We: The fairest tale of them all

We: The fairest tale of them all

10 April 2022 | 5 mins

Fashion TV is projected upon the gym’s wall and it’s impossible to ignore: children’s fashion. Two young, primary-age children, about 7-years old. A girl dressed in a white wedding dress, and a boy in a groom’s suit, boutonniere and all. There’s something particularly disturbing about these children-models, but I won’t go there now; straight to my second association – that came while coincidentally “I Love You for Infinity” was playing on the speaker: the cultural conditioning played out in front of me for the umpteenth time. Boy meets girl (in this case, literally): the perfect wedding, happy-ever-after, the end. There’s no need to elaborate on the story. We’ve all watched enough romantic comedies, even if this was in a semi-conscious state during cross-Atlantic flights (those count as well, if not more so). Trouble is, or rather, trouble starts after the credits roll, when the real life of a couple begins. As Harari put it, “Romantic comedies are to love as porn is to sex and Rambo is to war.”[1]

Expectations and demands are placed on the relationship because we unconsciously assume the story is meant to be so. We expect there’s meant to be a happy ongoing ending of sorts, where things – personalities, situations, indeed life itself – will miraculously cease for the sake of true love, and thus avoid generating complications and, well, more reality. We endlessly and collectively feed this illusion of ‘romantic love’ and magnify it in a chain-reaction of illusions. The perfect selfie with ‘the love of my life’ ‘the man of my dreams’ ‘my other half’, taken only seconds after/before yet another argument about the most mundane issue. ‘Mundane’ is not meant to be derogative; it’s meant to be real. Reality check, after reality check…yet we’re checked out and somehow the message doesn’t go through. In the same breath, as we ask the world to bear witness to our Love, we deflate and defeat, yet once more, ourselves. The fact that everyone else is in it could make us feel less distressed. (Is anyone really buying it? You bet! They need to, for their own sake.) We are all in this together.

Alternatively, if we are awake enough – ‘enough’ would do – it could make us desperate and/or curious enough to attempt to go deeper and appreciate that this is one of the most intense stories of the modern Western psyche. A lot has been written about the seeds of the story of Romance, dating back to the 12th century. Chivalric romance has defined Western society, and with it, our modern collective psyche.

Carl Jung understood this dynamic as a projection of a deeper reality of our psyche. Within each woman’s psyche there is a psychological structure which Jung called “animus” and, likewise, within each man’s psyche, lies his “anima.” (Jung elaborated exclusively on the psychic structure of heterosexuals, but of course these structures exist in the psyche of homosexuals as well). Romantic ‘falling in love’ is a projection of the man’s anima upon a woman. His beloved is then “the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image, which corresponds to the deepest reality in a man.”[2] Likewise, a woman’s animus is superimposed on a man with whom she ‘falls in love.’ The object of each other’s projection becomes “the solace for all the bitterness of life.”

We hold on to the projection, and confuse it with the other: she/he is ‘it.’ For a short while, that is. For projections eventually start to evaporate. No amount of Facebook posts can save them (in fact, I suspect it accentuates the evaporation process). Everydayness does this to projections via its repetition of commonplace tasks and events, a.k.a. reality: the toilet seat is up; her hair is all over the place; he doesn’t look so sparkling first thing in the morning; she snores; do we have to visit his parents together? The other’s ordinary nature eventually appears as if out of thin air. Disillusionment ensues. We have set ourselves up for immense disappointment and pain.

Beyond the evident problems revealed by the above scenario as far as the relationship between two people is concerned, there is a deeper psychological implication. By humanizing our anima/animus we lose sight of the deep reality of the psyche. By mistaking our projected inner parts as real attributes of another, we rob ourselves from the potential of becoming whole and actualizing our individuality.

The inner reality of the psyche that deems the anima/animus worthy of attention is equally real and equally important for the well-being of the individual as her/his relationship. These inner images must be taken seriously and be understood and experienced, for they are the stuff our deepest essence is made of. Once free from their possessive unconscious power, our animus/anima can transform into a loyal inner companion who bestows upon us precious positive qualities and brings balance to our personality.

How can we escape this cycle of projections? To put it bluntly (for economy’s sake) we must revoke the projection: Romantic love must die. This sounds so anticlimactic, doesn’t it? Yet, if we manage to see the inner reality for what it is, an inner world will flourish. Once the anima/animus is brought to consciousness, the projection upon the actual person loses its power. Yet, after death comes rebirth and renewal, and this is a far more ancient and enduring story than that of romance.

As Jung explained, the acceptance by a man of his femininity leads to completion, and vice versa:

“You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself, as you. You woman, should not seek the masculine in men, but assume the masculine in yourself, since you possess it from the beginning.”[3]

We are slaves to what our souls’ needs. If a man recognizes and embraces the woman-within he will be “saved from slavery to woman” and vice versa.  A man’s anima shall remain the Queen of his inner world, and a woman’s animus the King of hers. Queen and King cannot be found in the world of mortals; they cannot be contested. Instead, another human’s intrinsic significance can become evident and valuable. And so, a real relationship, between two real people who are actually there with(in) their mutual humanity can become possible and fulfilling. There, away from inflated projections and artifices, a real interpersonal love might be allowed to exist.

[1]Yuval Noah Harari (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Random House

[2] C.G. Jung (1951). Aion, CW 9ii, Par 24

[3] C.G. Jung (2009). The Red Book. Philemon Series, p 263