How Closed-Mindedness Can Hurt Your Love Life
Have you ever been around someone who was overly critical of everyone and everything — as if they could not be happy unless they were immersed in tearing others down for sport?
We’re not talking about fun, playful banter between friends here, but rather the type of closed-minded criticism that aims to destroy another person’s worth; not because they’ve done something unjust that harms others, but just because they are different in some way.
Closed-mindedness, as you’ll see, has a very karmic way of backfiring.
Where does closed-mindedness really come from? As social creatures, it’s easy for us to feel the need to crave acceptance and approval from others, because in the past our survival depended upon being accepted as part of one tribe for life.
We’d learn to look to the leaders of the tribe to discover which types of behaviors they decided were and weren’t acceptable. And then, we’d be sure to follow along, as messing this up could cost us our tribe membership — and potentially our lives.
Today, we no longer live in a world where you need to stick with your community of origin to survive. Don’t like the values of your local town? You can leave. Don’t like the culture of your workplace? You can search for a different one. It can still be difficult to step outside of social expectations, but it’s much easier now than it’s ever been in history.
Though the rules have changed in modern times, large-scale behavioral changes will often take some time to catch up.
Many individuals are still living in the old paradigm, where any lifestyle element that is different from what they’re used to is automatically weird or wrong. Continuing to conform to the behaviors of a tribe does give us a sense of safety and security, but it also holds us back in major ways.
For example, let’s take a look at an institution that affects almost everyone: marriage. Here is the range of ages where individuals get married for the first time (in the US).
Most individuals in the US (about 60%) get married between the ages of 23 and 30 — so if that’s where you live, you may feel pressure to conform to this standard.
If you’re 19, others might discourage you from settling down so early; but if you’re 35, they might pressure you into speeding up the dating process and choosing anyone with a pulse. The problem is, none of this actually has anything to do with who you are as a person, or what might actually be the best decision for you to make right now in service of your long-term happiness in life. It’s simply a case of others wanting you to conform to their expectations.
But societal expectations are not universal, they change drastically depending on where you are in the world. Interestingly enough, the average age at first marriage in Chad is 19, while in Sweden it’s 35 — almost two full decades later.
In other words, what’s considered normal or weird is a very relative concept, and depends completely on who is around you. As long as no one is being hurt by your actions, it turns out that it doesn’t really matter if what you’re doing is considered weird or not.
For any possible type of behavior, there is a wide spectrum of variations that others will partake in. Similarly to the previous graph about marriage age, this spectrum will often take the shape of a bell curve (most people fall into the middle, and it slowly tapers off on both ends).
Most likely, there are many areas of life in which you will happily conform to the social norm for that particular behavior (such as owning a few pairs of blue jeans). But you’re not a robot — and so it’s also likely that there are some social norms that are not going to be in alignment with what makes you happy. You may even want to try exploring something completely new and different, in uncharted territory.
Isabella Bunny, for instance, wants to be an artist. But the Troublemakers in Bunny Village find that idea to be strange and different from what they understand, and so they ridicule her and try to talk her out of it.
The Troublemakers play the role of gatekeepers to uphold the social norms, and try to prevent others from doing anything differently.
The great news is that the Troublemakers are powerless to stop anyone from hopping out of social norm jail if they really want to leave. And that’s exactly what Isabella does. She decides to take a leap of faith into the unknown.
Though the Troublemakers always take pride in playing the role of the social norm police, some unforeseen consequences begin to come up for them.
As life progresses on, some social norms arise that don’t serve them, and they really don’t want to follow the herd for every single expectation that comes up anymore. Deep down, they wish they could leave Social Normville to explore some other options on Nonconformity Island. But the problem is: they’re too ashamed to admit it, because they’ve become so accustomed to policing the social norms that it consumes their identities.
They’re too worried about what others think to ever stray from the norm, even on minor things. And so they’re stuck following the herd in a quiet desperation, no matter how ridiculous or unhelpful the behaviors that society expects of them become. Their habits have gotten them trapped in a prison of their own creation, and they are unable to grow and evolve into their best selves.
Because of the lifestyles the Troublemakers lead, they find it very hard to meet partners that match the positive qualities they truly admire — because they don’t give off a very positive vibe themselves.
Their lives feel empty and shallow, focused primarily on living a pressure packed life in order to impress others that they don’t even feel connected to. All of their unrealized desires create bitterness that makes them unfriendly to be around, and so they are only able to connect with partners who are also quite unfulfilled in life as well (leading to conflicts that multiply their problems).
If only they were willing to be a bit more open-minded and courageous, they would realize that they have the power to break out of social norm jail at any time. After all, it is a creation of their very own making. By being overly-critical of others, they’ve cut off possibilities for themselves and made their own lives harder unnecessarily.
Always remember that destructive criticism comes from fear and weakness, not from a place of strength, love, and well-being. As such, it can never stop you from going after what you truly want.
Many social norms may work well for us, and those we can happily keep. But it’s practically certain that following every single thing society expects like a cookie-cutter mold is not going to be the ideal life path for everyone alive. Keep an open mind, and pay attention to when something feels misaligned. We all have the power to hop out of the social norm prison, break the cycle, and begin scripting a new narrative for ourselves at any time.
There are countless different paths individuals can take during the course of life, and having the freedom to experiment with new endeavors for personal growth can be a major element of happiness and connection. Through being open and accepting of others’ diverse paths, we are more likely to connect with someone who encourages us to be the most authentic version of ourselves as well — no matter how uniquely interesting we may be.