Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam

Forget a ‘perfect’ partner and fantasy love. You have to be realistic

  • Luisa Tam says that we are constantly under the spell of a shallow modern culture that tries to program us into believing in a fantasy version of love
  • To avoid hurt and disappointment we must avoid looking for our ‘Prince Charming’ or ‘The One’ – but that doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity

If you’ve ever had a relationship that fell apart, your friends might have told you to adjust your expectations by being more realistic before moving on to find new love.

Telling you to have “realistic expectations” might not sound too sympathetic but it is probably the most honest, or even the best, advice to get.

It is natural to want to have a “perfect” relationship – or a close approximation to it – and no doubt some of these requirements are important when you are dating or at the beginning of a relationship.

But the danger is that sometimes this quest for perfection can confuse us into projecting unrealistic expectations onto our partner.

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On the other hand, having realistic expectations does not mean you should settle for mediocrity. And it certainly does not mean you go for someone who is boring, uncaring or does not fulfil your most basic need: to make you happy.

This is not an excuse to swear off romantic encounters. It is important, however, to understand the groundwork required to build a strong relationship that will stand the test of time and last beyond the honeymoon period. For that to happen, we need to accept that the sheen of perfection tends to be illusionary and will quickly lose its shine. Your partner might not be perfect, just like you, because they are human. But that’s OK.

We are constantly under the spell of a shallow modern culture that tries to program us into believing in a fantasy version of love, which forces us to look for the perfect romantic partner. We can end up putting an insurmountable pressure on ourselves and our partners to fit into this fantasy mould.

True love isn’t always like it is in the movies. Illustration: Marcelo Duhalde

Hollywood movies and fairy tales have always told us that “all you need is love” and “you will just know it when it happens”, making them the worst culprits of all, according to Valentina Tudose, a certified dating coach and relationship expert at Happy Ever After, a Hong Kong-based dating agency.

“When we don’t have a lot of clarity around our ideal relationship, we tend to create an idealistic and romanticised idea of what our ‘perfect partner’ should be like,” she says. “When we find someone who matches that profile, even a little bit, we unconsciously assign all the imaginary qualities of our own ‘Prince Charming’ to this person, effectively convincing ourselves that they are ‘The One’.”

She adds that because attraction is essentially based on a cocktail of hormones that mimic addictive drugs and can easily cloud our judgment, it is hard to tell the difference in the early stages of a relationship between what is real and what is imagined.

She says people who are considered “hopeless romantics” are more prone to falling for someone who superficially resembles their “ideal” partner. This leaves such individuals susceptible to a world of disappointment and hurt when the reality doesn’t match the fantasy. And when a fantasy love fails, it is often the fantasy we cannot let go of, rather than the reality of what or who we lost, she adds.

Fantasising about new romantic or sexual scenarios is a great way to keep things interesting in an established relationship
Valentina Tudose

Even though it may seem mesmerising to be indulged in love that is magical, falling in love with the fantasy of a lover will almost always lead to pain and disappointment.

“The myth of love being magic is actually another part of the problem. Have you noticed that all fairy tales end with the wedding day and all we know is that they lived happily ever after?” Tudose says.

“The reality of relationships is that things tend to go downhill after the honeymoon period tapers off. As the attraction declines and partners start to take each other for granted, the magic fades away and the discrepancy between reality and imagination creates a lot of the conflicts that feel like the opposite of magic.”

A quick route to a broken heart is projecting unrealistic projections onto your partner. Photo: Alamy

But creating fantasies in an established relationship is another story, as it can spice things up if done in controlled doses.

“Fantasising about new romantic or sexual scenarios is a great way to keep things interesting in an established relationship, and it can be a healthy exercise to deepen the intimacy and create a stronger connection,” Tudose says.

“The difference between this and creating a story in our head about how an ideal relationship should be – usually before you meet that ideal person – is that obviously this story will create unconscious expectations that, in turn, will lead to disappointment when faced with reality.”

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Being able to differentiate between what we want (our expectations) and what we need from a partner (our minimum standards) is an important skill most people need to learn, Tudose says. The best way to do this is to ask yourself: if your expectations were missing from your relationship, would you be able to accept that and still be happy?

After all, she adds, building a strong relationship requires balance between chemistry and compatibility – meaning that having a strong physical attraction is as important as having common vision and values, commitment, and the willingness to make things work no matter what, without compromising on one’s requirements.

Partners need to be aligned in their vision and goals, be willing to work together on issues that generate conflict, and learn advanced relationship skills that allow them to continue to grow together as opposed to growing apart.

If you can let go of unrealistic expectations and accept that things will not always be rosy, and that both of you accept each other for who you really are, then you are on your way to building a fantastic and long-lasting love – rather than a fantasy one that will eventually wither.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post