The Benefits of Insecurity in Love
From The Book of Life*
Insecurity sounds unromantic but, paradoxically, it can lead us into the possibility of appreciating why we remain together and thereby avoiding emotional complacency.
A healthy dose of insecurity, of wondering whether the other person truly is duty-bound to stay with us forever and vice versa, might in reality be the ingredient that helps us to be better people, to curtail our more self-indulgent sides and to conduct a more flourishing and valuable relationship.
That’s not to suggest we should drown in insecurity but rather, occasionally think about emphasising and embracing the fragility of our alliance. Rather than a solemn promise that this is forever, might the most romantic move (in the sense of the move most likely to enhance and sustain love) not be a gentle reminder that we could very well no longer be an item by next month?
So long as we believe we are irrevocably attached, there is no need to feel grateful for a partner’s positive sides or to notice their contributions to our welfare. All these are merely a given, part of the irredeemable fabric of our emotional reality.
For much of our romantic lives, the intellectual idea of love’s demise is in place, but the reality is shadowy. It’s not a concrete, powerful conviction that courses through us every hour. While this allows us to bring a reassuring degree of innocence to our plans, it is also the breeding ground for the most profound emotional complacency.
It may sound kind but we are doing another person, and ourselves, a proper disservice when we promise we will never leave them. There is nothing more likely to usher in the death of love than the whispered words: I will always be with you. We can appreciate the touching sentiment; but we should never let ourselves become trapped in its many asphyxiating consequences.
Another paradoxical-sounding result of good insecurity is that it reduces the dangers of bitterness and suppressed irritation. So long as we have no option but to stay, a lot of what we’re unhappy about may end up hidden, because our complaints have nowhere to go. We can lose the right to have our needs listened to and respected because both sides know that there is no alternative.
When the relationship is fruitfully insecure, however, we can confidently state our problems with how things are, both sides knowing that our words mean something. And, of course, they can in turn make their dissatisfactions plain to us with equal force.
In a state of constant insecurity, the important focus becomes on why it might be exciting or helpful or interesting to stay together, returning to the qualities of the relationship’s early days: the empathy, the care and the effort to be pleasant. Insecurity turns the decision to remain in a couple into a loving, authentic choice rather than a prison to which no one has the key.
Insecurity is, along the way, also hugely sexually enticing. There is nothing more devastating to sexual self-confidence than our knowledge that we could never legitimately be of appeal to anyone but our partner, or that they have themselves grown invisible to the rest of humanity like a piece of furniture. When our lover spots us flirting with an unknown person at a party or when we are forced to note how appealing they are to an audience of strangers, sex will once again be more than a chore. Feeling jealous is simultaneously the most abhorrent emotion and the one most necessary to galvanise us back into erotic life.
To get the benefits of insecurity, leaving has to be a real possibility. Our readiness to quit has to be built upon a mature realisation that we could be on our own; that we could manage our own finances, have a decent social life and do the grocery shopping.
If there are children involved, it is sometimes argued that that they need to know that we will never part in order to have the security to develop without anxiety. But this is – once more – a misreading of the benefits of eternal promises. Maintaining insecurity in a couple isn’t about trying not to be together; it’s about understanding the best preconditions for being so.
With a secure, positive sense of our own capacity for independence we would learn to see our relationship not as the union of two desperate, option-less people unable and too frightened to face life alone, but of two creative independent, sexually alluring individuals who could have an extremely interesting time apart but have chosen to take real pleasure in being with one another to enrich themselves and grow – at least for the time being…
*The Book of Life is sponsored by The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence.