"You can't fall in love with another human being".
"What's that you say? Sure you can, humans do it all the time". Well, actually, no we don't. You can like another human being, you can love another human being, but you can't fall in love with another human being.
We can only 'fall in love' with a fantasy, that we have made up about another human being. Why? Because "falling in love" is a state of childlike adoration that nature created to bond children to their parents, and vice versa, so that parents would not abandon their offspring.
It's a heady mix of oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and other neurochemicals designed to form lasting bonds of addiction based on a false perception of the other person's perfection, and no human being can live up to that fantasy of perfection.
That's why romantic movies don't have sequels. What happens after that final scene at the altar or the airport is a process of discovering that the fantasy isn't real. That moment in time is as good as it gets, everything after that is the fantasy dying as we realise that the real person can be annoying, selfish, childish and aggressive, and they realise the same thing about us.
So what is the fantasy we create? Essentially it is the belief that this person will meet our needs, heal our wounds, take care of the problems in life that we feel incapable of dealing with and give us 100% unconditional love, support and admiration. In other words, its a perfect parent, plus sex.
No pressure, right? Lets explore the typical gender fantasies, but let me clarify that we are talking about sexual selection here, about why people choose each other as a sexual partner for reproduction, not about the other aspects of relationship like friendship and commonality.
The Typical 'Girl' Fantasy
For women, or girls actually, the fantasy is usually one of strength and safety, of a man who can make them feel completely safe in the world, because being the physically weaker sex makes the world a dangerous place, especially the human world in which women possess the single thing that a man cannot get from himself or other men, feminine love.
Part of that fantasy will be about his looks. The taller, bigger, leaner and stronger the better. Research tells us that men suffer an even greater beauty premium than women do, meaning that men who are short, ugly or fat are much more likely to remain unpartnered in life, and will earn on average 18% less money than their better looking peers, so even the equalising effect of wealth is against them.
Part of that fantasy is about his capabilities. His ability to make money, fight off predators and competitors, attain status in the social world and acquire and defend territory. In short, tall, dark and handsome with money, and a sense of humour too.
So the prototypical female fantasy is to find a strong, fierce, capable male and then tame him to serve her and her alone. Of course if she succeeds, he is no longer a strong, fierce male, and her adoration for him, or at least her fantasy of him, will disappear like smoke.
For a man this fantasy is a prison of expectations. Not only must he keep her safe at all times and in all ways, he must never act in any way that she feels threatened by. This means he can never display anger towards her, even if it is warranted. He can never display attraction to another woman, even if that is warranted. He can never put his needs first because in her fantasy he is her totally dedicated, infallible father figure.
For a man this expectation is utterly dehumanising. He can never be vulnerable or unsure of himself, never be irritable, never be having a bad day and never be powerless. He must always be calm, generous, capable, in control of his world and able to handle any threat.
This is impossible, but if he fails he will soon find himself subjected to a range of unsatisfiable demands and complaints and if he reacts to these in any way he will be subjected to guilt carrying accusations of being a 'bad' or 'angry' man. If he fails to be sufficiently abundant he will be subjected to shaming accusations of inadequacy.
The fantasy projects onto him the total responsibility of her life and her subjective experience of safety. He becomes her ideal male parent, and when he fails, as he will always fail, he becomes the father she hated. So what does the male get for fulfilling this fantasy? Sex. What happens if he fails? No sex. The honeymoon period is a down payment, a free taste of what he can earn.
Why is this a 'girls' fantasy? Because a child only really becomes an adult when they accept responsibility for meeting their own needs, so a woman is not really a woman until she stops expecting a man to make her feel safe in the world. Until she embraces her power and her responsibility without resenting him for this, this relationship will be toxic. But she isn't the only one playing this game.
The Typical 'Boy' Fantasy
Boys learn from a very young age that no one is coming to help them or solve their problems as they do with girls, so they learn that they will have to become tough, capable, self-reliant problem solvers if they want to survive and succeed in life. They also learn in their teens that if they have not done this they are much less likely be selected by females as sexual partners.
For a man success is performance based. He has to earn his esteem through his actions and his capacity for risk taking, pain tolerance, determination and resilience. He has to be able to fight off predators, even at the expense of his own life, and to acquire and defend territory. Having good looks and a good physique helps, but only because it indicates genetic fitness for the offspring and the capacity to fight well.
