I “met” Mike, the man I would eventually marry, via email. He was living in Papua New Guinea and I was living in Los Angeles. Mike was intrigued by essays he had read on my personal website, and wrote to me.
In one of his first letters to me he acknowledged the challenges inherent in long distance relationships, but suggested that we “date” anyway.
In response, I wrote: “My points of reference with regard to long distance relationships have not ended in happily-ever-after. I’ve learned the very important lesson that the living, breathing ‘someone’ will inevitably turn out to be very different from the idealized ‘someone’ who springs to life in my head when I read their writing.
In the long run, my idealistic and happy visions would always turn out to be quite different from reality.Lisa McKayI had learned this important lesson the hard way. Several times in the past I had started writing to someone, or talking to him on the phone, and before I knew it a fully-formed picture of that man had materialized in my mind.
Inevitably, my vision of this person was high on virtues and low on faults. He was similar to me in all the ways that really mattered, and different from me only in ways that were guaranteed to never really annoy me. In the long run, however, my idealistic and happy visions would always turn out to be quite different from reality.
Where do those rose colored glasses come from?
The fact that we idealize someone we are attracted to is not surprising. In the early stages of a relationship, everyone is prone to seeing the object of their affection through rose-colored glasses. During this intense initial phase of getting to know someone, we often selectively focus on his or her best points.
When we find someone attractive, we tend to assume that they are wonderful in all sorts of other ways as well. Psychologists call this the “ halo effect.” In practice, it means that when we are drawn to someone’s bright smile and shiny hair, we tend to assume that he or she also smart, kind, and interesting.
This sort of rosy idealization happens when we start dating someone who lives down the street. However, it’s even easier to idealize someone when they live far away and we have only letters, texts, and phone calls to help us get to know them. In long distance situations, our idealized vision of someone can lie even further from the truth. It can also take a lot longer before we start to see the differences between the person we imagine and the person in real life.
Taking off those rose colored glasses: 5 ways to reduce the Halo Effect
There is probably no way to completely avoid idealizing someone that we’re attracted to, but here are some tips to help reduce the halo effect:
1. Recognize that it’s happening
Remind yourself that you are idealizing this person to some extent—imagining them as you want them to be rather than the way they actually are. You will also be underestimating how much your differences may matter in the long run. Remind yourself that it will take a while before you have a fuller picture of this person, and that getting this full picture will take longer if you’ve met across distance.
2. Remind yourself that no one is perfect
It is important to remember that you will learn things about this person that don’t thrill you.
3. Be a detective
Don’t immediately set out to uncover all of his or her faults. However, do actively look for complexity and contradiction. Be alert for ways in which this person puzzles and intrigues you. Watch out for ways this person is different from you.
4. Know yourself
Know what your own red, orange, and yellow flags are in relationships. Red flags are the deal breakers—issues that you already know it is worth ending (or not pursuing) a relationship over.
Orange flags aren’t deal breakers, but they are big deals. When you see orange flags popping up, you should tread carefully and think hard.
Yellow flags are things that annoy you. While not deal breakers, a whole lot of yellow flags within the first month of dating should give you pause.
5. Be aware of the picture you are painting of yourself
It’s natural to want to show your good side during the early stages of a new relationship. However, it is your responsibility to be authentic despite the freedom that distance can provide.
This doesn’t mean you have to share everything about yourself as soon as possible. It does, however, mean that you should try to prevent your long distance partner from getting the wrong ideas about you. One of my friends does this by always editing the first drafts of her emails. As she explained it to me: “I read my emails over again before sending them and wonder what conclusions about my character the other person might come to, and how those differ from my actual character.”
5 Questions For You To Answer
- Have you ever idealized a love interest in the past? How did he or she turn out to be different than you had hoped and expected?
- What are some of your red, orange, and yellow flags in romantic relationships?
- What are three things you like or admire about your long distance partner?
- What are two things about this person that might annoy or frustrate you if you ever live together?
- What sort of picture do you think your long distance partner has of you? Are you deliberately distorting anything about yourself? What are you leaving out?