Chances are you’ve dreamed of finding the perfect catch. It’s one of the most seductive ideas in our culture. Just be careful what you wish for …
Love’s delusions can be powerful and dangerous for men and women alike. But in this case, the love object was an exotic beauty with flowing blond hair — let’s call her Michele — and the guy who fell into a romantic swoon over her was a tall, reserved stockbroker by the name of Pat Paulison.
He was divorced, in his 40s, living in Pacific Palisades and enjoying his life with good friends and good dates. He was active on Match.com, always on the lookout for the fantasy woman who’d frequented his dreams since puberty.
One day he found her — or so he thought. She was divorced too, a decade younger than he was, and working as a real estate agent. She was witty, well-educated, an excellent cook, and had an elegant personal style and a knockout home, but none of that really mattered to Pat. The moment Pat saw Michele, he was simply undone by raw, overpowering desire.
“It was like a thunderbolt,” he recalls. “She was the woman I’d been dreaming of all my life — my ‘perfect catch.’ She was just so beautiful, the most beautiful woman I’d ever dated.”
It also turned out that Michele was, well, a touch nuts. Her M.O. involved getting heavily attached to a man fast, then giving him the boot over something trivial. She pulled this Seinfeldian act on Pat three times during their 18-month involvement, while making time during that same period to get engaged to one guy (dumped) and date another (dumped too).
Pat’s friends warned him that Michele was trouble, but he was so convinced she was the one, he couldn’t see it. Now, he says, he knows better. “If someone seems like the perfect catch beware,” he says. “There can be a big difference between your fantasy wish and the reality of who they really are.”
Separating fact from fantasy
Admit it — we’ve all had it happen to us at one time or another, that magical moment when the romantic vision you’ve been working on your whole life shows up in human form. It takes our breath away, we stammer, we immediately lose 50 I.Q. points and our very own cornball Hollywood movie seems to unfold before our very eyes. The idea that it can happen — that there really is a perfect catch just waiting around the bend — is one of the most enduring, powerful myths we have. Moms and dads want it for us. Preachers and politicians tell us it’s the building block of civilization. Films, books and TV make a mint selling it.
“In our culture, finding that special someone is seen as the only answer to life’s problems despite the fact that no one person can fulfill all of your needs,” says Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. “No one mate can solve all your problems. There’s no one person out there who is your perfect catch and finding a perfect catch shouldn’t be your life’s mission.”
Psychologists say ditching the “Perfect Catch” illusion can help you open up to a whole new world. Once you stop chasing self-fulfillment through another person, you can take time to discover who you really are, embrace and enjoy your life and thus make a reasoned decision to partner up with someone compatible or go it happily alone.
Lessons learned — kicking and screaming
Denise Brennan says she learned that lesson the hard way.
“I wanted him, he was the prize,” Denise says about her perfect catch. “I didn’t want anyone else to have it so I married it because I had to have it.” She says she realizes now that having “it” was actually a misguided attempt to overcome her own insecurities.
“He outclassed me, at least that was my perception at the time,” she says about the dashing man from the fashion industry who took her breath away with his deep-set blue eyes and aura of sophistication. “He had so much experience, he had a certain intrigue. He was from a different world and I wanted to be part of it.”
Laughing at her own folly, she says she even pictured herself having lunch with him and Donatella Versace.
“He was the part of me I thought was missing since birth,” Denise admits. “I thought my hopes and dreams would be fulfilled by him. I grabbed on and ran with it — hard. I found out later, after we divorced, that he’d been banging a girl in our office the whole time.”
It’s always tricky to generalize, but psychologists say men and women tend to have different “Perfect Catch” fantasies. Women focus on attributes like wealth, power and prestige, whereas men tend to dream about physical beauty and sexual satisfaction. Think of the five blond wives of Rod Stewart, or The Donald and Melania.
How did it get this way? How did we as a culture come to view coupling with a perfect lover as the be-all and end-all of life? Well, it seems that the idea of what constitutes ideal love has been added onto century after century until it has come to include so many different ingredients that no single love affair can live up to it.
“‘Happily ever after’ is a lie,” says Judy Ford, a psychologist and author of Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled, and Independent. “People change, relationships change and you can’t guarantee long-term happiness. Especially now that people are living so long.”
The “Perfect Catch” myth is equally destructive for those who are not in a relationship. It can hold them back from finding someone who really can bring a positive element to their lives — and it can make them feel depressed about not having found “the one.”
“When you are dreaming of the perfect catch, you are living for the future,” Ford says. “That makes it hard for you to experience the joy of your life in the present.”
Yearning for a love that doesn’t exist
Art is a businessman in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to give his real name because the story he has to tell is painful and a little embarrassing. You see, Art is 36, and for most of his adult life he’s been pining for the memory of his college sweetheart, a woman he calls Lisa.
They broke up in 1994, Art says, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he finally put Lisa, his idea of the perfect catch, behind him. Until then, he says, he’d compared women to her. “I dated women here and there,” says Art, who has seen Lisa four times since they broke up. “But I’d get to date three and say, ‘Yeah, but she isn’t Lisa.’”
No one can say what Art’s life would be like if he’d focused less on Lisa all that time, what kind of goals he could have accomplished. One thing is certain: Art has spent a lot of time obsessed with finding his perfect catch, instead of learning how to enjoy reality.
Falling in love with unreality
In the end, you wake up with yourself. That’s the message the psychologists give, and it’s really what the men and women who agreed to speak to me for this article are saying as well. It’s not that they were passive victims of their perfect catches, it’s that they got themselves into trouble by chasing after an unrealistic dream.
That’s what Ann Kramer learned. She met her perfect catch in the elevator of a Century City high-rise. She walked in, made eye contact, and when he smiled and said hello, she was instantly transported into the land of the Perfect Catch.
“When I was a kid, I had a crush on David McCallum — the British actor that played Illya Kuryakin, a secret agent on the 1960s TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” Ann says. “Then out of nowhere, I get on an elevator some 30 years later, and there he is, asking me out for a drink.”
Of course, it wasn’t really David McCallum, but it was a close facsimile, English accent, dapper suit, shaggy blonde hair cut and all.
“I married him four months later,” she says. “I was convinced he was my destiny. I truly believed that falling in love with this character on a TV show, when I was a little girl, was a premonition of what was to come. The line between real life and all the romantic movies I’d ever seen became completely blurred.”
The fantasy hit a brick wall when Ann discovered that her new husband didn’t want to work, was maxing out her credit cards and hadn’t paid the rent on his apartment for three months.
“The hardest part was coming to terms with the fact that it wasn’t Andrew that I was in love with — it was the fantasy that I loved,” she says. “It was a painful lesson, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.”
There’s no escaping doing the hard work of life yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to be single, but finding romance, or someone to marry, will not solve any of your problems. Only you can.
“The idea you have to find someone to be happy is a torturous lie that is perpetuated over and over again,” Judy Ford says. “People suffer with it.”
That’s been Ann’s experience. In the years since she said goodbye to her dashing perfect catch she finished her master’s degree, started a new business, purchased a home, met great people, had some exciting romances and stayed, happily and resolutely, single.
“I love my life now,” Ann says. “I do what I want to do. I live where I want to live. I have wonderful friends. I’ve taken the time to listen to myself and learn what I need from life. Then I learned how to go out and get it.”
Copyright © Edward Lewine/Jurgen Reisch / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC.