Opinion

We cannot control love, so why do we keep on trying to?

By Harriet Piercy

Published Dec 17, 2020 at 07:00 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

When you’re dating one or however many people you’re dating at a time—no judgement here—there’s a point when you realise that (oh dear!) you’ve fallen for one of them. When you’ve reached that point, do yourself a favour and tie yourself to something solid, ear plugs in and draw the eye mask down. Just hold up for a hot minute to catch yourself before you roar ahead. Consider yourself warned. But if, like me, you ignored the alarm bells and strode on oblivious to your irrational behaviour, then this article is for you. Have you ever noticed how much you change when you start falling for someone?

Not only your likes, dislikes and habits change, but sometimes even the way you act whether they’re around or not. Now, I want to start off with full disclosure: as a writer you have to decide whether you’re actually up to the job of leaving your shame, embarrassment and dignity at the door. You better be able to laugh at yourself too, because sometimes you’ll be the only one laughing, and you probably will be more often than not seeing as you spend much of your time alone writing.

We talk so much on paper, and because of this we don’t necessarily have those social cues and filters that we usually tiptoe around in real-life conversations. So much of what we say is truly better left unsaid out loud, but alas, here I am, prepared to scare off any intruders in my single life. What makes me feel safe is that only those who read will know. So I am among friends, if I do say so myself.

After a year of (borderline serial) dating, I have come to the conclusion that actually, I am not ready to date at all. One after another, and another, and another of inflated expectations and deflated realisations, I now know where I, and after speaking to others on the rare to come by social flamboyance, they too, go terribly wrong.

We have all to some extent felt significantly love lost in 2020, and it’s hard to imagine that lockdown began in March and not January. We had three months of gloriously free oblivion, unlimited cocktails, sloppy kisses and closed-eye Uber rides. Then, crunch. With tails between our legs we retreated into our burrows, giving us infinite time to go over those sloppy kisses and dates gone awry. And so, the ‘why did I say or do that’ merry go round commenced. We started to marinade our bad dating decisions with vengeance, but something we also began to do was cling onto them, because in our single, bored and ultimately horney state, the ones that didn’t work out were all we had.

Well, not all we had. Somewhere along the line, you may have dated a goodie, and wondered why a) you didn’t notice that they were or b) they didn’t notice that you were. To jump forward a little bit, there is a reason it didn’t work out so let it go and move on. Waiting only works when it’s reciprocated, and to slap even more realism on it, sometimes even then it doesn’t. Let’s dissect your behaviour from the moment you started to like this person, pre-lockdown, shall we?

As this is before the end of the world as we knew it, our behaviours were hopefully quite ‘normal’. Actually, if you dated a lot, they probably all blurred considerably into one. Same introduction, your self pitch is unintentionally memorised due to a sheer amount of repetition and blurted at full speed to get it out of the way so that you can, phew, finally ask: ‘so, what about you?’. More often than not it’s the same process for your date. If the date went well, you’d hope a second was on the cards. This is when things get interesting, the second is match point. You’ve met the person, you kind of like them, you have an idea of what they like, and don’t. Now, have you ever noticed how their first impressions on you shape how you behave on the second date?

For example, I once dated someone who said they preferred pears to apples. A simple subconscious note I’d taken en route to our next pub stop. The very next day, I found myself reaching for a pear—the very fruit, prior to meeting the handsome chap, I could not bear the taste of. It’s like a cross between a soggy braeburn with the texture of uncooked plantain, oh, and I ate it alright, gobbled it down with a juicy smile on my face.

Another example, we sometimes panic when we know our crush will disagree with our answer to something. I was asked where I’d go in the world if I could leave tomorrow, generally I love this question, but they had already answered first with Tahiti and their dislike of cold and rough around the edges places. Before I knew it an entire array of gobbledygook left my mouth with certainty: “oh lovely! Funny you should say that, an island in the South Pacific archipelago is probably exactly where i’d go too, wouldn’t mind a cocktail by the beach,” when actually, I just really wanted to go to Iran to see the Lut Desert or on a backpacking trip along the Silk Road.

My point is, we tend to act out of character by trying to be what we assume the person we’ve started dating wants us to be, especially if we fancy them. In a way, we are being controlled by wanting to control how someone sees us, so in a sense, we are actually just controlling ourselves.

Similarly to people with OCD in fact, when we start to like someone we have lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of cortisol, which explains why we’re constantly on the cusp of fight or flight. We’re either choosing to face the threat or leave it behind, so in a controlling sense like someone with OCD would do, we find ways to ignore the stressors of flight and instead mimic (dress and act in a way our crush does) to combat our need to leave it behind. That’s why we never really get to know who that person is, nor they us because we are not ourselves.

This distortion of ourselves heightens over all else when we are trying to control someone else’s feelings towards us. So if earlier, you answered b) ‘they didn’t notice that you were a goodie’ then ask yourself again, did you really give them a chance to?

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