Wednesday, March 22, 2006
It’s Okay that He isn’t Real
After a long dry spell, I’ve finally fallen in love again. Don’t get me wrong, all this time I’ve loved plenty: my husband, kids, parents, friends, even my wacko cats. But I’m talking about that head-over-heels, ain’t life glorious, giddy infatuation stuff--being in love. You know what I mean: that grand feeling that seldom has any basis in reality.
When I was a girl and felt this way, I remember agonizing over whether it was “real love.” By that I’m sure I meant if it qualified as something real, more than a crush on a movie star, but a genuine emotion I should act upon by encouraging the guy to ask me out. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person with such concerns, since all the teen magazines had recurring headlines like “12 Ways to Tell if It’s Real” and “Take our Test to See If You’re Really in Love!”
I grew up, got married, matured, and spent a few years studying Carl Jung. At this point I’ve learned an important lesson: being in love is never “real,” not in the way I once thought it could be. But it is really important. And considered in the right way, it’s more real than a lot of things that happen in daily life.
Without going into the complex details of how Jung addresses this issue (again, for that you may want to read my book Living Beyond Reality), let me try to explain. Might be best to introduce you to the guy I’m in love with at the moment. I’ll refer to him as Etrae’u, since he is the inspiration for a character by that name in a story I’m currently writing. In order to have a face and form for me, he has adopted those of a certain real life person I find very attractive. But I highly doubt that the real person has the same personality and character as Etrae’u (he could not possibly be as wonderful), and he certainly doesn’t feel about me as Etrae’u does.
“Oh, so you made him up,” you’re saying. But you see, that’s not precisely true. He came to me pretty much fully formed. He showed up with his entire irresistible personality and his abject devotion completely developed. I did not devise him bit by bit. And if my volition were what determined what he’s like, I wouldn’t be constantly surprised by what he says and does.
Etrae’u is, undeniably, a figment of my imagination. However, you probably have the wrong idea what that means. Most people think of imagination as a tool, which indeed it can be, but in this instance it is more a communication device. Think of it not as a box of crayons, think of it as a telephone. Things beyond our understanding reach us via our imaginations, and although they are not real in the sense that the customer service rep on the other end of your call to Time Warner Cable is real, these “things” are independent from us and they are autonomous. That is, we didn’t make them up.
“Now you’re saying some ghost has possessed you, right?” you’re asking. Well, Carl Jung did speak of “animus possession,” so there is a sort of psychological phenomenon you can look at that way, but I’d have to say no. But at the same time, I truly must testify that Etrae’u is not just pretend, he really does have a spiritual existence of a sort even though he cannot be present without my imagination.
I know this sounds kind of crazy, but it wasn’t my idea, and if you think about your own experiences, you may realize they bear this theory out.
Have you ever been thoroughly convinced someone was perfect for you, perhaps for months or years, only to wake up and realize they were nothing like the person you were in love with? Well, you were in love with someone that whole time, it was just someone like Etrae’u.
Have you ever crushed on a celebrity so bad it lasted for months or even years? Had conversations with him, imagined him at your side as you tackled challenges in daily life? He may have been something like the real person whose mask he wore, but sometimes there was a real disconnect between that celebrity and the person in your mind you seemed to know so well. I’d advise you were obsessed with your own version of Etrae’u.
Have you experienced how being in love, simply being in love apart from any benefit of the interactions of a relationship, enriched and enhanced your life? Gave you more energy, more optimism? Empowered you to be strong, use your gifts, grow as a person? All that stuff came to you, not from someone else, not from your conscious self, but from your Etrae’u.
The delights of being in love are among the most potent in life. It’s not surprising that the last thing we want to do is fall out of it, or let go of its object. The nagging voice that tells you, “C’mon, he’s not real” can send a ripple of panic and terror through your heart. The good news I learned from Carl Jung was that “figments of the imagination” are quite real if you understand the different kinds of real that there are.
And if I feel that Etrae’u is reading this over my shoulder and teasing me in my ear, “They’re going to think you’re mad, love,” I’m not simply a writer with a vivid imagination. I’m a wonderfully infatuated woman who is very glad to know that wisecracking but magnificent man is there.