Avoiding Bad Love — Reality, Respect and Misunderstood Romance

A combination of personal experiences, conversations with friends and reading feminist blogs (more serious thoughts on the Nice Guy™ concept I encountered there coming soon) have tempted me into writing a little guide to avoiding bad love, in basically two sections: Reality and Respect, with Misunderstood Romance as an overarching theme holding them together.

What do I mean with „bad love“? As this is a guide (and unlike the Nice Guy thing) it’s mostly about you — so bad love here means unhappy love. Means being involved romantically with somebody or wanting to be involved with somebody in ways that make you feel bad. They’re either not treating you right or outright rejecting you.


What does reality have to do with this? Basically that you should try to have your feelings „grounded“ in how the other person is actually behaving towards you. Where the „towards you“ part is at least as important as the other one. In a way that should go without saying, but it doesn’t. So often we have feelings for somebody based on what we see of them in other contexts, towards other people, or — even worse — what we imagine they could be like, what they maybe sometimes are like but most of the time not, or what they used to be like. Now, a certain amount of future orientation and expectation of change is good, and so is some tolerance for bad times. But expecting dramatic changes, expecting even to be able to bring these changes about yourself — no.

And this is where misunderstood romance comes in for the first time. Being unhappy in love in the sense of being in love with an idealized idea of somebody rather than their actual self makes us feel good on another level. We are the good ones, helping somebody to aspire to their higher being! Seeing the good in somebody, the soft core behind the hard shell! Suffering their mistreatment and ignorance until they finally see the light. Take a moment to think about how it would make you feel if somebody were in love with you like that. You see how patronizing that whole business is? You’re worse than an unwanted therapist, which is bad enough. With this kind of idealized love you are in the company of religious missionaries. So if you want to keep doing it, at least don’t call it love.


Not a big step to „respect“ any more now. Let’s assume somebody is actually treating you well, giving you all reasons to be in love with who they actually are towards you. Just one problem: You think that makes you a great couple, and they don’t. So you keep trying. You’re friends with them in a sad way, and whenever you can you sneak in some romantic advances. Again, try a quick change of perspectives. How would you feel on the other side of this? First of all, I’d say pretty creeped out at a certain point. Angry and guilty at the same time. And — disrespected. So this is somebody who claims to love you but doesn’t think you can make a good decision about who’s an appropriate partner for you? Furthermore: What are the chances that if somebody works you like this you’d give in for more than maybe a fling when you’re feeling bad about yourself? So realize that loving somebody and respecting their choice should go together. They don’t think you’re the right one for them? You probably aren’t. Respect is the right romance.


I’m realizing this was a little cruel. A lot of feelings which are pretty normal have been dismissed here. But that’s not really the point actually. These feelings (wanting to be with somebody who doesn’t want to be with you, hoping for somebody to realize your value, to treat you better, to live up to their good potential) are normal feelings, and it’s ok to have them. You have a right to have them. My argument is: they’re not love. And if you realize that, you’ll suffer from them less. If you want to be with somebody who doesn’t want to be with you it sure as hell hurts. It hurts your pride, your self-esteem, your trust in finding somebody to love eventually. What I’m saying is: don’t idealize these feelings. See them as something which is ok to have, but which you should and will get over eventually. The cruelty above was meant to show that you’re not loving better for staying with these feelings, rather the opposite.

The same is true in a more complicated way for the case of not outright rejection but bad treatment. What you get for staying in that kind of situation is the assurance to be on the right side, morally. Probably also somebody who doesn’t actually deserve you in a way, making them less likely to leave you. So you have to realize that to leave this kind of situation behind, you need to take two risks: To be actually rejected and hurt by somebody. And for you to get into situations where you reject and hurt people. And the second one might be worse. Again, to shy away from these risks is very human. Don’t feel bad for doing it. But don’t applaud yourself for it, either. Go look for somebody who treats you right, even though that will mean that sometimes you’re scared if you deserve them and if they’ll stay with you. Especially because sooner or later you will do stupid things that hurt them. Which is ok.

So this is the bottom line: the pains associated with love are certainly and always will be a part of life. But they’re not part of love, in the sense that love that makes a point of suffering them „in the name of love“ is not actually love. It’s passive-aggressive. It’s better to allow yourself the real aggressiveness sometimes. And then have a free chest to feel the real love.

PS: Of course, this is a limited approach to relationship troubles, and in being concerned mostly with the feelings around the „to be or not to be together“ situation is rightly titled „avoiding bad love“ — it has little to say on how to practice the good love in the long run. I don’t feel like writing about that right now, but I might someday.

Datum: Montag, 14. November 2011 20:30
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    I just found a beautiful little list of „untranslatable relationship words“, which has something to add to the topic of staying with somebody „bad“ — the bantu word Ilunga:

    Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

    Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way.

    Ilunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

    Ilunga restores the gray scale, where many of us at least occasionally find ourselves in relationships, trying to love imperfect people who’ve failed us and whom we ourselves have failed.