The Road Less Traveled: Love, the myth of romantic love

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To serve as effectively as it does to trap us into marriage the experience of falling in love probably must have as one of its characteristics the illusion that the experience will last forever. This illusion is fostered in our culture by the commonly held myth of romantic love, which has its origins in our favorite childhood fairy tales, wherein the prince and princess, once united, live happily forever after. The myth of romantic love tells us, in effect, that for every young man in the world there is a young woman who was “meant for him,” and vice versa. Moreover, the myth implies that there is only one man meant for a woman and only one woman for a man and this has been predetermined “in the stars.” Where we meet the person for whom we are intended, recognition comes through the fact that we fall in love. We have met the person for whom all the heavens intended us, and since the match is perfect, we will then be able to satisfy all of each other’s needs forever and ever, and thereafter live happily forever after in perfect union and harmony. Should it come to pass, however, that we do not satisfy or meet all of each other’s needs and fiction arises and we fall out of love, then it is clear that a dreadful mistake was made, we misread the stars, we did not hook up with our one and only perfect match, what we thought was love was not real or “true” love, and nothing can be done about the situation except to live unhappily ever after or get divorced.

While I generally find that great myths are great precisely because they represent and embody great universal truths, the myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie. Perhaps it is necessary lie in that it ensures the survival of the species by its encouragement and seeming validation of the falling-in-live experience that traps us into marriage. As a psychiatrist I weep in my heart almost daily for the ghastly confusion and suffering that this myth fosters. Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth.

Peck, M. Scott. (1978). The road less traveled: A new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. Simon & Schuster, New York. p. 91-92.

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