Instead of saying “You complete me,” we can recognize, “I am complete. You are complete. And together we’re creating something new that grows deeper, more beautiful, and more precious every day.”

Instead of saying, “I’ll make you happy,” we can joyfully proclaim, “I’ve never been as happy as I am when I’m with you.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake I made in the past was that I believed love was about finding the right person. As the Disney song goes, “Someday, my prince will come.” But that’s another fairy tale. In reality, love is about becoming the right person. Don’t look for the person you want to spend your life with. Become the person you want to spend your life with.

To loosely paraphrase the psychoanalyst and author James Hollis, the biggest gift you can give to your lover for Valentines Day and forever is your own best self. Because the success of your relationship with your partner is dependent on one thing only: your relationship with yourself. So before showering your partner with love today, make sure you give yourself some of that love first. You’ll find, as I did, that the love you’re then able to share will be that much more powerful.

66 Comments on “Love In The Age of Hyperbole: Our Culture vs. Love”

  1. I’m alone this Valentines Day. But I like this idea. Even though I’ve never had a relationship, this will be a good thing to talk about and to know to get into one. Thank you Neil.

  2. I didn’t get my girlfriend anything for Valentines Day. Going to tell her I got her my best self. If I get smacked in the face, I’m blaming you haaaaaa!

  3. I recently met an older fellow in his 50s who had never been married and was loving life – dancing and partying all night at the club where I work. Not only did I not feel sorry for him but I admired him for not needing another person to be happy. I suppose that plot doesn’t make for a good rom com though.

  4. Very true. Our culture’s messed-up expectations have made a rod for our backs. Very hard to undo decades of such programming though. I’m beginning to fear at 47 that it may be almost impossible…Thanks very much for the article.

  5. Excellent article Neil, i totally agree. Need to stand on your own two feet as a person first to give more

  6. Dam not enough time at the gym listening to the Airwolf theme song & going beast to be my best self today so I’m solo. I could flirt with ex girlfriends on Facebook but I’ll probably just eat some dollar store Texas Toast & play Battlefield 3 online & complain to myself that there’s hardly any premium map servers for PS3. I do plan to make to the gym tho, the chics there today are more likely to be single right? I’ll browse pof too if I’m really feeling wild. Been working a lot of overtime lately so that’s part of my excuse, if it goes according to plan the overtime will eventually make next Valentine’s day some true best self Airwolf shit with pool parties, music, babes, cat litter for oil leaks, fighting with strippers on cocaine, non wheat pasta- all the things we work hard for.

  7. The greatest gift you can give to your partner for Valentines Day and forever is your own best self.

    I said this quote to my wife as if I’d just made it up and she said “Awww, that’s so nice.” and gave me a real sexy look. Cheers for that, Neil mate!

  8. 100% single this Valentine’s day, but why is it not OK for me to be as excited about my own life and where it’s going as I am expected to be over a relationship that may or may not bring me even a fraction of the ecstasy I get reaching the next level in my current project? Do what makes you happy. Forget what people expect of you. You will stun the world with what you can accomplish, and that is the best reward of all.

  9. Just got out of a relationship this Friday.
    Nothing is guaranteed and even thoughts like this are a false bit of hope. Be your best self for yourself, never stop improving, but most of all fellas be happy for yourself. Things outside yourself are totally out of your control… so enjoy the ride no matter where it takes you.

  10. This would make it awfully difficult to make a mix tape for your partner on Valentine’s Day. 😉

  11. I finally have love for myself. Months past, I didn’t want to live, dead inside struggling for years to move through to get beyond the pain. Ended significant relationships because I couldn’t love or accept myself…and couldn’t reveal fear of failure, or ask for help. Finally I am becoming love. Instead of hiding from the past, battled through did the core work. Wounds uncovered, realized, forgiven and released. Change the legacy. Now I am able to show up, demonstrating compassion and grace for myself and others. Finally feel aliveness. Becoming love. Single, and evolving into a woman far greater than imagined. Blow up all expectations.

  12. Incredible. I can recognize some of oriental philosophy in this post. And the subject is as powerful as the truth is.

  13. Capitalism has corrupted liberal feminism and corrupted it so its all about women being brainwashed into thinking that buying shit and having a man as a slave is their right, they are sold an ideology that tells them “because you’re worth it” as the advertising slogan goes. True feminism is about equality and freedom for all not just bourgeois women

  14. Neil, this goes hand in hand with the book, “The Way of the Superior Man”. Thanks for the post!

  15. Great article! I see this happening every time when I am outside and watching/listening all those couples, or single people. Self love – but true self love is by far the most important thing during ones life! Plus clearing all that old shit is the second – but its not only our old habbits and patterns from parents, its also maaany things hidden in our subconsious mind and some in DNA too.. But when one start to clear it, he will see big changes in life.. It need some time.. No pushing or pulling, just get the balance and stay as much in the now as possible..

