I’m going to make a confession that will render me about as popular as the flu:
I have a tendency to cling in relationships
Oh, and to pine.
It’s bad, I know. I’ve done much to keep it hidden, like an alcoholic would do to their secret stash of vodka. Of course, it’s been easier for me than other clingers to feign coolness because a big part of my personality is prone to the “do my own thing the way I want” approach to life. Seems like it would be a wash, right? Not exactly. It’s actually been a bit more like muffling the presence of that Mango character Chris Katan played on SNL about a decade back.
He’s funny, isnt’ he? He got a lot of people going when he’d plead to his back-turned lover and then, in a flash, scowl and denounce the exact same person as they turned toward him. The character was a success because somewhere deep down, we could all relate to the him.
We all want to be loved in a relationship, to be reassured from time to time, but over the years, we get burned. We feel we’ve struck out, and some less-resilient folks never allow themselves to get close to anyone again. It’s like we become bipolar in our needs: a permanent argument takes over the mind between the cling-on and the cool.
Yet, with all of the demands of life, how much energy do any of us really have to manage this inner struggle…and for what gain?
I’ve dedicated long hours to reading things that might quell my inner cling-on, like Codependent No More, and all kinds of books on Buddhism and detachment. These have done much to feed the inner cool. Yet, this didn’t really result in any kind of resolution regarding relationships.
There had to be a more suitable solution than beefing one side of my personality (cool) up, while the other side (cling-on) cowered in the shadows. It’s almost like I gave my independence a PhD and left poor Cling-on in elementary school …until I read about Thanatos and Eros.
I chose, just there, to write Thanatos first because of the two CEOs of love, he is the one who is most ignored—and like anyone would, he sometimes gets pissed off about it. That’s when hell really breaks loose for those unaware of his tendencies.
“Who the heck is Thanatos?” You ask. “And why haven’t I heard of him then?”
Two words: selective marketing. You see, Thanatos is best known as the manifestation of death and destruction, and among Freud connoisseurs, the tendency toward destructive behavior and pain. He’s the master of grief. But Thanatos’ resume also features strong specializations in distance, space, reflection, personal time, quiet, pausing, emptiness and the like.
Eros is somehow more sexy, more marketable, and thus, the hero in all love movies. Whenever Thanatos is in a movie, people are crying, nostalgic or looking out a window.
So, we are all brainwashed into thinking Eros is the one we must live to imitate all the time. Well, nothing could be more wrong, friends.
I first read about Eros and Thanatos as love co-factors in the book Eastern Body, Western Mind, by Judith Anodea. Since the book is about chakras, she found it important to mention them in the chapter on the heart. The chapter is about the process of loving. It’s a process way more complex than just giving and receiving. There must be a time, amidst all of the rapture of a relationship, when the individuals experience solitude and a chance to deeply connect within so that they are still coming from a unique place.
According to the predominant eros mindset, that’s kind of boring and cold and, well, scary. Wrong again because what’s more scary is how people behave when they lose themselves.
As an aside, Thanatos’ brother is Hypnos, Grand Poobah of sleep. So these guys are just a part of life, right? Yet, both of them are so underrated (even Hypnos is forced to lay down the law on most people who prefer to be awake way too much).
Anodea’s description of Thanatos hit me like a brick— in a few sentences, she wrote what I’ve been striving to learn for two decades.
While eros is the state of love, being together, expression, poetry, all overt qualities of union, Thanatos is the state of time apart, silence, reflection on the self as independent from the arrangement, and all of the spacious qualities of relationship.
If thanatos is ignored or demonized, Judith explained, it will resent its lack of authority in the business of love and interject itself in the form of arguments (to create distance), misunderstandings, separations, you name it. When Thanatos lays down the law, people break up—and sometimes the relationship dies. When you think about it, this can even apply to really good friends. There is a kind of sacred balance in a relationship, one that insists on two people being themselves within it.
It made sense. I realized, it’s not about becoming so independent, it’s about loving fully and finding comfort in the space (and the chance to really love myself) within a relationship. Even fights suddenly made sense. Even the ugly “nobody acts like this and stays together,” or “I’m so embarrassed that I said that to this person I love” times.
There’s a reason that Thanatos shares love’s throne with Eros. Arguments, tension and differences are part of the process of being two whole people in a relationship that is dynamic, not picturesque or prepackaged. Eros-dominated media might be fun, but it’s actually programming us too rigidly about what/how love should be.
How foolish it is to have an argument and then go watch a love flick based on the classic outline: two people meet; they don’t like each other or something stands in the way of things happening; they find they do like each other or an obstacle is removed; they hook up; if there’s still time in the movie, another complication, and then resolution, happy music, roll credits. Frankly, there is little reality in that eros propaganda because it’s lopsided and way too black and white—complication and obstacles equals bad and once-off; togetherness equals good.
Let’s use our good senses to consider that an argument can be a blast of air between partners, to help them get things out in the open because with all that hugging and smooching, some pretty important stuff was starting to sit too long and grow mold!
I’ve always sympathized with underdogs, and this is no exception. We have to see Thanatos as a lover just as much as Eros—a tough lover who is interested in boundaries for the sake of the relationship.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not just one of those things that grandma says with a smile. It’s actually right along the lines of saying, space makes the heart more fresh, makes the lover more ardent, more deliberate, more expressive from a place that’s not forced, obliged, or in the locks of a mindless habit. Space, distance, is refreshing.
And so again goes a declaration: Eros, for the sake of all you hold dear, is overrated.
Editor: Brianna Bemel