A simplified glimpse into Theodor Reik’s notion of romantic love. Let’s begin with one premise regarding the psychological state. The inherent idea that practically everyone has a tension system or drive to improve, to become a better self. That drive for improvement can refer to one’s intellectual, psychological and/ or physical attributes over a lifetime. For example, an individual attends college in order to become smarter, to find a mate as well as to increase the probability of making more money - the one who has more or the biggest toys wins. Or, an individual seeks out psychotherapy, some form of meditation, etc. to improve one’s mental health and emotional state. Individuals also visit dermatologists, plastic surgeons and other medical providers to improve one’s physical attributes and/or physical health. Many persons also become involved in the billion-dollar physical fitness industry to become healthier, stronger, etc. -find your own personal trainer, coach to practice and train “Practice makes perfect.” Many attend church, synagogue or temples to become more fully involved spiritually. And, if need be, one can find that right person or soulmate to make you happy on that special dating site. Just pay attention to Internet and TV commercials-they have the answers regarding improvement of self. The perfect outfit or smart suit “Makes the man or makes the woman.” It is clear that the self is not perfect and requires improvement. The expression “There’s always room for improvement” says it all.
This motivational idea to better self begins much before adulthood. This drive, need to or remove deficits to oneself originate in the unconscious, can enter the conscious level, and is an ongoing and back and forth process. One way of understanding this motivation is called the Ego Ideal. Not only do we seek out ways for self-improvement, but we also unconsciously / consciously seek out others to fulfill our perceived flaws. We may have desires to become more protective, outgoing, tender, loving, socially refined, wealthy, altruistic, fun, exciting, dangerous, strong, beautiful , handsome, empathetic, proactive, sexual, confident, etc. -conquering and catching is also part of the deficit equation. The ego ideal can fulfill those imperfections. However, our ego ideal sets the bar at unrealistic heights so that practically no one can attain this perfection. Even though we fall short, time after time, we still head down the same road. Einstein once said something to the effect that “Making the same mistake over and over again and expecting a different result is insane.” As this drive is often at the unconscious level, our blinders, illusions defense mechanisms and distortions interfere with reality.
An individual might be initially drawn to another [Idealized object] in order to fulfill [ego completion or ego improvement] what’s apparently missing or absent. This unknowing male is drawn to the idealized object with some desired qualities that he lacks or that merges well with his personality characteristics -somewhat, sometimes but not always “Opposites attract. “ This often sets the stage for the beginning of romance. During this initial phase, there is typically a desire to possess and to unite or join as one. The “I “merges and becomes a “We” or an “Us. “The brilliant Shakespeare in his Romeo and Juliet play addressed what is considered a significant part of us-the name. It is the expression of the separated personality, which now has no meaning. Juliet speaks:
Tis but thy name that is mine enemy;
Thou art myself, though not a Montague.
O, be some other name!
Shakespeare added further, the idea of merging in this play. Merging can be considered a most tender form of taking possession of another-it also encompasses the surrender of oneself. While this is going on, the individual thinks about the idealized object incessantly and cannot live without her. The memory and idea of the person interferes with the ability to concentrate. The anxiety and excitement builds with anticipation of future meetings. The individual’s life is changed dramatically, and he cannot help sharing this with others. It’s as if she is now the center of his universe. All sense of rational reason and control seem unimportant. He becomes more impulsive, driven. It’s like a snowball going down the mountain, becoming larger and larger. No one can stop it. Further, that love is about giving and the pleasure is being able to give to the other, as opposed to receiving. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has Juliet saying:
…. as boundless as the sea
My love as deep; the more I give thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.
This love becomes the fulfillment of one’s ego ideal but is not endless in duration. On the one hand, we initially experience admiration, tenderness, happiness, infatuation and passion which is a necessary feeling of incipient love. One difficulty is that the unconscious admiration of another’s qualities has a limited time duration and when it hits home consciously, it begins to expose the others deficits. When this occurs this can lead to discontent, irritation, jealousy, hostility, and even hatred. So very often there is a dance or a battle that begin in the unconscious. This is like a fight, an encounter with the other and. then a retreat. It’s like push-pull tug-of-war fight, or flight. The expression of hostility becomes merged with tenderness and as that dynamic becomes more conscious, it plays out - we have-lovers quarrels, violent behaviors interrupting tenderness, etc. Although this romantic love is not endless there is also no length of time that defines it.
Romantic love is on shaky ground when one individuals perception, image, fantasy of the object changes of the idealized object. This process takes place as the components in the unconscious usually rise to the conscious level of awareness. This conscious awareness soon leads to the individual seeing more clearly blemishes and flaws of the object. Of course, the blemishes and flaws were always there; however, now they are clearly seen, and cannot be avoided. Even, what was once perceived unconsciously as a strength or a positive now becomes a negative. There is additional pulling away emotionally, withdrawing affection, expressing irritation and displeasure with the other –indifference. While this is happening, the ego ideal is greatly affected and so is romantic love. And emotionally and behaviorally without affection and tenderness results in a relationship that is severely threatened. Once again, we’re talking about perception and the change in perception and going from the depths of the unconscious to conscious levels of awareness. Of course the other in the equation also experiences and reacts to the changes of the other partner. The perceptual and awareness changes that take place between the two lovers is like being on a rocky canoe in the middle the ocean .It becomes very tipsy and goes from side to side. Can the canoe right itself to become stable? It’s important to remember that changes in perception lead to consonant changes in thinking, emotion and behavior.
Whether or not this signifies the end of the relationship with the idealized object is dependent upon numerous variables such as age, emotional maturity, previous relationships, dependency, socioeconomic and external factors as well as the ability to understand self and other. And, more importantly, the resolution of the battle within the ego ideal and the idealized object requires an ending or a different beginning. The very same variables apply to the other person. Remember romantic love is not identical with mature love. And, if we were actually in touch with the depth of our unconscious, we would have better clues as to our ego ideal, idealized object and emotional potentialities of both players. However that is not the case, and mistakes are made. Additional ideas’ about love and mature love dynamics to follow.