In We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love, Robert Johnson uses a blend of ancient myth and Jungian psychology to examine Western culture‘s fascination with romance and the harm it is doing to both men and women.
My Illusions of Romance
As a bit on me, I grew up as a gangly and socially awkward nerdy kid imagining myself meeting a woman who would fix my world. I remember going into our bedroom to practice our first kiss. Me, approaching her with confidence and strength. Chicago’s, “You’re The Inspiration” playing in the background.
You know our love was meant to be
The kind of love to last forever
And I want you here with me
From tonight until the end of time
You should know
Everywhere I go
Always on my mind
In my heart
In my soul
She would look up and see me coming. Her eyes lit up. Smile beaming. Presence, radiant. And as I approached, the kiss.
You’re the meaning in my life
You’re the inspiration
You bring feeling to my life
You’re the inspiration
Want to have you near me
I want to have you hear me saying
“No one needs you more than I need you”
Given that the track to this kiss first released in 1984 and I remember buying the single at Target soon after it came out, all of this happened as a nine or maybe ten year old. Fast forward to today and I have two ex-wives who could not meet the expectations of that moment because, well, no woman could. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love, helps me understand why.
Reframing My Experience
Johnson explores Western culture’s fascination with romance through Jungian archetypes and the ancient tale of Tristan and Iseult. He identifies how turning religion from an experience to a set of propositions stripped our ability to encounter the sacred feminine, the anima, that needs to be united with the masculine animus. Because our subconscious needs to work through this union, when we fail to give it a path, it creates one. Romance turns flesh and blood women into a screen where men project their anima.
The result is two things. One, the women we meet can never live up to the projection. Two, we never actually encounter the women we meet because we see our projection as opposed to the actual person. Seeking to resolve this dilemma, I rejected the women I married and sought others who I could keep at arms length so they could live up to the anima projection. The behavior puts skin on G. K. Chesterson‘s quote, “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God.” It also helps explain how, for decades, a torrid encounter was the only thing that could make me feel, at least for a time, fully human.
The Path Forward
At this point, things are not fully clear on my path forward. There is certainly a desire to delve into parts of my psyche that are crying out for attention, so that is where I will begin.
I currently have two paths I am following here. First, I have a number of books I will read on the nature of the masculine and feminine soul. These include:
- He by Robert Johnson
- Iron John by Robert Bly
- King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore
- Conscious Men: Mastering the New Man Code for Success and Relationships by John Gray
I am also starting a year-long small group intensive with the man who first suggested, We.
Here is to healthier relationships with myself and women as Developing Love continues to have its way with me.