When it comes to looking for love, we can be like children looking for magic. This is one of the reasons why many people turn up their nose at online dating; it seems too premeditated and rational, far from the mystic magic of what-was-meant-to-be. But let’s pause for a moment and rethink this. Is the child side of us seeking magic, or are we looking for a long-term partner?
When you put magic first, you may forget all about building something real and sustainable. Magic usually means you suspend disbelief for the fun of an illusion that looks like the real thing. At a magic show, you wouldn’t insist on walking around the magician to spot his tricks. You’re there for fun, not research.
The same might happen in relationships. By all means, have some fun—but only if you can be positive that no part of you might fall in love during the process. Otherwise, you may fall for the magic then be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out to be as real as you need it to be. If you are seriously looking for a relationship, be a researcher too instead of just seeking the magic. This is why online dating can be a plus. You get more data up front with more time to think before you even meet the person.
You might think that you will be able to stay clear-headed and realistic regardless of someone else’s charm, but some people start the magic show before you have a chance to really get to know them. When you get swept off your feet, the other person has plugged right into the magical place where your inner preschooler lives.
Our inner preschooler is the remnant of what psychologist Selma Fraiberg calls the Magic Years. These are the years before kindergarten when the child believes in magic, monsters, and omnipotence. This is the level of personality that we often revert to in new relationships. The other person is secretly seen as the be-all rescuer who’ll make up for any and every hurt we have ever had, like an understanding parent who only exists to support and serve. Falling in love brings out the least mature side of us as our magical hopes soar to impossible levels.
Here is what your inner preschooler expects from the other person: they will put you first, make you happy, always think about what you need, be understanding no matter what, guess what you want, build your confidence, and judge what you were trying to do, not what you did. In other words, your inner preschooler expects your partner to be a selfless parent who is willing to put you first. This is especially true if you had some tough times in childhood and didn’t feel adequately loved.
We may not realize when our inner preschooler has taken over, but it’s often what happens when we fall in love without getting to know the person first. We think our unrealistic expectations are reasonable, but what we’re really doing is hoping that this person will erase all our emotional hurts from the past, mostly by being perfect and never letting us down. When the inevitable letdown occurs, our inner preschooler is devastated that the magic didn’t work.
There’s nothing wrong with your preschooler’s wish for healing, just as long as your wise adult side stays on board to balance out those unrealistic expectations. When you acknowledge the other person first as a fellow adult with his or her own life and priorities, your inner preschooler no longer runs the show. The relationship then has a chance to develop in present-day reality, instead of being judged against an unrealistic expectation modeled on magical wishes from the past.
Get to know the person you like before your inner preschooler has a chance to take over. Perfection may not be possible but real love is. Just give yourself a chance to find out who they are before you let the magic start.