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Giving Up Pygmalion Projects In A Relationship

Posted: January 25, 2015

Do we love the people we love for who they are? Or who who would like them to be?

There is an interesting Greek story about a great sculptor named Pygmalion who found all the women of Cyprus imperfect and decided to create a sculpture based on his idea of the perfect woman. It took him several months to complete the statue, but his creation looked so perfect that he fell in love with it – he called her Galatea. However, Pygmalion increasingly became desperate and unhappy as he had fallen in love with a statue that was lifeless and wouldn’t respond to his love.

What has ‘Pygmalion’ to do with relationships? Sometimes, what attracts us to someone is the differences (“opposites attract”) in their traits. However, as we move into a closer and long term relationship with the person,  the same differences (that we once liked) becomes ‘flaws’ or ‘imperfections’.

We then gradually (knowingly or unknowingly) start a ‘Pygmalion Project’ – where we try to change our loved one into this perfect ‘Galatea’ – based on our values, our background and our outlook on life. We try sculpting them through various means. But like Pygmalion, we end up unhappy and frustrated because even if they change under pressure, it isn’t their natural self and people are at their best when  they are in their natural self. So this whole project, even if it looks like a success (which means you were able to change your loved one), is actually a failure.

This pertains to a parent-child relationship as well where the parent often starts a Pygmalion Project on the child. Just because the child is born from you, does not mean he/she has to be ‘you’. Nothing could explain this better than Kahlil Gibran’s poem on children.

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The Greek myth of Pygmalion does end on a sweet note with the Goddess Venus bringing Galatea to life and Pygmalion marrying her to live happily ever after.

In real life however, to be happy in a relationship, one needs to give up on the Pygmalion projects, and love people for what they are.

couple holding hands image via Shutterstock

Sophia is the founder of Soul Cafe, a mom, a travel and life enthusiast. She

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