Archive for the ‘Love and Relationships’ category

Self-concept is Destiny

February 15, 2008

I met her when she came to a workshop I was conducting on “Self-esteem and the Art of Being.”

            She was thirty-two years old, pretty, and worked as a receptionist in a law firm. Early in life she had decided that she knew what she was—“a bad girl.” How else could she explain the endless screaming reproaches of her mother, and the emotional coldness of her father, and a home that lacked any trace of love, affection, or kindness? As an adult, she supported the claim that she was a bad girl trough sexual promiscuity, and an inability to remain faithful to any lover or boyfriend.

            I met him at the same self-esteem workshop as the one where I met her.

            He was thirty-five, athletic, and worked as an artist in an advertising firm.  He had come to the United States from Norway.

            Months later—when he became a therapy client—he would tell me their story as he saw it.

            When he was six years old, his mother had deserted him and his father to run off with another man. He knew what this meant.  “If your own mother doesn’t love you, what can you expect from another woman?”  He decided that he was unlovable.  With the help of his embittered father, he also learned that no woman can be trusted, all women are sluts, and to love is to be hurt.

            Picture about one hundred-and thirty people in a hotel meeting room   I give an opening talk of about ninety minutes, then there is a fifteen minute break, and then I ask the group to stack the chairs against the walls and sit on the floor in circles of four.  “Do not sit with anyone you know,” I say.

            I take the group through a sentence-completion exercise. Then I invite them to share their experiences and what they may have learned.  I stand on the stage scanning the room, and I notice a young couple whose hands and other aspects of body language suggest an immediate connection.

            I ask the group to stand up, stretch, and then move into new circles of four, but only with complete strangers.  “Don’t sit with anyone you sat with in the previous circle,” I say.  I see that this couple ignores my instructions and moves together into a new group.  This happens two more times as I keep “reshuffling” the groups until the evening program ends. Then I see them standing near the exit, until their bodies convey a kind of tension that is unmistakable in its meaning. “How in hell can it happen so fast?” I ask myself, fascinated.

            I see them finding each other with the terrifying accuracy of two guided missiles meeting in space.           

            Within a week, as I learn later, they were on fire with love.  They felt born to a new innocence.  All feelings of guilt, sinfulness, or weighted sadness were washed away in the cleanliness of a love liked nothing they had ever experienced.  They did not feel that they were unlovable.  They felt that they were the essence of love.

            Then the time bomb that lay sleeping in both of them began to tick—the sense that they were in danger, that love such as they imagined is illusion, that to love is to be hurt.

            Anxiety awakened first in him and then in her.  He became a little impatient with her, a little critical, and she responded by becoming defiant, contemptuous of some of his mannerisms—each of them gearing up to defend against the rejection they dreaded and felt to be inevitable.

            In one moment, she would complain of being “suffocated” in their relationship and in the next she would beg for more time and attention because, she would say, “I don’t know how to live without you.”  Then he would suggest that perhaps he had not paid enough attention to how few books she read.  She would say, bitterly, that she was not an intellectual, and he would mutter under his breath that she could say that again.  Then he would weep, “I love you so much.”

            It lasted a few months longer—until the day when one or both of them were no longer able to believe their relationship was salvageable.

            As he would tell me later, on the day that was the “official” end of their “romance,” they stood on the steps of the building where she lived, and they hugged each other, and then she watched him walking away and she cried “Why? Why? We were so happy together! What was wrong with us?”  He did not turn around, but merely shrugged.  Then, once again, she shouted “Why?”

            Self-concept generates life scripts.


Newsweek Interview-Is Romance Dead? A new book offers advice for sustaining love in an ‘anti-romantic age.’

February 3, 2008

Newsweek : Selfishness isn’t usually the word we use to describe love.
Of all the nonsense written about love, none is more absurd than the notion that ideal love is selfless. To love is to see myself in you and to wish to celebrate myself with you. What I love is the embodiment of my values in another person. Love is an act of self-assertion, self-expression and a celebration of being alive.

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The Psychology of Romantic Love subtitled: Romantic Love in an Anti-Romantic Age

January 31, 2008

“The passionate attraction between man and woman that is known as romantic love can generate the most profound ecstasy. It can also generate, when frustrated, unutterable suffering. Yet for all its intensity, the nature of that attachment is little understood. To some, who associate “romantic” with “irrational,” romantic love is a temporary neurosis, an emotional storm, inevitably short-lived, which leaves disillusionment and disenchantment in its wake. To others, romantic love is an ideal that, if never reached, leaves one feeling as though one has somehow missed the secret of life…. 

“I do not see romantic love as the prerogative of youth. Nor do I see it as some kind of immature ideal, inappropriately adapted from literature, that must crumble in the face of “prac­tical reality.” I do see romantic love as requiring more of us, in terms of our personal evolution and maturity, than we generally appreciate. Indeed. that is one of the central themes of this book.”

A brief excerpt from   The Psychology of Romantic Love    on sale in stores February 1st.

In Defense of Romantic Love

January 30, 2008

“Romantic Love” evokes associations of valentines, violins, and soft music and knights in shining armor—for some people.  For others, it raises the question “Aren’t we too sophisticated for that today?”


            It is unfortunate that a few popular symbols of what people like to call “romance” have replaced the psychological reality of romantic love. We need to think more deeply than that. Valentines and violins have nothing to do with the essential meaning of love between a man and woman (as I conceive them in “The Psychology of Romantic Love”).

            And no, if we want to speak of sophistication, we are not too sophisticated.  We are not sophisticated enough.  The error is already evident in the use of the term “sophistication.”  In this context, it is a frivolous word.

            “Sophistications,” in the modern world, is often the last refuge of people who are simply frightened of passion, devotion, and commitment.

            Many people are so naïve as to believe that if they surround themselves with the trappings of “romance”—if they plant themselves in a glamorous restaurant with soft lights and music—something magical will happen to their relationship. They sit there helplessly, waiting for the ambience to work a miracle.  It never does.

            Externals can be very pleasant, but they are not the core of romantic love.  The core lies within the mind of the individual man or woman.  It is there or nowhere.

            “Being romantic” means treating the relationship as important, behaving in ways that underscore its importance.  Flowers can be a lovely gift, or a meaningless gesture. There are people who know how to be romantic in a hovel; there are people who do not know how to be romantic in a palace.

            As for the image of the knight in shining armor, it is an ambiguous.  It could represent a woman’s longing for a man she can admire.  It could also represent the immature wish for someone coming to rescue her, coming to make the world safe for her.   As such, it is more a projection of adolescent insecurity than a projection of mature love.  From the male perspective, it could represent a man’s desire to achieve an admirable soul and to be so perceived by the woman he loves.  But it could also represent the craving of a man to play hero for a “weak and helpless” female.  Romantic love is a relationship between independent equals, not between a waif and a rescuer.

            But wait a minute.  Nobody dreams of a rescuer on a white horse any more.  Sure they do.  Only the preferred color is black, not white.  And the dream isn’t for a horse.  It’s for a Harley or a Ferrari or a Bentley.

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