In the absence of these, enough money and status gives a man the ability to pay others to do that, so that can alleviate the effect of low physical attractiveness because he can still make a woman safe. Another way to say this is that in sexual selection females are valued for their intrinsic ability and willingness to create life for the future, while males are valued for their ability and willingness to take life or give their life in the present. There are no seats for men if their aren't enough lifeboats.
So what men want is love, but what they learn is that love is what you get when you have power. So men are usually not looking for power in a partner, but for sanctuary, a place of rest, relaxation, pleasure and fun. The male fantasy is for unconditional love and acceptance so that in one part of his life he doesn't have to constantly perform and he can actually enjoy life. In this a man is seeking the feeling of being worthy and loveable, but without the price tag of endless performance.
Of course, he also wants beauty just as women do because that indicates genetic fitness for reproduction, and he wants a female to be slim and fit because that supports good sex, lifestyle benefits and social status. However, a great many men will look past beauty to some extent if love is being offered, which is why women who lack a high level of beauty can still partner with successful men.
But this fantasy too is unrealistic and can feel like a prison for women. The demand for her to be always agreeable, always pleasant, always loving, always open, sexy, generous and giving, is totally unsatisfiable. She can never be irritable, tired, introverted, having a bad day or 'not in the mood'.
This was the typical stereotype of the 1950's American female and its incredibly limiting and dehumanising for women as it disenfranchises them from power, career, self-expression and self-hood.
Actually, within these fantasies, there is no selfhood for either sex, only stereotypical gender roles. Women are expected to sacrifice power and self-expression in exchange for safety and men are expected to sacrifice vulnerability and safety in exchange for love. He becomes her strength and she becomes his love, which makes them two half-people trying to find wholeness in each other.
Which leads to the truism that a woman's typical fantasy is for the sense of absolute safety she once felt within the strength of her father (or at least wanted to feel) while a man's typical fantasy is for the warmth and adoration he experienced from his mother (or at least wanted to experience). Just with sex.
When the Fantasy Dies
So you can see that the female fantasy and the male fantasy are contradictory. She wants endless performance from him so she can feel safe, while his is seeking freedom from that. He wants endless love so he can feel worthy, while she wants the safety to be herself and also stop performing all the time.
The Fantasy dies, every time, and it must die because it is unfulfillable. What happens next is determined by how people deal with this death. There are only three ways this goes.
They move on and find someone else to project this fantasy onto, until it dies too. This generally leads to a series of unsatisfying hook-ups or short term relationships and goes nowhere.
Both partners try to start forcing each other to fulfil their fantasy because they feel powerless without it. Typically they play to their strengths. For women this is their psychological power which they have learned and honed with other women as they grew up. This looks like criticism, complaints, rejection, accusations, demands and withdrawal of love and sex, all of which use guilt and shame to punish a man for his failure to conform to the fantasy and make her feel safe.
For men, this is the strategies they have acquired through out their childhood and early life in dealing with other males. These typically include displays of anger, demands, intimidation, threats, withdrawal and sometimes even physical force.
Both of these are threats and violence, but one is physical violence and the other is emotional violence. As the old saying goes, a man fights with his fists and a woman fights with her tongue. Of course it doesn't work, and it ends in either separation or a mutual ceasefire of perpetual unhappiness.
The third option is that both people grow up, psychologically speaking. She accepts responsibility for her own safety and embraces her power (in a loving way) and he accepts responsibility for his own worth and embraces his vulnerability (in a powerful way). This transforms the relationship from two wounded children demanding the other person be their perfect parent, into two adult human beings negotiating how they can get their needs met.
This requires personal healing though, by both people. He must heal his worthlessness wound, and she her self-efficacy wound. They must both learn that they are entitled to be themselves and serve their own needs.
That's not to say that they cannot contribute to each others safety and worth, because why even have a relationship if that isn't happening. It does mean that they take primary responsibility for their own needs though and stop resenting each other for not being the fantasy parent they were seeking.
It also means forgiveness must be sought and given for the violence they have done against each other with their fantasy expectations and their punishments and hurts. This too requires both people to participate. If only one person admits their fault they have essentially submitted to the violence of the other, and their remains an imbalance of both power and responsibility.
That is a sequel I would want to watch.