by D. Patrick Miller
I shudder now to recall how many years I spent identifying myself as a “hopeless romantic.” That’s because I didn’t take the “hopeless” part of the mythology as seriously as I should have.
The original meaning of the word romance (from the Latin romanicus, meaning “in the Roman style”) had to do with knightly or chivalric adventure. But then the French got hold of it, dosing it with the energy of sexual love. Thus began centuries of entrancement that have given us the classic heights of Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere — not to mention the modern lows of Fifty Shades of Grey, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and almost the entire canon of country-western music.
Regardless, embedded in romance is the idea of a story. By and large, it’s a kind of story that doesn’t end well. In the old days, romantic lovers were “star-crossed” because of family, political, and/or racial differences. In the modern psychological age, it’s more likely because once-idealized romantic partners turn out to be “gaslighters,” sociopaths, serial cheaters, and so on.
Thus, the modern romantic path has little to do with seeking a knight in shining armor or the perfect sleeping maiden to awaken. Instead it’s all about avoiding seductive charlatans, neurotic exemplars of arrested development, or any of the same old emotional landmines we’ve stepped on before.
The strategy of avoidance is what I call the “Never Again” approach to love. You can learn a lot about it on Facebook.
Nonetheless, the delusory lure of classic romance isn’t likely to go away soon… and I think that’s because we’re all actually seeking the reality of devotion. And that’s where spiritual discipline can provide a healing course correction.
By “devotion,” I don’t mean the practical commitment that can develop in long-term couplings that have matured after an initial romantic encounter, or even the bond between loving parents and their children. For lack of a better way to put it, I’m talking about devotion to God — although I must immediately issue a semantic disclaimer about what I mean by “God.”
The modern spiritual teaching known as A Course in Miracles (ACIM) offers the best definition of divinity that I know of, when it suggests that “God is but love, and therefore so am I.” In this view, God is not some kind of SuperDaddy (or OmniMommy) who started all creation and watches over our well-being, dispensing mercy or judgement as He or She sees fit.
Instead, God is seen as our own inner potential to become the embodiment of love itself.
Needless to say, God-as-Love is not the same as romantic love, and could even be defined as its complete opposite. Romantic love tends to be devoted to glorification of the self through the idealization of another — often leading to bitter disillusionment with that other, and then a negative reinforcement of the self.
When two people get locked into mutual disillusionment, and then the ensuing classic battle over "getting their needs met," that can fairly be called zombie love. It's deadening instead of enlivening, embittering instead of sweet, a private war instead of a shared peace.
By contrast, divine love progressively leads toward transcendence of the self altogether.
That’s a tall order, of course, and not something easily or quickly achieved. It's the goal of every meaningful spiritual practice, and generally requires a lifelong commitment. But simply knowing that transcendence is the highest goal of relationship — as opposed to finding a soulmate or, as it’s trendier to say these days, a “twin flame” — can helpfully change the way we enter into intimate partnerships.
Years ago I remembering hearing author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson reveal her youthful tendency to fall in love “at first sight,” and how much trouble that had caused in her life.
After developing a spiritual discipline, she learned to respond to all such instant infatuations by closing her eyes and asking, “Dear God, please help me.”
I’ve used this simple technique to advantage in my own life. I’ve noticed that it can swiftly change the initial perception of someone as “irresistible” to merely “interesting.” In that simple shift of perception, a lot of grief can be avoided. One gradually learns to pay less attention to infatuation, entrancement, and sexual attraction for its own sake, and more attention to the building blocks of lasting partnership: trust, mutual reliability, common goals, and above all, a shared goal of serving love itself.
Of course, none of that happens instantly. These building blocks are more likely to develop over the course of a long-standing friendship than a hot-burning romance.
In fact, romance can blind us to the fact that such potentials aren’t there to start with, and may never develop.
ACIM suggests that the healthiest kind of relationship occurs between two people who have each “looked within and seen no lack.” Again, that’s a tall order. Achieving the state of "no lack within" is more likely to come about as a result of long-term spiritual discipline than it is going in and out of romantic trances, hopelessly seeking for our needs to be met.
The more we can explore and confirm a devotion to love itself within our own spiritual practice, the more likely we are to meet a friend who shares the potential for a partnership of mutual devotion.
That’s why, from my mountain peak of spectacular spiritual development, I've confidently sworn off falling into romantic love ever again.
Until the next time, that is.
And then, may God help me...
"WARM CORPSES IN LOVE" PHOTO AND MAKEUP BY LAURA D'ALESSANDRO, LICENSED BY CREATIVE COMMONS.
PHOTO OF INGRID BERMAN FROM THE 1944 FILM "GASLIGHT."
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