Many people blame fairytales for their relationship problems. Especially Disney. Damn Cinderellas and Princes Charming and happilys ever after. So unrealistic.
But that word, “happily”, is a slippery word. What does happy mean? Where does happy come from? Can somebody else make you happy?
Fairytales make sense to limerents, at least before we get jaded by age and experience. The whole concept of the super special someone that transforms your world, gives purpose to your life and determines your fate, aligns beautifully with the euphoric infatuation for an LO. Oh, that’s it! They’re “the one”. I finally understand.
So that’s a good start, but as I’ve discussed before, limerence is only a start. The flower that may bear fruit. It’s the happily ever after bit that’s tricky, because (spoiler alert) limerence will end. It has to, just like flowers don’t last all season. I’m convinced that much of the disappointment around fairytales comes from the faulty association of limerence with happily ever after. “Nobody can be happy with one person forever!” Yes they can. But nobody can be limerent for one person forever. This might seem obvious, but as I said at the start “happy” is a really slippery concept.
At its simplest, happiness could be seen as the absence of pain and suffering; but that’s more just security or comfort. It could be delight, or pleasure, or thrill, or elation, but all those things are really just related to happiness; its showy-offy cousins. Most people take happiness to be a deeper and more fundamental state. A sense of contented satisfaction with life, and a background feeling of peace, fulfillment and optimism. Feeling “right” and thankful for being alive. These feelings are obviously quite far removed from limerence, with its hysterical highs and devastating lows, but many limerents (especially, perhaps first time limerents) mix them up. Limerence feels so good, so right, that it seems a form of happiness that transcends mere workaday personal fulfillment. This is epic stuff.
But we know enough about the neurophysiology of limerence to know that it is more about pleasure than happiness, and that distinction is crucial. Seeking pleasure leads to a life of escalating thrills, risky behaviour and short-term gratification of drives. Seeking happiness, by contrast, leads to long-term thinking, self-discovery, honesty, and consistent work to improve the situation of your life. FOMO is a good barometer for this: fear that you’re missing a great party or being excluded from a social clique is mostly about desire for external validators, and stems from insecurity about your own value. Getting into the party might lead to pleasure (relief?), but it wouldn’t lead to happiness.
Limerence is not a reliable starting point for finding happiness. LO may be intoxicatingly wonderful, but that’s not much of a basis for predicting whether life with them will be one of long-term happiness. To return to the question I posed at the start: can someone else make you happy? Other people can obviously bring us pleasure. LOs excel at that… but as we know, limerence is happening in our heads. We generate the sensation, however ecstatic. More profoundly, other people can certainly (by their actions) make you feel valued and safe and loved. But can someone actually make you fundamentally happy, by virtue of their behaviour and personality? Is it possible for some sainted individual to bond with an unhappy person, and through the charisma of their being, transform them into a happy person? No. Fundamentally we know this. We cannot rely on someone else for our own happiness; it has to come from within and it has to be based on your own self-esteem and self-image. Undoubtedly a good partner complements and enhances the happiness of any individual lucky enough to have their commitment, but they can’t be a wellspring of happiness that is passively dipped into.
And… we’re back to purposeful living again! If you make the conscious choice to take charge of your life, determine what you want, and how best you can help others, so many of these anxieties and complexities fall away. Taking purposeful steps every day to know yourself better, and decide on the sort of person you want to be, is the best way to underpin your life with a foundation of happiness. And you may just find that the kind of person you aspire to be is the kind of person that attracts other good people towards them. And two good people enhancing each other’s lives is by most definitions, pretty darn close to happily ever after…