When I was 13, I was almost kicked out of a Christian summer camp for making out with a boy behind the main lodge.
I was shamed for my sexuality and told I was there to focus on God, not making out. I never ended up becoming a Christian, mostly because I didn’t think this made any sense.
I remember thinking: if there was a God, why would he/she/it surround me with guys in a beautiful setting (hormones coursing through my body) and not allow me to do anything about it?
More than a decade later, I found myself living at an ashram, involved with an older man who worked there. It was forbidden to have romantic relationships because well, you guessed it—I was there to focus on God (or Brahman in this case), not to make out.
However, for many of us, the ecstasy of falling in love with someone is the closest understanding we have to a blissful encounter with the divine. Romantic love fills us with feelings of wholeness, ecstasy, and joy—emotions few of us experience on a daily basis.
The Western notion of romantic love pertains mostly to the feeling of “being in love” and not simply loving. With its intense emotions, this kind of love inspires and motivates us to extremes hardly found elsewhere in the human experience.
We fall madly in love and expect our partner to forever make us feel this way; and when they don’t, we believe we no longer love them. (If I were more interested in neuroscience, this is where I would go into the effects of bonding hormones that take effect after a certain amount of time with someone. Specifically, when the highness of dopamine fades into the sweetness of oxytocin.)
With the intense highs and lows and obsessions, it would seem our society has still not learned how to cope with the incredible power of romantic love.
This power of romantic love frightens me.
I fear the moment when love begins to take control of me. When I feel butterflies in my stomach and am unable to sleep. I rarely “fall in love” and when I have, I remember the amazement of when it happens.
For me, it isn’t the falling that I’m most afraid of; it’s what happens afterwards—the moment when the person who used to seem so wonderful becomes as annoying as all hell. The moment you want to start “fixing” them. When even the way they chew their food drives you mad.
Realizing a partner has faults fuels affairs or breakups in many cases. These emotions signal that the honeymoon phase ended; this is when we realize our partner is, in fact, human.
Why is it so difficult to love someone’s humanness and imperfections? We don’t seem to love even our own faults.
The truth is, I’m afraid to see what is on the other side of the post-honeymoon-humanness-revealed phase. I fear how I will feel when I witness fully someone’s humanness as my own, facing the lack of divinity within myself.
Secretly, and not so secretly, I have been looking for a man who was perfect in all ways. A man who is also able to accept my imperfections (especially the ones I don’t particularly like).
To experience someone’s imperfections, to hold their wounds with reverence, is one of the greatest ways we cultivate intimacy in romantic love (as well as other relationships). To hold simultaneously someone’s divinity and humanness, especially their humanness, speaks solely to our ability to hold our own.
When we begin exploring these inner psychological dynamics of romantic love, we can come to a new appreciation and understanding for all our relationships (after all, sometimes we worship our friends or parents).
Carl Jung believed finding the psychic wound of an individual or group of individuals is how to find their path to consciousness.
As Robert A. Johnson points out in my new favorite book, We: The Psychology of Romantic Relationships, romantic love is the great wound of the Western psyche—a wound specific to our Western consciousness and not found as ubiquitously in Eastern cultures. The confusion of our culture seems even more clearly understood when we realize Sanskrit has 96 words for love, while English has only one.
The Western mind seems to have only one idea of what love is and refers to it mostly in terms of romance. We idealize “falling in love” and tend to look down on a love of duty, as is found in arranged marriages elsewhere in the world.
Johnson points to the loving stability and endurance found in these marriages. He discusses the distinction in Indian culture to declare husbands and wives in their vows as, first and foremost, a friend. In our culture, we ask for so much more than “just a friend” in our romantic, primary relationships. We not only want a friend, but a best friend, a soulmate and hot sex.
In Johnson’s book, he dissects the Western mind’s obsession with romantic love through the original (pre-Romeo and Juliet) romantic tale of “Tristan and Isolde.” The story tells us of a love so tragic they eventually killed themselves through heartbreak. This myth came about during the “beginning” of romantic love during the time of the Middle Ages and the beginning of courtly love—our modern idea of romantic love.
Oddly enough, in the times of courtly love, the knights weren’t physically involved with their fair ladies; they were worshiped from afar. Johnson points out that in Western consciousness, because we don’t seem to have an ingrained relationship to the divine in our culture, the desire for this connection shows up most frequently in romantic love.
Romantic love becomes the way in which we try to live out our religious/spiritual life through another.
Unconsciously, we ask someone to hold our divinity and perfection in their hands, but when we discover they too are human with flaws, we are disappointed.
In America, we also do this with celebrities, politicians or religious figures. We ask them to hold our collective spiritual life, and in the same way, give up their humanness so that we can idealize them as only divine.
This projection of our sacredness onto others, and externally, often leaves us feeling alienated and lonely.
To take back our projections, to love both our divinity and our seemingly flawed humanness, is the key to healing our relationships. Relationships, particularly the romantic kind, become our sadhana (spiritual practice) towards spiritual wholeness.
A practice in which, when we feel lonely or wish we had a romantic partner, we take back our desire for something outside of ourselves as a source of this joy and seek more of the godliness within. This wound of Western culture then begins to heal itself through our wholeness and willingness to redefine romance.
We no longer want to fall so deeply in love and idealize another, but to worship our own inner deity. To love others and even be romantic with a stable grasp of our own sense of self is truly to heal the wounds of Western consciousness.
I no longer crave the passion or romantic dates to ignite something in me—I want the ordinary. It’s comparable to the difference between traveling across the world to see exotic sights or taking a walk in the local park and noticing every tree.
True romance creates extraordinary in the ordinary.
There isn’t a need to keep romance “alive” when just the beauty of being with another in their humanness (and simultaneous divinity) cultivates love.
I can look back now on every heartbreak and see it wasn’t time I needed to heal my wounds, but a claiming back of my own divinity. I want a space in my partner’s heart where I am held in all my imperfections, as perfect in my humanity. A space carved out where the reality of my humanness becomes more appealing than any idealization.
What I want most of all is a relationship focused on God/Source/Universe; that is more important than making out (most of the time).
Rebecca Farrar is a self-proclaimed creative type, stargazer, and lover of life. She currently lives in San Francisco (or Man Franpsycho as she likes to call it) and attends the California Institute of Integral Studies working towards her Masters in Philosophy. When not at the library, she can be found doing yoga on her roof, wandering Ocean Beach, or staring at clouds. She believes unicorns and mermaids are real and sometimes writes about them on her blog: www.adventureswithstardust.com
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Assistant Ed: Sara Crolick
Ed: Bryonie Wise