The Pygmalion Love Fallacy

There are some myths that are so prevalent that they get re-shaped and re-told over and over again. Pygmalion is one of those, in every form from Disney cartoons to classic plays by George Bernard Shaw to one of the most beloved of misogynistic musicals, My Fair Lady.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the original Ovid, Pygmalion was basically a man who was disgusted (or, at the very least, disillusioned) by women, so he decided to use his talents as a sculptor to create the perfect model. It was, indeed, a beautiful image of a woman, so beautiful that it became the one woman that Pygmalion could actually fall in love with. He took the statue to a festival of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and gave it as an offering, along with the not-to-subtle wish that she was a real woman.

Aphrodite provided a deus ex machina then, and as Pygmalion kissed the statue (yeah, I know, kinda creepy, let’s not judge) he felt it grow warm and turn into a real woman – named Galatea, in fact. The two of them lived happily ever after and even had a son, Paphos, for whom a city in Greece is named.

Beautiful tale, right? If you prefer the slightly-less-creepy version, there is Gepetto, who longed for a son, and so he created a puppet that was so lifelike that it, like, came to life (or at least animated). Pinocchio was then put through several tests to prove his worthiness, and then eventually the Blue Fairy (aka, Aphrodite-analog) showed up, waved her wand, and he became a real boy. He and Gepetto lived happily ever after (unless you read the Fable comics, which you should, but I don’t want to give anything away).

The point is, both of these creative types – the sculptor Pygmalion and the woodcarver Gepetto – were not satisfied with “settling” for what they could find, they went out and created their “ideal” relationship. Then, since their hearts were pure and their devotion complete, the powers that be rewarded them with their ideal situation.

There’s Just One Problem

There ain’t no Blue Fairy.

I won’t speculate as to the existence of Aphrodite, but I am pretty sure if she does exist she’s not in the habit of bringing statues to life.

But there ain’t no Blue Fairy. Pretty sure on that.

How do you make a real boy? You start when they’re a baby, for one thing. Whether it’s fruit of your looms or someone else’s, you start when they’re itty bitty, and you nourish them. You nurture them. You do your best to give them the tools they will need when they grow up. And maybe, in rare cases, they will grow up into the person you imagined when you started with the itty bitty baby.

But there’s no guarantee. In fact, it’s far more likely that they’re going to end up being something totally different than what you imagined. Good thing, too, because one of the cool things about life in general and kids in specific is that both quite often exceed your expectations. Our capacities for imagination are vast, but they aren’t omnipotent, and that’s part of the fun.

So if you want a real boy (or girl) you start small, you nurture and let it grow, and you stay committed to one idea: whatever this person grows into, I will love.

Be Prepared to Be Surprised

That’s one of my favorite sayings from the Open Space events I facilitate. Aside from the oxymoronic nature of it, I also just like the reminder that life is rarely what we expect, and that often if we take the time to notice it is far better than you could have imagined.

The question is: if your relationship with someone isn’t fitting your mold of what you think a relationship should be – and I mean any relationship, not just the sticky kind – maybe the thing to do is stop trying to fix it, and take a look instead at what your expectations are of it. Have you created some ideal framework, and are ignoring everything else until some magic wand comes along and brings it to life? The fact is, if that did happen, you’d probably find out that it didn’t turn out the way you expected. Another version of the Pymalion myth, after all, is Frankenstein.

You Can’t Always Get…

The Stones had it right: sometimes you get what you need instead of what you want. What they didn’t have room for in the lyrics, though, was the corollary: sometimes, if you don’t give up on what you think you want, you can completely miss that what you have is growing into what you need.

And you don’t want that…

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