Sort of me, sort of everyone.
“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.
Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.
It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”
Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories
Tomorrow being what it is, let’s take a moment to consider unrequited love.
Unrequited love is the the percentage of Love’s iceberg that is underwater.
Hold in your thoughts the millions on earth whose love is not returned.
Imagine the multitudes fretting and pining for Allison, Allen or Akbar.
How many meals ignored and hours unslept?
How many alone in a room feeling more than they can contain but containing it.
How many bearing sorrow.
How many right now are making phone calls they shouldn’t make or texting someone they shouldn’t and will soon spend a few minutes hyperventilating while saying “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid”.
How many have never spoken to the one they love at all?
How many bravely not getting in touch day after day to honor the wishes of one that didn’t love them or didn’t love them anymore.
Here’s to the solitary business of not getting what you want, the commonest love on earth.
“Unrequited love is a ridiculous state, and it makes those in it behave ridiculously.”
― Cassandra Clare
Don’t ask so much what the world needs.
Go out and do what makes you come alive,
because what the world needs most
are people who have come alive.
– Howard Thurman
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal”
– Albert Camus
Have you ever met someone who was nice or cheerful to a fault? They are all about being positive and cooperative but you glimpse in them tiny reflections of rage, sorrow and cruelty? They are at the office, at the PTA, and abundant in church groups. As they grew up with people who couldn’t stand their anger or spontaneity, these vital human traits were shoved downward until not even they themselves knew the behavior was there anymore. These are the psychological materials and the mechanism of the Shadow. Any part of us in the shadow is prevented from maturing naturally and finding the right place in a rich personality. Shadow materials grow dusty and miserable, paralyzed or barbaric. They raise themselves without guidance or human contact. As exiles from the country of self we see them as repellent refuges who may be hated openly. The shadow material is externalized in other people as lazy, crazy or slutty for example. The frequent connection to anything foreign is a way of distancing themselves from these forbidden elements of self as much as possible.
When someone in our lives needs to relate to us on a level that includes shadow material we deadlock, rage, and reject over the very existence of the problem. Frozen families and crippled relationships live here, if they live. The only way to surmount this logjam is to open the oubliette where we have hidden them and begin by recognizing who is in that dungeon. You can’t instantly free them, they are barbaric and immature, they do not know how to behave. First we do an inventory of our exiles and accept their existence. Then we make visits to them and hear their story. Then slowly we let them find their place in us again, bit by bit. People who have done their shadow work are more trustworthy, their decisions are more reliable and their kindness is more genuine. They listen better.
The harsh and moralistic tone of people denying their shadow is how they represent themselves as more trustworthy, etc. but prevents them seeing the “fine print” their secret inner lawyer attaches to every contract. If someone hasn’t done their shadow work but is forced to encounter their shadow material, the result is often a psychological crisis and breakdown. If the work has been done the same situation may result in a rueful smile or a humble (but not shamed) acceptance. An explosion in the open air is far less destructive than a buried and contained one.
The amazing poet Robert Bly is the hands down best writer on the the shadow.
William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labeled the “Father of American psychology”. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field; Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy; and The Varieties of Religious Experience. He coined the phrase “stream of consciousness” to describe the experience of the mind. He made an enormous contribution to understanding human behavior and to making psychological practice more pragmatic and empirically based. If there were “Baseball cards” for daring, dedicated and original thinkers, he would be Lou Gehrig. The linked article is a fun overview of his life and work. The Thinker Who Believed in Doing.
His theory of Self proposed that there are 4 distinct parts:
“The Constituents of the Self may be divided into two classes, those which make up respectively (a) The material Self; (b) The social Self; (c) The spiritual Self; and (d) The pure Ego.”
My focus here is his model of the Social Self which resembles my model of The Third Mind. The following is edited for relevance from his The Principles of Psychology:
“…Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these his images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the images fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his ‘tough’ young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club-companions, to our customers as to the laborers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the man into several selves; and this may be a discordant splitting, as where one is afraid to let one set of his acquaintances know him as he is elsewhere; or it may be a perfectly harmonious division of labor, as where one tender to his children is stern to the soldiers or prisoners under his command.
The most peculiar social self which one is apt to have is in the mind of the person one is in love with. The good or bad fortunes of this self cause the most intense elation and dejection …unreasonable enough as measured by every other standard than that of the organic feeling of the individual. To his own consciousness he is not, so long as this particular social self fails to get recognition, and when it is recognized his contentment passes all bounds.”
Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don’t say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you’ve just made love
and feel you’d rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you’re brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that’s unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you’d most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it’s like a small fire
in a clearing, it’s what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who’ll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.