Kidnapped by Cupid, How Romantic Love Takes Over Our Lives

The last thing you actually heard was a scratchy, excited message in your voice mail about a great first date, followed a few days later by a text in all caps and smothered in exclamation points.  After a week, there were only rumors of a third and forth date. And then, silence.

You called. You texted. You accessed social networks. But to no avail.

Your friend has fallen victim to romantic love, swept up by that proverbial white horse into an even more proverbial sunset. You want answers, no doubt, and demand to know why your friend will not be returned. You would also like to know what it is, exactly, about romantic love that would possesses anyone to abandon their closest companions and focus so blindly, so hopelessly and so completely onto one person.

Well, let’s get into it.

The first thing you need to know is that your friend has constructed the perfect psychological mate. Wrought over a lifetime this flawless manikin shimmers with an ethereal, otherworldly translucence. If your friend is male, this visage is likely female, a woman who fits all of his specifications—weight, shape, height, hair and eye color. Better yet, she knows exactly when to leave the room, bring him a beer or allow him time to cry on her shoulder.  She may even follow the NHL and participate, under no duress, in fantasy football. If your friend is female, her Adonis may resemble the Hollywood flavor of the month, but more importantly he listens, is receptive to her feelings, freely and easily expresses his own and remains continuously, fully and breathtakingly emotionally available.

So how does this apply to your friend’s situation? In a word: projection. Like looking through a lens, the glass manikin stands between us and our enamored, distorting their image. To complicate matters, there are aspects of our effigy of which we may not be aware—nearly invisible fabric festooned from its stiff, outstretched arms and tilted neck. This man may want a woman who moves and speaks like his mother. Here is a woman who unconsciously scores her potential mate by comparing his hands to her father’s.  I do not mean to suggest the presence of a Freudian love affair, rather that since childhood each of us unconsciously compile criteria for what we believe is beautiful, masculine or feminine based on the models which are closest at hand. Conversely, say a woman had a terrible relationship with her father—perhaps she avoids men who even remotely resemble him. Even glasses and a mis-placed mole could be a deal breaker. And just to bewilder and truly upset you, she may actually find abusive men attractive. In fact, both men and women may unconsciously replicate an abusive past in order to re-experience and resolve childhood trauma. This can manifest in a number of ways. For example, a child abused by both parents may, as an adult, feel unsafe or simply unable to carryout intimate relationships. This person may seek out partners who are perhaps married, geographically distant, emotionally unavailable, or “just someone to sleep with”.

On a brighter note, sometimes we project onto our new partner qualities we love most about ourselves. Is this love of your life (the one you met five minutes ago) gorgeous, wise and brilliant? Loving, reliable and receptive? Has anyone ever said anything like that about you? Just as we may find ourselves inexplicably incensed with those who harbor and exhibit our own negative traits, so too do we occasionally become enamored when the opposite occurs. Just as we have a difficult time owning our negative traits, we may have just a hard a time owning the positive.

In summary, our ideal mate is an amalgam of human made of memories, ideals, traumas, hopes and dreams–all manufactured from the material deep within our own individual psyches. Which begs the question: When we are in love, who are we really in love with? When you look into your lover’s eyes, whose eyes are you really looking into? Picture your friend on a date. She is in a café, sitting across from her newly beloved. Two people transfixed, each with a mirror, gazing into their own reflection.

Finally, one day, usually around three months later, your phone rings.

She is contrite, possibly tearful. “We’re taking a break. I’m sorry I’ve been such a terrible friend. I don’t know what I was thinking.” You don’t need to ask what happened. Maybe they had their first fight, or moved into that comfortable, familiar stage of the relationship. Whatever the case, the projection has begun to crack and splinter.
Have you been here before? You awake one day to a human being laying beside you wrapped in 90% of the covers, a human you must listen to and compromise with (how to share a blanket for instance), who may also be experiencing their own sense of loss and deep disappoint as you fail to live up to an impossible standard. For a projection’s ephemeral nature is the source of its great paradox—for once you have found the one, you have found no one.

In his book “We, Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love” Robert Johnson, the great Jungian philosopher and psychotherapist, likened the sparkling quality of romance to a religious experience. In addition, he discusses how many religions converge on the point that the deepest experience of God, the universe, the great mystery, or whatever label you wish to lay upon it, exists ultimately within ourselves. Johnson feels that romantic love operates as a modern gateway to this deeper experience, or a road sign indicating the direction towards our true Self. He maintains that part of the reason we become so swept up in projection is that we are missing this aspect in our lives and are left craving an intense experience of the numinous and of the Self.

