Disillusionment: a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. A feeling, I’m sure, that will sound all too unfamiliar to those of us who get involved in romantic situations. How often have you been a jilted lover, a cheated partner? Found a monogamous partner licking some other girl’s pussy? Disillusionment can take all forms, some more comedic than others. But really, what does it mean to disappointed in love?
One time, I was with a guy on a bed, and the position he was keeping us in made it difficult for me to see his crotch in full. I still noticed when, pretending to rub it, he discreetly removed a rolled up sock from his crotch and rolled it away from the bed. Did he expect me not to? It’s not like his desperate circular licking of my ear was riveting to the point I wouldn’t notice the oldest trick in the book. At that point I asked myself, what was most disappointing? That it was smaller than it seemed, or that it now smelled of feet (as if dick wasn’t enough)? Or maybe, that he felt so insecure about his peen that he wanted to trick me?
This disillusionment doesn’t only apply to situations where your partner is lying to you; this can apply even when your partner has always been explicitly honest with you. Take a first date where somebody tells you that they’re emotionally unavailable. Since that’s the worst pickup line ever, you assume it’s a joke, and the discussion that follows about how Miranda from Sex and the City fully encompasses this person’s workaholic and frigid mindset doesn’t really mark you. Four months, a few dates and a small Greek tragedy later, you’re dating and find that this individual isn’t communicating with you effectively. I wonder why? More upsettingly, whose fault is your disappointment this time?
Unpacking these examples, it becomes clear that disillusionment can be taken on many levels. Is it a superficial kind of disappointment, or something more serious? Was he just lying about doing splits on dicks, or is his entire persona a fallacy? And on another level, are you disappointed because your partner lied to you or because you didn’t believe them?
What holds these queries together is the rift between expectation and reality. I strongly believe that first impressions are crucial, and that the image we form of someone in our first few interactions with them will carry weight much further on in the relationship. If your impression of someone doesn’t match their true self, whether it is because they misguided you or you formed an opinion yourself, it will eventually blow up in your face. As much as I wish I could bring Prince Charming into being by conjuring his image when I meet a new guy, kissing the frog won’t magically make it into your ideal (and might give you a disease anyway).
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of it, and in some situations I think it can be pretty harmless. In a relationship that is by nature ephemeral (say, a summer fling), idealizing your partner to immerse yourself in the experience can be fine. Since the relationship is temporary, the illusion can carry through that long. More so, who wouldn’t want to return home saying they met this “gorgeous French artist, a man of poetry, who’d whisper me sweet nothings as I gazed into his eyes” (or something equally nauseating but secretly appealing). This only works because the illusion doesn’t need to be sustainable, and there’s a pre-established end to the idyll.
Of course, the best way to try and avoid toxic disillusionment in the long term is to trust your partner and communicate your expectations and understanding of them clearly. This is especially crucial, of course, if you’re projecting this relationship into the long term. “Oh, you seem like the kind of guy who’d want to adopt 1.8 children and live with a labradoodle in a New York suburb, is that the case?” is a useful query if you’re already checking the housing market. Regardless of the situation, any partner worth hanging onto should be fine with you trying to clarify things with them.
The risks, of course, are still there. There’s always that chance that one of those basic assumptions you make about people turn out to be false. But this doesn’t need to be a bad thing, for all we know unexpected change will be a blessing (“Oh, you’re uncut? Thank heavens”). In a general sense, maybe being more flexible with partners with regards to what you expect from them is the real solution. If you’re up to trying anything, how can you be disappointed? For all we know the frog licks out like a dream.