  16. One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie says that it’s my business who I love and it’s your business who you love. If I love me and you happen to love me too then that’s a plus not a necessity. Whole is synonymous with complete meaning there’s nothing missing.

    I’ve often said that these so-called love songs painted unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of what true love really is. What is portrayed as real love is nothing more than a watered down drink, it’s a placebo.

    These artists and marketers paint a world where no one in it can possible live up to. The specialness that we seek from another person is an order that they can never fill but still keep trying to do so despite all the social proof that it doesn’t work.

    Valentine’s day is another one of those commercial holidays that help rekindle this psychotic behavior each year. The reason that the best thing we can give to another is our best self is because there is no other, there’s only projection. No two people have ever been in love before.

    What you’re in love with (I use that term very loosely) is a projection of your own thoughts. Is love what truly what they portray it to be would we really need a designated holiday to love on each other?

    I read The Truth and it was one of the most honest accounts of how understanding ourself completely transforms our view on love. Most people are only parroting what they hear on these songs anyway, not really stopping to decipher a deeper meaning.

    Great post as always Neil.

  17. Just read Kamal Ravikant’s Love Yourself like your life depends on it. Doing the practice. This fits well with my journey. Connected to The Truth like nothing else in a long time. It was what i was looking for, now beginning to deal with past trauma and get healthy.

  18. You are so right and I learned about this after found your book, the game and everything, I didn’t care if I was alone this Valentine because I feel happy with myself, but suddenly a few days before in my birthday this girl came back looking for me and asked me to be her boyfriend and I had a very nice Valentine’s Day! Thanks Neil for all your help

  19. Thanks Neil. I ended a 33 year marriage this summer. Over the last 9 months I keep realizing more and more how deeply dysfunctional and profoundly twisted it was. I had given up almost all my hobbies and most of my friends over the years. I had tried to be everything for someone who could never be satisfied. I lost myself many years before she lost me. I have been working intensely on finding out who I am and how to be healthy.

    I read “The Game” as part of trying to understand why I had never felt attractive. I was trying to understand how to connect. What I eventually learned is the same message you said in this article: I could never be complete, never be my best self, if I continued to look to others for my worth. I had to look to myself and my own spiritual being. I had to find the love of my creator and appreciate that I AM worthy, I AM handsome. I AM loved and worthy of love. Sadly I also had to sever connection with someone who remains totally committed to blaming all the evils of the world on others. She sees the world in black and white and I made some stupid mistakes that she will never really forgive. I can’t keep getting beaten up the rest of my life and having me as a crutch, or a whipping boy, is not helping her either.

    To my joy and delight my Higher Power had a surprise in store. 6 months after moving out, I found and was found by someone kind, thoughtful, sexy, talented and compassionate. We understand each other. We BOTH listen. We see and hear and really listen. It is so nice to not feel alone when with the one I love. We have been through the mill. We have loved and had to get out of a smothering and crushing marriage. We each stayed long enough to raise our kids. Our ex’s have had to learn to stand on their own two feet. We found each other when we were ready to be whole and to build something bigger with two whole persons.

    I write my own love songs. I try to stay real in them. Real love, real life, it beats the hell out of the plastic versions we so often get stuck with.

  20. I’m just a little too Machiavellian for this new Neil Strauss. I feel like if, when he was with the three girls in the poly house, that if he would have been a little less concerned with hurting their feelings and more concerned with fulfilling his own needs, then he’d still be living in sexual bliss.

  21. Hi,
    I feel like this is true not only for romantic relationships but also for family relationships. What I mean is that recently I moved away from parents house, to live on my own in the city where I work. I am 25 yo male. My parents had a somewhat negative attitude towards this decision of mine. I tried to be polite and explain it to them, that I think that it is finally time for me to stand on my own legs and that I am not moving out because I do not love them, but somehow they made me feel that I was responsible for keeping them happy by living at home. I just wanted to shout to their faces that they should not make me responsible for their own happiness, they should see this as their chance to have their own private life handed back to them, without me being there and needing to be taken care of. Do you think I am over complicating this family situation, or do you agree that there is a connection here?

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