In this entry, I want to offer one of the most important intimacy tools I know. It’s a way to evaluate which attractions lead to real love, and which lead to pain. Of course, it is very oversimplified, and no-one can forecast the future. Still, it’s a powerful tool, and you can use it to evaluate every relationship in your life.
The tool is simply this; assess which of two camps an attraction falls into; an “attraction of deprivation”, or an “attraction of inspiration.”
Attractions of deprivation draw us in like an undertow, and usually get us hurt. In these relationships, we keep feeling we have to do something to win our partners’ love, approval, or care. It’s a painful pattern, but it’s hugely compelling. Behavioral theory, for example, teaches that intermittent reward is the most compelling system of reinforcement, and the hardest to break free from. In intermittent reward systems, you get rewarded only sporadically, and you can’t control when the reward will come.
Gambling is a perfect example of intermittent reward. So are attractions of deprivation.
- Have you ever been crazy about someone who wasn’t available, or wasn’t good for you?
- Have you ever invested way too much time trying to teach someone to treat you right?
If you haven’t, come introduce yourself. I don’t think we’ve met yet.
I spent many years believing that attractions of deprivation were real love, because they drew me so intensely. I assumed that my relationships failed because of a lack in me, not because of a fatal flaw embedded in the attractions themselves.
One day, I had a revelation. True, my intense attractions always included unavailability as a main ingredient. But I was also able to fall deeply in love with qualities of kindness, decency – and availability. The problem was that I was looking for turn-on first, and not inspiration. Of course there had to be a spark of attraction, but there were certainly people who attracted me and inspired me too! I realized that I had two totally different systems of wiring—and I could choose which to follow. From that point, I began to look for people who inspired me with their goodness. And that’s when things began to change.
If we aren’t trained to make this distinction, our romantic choices will be less wise, and our romantic futures bleaker.
How do we recognize attractions of inspiration? In attractions of inspiration, we don’t have to earn love by fixing our imperfections. Our partners might challenge us to be better, but at bottom, they love us for who we are.
Attractions of inspiration are fueled by the actual sense of well-being the relationship creates in us, not by the unrelenting itch for something that’s denied us.
- Are you inspired by your partners (mostly) consistent caring?
- Are you inspired by your partner’s goodness and decency?
- Is your love fueled by respect for the kind of person your partner is?
If so, celebrate. You have found an attraction of inspiration, and it should be treasured. It’s the type which can sustain a future of love.
Attractions of inspiration have a warmth; an easiness. In these relationships our challenge is to accept our partners’ caring, not to win it.
These attractions often unfold slowly. They get richer as time goes on, (yes, with lots of work – but these relationships allow the work of intimacy.) Their beauty comes from shared kindness, and mutual respect. They make us feel full and loving, not desperate for love.
You may be thinking, “What a fairy tale. Finding someone like that is like finding a needle in a haystack.” But when we decide that we’ll only pursue attractions of inspiration, we find ourselves meeting and dating more people who inspire us, and spending much less time with those who don’t.
Try assessing all your relationships based upon this tool.. The more relationships of inspiration you allow yourself to have, the happier your whole life will be.
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