Friday, April 30, 2010

We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love by Robert Johnson

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1985

It's about: Using the ancient, mythological narrative of two lovers, Tristan and Iseult, Johnson explores the origins of "romantic love" and what it is, how it has infiltrated our Western psyche, how it affects our relationships with ourselves and others, and what we should do about it.  As he retells the fascinating tale piece by piece, he pauses to analyze Tristan and Iseult as a metaphor for our modern psyche.

I thought: Though that description sounds inevitably boring, this book is actually incredibly intriguing.  Johnson retells the story well of the two star-crossed lovers, whose story was the forerunner to not only Romeo and Juliet but the King Arthur-Gwynevere-Lancelot love triangle.  His analysis is simple, insightful, well-organized, and straight-forward, so you don't have to be a psychology buff to understand or be interested in what he's talking about.  For me, Johnson's Jungian insights taught me a lot about my own subconscious as well as my expectations in love and my marriage.  Though at times a little redundant, the book was a surprisingly captivating read.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: If you are a human being, you should read this book.  Especially if you are a human being who is married, is soon to be married, or one day plans to get married.  In fact, I'm thinking of buying a few of these and giving them to people as wedding presents.

While I would not consider this a "self-help" book, it really uh... helps the self.

Warnings: Nothing to fear, here.

Favorite excerpts:

So long as we are "in love" with someone, the world takes on a brightness and meaningfulness that no mortal human being could ever bestow.  But when we fall "out of love" the world suddenly seems dismal and empty, even though we are still with the same human being who had inspired such rapture before.  This is why men and women put such impossible demands on each other in their relationships: We actually believe unconsciously that this mortal human being has the responsibility for making our lives whole, keeping us happy, making our lives meaningful, intense, and ecstatic!

Since the ascendancy of romantic love, most Westerners are torn constantly between two opposing ideals: One is the ideal of romance; the other is the ideal of commitment in human relationships.  We commonly think they are the same, but they are utterly opposed...Romance, in its purest form, seeks only one thing--passion.  It is willing to sacrifice everything else -- every duty, obligation, relationship, or commitment-- in order to have passion.

Typically, a modern man will begin a marriage with his soul-image projected on his wife; he only beings to know his wife as a woman after the projection begins to life.  He finds that he loves her as a woman, he values her and respects her, he feels the beauty of being committed to her and knowing that she is committed to him.  But one day he meets a woman who catches the projection of anima.  He knows nothing of anima and less of projection...his life feels exciting and meaningful when he is with her.  On that day, the two opposing armies in the Western psyche take up their swords and go to war within him.  The two moralities begin their duel.  On one side, his "human" morality tells him it is wrong to betray his wife and set off on a course that will break his relationship...But on the other side of his unconscious mind, another voice is heard: the morality of romance.  Romance tells him that his life will only have meaning if he goes after anima, and that he must pursue...The morality of the love potion tells him he must seek passion at all costs.