did you fall or did you jump?

Love is dangerous enough when it blindsides us, and unexpectedly we find ourselves in its clutches, spellbound by a certain someone and eating our hearts out. Its force isn’t easy to resist, and that’s why
many of us have succumbed and ended up in relationships with the wrong people.
But what is harder to condone is a more perverse phenomenon—plunging into love as a deliberate way to slip the leash of common sense. We humans are capable of a lot of mischief, and maybe one of
our best tricks is to purposely wrap ourselves in the fog of romance, in order to do something foolish.
Now what circumstance would provoke such behavior? Maybe this.
The Life Alarm rings and it’s time for a relationship. The moment is ripe, but there’s a glitch: the only candidate we’ve found isn’t really right for us. We need a way to paper over that fact so we can move forward. We need a form of delusion. So we induce the state of being in love; we use it as a gambit to allow us to move our agenda forward.

And fortunately, we have several things on our side.

One, recklessness carries its own unique rush. Facing a major decision, people sometimes take the attitude of “the less I know, the better!” It’s more fun to put all your bucks on an unknown horse than to follow the Racing Form. Even cold-blooded corporate types can
be caught doing this: you’ll see them overlook a long-time employee who has earned the corner office, in order to bring in somebody they know squat about, based on a slick resume and a steamed up interview.

Two, there’s a very popular theory that love should be mad and impetuous. That’s the genius of it, that’s the height of the romantic. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare groups together “the lunatic, the lover and the poet,” saying that “lovers and madmen have such seething brains” that they overshoot “cool reason”. Many people take this as a recommendation.
But is it?

the solution to the romantic love conundrum 
So what are we to do with this thing I’ve called the In-Love Reaction, this altered state (as lofty as poetry and as deep as mating) that makes us exalt its object above all others, regardless of how inappropriate
that object is?
Do we have to think of it as a threat to happiness—an enemy of compatibility?
Surprisingly, I think the answer is no. The key to this answer lies in the message carried by the experience of being in love. If we only think of its dangerous power to impel us, we neglect its avowed agenda, the thing it is reaching for. And paradoxical as it may sound, I think that thing is union with a soulmate.
That’s what nature gets us all stirred up about; that’s what makes us bewitched and bothered—the sense that this person we’ve met is the one who can be our lover and our best friend. That’s why falling in love feels more monumental than simple sexual attraction. The whole emotional extravaganza is nature’s way of telling us that life’s biggest brass ring is at hand (the best chance for successful mating). When the chemicals kick in, that’s exactly what they are saying.
What misfires is not the goal, which is noble and right. What goes wrong is that the In-love Reaction tends to make its move before it has collected enough information. It picks up a few facts about the new person, a few promising facts, then makes its leap, which is nevertheless an attempt to reach for something wholly worthwhile.

The leap is in good faith, but it too often misses its own target. And if things then go awry, that isn’t what the In-love Reaction had in mind.
For that reason I think it can be reasoned with. If we take the time to gather facts that affect the outcome it desires, it just might be willing to listen. I mean, compatibility (which equals soulmate-ness) is exactly what it is looking for—that is its specialty. So even though it is a magic spell, it may be amenable to data on that subject. It’s up to us. If we don’t abuse the In-love Reaction by summoning it for specious reasons, and if when it arises naturally we take a little care to supply it with good information about whether we really have anything in common with the person under consideration, things just might work out okay. If confronted with clear evidence that its mission is going to fail, the In-love Reaction will spontaneously retreat.

I’ll admit it, there is a thrill to “loving across a gap.” It’s exciting to fall for someone you know very little about; it’s especially kicky on a sexual level.
But you know what? It’s exciting to fall in love with someone you love.

grounded love
On a radio show, one snowy Tuesday during Valentine’s week, when this point was made crystal clear. Listeners were supposed to call in and give their thoughts on Valentine themes, and the hostess and I were expecting a lot of calls from women, and a lot from young people. Instead what we got was over half the calls from men, middle-aged and older. These men wanted to tell us how blessed they felt, because decades
earlier, they had found a wonderful woman. They wanted to talk about how they had met, and they kept using the phrase “my best friend.” Many of these calls were very touching.

But the ones that took the cake—and there were several of them— involved a special plot line.

She and I were good friends for years. We each went
through other relationships and it never dawned on
us that we could be anything more than friends. Then
we found ourselves both unattached at the same time,
and we were spending a lot of time together, and really
we’d become each other’s best pals. And one day, one of
us—I can’t remember which—said, “You know, I’ve always
found you attractive. I mean, do you think there’s
any way that . . . ” And we looked at each other, and we smiled, and a change took place, surprisingly fast; we went to a whole other level. It was very romantic—very
sexy too. And by the time we realized what we had, we
realized that we had never had it with anyone else.