So is the secret…church? Hell no. What Johnson is advocating for is a deeper, more fearless excavation of who we are as humans. So long as we are unable to access the greatness and mystery that is ourselves, we will continue to project all this material onto our partner. Just think of what romantic love requires your significant other to hold—a life time of your own material, your hopes, dreams, unmet expectations as well as unearthed and unresolved traumas.  If we do not learn to lighten the load we place upon our significant other we will be continually disappointed with our intimate relationships.

So what do we do once the projection has lifted and our experience of the numinous has evaporated?  Relationships have the potential to move into a deeper form of love—real caring, quiet. Johnson states

Love is the power within us that affirms and values another human being as he or she is….Therefore, when I say that “I love,” it is not I who love, but, in reality, Love who acts through me. Love is not so much something I do as something that I am. Love is not a doing but a state of being— a relatedness, a connectedness to another mortal, an identification with her or him that simply flows within me and through me, independent of my intentions or my efforts.  (We, Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love 2013)

I will not attempt to improve on that statement. Though I will add that there is no need to reignite the “spark” in the relationship, when what we truly want are embers, buried deep within the ash and charcoal. Why not a red hot, steady heat? For what better thing is there in life but the simple joy of waking up next to someone you love and who loves you back?

Nine months later, you listen patiently as your friend complains and hems and haws, those three months of deafening silence replaced now by appeals for advice, hand-holding and “just someone to talk to” over a beer, coffee, lunch, or anything else that will take up an afternoon away from their a-little-less-than-before-significant-other. You hang up the phone. You scheduled a coffee date, but you know that your friend doesn’t need your help now any more than she did in the beginning. She needs to dedicate the time, do the work and face some serious self-excavation.

Still, projection has served a purpose for your friend. Have you ever “gone too fast” and ruined something that seemed to have great potential? It is as though the projection needs time to build up—like a kind of ethereal charge. And as the two of you dance your dance, leave secret notes, take just enough time to return each other’s phone calls and allow the mystery to propagate, the more your own desires, dreams and imaginings can wash over your new partner and thicken the excitement. Projection is the psychic glue that keeps two people together long enough to decide whether or not there is something real to salvage once the winds of reality have set in and the fairy dust has cleared. So if I had to bring religion or spirituality into this, I would say that during the first glowing phase of a relationship, it is God or the great mystery that takes care of us. After that, we are on our own.

How to Throw Down: The Benefits of a Happy Fighting Marriage

“May you have a happy fighting marriage.”  The old man grinned and drummed his fingers against the armrest. I stared with a mixture of rage and confusion at this therapist who had just doomed me to a life of conflict. And just because he is ninety-four years old and can still ride a horse doesn’t mean he has all the answers. Ok, perhaps a great majority of answers but not all of them. Still, here are a few of his points, as filtered through my comparatively youthful vernacular:

Fighting draws battle lines. Every relationship needs healthy boundaries. “No dear, it is not ok to have dinner with your ex-girlfriend.” There are nice ways to communicate this, but if the message isn’t getting through to your partner, turning up the volume is not a crime.  That fifth  put-down in front of your mother after you asked him nicely to stop? Really? Let him have it.

Fighting helps work out the knots. Let’s say the two of you get into a huge blow out over money, or sex, or children (or all three, god help you) and finally, at 2AM, resolve the problem. The two of you can now sleep a little better knowing that this issue, at least for now, has been put to bed. With one less difference to mitigate, greater closeness and intimacy is achieved.

Fighting is a form of intimacy. To put it simply, suddenly you are in each other’s faces: you are loud, you are close, it is heated. Sounds like sex to me.

Fighting is a tool for demonstrating love. We pick fights in order to experience the love and reunification of making up afterward. This is not, of course, to be conflated with any form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse.

Fighting builds the relationship.  Think of a volcanic eruption–you have seen the videos of the lava flows as they roll popping and spitting into the ocean. That’s the fight. New information is bubbling out of each person: unmet expectations, old baggage, childhood trauma, etc. In a real sense, new ground is being created. When you are done fighting, and the lava has cooled, your “island” has grown.  In short, there is more relationship there than when you started.

“But aren’t there more productive ways to fight?” I asked, “I mean, despite the benefits, if you’re tearing each up all the time, it’s bound to do some lasting damage.”

