I love TED talks. Having a browse on the weekend over a cup of tea, I was drawn to The Art of Creating Awe by Rob Legato, the man behind the special effects for films including Titanic and Apollo 13. Right at the outset he says that making the latter film taught him “…how our brains work is that, when we’re sort of enthused with enthusiasm or awe or fondness… it changes and alters our perception of things. It changes what we see. It changes what we remember.” Ahh…. hasn’t this got a lot to do with our dating and relationship experiences?
When special effects are really good, you think that they are real (possibly even better than the real thing) and they begin evoke emotions in you. Rob explained how we can have emotion built into certain events/experiences and have memories attached to it. And so it is with creating special effects; they try to work out which elements that they need to recreate for a scene that combined will give the impression of realness. For instance, clearly he didn’t go and build an entire Apollo 13 – in a car park, using a tin can, fire extinguishers, fire and wax over the camera lens to look like ice, he successfully hooked the audience into the scene.
“If you believed any of the stuff that I just showed you, what you were reacting to… what you’re emoting to is something that’s a total falsehood.”
Special effects in films can be awe inspiring, but judging by the stories shared with me, it is mind-blowing to experience this in a relationship…but not in a good way. When it comes to an end or reality bites, it can be incredibly painful and difficult to decipher between what was real and what was fake. It hurts because what was felt during those times were genuine emotions and they’re real even if someone is blowing smoke in the situation and the possibilities aren’t as real as we think.
There are certainly people out there who are very good at creating ‘special effects’ in dating and relationships (they rely on charming their way around people who are not as ‘reality vigilant’ and are possibly vulnerable), and to be fair, there are also plenty of people who are very good at creating their own special effects with their imaginations and the image that they present to the world.
People definitely enter into dating and relationships carrying a certain amount of built-in emotions and memories; some about themselves and some about previous experiences. For instance with unavailable relationships, there’s a lot of trying to ‘recreate the feeling’ whether it’s with an ex or just chasing that feeling of being loved, adored, desired etc. Equally we may be carrying around hurt and bad memories and that in itself can create a great deal of anxiety and even cause us to see danger when there isn’t or have us trying to right the wrongs of the past. These experiences in turn can end up bringing out a lot of our worst fears. Ultimately, whatever we bring into it influences how receptive we’ll be to the ‘special effects’ whether they’re our own or someone else’s.
When you consider people who ‘Fast Forward’ by using intensity to speed you through the early stages of a relationship, you can see ‘special effects’ at work. They are quite practiced at it and their cycle may be a few hours (collecting attention on a dating site), one night (a date or one night stand), a few days or weeks (a fling) or for a few months The intensity may be a mixture of words, actions and generally being out of context with how long you’ve actually known them. This is their tin can, fire extinguishers, and wax in a car park.
Of course, our own enthusiasm can trigger our overactive imagination and possibly our libido. Sometimes, we can be so eager to be in the throes of a romance, to be getting attention, to have possibilities with someone, that we end up getting high on our own supply. Of course, it’s not that we shouldn’t be enthusiastic about dating (Eau de Cynicism and Skepticism aren’t attractive) but it’s where the enthusiasm comes from – the possibility of abandoning ourselves and our own lives for the promise of someone we don’t really know yet. When we’re high on the possibilities, we like ourselves more than usual, we have an extra spring in our step, and everything that happens in the relationship gets correlated into more possibilities – even if they’re unrealistic.
Sometimes we’re so enthusiastic that we don’t remember a date or our interactions with a person as accurately as we focus on the things that make it easy to maintain an illusion and our ‘high’. We remember things ‘differently’. It’s the very simple reason why when we wake up in a less than attractive relationship and wonder how the hell we got there and play the relationship back in our mind, we suddenly spot the code red flags. Sometimes we’re so carried away that our hopes and expectations for a relationship and a person don’t really have any basis in what’s happening in reality.
When we get enthusiastic about someone because they look like someone who we’re attracted to or they have certain characteristics, qualities and values, we can fall into the trap of over-correlating that information which is where our minds end up filling in the gaps and ‘mocking up’ a person who possesses other qualities, characteristics and values. They go from being a tin can to a rocket launching into the skies.
If we are not as aware and mindful as we could be, we can also be caught out by the hallmarks of a relationship (sleeping together over a period of time, time itself passing, plans being made, meeting friends, our feelings and expectations increasing) because we don’t realise that the landmarks (commitment, shared values, progression, balance, consistency and intimacy) are absent. Let us not forget the ‘awe’ and ‘fondness’ – awe makes us operate those special effects where we inflate someone else whilst putting them on a pedestal to look back down on us. Along with fondness, we like to use them to see people in the ‘best light’ which is really us just projecting our imaginations and sometimes what we want people to think about us. We forget that the best light is reality and that we only need to do special effects for people who only seem to ‘work’ in our imaginations.
It’s not that we need to ‘kill’ our imaginations, it is more that our ‘accounting system’ doesn’t kick in and start reconciling reality with our imaginations. By the time we start to consider this or something bad happens, you may be too heavily invested in what may be a partial or total falsehood. It is our job to take responsibility for ourselves seriously and do the due diligence and to put as much effort into keeping our feet in reality as possible. Yeah it might not be as ‘exciting’ but it certainly paves the way to a happier, more fulfilling, authentic experiences, which no amount of special effects can recreate.