I'm a huge Ally McBeal fan. Those of you who know me or have been following this blog already know that and most likely also know that I've been revisiting this show through the recently released dvd collection. Well, the other night I was watching one of season two's episodes entitled 'Love's Illusions' and it really got me thinking. (Well most of the episodes actually get me thinking all the time, enough for me to actually take down notes and memorize some McBealisms or Fishisms. I guess once a geek, always a geek!). This last one was quite different though as it made me feel uneasy, not so much for making me realize something new but more for reaffirming something I had long speculated on. It was so striking to me, striking enough to make me rewind this conversation between Ally and John five times.
John: If you do get married, ultimately you'll end up getting something you don't want.
Ally: Why do you say that?
John: Because what you want, isn't out there.....At some unconscious level, I think you know that the only world that will ultimately end up not disappointing you is the one you make up.
The interesting thing is, I'm inclined to believe that on some level, what John Cage said to Ally applies to all of us. We all settle. I've always thought of the phrase 'settling down' when referring to marriage. Sure, it's a way of closing the deal, arriving at some conclusion somehow. But I've always been bothered by the word 'settle' also implying a step or move down. But it's true though. In choosing a long-term or lifelong partner, people do settle on some level. Why? Because if we don't, we'll all end up alone and lonely (assuming of course you are one who desires to be with someone, which is not the case for everyone). On some level, you are going to have to settle and compromise when it comes to some of your ideals. I will be so daring as to say that (almost) all of us who are with partners did not end up with exactly who we wanted in our heads prior to committing to our current partners (again, assuming that you had an image of your future ideal someone). And that is the key component that John Cage did not explicitly say to Ally McBeal; that the real problematic aspect about Ally is that she is not one who is willing to compromise on her pre-set standards and negotiate her expectations. This is why she'll never find EXACTLY what she's looking for out there because he does not exist as he does in her mind. And that is true for all of us who have had dreams of how our future partners will look like and be like; true for all of us who have come up with lists of qualities we desire in a partner; true for all of us who have, at any point, held on to 'ideals'.
I am not trying to dishonor any partnerships or marriages here, whether yours or mine. I am simply stating the reality that if someone truly tightly held on to every single quality or requirement on that 'ideals list' and went out into the real world trying to find someone who fits the bill, item by item, that person will both be looking forever and end up disappointed. The fact is, there is a reason why it's called an 'ideal'. The fact is, when we choose our partners, we find ourselves modifying that list of ideals, maybe letting go of some and hopefully, still holding on to a few non-negotiables. If we can be honest with ourselves, we'll admit that maybe our partners now are not as perfectly attractive as what we had envisioned before, not as wealthy, not as patient, not as spiritual, not as wild, not as conservative, not as liberal, not as fit, not as brilliant, not as funny, not as serious, not as tall, not as sociable, not as romantic, not as articulate, not as good of a cook, not as spontaneous, and the list can go on and on. However, when we became certain that we've found the person who both enhances us and lives up to our non-negotiables, then we have found our partner and made our choice. After this, we learn to want what we have chosen and find other gifts along the way, and therefore find 'happiness' as well. And yes, that is a cliche but a very true and practical one.
The Buddhists are correct in believing that we find happiness (and less pain) when we abandon our expectations, when we cease being tied to notions of how things should be. In other words, we increase our chances for happiness when we stop being slaves to our 'ideals' and learn to accept what is and make the most of what we have (without succumbing to desperation, of course, and in the process letting go of your non-negotiables and having unbelievably low standards that ultimately reflect upon your sense of self-worth, or lack thereof).
Years of trying to deconstruct 'love' have also led me to be inclined to debunk the notion of 'The One' (and you all better know that I'm not talking of God or any kind of deity here). Aside from being utterly rigid about ones ideals when it comes to finding a partner, fixating on finding 'The One' and 'Only One' will truly mess up your chances for happiness and contentment. When I taught Sociology of the Family at the university, I remember one of my brilliant students (who uncannily reminded me of me, not in terms of her brilliance but for her romanticism and what I choose to call her 'emotional essence') asked me if I believed in 'The One'. During that time, I was in limbo with someone who I considered to be 'the one'. As tempted as I was to say to my student, 'Yes, I do, and I've found him', I knew that being 'in limbo' would be like a contradiction in terms and doesn't really support my case much. So the rational side of me fortunately kicked in (and maybe the responsible side as well, not wanting to mess up and scar my student for life) and I said, 'Yes I believe in someone being 'the one' but I also believe that 'the one' could be more than one person'. I choose to believe that there are cases where different people could be 'the one' depending on what stage in our lives we are in, depending on who we are or have become at a certain point in our lives. Someone could have been your 'the one' when you were 25, and another could take on that title when you turn 30, or whatever age you choose to end your search for a partner. (My premise here, of course, is that you follow the current norms of society where marriage or commitment veers you from further searching for yet another 'the one'.)
A wise person even assured me that you could have two or more people that you may consider as your 'the ones' and that this is not something you should lose sleep over feeling guilty because this merely underscores your complexity as a human being, your multifaceted nature especially in terms of what fulfills and enriches you. The point is, we change as individuals...our needs, perspectives, priorities, beliefs, worldview. It would be naive to believe that there is only one 'perfect' (in the strictest sense) person that will address all our needs and suit us perfectly for the rest of our lives. Life is dynamic. To think otherwise is an illusion. To torture ourselves with the notion that the ultimate goal in our search for love and a partner is to find that one person who will suit us PERFECTLY for the rest of our lives and give us eternal bliss is unacceptable. That person does not exist. Why? Because that person is also changing and will continue to change through out life, just as we are and will, and no two people change exactly the same way, at the same pace. What's more is that nobody is perfect and to expect another person to live up to your ideals list without you living up to each and every item yourself, is unjust and cruel. As they say, you can't expect others to give you what you can't give (to) yourself. And that's just another pill for all of us to swallow, whether we like it or not.
**(Image copied from http://bestuff.com/stuff/john-cage-ally-mcbeal)