This story shows that there is a beautiful, positive way in which the In-Love Reaction can be induced, encouraged, deliberately cultivated. And in a good way, it provides further proof that we have more control over it than many claim. The terrifying forces that come into play when you fall in love can actually be summoned in the service of real compatibility.
And that is exactly what I recommend. When you meet an interesting person, enjoy the sensations that run through you, enjoy the thrills on the midway ride. If it feels romantic and sexy, savor that. But don’t forget to try out the friendship side, the conversations about every conceivable thing, the shared experiences as you try exploring the world together. And gently, firmly, hold a little piece of your soul back. Fight the compulsion to throw all your chips on that number, until you’ve had a chance to evaluate. Don’t commit yet, keep your eyes open and learn learn learn; find out if there is a real foundation to build on.
And don’t think that when you swear off the unsuited kind of partner that you chose last time, that means you have to give up the magic and romance too. In fact it is more romantic to fall in love with someone you really like as a person, than with someone you have to deceive yourself to fall for. Grounded love is more romantic than wishful love; clear-sighted love beats deluded love every time.
And grounded love proves itself in another important way—it lasts.
There’s one more thing we can do to give romantic love the best possible chance of being evoked by someone who is really worth it. That is to give ourselves more choice of partners. Go out and make a real
effort to meet the right person, instead of taking the passive approach and choosing only from those who happen to wash up on our shore. I wrote a whole book on this topic, Why Mr. Right Can’t Find You,
about the many opportunities that are available in today’s world for those who are willing to be intrepid.
But there is one avenue I want to emphasize here, because history has turned a corner that makes grounded love much more possible than ever before. So when you are ready to look for a new relationship, consider this.

online dating as a plunge into the rational
In the good old days (less than two decades ago) most folks didn’t have a very big selection of partners, and so they could be forgiven if they fell in love foolishly. Especially once they were out in the working world, it wasn’t that easy to meet people, and who wanted to be lonely?
That’s how it was, but it isn’t that way anymore, because the Internet came along and changed the landscape of romance forever. The big frustration used to be knowing your dream mate was out there somewhere, but not being able to find them. Now all it takes is for both of you to be seriously looking online.
It should be obvious that if you have more candidates to choose from, you will make a better choice. But let me offer a simple proof. Suppose there are three men out there, A, B, and C, all of whom would find you attractive and interesting and would want to be with you, if they had the chance. Now suppose that if you met them, you would find A and B attractive physically, and you’d find B and C to be simpatico and friend material. If you only meet A and C, you’ll have a tough choice, and you’ll either end up alone or with
a man who is only a partial match for you. But if you meet all three, you’ll easily choose B. He wins over either of the others, if you get a chance to meet him.

This illustrates the power of choosing from more people. There are many good ways to achieve that. But it is the special genius of online mating.

Not only does the Internet give you much more choice, but the online interface encourages you, and in some ways forces you, to approach that choice in a more rational manner. And therefore it is more likely to lead to what I called grounded love.

Let us count the ways.
1. If you go to a store and they only sell one kind of fridge, there’s a tendency to just take it and get on with your day. Why learn a whole lot about it if you know you’re going to buy it anyway? But if they sell five different kinds of fridge, you’re going to ask the salesperson to point out the different features, explain
the advantages and disadvantages—because how else can you choose? Greater selection demands greater knowledge; it forces you to do some research. It’s exactly the same with online dating. If you are confronted with five worthy prospects, you’re going to delve into their details, so you can decide which guy is right for you. You’re going to do your homework before deciding which of them to meet in person. And what
will you be looking for? Compatibility. What a good thing to do upfront.
2. When you’re checking out people online, you have a few photos to look at and the rest is words.1 You see their responses to multiple choice questions, and you read their own words in their profile, and then if there is mutual interest you probably end up emailing quite a bit and talking on the phone, before you meet in person. This has been well described as “getting to know people from the inside out.” Under more traditional circumstances, when the first encounter is in person, it is much easier for people to get distracted by chemistry and sometimes short-circuit the process of getting to know someone’s character and interests.
3. Choosing candidates to consider is very efficient online. Before you even look at individual ads you can use search parameters to find those who meet your criteria in areas like age range, body type (meaning you each like the other’s), location, income, drinking and smoking preferences, politics, religion, desire for children, and many others. So you get the benefit of a large pool of people, while being able to narrow it down easily to the ones you will look at more closely.
4. When you go the online route, you are in control of your own presentation, in every detail. You can choose photos that represent you fairly and positively. You can decide exactly what to say about yourself. You can present your mind, your wit, your soul by creating a profile that expresses these things. And the
more specific and original you are in your profile, the easier it is for your true mate to recognize you. When the first encounter was in person, it was often hard to get to the things that you wished the other person to know, and to find out the things about them that mattered to you. You didn’t get to focus their attention on the facets of you that you wanted them to react to.

Now you do. Once you do meet in person with someone you discovered online, you may take to each other or you may not. You may have to check out quite a few people before you find a comfort level in being together, an ease of communication, passions in common, and passion in common too. When you find those things, magic may well happen. And if you conduct an online quest with skill and persistence, you’ve got a good chance that it will be grounded love.

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