The old man nodded, very slowly. Straight out of a Tolkien novel, my therapist is 6’4’’ and incredibly hairy. He claims he is going to live to 125.  I know this not to be a hope but a choice. The old man does as he pleases.

Listen to your partner: Every so often paraphrase what he or she is saying, or as may be the case, yelling. Say, “So what I hear you saying is…” Follow this with, “Did I get all that? Did I leave anything out?” Sometimes your significant other just wants to be heard. Letting him or her know this can both diffuse a fight and move the conversation in a more productive direction.

Avoid name calling. Just don’t do it. That’s dirty fighting. I don’t think this one requires an in-depth explanation.

Don’t throw things. For one thing, they often break, or break the thing they hit–especially if that thing happens to be someone you love, or the head of someone you love.

Avoid Youstatements. While this may sound trite, this advice has been hammered into me by the old man, over a dozen extremely thick text books, and virtually every clinic in which I have been reluctantly inclined to seek extremely meager employment. But even under extreme duress, I eventually saw the light. Here are a few You-statements:

You always yell at me.

You were late for dinner.

You started this fight.

Let’s say I happen to get into a disagreement with my therapist. Instead of finger pointing, I bring the issue around to how I feel in the moment, to what I am processing/experiencing:

I feel hurt and enraged when you tell me I am being arrogant

When you sit there saying nothing I want to scream in your face.

When you are an asshole, I want to throw this ash tray at your head.

That last item is an example of a common mistake, since it pointed the finger by implying that my therapist was, in my educated opinion, acting like an asshole. Back to the previous example, one can also shift You to We, i.e. “You started this fight”  changes to  “When we fight”. Here, two very different statements contain basically the same factual information.

Ritual. Plan out a set activity in the event a serious meltdown cannot be avoided. The old man had such a plan whenever he fought with his wife. And because he didn’t look enough like a tree already, would go sit by this large oak on his property and write down everything he wanted to say. She would do the same (under a different tree, presumably). This ritual helped mitigate an escalating situation while allowing each party time to think objectively about what they wanted to say.  In other words, ritual brought order to chaos.

Ritual Also brings consciousness to the fight in the sense of “we are in this fight, this is getting out of hand, and we need to do something productive about it and this is what we are going to do”.  Consciousness, the old man maintains, is the great elixir of all our problems. In fact, all the points outlined here tie in to an increased level of consciousness—from drawing battle lines in the sand to examining childhood trauma—all concern bringing forth ideas, attitudes or states of mind that would otherwise remain below the surface.

“So did all of your fights have a good outcome?”

The old man says nothing, ignoring my ridiculous question. He stares at me with eyes set at least three inches into his skull, silently expressing his final point: Know when to give in and simply admit that the other person is right.


Ok, so what is an Archetype, really?

Dragons. North America loves them, the Chinese encourage them to stomp around on new year’s. Dragons are also present in Indian and Greek mythology. In fact to this day, Dragons continue to devour unfortunate villagers and princesses and kings alike the world over.

Here is an etching of a typical dragon:


So what gives? How did so many cultures with little or no historical connection produce basically the same fire-breathing, scaly beast? Before we get into why that is, here is a quick and dirty history of the “discovery” of Archetypes:

A long, long time ago, around 1900, Carl Jung found mythological images from disparate cultures showing up in his patient’s dreams. It would be as if you went to bed one night and dreamed of the Egyptian sun god Ra.

This guy:

RA02     But you’re not Egyptian.  You’ve never been to Egypt. You have probably failed more than one exam on middle eastern history.

It doesn’t make any sense.

So dragons. One basic angle is that Dragons represent a unification or harmony of earth, wind, fire and water. The math holds out pretty well—fire breathing, wings, feet (earth) and scales (fish, water, swimmy things). Incidentally, the sun god Ra was also representative of the four elements. Maybe that’s why the Egyptians don’t have dragons. Who knows.

Here is a more important question:  Why express the four elements in such a unified form in the first place—why say or picture “dragon” instead of simply “earth, fire, water and air”? Surely it has more to do with some mythological shorthand. Clearly, more is going on.

To clarify this issue (or perhaps confuse it) let’s switch archetypes for the moment to discuss Aphrodite and Adonis.

These two folks:


I bring them up because the notion of beauty is something everyone seems to be grappling with on one level or another. In short, dragons are cool, but sex is even cooler. Anyway, most of us hold an image of the ideal woman or man in our mind’s eye, an image which finds its roots deep in our unconscious. You might not know it, but your ideal spouse may have long hands like your mother, or curly hair like your father. Or perhaps the reverse is true and you unconsciously avoid anyone who even remotely resembles your parents. Or perhaps due to your own internal struggles with power and control you favor taller women or shorter men, or fatter men or women with green eyes. Why green eyes? Because your ideal woman, the Aphrodite of your unconscious, for whatever reason, has green eyes.

