I’ve been falling in love with the same woman my entire life.
She’s had different names over the years. She’s had different faces. There have even been very real differences between her incarnations. But at the core, she’s always been my latest and most mature understanding of “the Ideal Woman.”
The ideal woman doesn’t exist any more than the ideal man exists. I know that. But it’s the best phrase I have for this abstract idea. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but it’s constantly been on my mind for the last week. I need to talk about it. Maybe I’ll have a point. Maybe not.
Think about a product that goes through generations of change over years, but it’s still recognizable as the same product each time. If you compare the first iPhone from 2007 with the current model, it would seem radically different. But if you compared the first iPhone to the second, then the second to the third — and so on, including last year’s model to this year’s — you recognize the same idea and same product. But the latest is radically different from the very first.
If you compared my first Ideal Woman with my most recent, you would see differences, but the core elements — the ideal parts in each of them — are startlingly similar.
For years, I’ve noticed that other people tend to say very similar things about their exes. In fact, I’ve known women who say “all men are the same” and men who say “all women are the same” — simply because they have chosen different “copies” of the same person over and over again.
Some women are programmed to choose (and stay with) men who will abuse them. Some men are programmed to repeatedly choose women who will take all they can get — materially or otherwise — and then dump them. There are a thousand different patterns.
It’s not that all men are alike — or that all women are alike. It’s simply that we have invisible programming that makes us attracted to certain predictable things. The problem is that we’re often the last to realize this.
There are all sorts of theories about attachment and parenting that can suggest the causes of some of these issues, but I’m not going to try to get that technical. I’m just going to note the reality of what happens — and consider what it means for me.
(Although I don’t want to spend much time on the issue, it’s only fair to point out that my mother abandoned me when I was young. I’ve considered the possibility that something in me has been attracted to women who I believed would abandon me, too, in an unconscious effort to replay the old story — in the hopes that someone would write a different ending this time. I take this theory very seriously, but I’m not going to cover it further here.)
I can’t tell you exactly what my Ideal Woman is, even though I can list some of her characteristics. For instance, she’s highly intelligent. She’s stunningly beautiful. She’s the most competent and successful person in every room. She’s impressive in ways that are hard to explain. She shares my values. And she has a tender and loving heart, even if she’s sometimes afraid to show it.
But all of those things sound too general, almost generic. There’s something in a woman’s psychological or emotional blueprint that I recognize from the very beginning. With every woman I’ve ever fallen in love with, I have always known — from the very start — that she was someone I might fall in love with. And I can’t tell you how I’ve known it.
Every time I’ve ever dated a woman about whom I didn’t feel that from the beginning — even some who it would have been convenient to fall in love with — it’s always been a relationship that couldn’t go anywhere.
If we’re constantly choosing different incarnations of the same person, are we doomed to keep having the same outcomes to our relationships? Am I doomed to make the same mistakes? Am I destined to fall in love with the Ideal Woman who will eventually abandon me — while I feel absolutely nothing for the ones who beg me to choose them?
I have to say that my taste in women has been exceptionally good. There’s no one I’ve fallen in love with who I’m ashamed to say I’ve loved. I would be proud of each and every one of them. Even though they’ve all moved on — in one way or another, by my choice or theirs — I would have good things to say about each of them, even though I wouldn’t choose most of them today.
There’s one theory in psychology that says our attraction to our romantic partners is strongly influenced by our opposite-sex parent. Is it possible that I’ve been unconsciously influenced by all of my mother’s best qualities, combined with a bit of her psychological dysfunction? Maybe.
Whether we have to have a great partner in life or not — and I argued recently that you can be just fine without one — it’s something that most of us want. And I’ve made it clear that I still want it. Even if I don’t have to have this Ideal Woman, the truth is that my life would be better with her.
At this point in my life, I have a strong conception of who my Ideal Woman is. I know what she looks like and sounds like. I know her strengths and flaws. And because I know these things so well, it’s hard to imagine that there can be another incarnation of her that’s yet to come.
I don’t know whether I’ll take this particular image of the Ideal Woman to my grave or if there’s another who’s yet to come. I just know that if there is another, she will contain the best of all the ones who’ve come before. If there’s another, she will be because I’ve found a “new and improved” understanding of the ideal.
And I know when she shows up — if she ever does — I’ll know it from the beginning. I know this is madness, but there’s a bit of madness that’s built into the very essence of what I see as the Ideal Woman. I can’t help it.