But much more often the courtship is interrupted. He never calls back, she loses sexual interest, he does something unforgivable, she becomes an insecure wretch, he meets someone new, she decides she never really fell in love. It's over.
For many of us the erratic progress of our love affairs is depressing. You want something to work out, but the development of love feels totally out of your control. You don't understand how relationships work, so you don't feel you can do anything to make them work. As a result, you may end up with a pattern of disappointing relationships that leaves you constantly stumbling over one of these spots:
You arc so afraid of rejection that you can't get started.
You begin every romance at a peak of excitement, but it's all downhill from there.
Love makes you more anxious than happy. As soon as you're interested, you start to worry. "I wonder how I'll mess this up. I always do." You turn into a doormat or a whiner.
You end up finding something wrong with everybody. You can't seem to help yourself. Suddenly you become hypercritical.
It seems as if you always get dumped, just when you get interested.
You only want the ones who don't want you.
Your lover won't make a commitment. You can't bring yourself to deliver an ultimatum.
You can't make a commitment. You worry that you could wake up five years from now and feel that you made a terrible choice.
You are longing to be married, but somehow you can't seem to meet the right person.
If you feel stuck in any of these patterns, you probably don't understand courtship. When you do, you'll see that, as with many other psychological processes, you can exercise some control over its outcome. Romance doesn't have to happen to you. You can steer it.
The first step toward understanding how courtship works is to free yourself of your fantasies of how it should work.
The Right Person Theory
The greatest obstacle to appreciating the hidden structure of courtship is that you've been taught that there is no such thing. Instead you've been encouraged to believe that falling in love and marrying is largely a matter of finding the right person. You believe you'll marry when the right person comes along. And, you've been assured, you will somehow "know" when it's right.
It's a seductive idea. In an increasingly technical, automated, and isolating society, it's a pleasure to trust some part of life to the magical, unknowable power of love. Love will find us, like Santa does on Christmas morning, no matter where we live or how hard we are to get to. When it does, it will be unmistakable, and it will change everything.
As delightful as the right person theory is, it is not particularly accurate. Contrary to our fantasies, love is not an event, it is a creation. A successful relationship is not the result of a fortuitous introduction. It requires the preparation, maturity, and emotional effort of two loving adults.
Most of us resist this idea with our whole hearts. We've spent our lives looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. We've worked out elaborate descriptions of what he will look like, how she will smile. We know in advance how our right person will think, dress, act. Then we move about the world trying to fit the people we meet to this mental checklist. The more detailed our mental image, the more efficient we believe we can be in finding love.
The problem is, love isn't something you find; it's something you develop. It's certainly true that love is easier to develop with some people than with others. In this loose sense, some people are more right than others, perhaps because their backgrounds are similar to ours, their looks more appealing, or their personalities more comfortable for us, at least initially.