You think green eyes are awesome.

Here’s a side note:  When someone has met the “one”, their “dream girl” or “dream man” these are the folks they are really talking about. Adonis and Aphrodite are present in the first two or three months of any decent relationship. At that point, after the “honeymoon” period, many begin to realize they are dating a human being, a realization which usually disappoints everyone in the room. In short, many marriages fail due to the fact that our significant other does not mirror this inner god or goddess.

Still, in a perfect world, we come to realize that there is no “one” and that each relationship takes work as we project anew our inner ideal onto our significant other.

This ethereal couple illuminates the connective tissue which traverses our conscious and unconscious world, between who we think we see and who we actually see–ourselves. Or at least, aspects of ourselves. It is our unconscious world which drives us to do many things in life, from getting the perfect job to building the perfect house. However, the world of the unconscious is broader than the individual. Jung posited that there is also a subjective or “collective” unconscious. For just as you harbor ideals and projections, so does the culture in which you reside. The collective expresses its image of the Aphrodite and Adonis in movies, billboards, and in Vogue magazine, all with enormous help from Photoshop. And yes, and thank god, these ideals are constantly shifting. Look at Shakespeare with his sonnets singing the praises of spiky black hair and pale skin (which, come to think of it, is still popular in a few circles).

It is also important to note that the beauty archetype goes far beyond the physical, as these projections involve behavior as well–idealized in everything from chivalry to a teen playing with her hair. What it comes down to, basically, is that we manifest in the physical world what we want unconsciously experience in our inner world. We do it individually, we do it collectively.

So what about dragons then? And why should the unconscious or inner experience of the four elements be so popular?

First, the concept of earth, wind, fire and water is easier to digest as a single image. Think of a chess piece—it represents a complex arrangement of possible moves on a 64 square board.

Here is the entire crew:


Each one of these guys (and gals) signify a series of complex potential moves. A rook moves in a plus or cross pattern, a bishop in an X pattern, the queen is a combination of these two and moves in a star pattern. Instead of trying to muddle through all of that, we simply have a piece do the work for us. In a nutshell, the pieces make it easier to comprehend and manage highly complex patterns.  This is part of what archetypes do.

Secondly, the world is a dangerous place. I would hazard to guess that if a young prince or villager could slay a dragon he would have a fine time navigating his way in the world. That is, the tale processes our collective fears about living and making it in the world. The world is getting to be a tougher and tougher place. It is no wonder that dragons have grown so trendy.

Incidentally (and this is pretty cool) the fact that the “winning” prince or son (or daughter, of course) is often the third in a line of failures touches on the idea of “before completion”. That is, four is complete and represents wholeness, while three isn’t quite there. When he slays the dragon (or gets the gold, or outwits the devil or solves the riddle and so on), he has reached a state of four. He is complete and can make his way in the world as an adult. But more than simply “making it”, there is a deeper level still. Dragons symbolize our struggle towards consciousness. If we slay the dragon, we have transcended all that is physical in the world and have graduated to a higher plane.

(note: this gets a lot more complicated but I am trying to keep it basic. For more on dragons see just about anything written by Jung or Edinger. There are also many different types of dragons and their related meanings—winged serpents verses land based dragons doing strange things like biting their own tail and so on)

Circling back to the idea of beauty, our desire for the ideal man or woman also severs as a basic model for our steps towards completion. That is, an individual’s desire to sleep with his or her inner god or goddess is metaphoric of a desire to go within—to perhaps connect with his own inner feminine or more generally with his unconscious. To connect with the realm of the unconscious is connect with the Self, and is to experience wholeness in its grandest form.  

Still, what good is an archetype? What can it do for us really? Just look at the emaciated figures in fashion. That cannot possibly be healthy.  As we consciously and unconsciously grapple with the archetypes we become more conscious of what we are doing and where we are going. This may, for example, explain the healthy popularity of the so-called “plus” sized model. Our collective archetypal dialogue is really doing some good here.

So that’s what archetypes are about. As we tell stories, shift perspectives and discuss our dreams we are both consciously and unconsciously conducting serious and productive discussions on the nature beauty, living in the world, and our relationship to our deeper selves—all on a mass scale.

And I think it’s fabulous.