The brain and the heart converse, but don’t always listen. They are like the angel and the devil (or vice versa) each whispering into a different ear. This is a problem when it comes to romance — especially on the lonely rebound — especially for women.
The stereotype tells us women are less able to separate sex and love. Enter the interim boyfriend — the one you are intuitively drawn to despite his deficits: “Mr. Right Now.” Intuition, loneliness, or boredom start the process and reasons are created to justify the inclination. So instructed, the head says some version of the following:
Well, he’s not perfect, but he is a good companion for the time being. I know he does (or doesn’t do) ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever disqualifies him from becoming a first class companion). I know he’s got some defects. I’ll keep myself in check. I’ll be in control. I’ll be safe. He’ll fill the gap until “Mr. Right” turns up. I won’t be so lonely in the meantime, because “Mr. Right Now” will be fun.
The heart is still. Unengaged. Untroubled. Quiet. Deaf. The intuition-led brain is in charge and says all the right things. The man’s deficits — perhaps overuse of alcohol or free spending or immaturity or selfishness — are noticed but not troublesome. He is, after all, temporary. The couple talk about the “no strings” nature of their interaction, their “sexpectations.” There is a promise not to get too involved. They might describe their connection as “friends with benefits,” as if words collar feelings — leash the heart against leaping.
As the old saying goes, if you want to hear laughter, tell God your plans!
Time passes. Familiarity brings comfort. Sex adds excitement and closeness.
The heart begins to flutter. That is why the heart exists. The brain had been in charge and made promises the unhearing heart did not keep. Love conquers. The head still recognizes all the defects of “Mr. Right Now” — the things that disqualified him from the lead role. He auditioned for the understudy position, the guy who fills in when Mr. Right isn’t available.
The heart is now in charge. The shortcomings of the short-term fellow no longer matter. He is the leading man. The brain, if it ever was in charge, is either silenced or ignored.
The heart has the whip hand. Reasons are manufactured to justify feelings:
Well, he’s not perfect, but who is? I’ll talk to him about the things he needs to change, what I need from him. He’ll listen. He’ll change. Besides, he has so many good qualities. He’s a wonderful person, he just needs to (pick one or more):
- grow up a little
- be honest
- spend less time with his friends
- put me ahead of his family
- be more (or less) concerned with money
- be more ambitious
- be more (or less) preoccupied with work
- become more sensitive, especially to me
- listen better
- be neater
- drink (or use drugs) less
- _________________ (Fill in the blank)
Unfortunately, before long you are a prisoner in a trap you set yourself. You recognize the impossibility of your magical plans for the lover’s transformation, but you are hip deep in love. The chains of affection are heavy and take you under. You are straightjacketed like Houdini, but don’t have his gift for escape. Too late, you realize you fooled yourself. You are sinking. You mistook the straightjacket for a life jacket.
The inoculation against the love bug failed. Your heart is now infected. The new BF (boyfriend), lover, companion, stud puppet (whatever you want to call him) is in your blood.
Like any infection, some time is needed to recover. The task is easier if no children are involved, no marriages planned, and you have the courage to look hard at reality. Sooner is better than later. “The heart is a lonely hunter”* and, once that vital organ snuggles up to someone, detachment isn’t easy.
At best, you learned some painful lessons:
- First, all important lessons are painful.
- Second, you aren’t as smart as you thought.
- Third, there are worse things than loneliness.
- Fourth, temptation is easier to avoid than resist.
- Fifth, your reasons followed your intuition, your biology, your neediness, or all three. You wanted to go out with someone who wasn’t right. No wonder your reasons weren’t reasonable or ultimately effective in protecting you.
Most people, including more men than will admit it, make some version of the same mistake. You are human, so you make mistakes.
You might know someone about to step on the slippery slope I’ve described. You are welcome to share my post, but don’t bet big money on persuading your friend of the dangers. Spilled milk, spilled tears — without them we learn very little. “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” as Alexander Pope wrote three centuries ago. There are times when we are all fools. Get the tissues ready.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a 1940 novel by Carson McCullers, adapted into a 1968 movie of the same name and a 2005 play.