Milica asked me recently if I have ever written about “romanticization.” 

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.

She clarified: she meant the phenomenon of imagining a partner to be somehow different than or better than they really are, having a relationship not with who the person is, but with who I imagine them to be. I told her: I don’t think I have written on this subject, and the word doesn’t really resonate for me.

(I will be curious, after I finish writing my first draft of this post, to do a search on this blog to see if I’ve ever used the word romanticize or any of its cognates.)

I referred her to my recent post on limerence. In that post, I wrote about my tendency to fall a little in love with every woman with whom I engage. In a variety of posts, I’ve written not so much about my imagining women are different than they are, but about my hopes that they will somehow conform to my desires, in spite of being who they are.

I think by “romanticization,”  Milica meant what I think of as projection: a sort of failure to see who a person actually is, and a replacement of them with what one imagines in one’s mind.

What I do, for the most part, is a bit different. It’s not that I look at Milica or any other woman and imagine her to be different than she is. Rather, it’s that I look at Milica (or any other woman), I conjure a set of desires which typically exceeds that woman’s ability or willingness to meet, and then I try forcefully, repeatedly, and sometimes, cruelly (or at least with a psychotic indifference – c.f., Marina) to do some combination of adjusting my articulated desires and explaining my needs differently, in the hopes that, in spite of my wanting more or different than is available, the woman will somehow come around, will discover in herself an ability to provide that which previously she either has not wished to or been unable to. I like to think I’m moving away from this tendency. Certainly, I have been doing so both with Milica and Serena – and, in my way, with Cleo, whom I allowed to dump me without much protest or attempt to remedy our differences – and, whose loss I mourned, but without my customary bodily panic.

This isn’t quite bullying or dominance per se. It’s more like a fantasy, an early primal fantasy, that the reason mommy isn’t perfectly attuned to me is somehow my fault. That when she leaves, it’s because I’ve been bad; when she comes back, it’s because I’ve been good. And when her touch doesn’t feel exquisite and perfect, this is somehow my fault. If I call my tendency not romanticization but omnipotence, that feels more accurate. Both have a sort of psychological violence in them, an almost sadistic substitution of the insides of my mind for the reality I confront, an erasure of the subjectivity of the woman with whom I’m in relationship.

I like to think that my version, this omnipotence, somehow is better, less sadistic, than the romanticization Milica describes. I’m not sure this is right, though. I think really what it is, is earlier, younger, more primal, less developmentally progressed.

The two phenomena have in common that they evoke the mind of an infant. In the case of my version, omnipotence, I’m thinking of how an infant gradually has to come to terms with the fact that they are not the center of the universe, that their parents do not come and go at their whim or in response to their goodness or badness or actions. In the case of romanticization, it’s not omnipotence at play, but rather an inability to tolerate difference or separation.

To a romantic, the idea that one’s partner is different from how one imagines them to be causes violent pain and loss. To a delusionally omnipotent person like me, the loss is similar but different. It derives not from the difference of my partner, but from my inability to erase that difference.

Each hurts like a motherfucker.

Note: a quick search turned up nothing when it comes to romanticization, romanticize, romanticized. I came up with two occurrences, both in 2013, neither, in relation to my relationships. In the first post, I wrote of Australia, of their handling of a then-recent sexual harassment scandal in their military. “I don’t want to romanticize Australia,” I wrote, “but….”

In the second post, I wrote of how, when younger, I had “romanticized gay male life…. “

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.