Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part I

What similarities are there between "falling in love" and having a "religious experience"? Ecstasy, bliss, a feeling of "oneness with the Universe", peace, security, freedom - all are commonly described experiences of both "falling in love" and "awakening" or "self-transcendance" or "enlightenment".

What Robert Johnson points out in We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love is that, given the culture that has arisen out of the scientific revolution (and progressive materialism) started several centuries ago, our "souls" (or "psyches" or "unconscious sides" or the "collective unconscious" as a whole, or "God/dess") have persisted in wanting to be "known" and related to, honored, and loved. Where once this was available through more broadly accepted "religious practice" (soul searching, personal pondering of "That Which is Invisible", etc.), scientific materialism has virtually wiped out that possibility for "modern man". And yet, in spite of our almost exclusive focus on only what can be scientifically measured and proven (or literalized in the case of the Bible) and willfully manipulated for our personal material gain, we have nevertheless continued to cling en masse to the "Myth of Romantic Love".

As a consequence, for almost every person in modern day Western Culture, we have come to expect our intimate partners to fulfill a terribly idealized and even deified role in relationship to us. We seek passionately only for that "ecstasy" and feel There Is Something Missing from Our Intimate Relationships If We Are Not ALWAYS Experiencing That! In other words, at least in This culture, we do not feel comfortable or satisfied with the idea or the commitment to HUMAN LOVE between HUMAN BEINGS.

As a consequence, our capacity for Human Love and Divine Love are both compromised since they are not associated properly within their appropriate contexts; i.e. Divine Love is that which one experiences in a personal (individual) relationship with the Divine (or one's soul, or one's feeling nature, or one's unconscious, or one's anima/animus, however you want to acknowledge or identify the "invisible" part of yourself); while Human Love is experienced in relationship with other Human Beings, other (apparently separate) individuals outside of oneself. And if it is not already obvious, there are Very Different obligations in each form of relationship and different ways to "practice discipline" in each of those levels of association.

What this boils down to is - instead of acknowledging "God/dess" as "God/dess" we keep expecting our partners to be the "God" or "Goddess" in our lives, and as soon as they fail to live up to our expectations, they either have to suffer our disappointment through emotional, psychological, or even physical abuse, or...it's off to find another man or woman to carry that "projection" for us until they too fail under the weight of it. There are other cultures in the world that do not place such inappropriate and even irrational expectations on their human partners - and, guess what, their human relationships are much more likely to be stable and satisfying as a consequence. Surprise, surprise!

For many years now I feel I have been living at the "narrow end of the bell curve". And..to be honest, I haven't been living with "romantic love expectations" of my partners for a lot of that time, going back to the first book I read about anima/animus projections back in 1993 (i.e. "Invisible Partners" by John Sanford). However, I know for a fact, because I have been Unwilling to get "caught up in" that "divine love at the human level" game, I have made myself "less attractive" to the men around me who were hoping/expecting to experience that with me. Truth is, I do not expect my male companions to play the "Romantic Hero" in some overly dramatized version of an intimate relationship with me, nor am I inclined to play the "Damsel in Distress" or the Athena-like Love Goddess who vacillates between blessing and cursing her lover with no peace to be found in some middle ground of ordinary human life. Furthermore, because I have fully satisfied my need for a direct, ecstatic Love Relationship with the Divine, through my ongoing religious practice, I am simply not "driven" to seek that in my human intimate relationships.

Does that mean I do not "need" those human relationships? Of course not! I acknowledge the fact that I am as much a human being as I am a spiritual being. Obviously human beings need to relate to one another for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of contexts and at all kinds of levels of intimacy. But in our culturally conditioned quest for that "One Love" we are failing miserably in our capacity to love in all these other relationships at all these other levels.

And that, my friends, I feel is one of the greatest tragedies in our society today and it has been the Great Tragedy of Western Culture for centuries. However, this World persists in the midst of our insanity - at least for now, and that means we still have time to "change our ways" and change our expectations and get back to relating with the Visible and the Invisible as it is apparently "normal" and appropriate for us to do as the human and spiritual beings that we are.