I recently read The 9 Mirages of Love: How to Stop Chasing What Doesn’t Exist, by Chiarra Mazzucco. I’m not normally drawn to self-help books, but I have a strong interest in romance and personal relationships. Part of this stems from my background in Communication Studies, where I’ve studied how relationships form and how to manage conflict between two people with different viewpoints. Another part comes from my recent interest in studying romance novels, which have become a common topic on my blog lately. Because of these interested I thought it might be helpful to read this book and see what insights it had to offer.
In the introduction, Mazzucco begins by describing a process I’m familiar with, both from my own life and from my studies of Symbolic Interactionism:
We’d like to believe we’re above clichés and that we’ll never be caught dead in the self-help aisle of the bookstore, but the truth is, we are slaves to love and will risk anything to attain it even if it means pushing everyone away in order to create our own reality.
What Mazzucco is describing here, the idea that we’ll “create our own reality” in order to get what we want, is an interesting psychological concept. While Mazzucco says she is not a psychologist, the idea she expresses here is one that’s grounded in a lot of research. The reality people believe in is often forged by our communication practices. For example, if someone (say, a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend) continually tells you you’re worthless or won’t amount to anything, you’ll start believing it. When you believe these things about yourself, you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself by not putting your best effort into things or by giving up on opportunities that could have been great for you. If you’re surrounded by uplifting people who encourage you, however, you’ll do better in life because you’ll be more likely to pursue those opportunities and put your best effort into everything you do.
Mazzucco’s book delves into these psychological issues by labeling them as “mirages”: illusions about your relationship that you convince yourself are real. A simple example of such a mirage is when someone in a controlling relationship convinces themselves that their partner is controlling “because they love me” or “because they just want what’s best for me.” Anyone outside the relationship might be able to tell that the controlling individual is acting out of selfishness or a need to be domineering, but as for the person being controlled, they lie to themselves again and again. With each lie, they sculpt the reality for themselves and make themselves believe that what they’re saying is true.
Not all of the mirages Mazzucco discusses, however, are as negative and destructive as that. She also warns against positive illusions, like the idea of the “perfect mate” or the “perfect relationship.” Holding idealized versions of love and romance in your head can blind you to reality. Part of Mazzucco’s advice involves telling you to look past these illusions and to not hold yourself to preconceived ideas of how a relationship should start and how it should develop.
After discussing various illusions, including the lies people tell themselves when they’re having an affair with a married person, the mistakes people make when they stay with a cheater, the loneliness and self-esteem issues that keep people in abusive relationships, and how obsessive relationships can convince people they’re in love when there’s really no future, Mazzucco goes on to discuss how to break up with someone. When someone is ending a relationship that didn’t suffer from these illusions, breaking up might be a comparatively simple (if emotionally messy) thing to do. But to someone who’s been blinded by mirages, breaking up is much harder to do.
I found the chapter on breaking up particularly interesting with regard to my research into romance novels. Most romance stories I’ve read end with a “Happily Ever After” between the main couple. I’ve read one excellent one, however, that ends with a double-breakup. The main character is engaged, but ends up cheating on her fiance with his brother. After the engagement ends, she has a short-lived love affair with the brother, before leaving him as well because she realizes their affair was only about lust, and there was no long-term relationship there. These ideas are good examples of Mazzucco’s mirages. The woman in this novel was clinging to a mirage of the ideal, perfect relationship with someone she wasn’t truly, deeply in love with. Then she succumbed to the mirage of the affair, only to realize that the forbidden fruit didn’t offer her what she wanted.
And while I’m not currently in a relationship at all, let alone one suffering from these mirages, I find the ideas presented in this book to be interesting tools to use in my romance subplots. For example, Mazzucco lists a step-by-step process detailing what it takes to get yourself out of a mirage relationship, starting with coming to the realization that the relationship needs to end, making a promise to yourself, and confronting your partner about it. From a writer’s perspective, this is a recipe for some excellent conflict, both internal (as the main character struggles with the decision) and external (when the breakup discussion/argument begins). It also seems like sounds advice that I could have used in a few past relationships myself, particularly the later steps where she recommends searching internally to find out why you were attracted to a mirage to begin with, and “diving into the next relationship with the same childlike curiosity and hunger as you did your last.” The idea seems to be not to let past experiences taint your future. You can learn from the past and enter the next relationship with more wisdom and understanding of what you did wrong in the past, but you can still have hope and optimism at the same time.
All in all, I found 9 Mirages of Love to be an interesting read. There were times the language was a bit more blunt than I might have liked, but the concepts it covers are interesting. It might give me some interesting things to consider as I continue my study of romance novels and relationships. And if I end up in another relationship of my own any time soon, I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes open for any mirages.