By Kevin Murphy, M.Sc.,
You will often hear women say that the business of finding love can be a fraught affair. For the lucky ones it seems to happen with the greatest of ease. They find the perfect partner almost by chance, they live a happy, fulfilled life, achieve all their joint and individual goals and everything in their garden is rosey. I accept that it is an attractive ideal but let’s not get too carried away with imagining just how green the other person’s grass can be. Inherent in this fantasy, alluring as it might be, and no doubt supported here and there by examples in reality, there is a notion of perfection. And as we know from looking around us, perfection does not really exist. When those wiser than us once said that into every life a little rain must fall, they weren’t making it up. So let’s keep that in mind.
Other women, however, never seem to have this ‘finding of the perfect love’ happen to them. Either Mr Right never comes along, or if he does he never stays for very long. Now that can be due to a number of factors. I have come across female clients who often feel they set up their relationships in order to fail. That there is something, not anything particular they can put their finger on, but something in the way they construct and approach the relationship with a man - usually but not exclusively a man - that carries within it the seeds of failure. Needless to say I have come across men who have the same attitude but let’s stick with the woman’s side of things for now.
There are also some women who find the ‘perfect’ man but for some reason he doesn’t love her in the same way, with the same intensity, with the same unconditional passion. No matter what she does she just can’t seem to get him to turn up the intensity. And then there are others who find the right man, one who loves them in precisely the way they want to be loved, but who suffers from that curious male confusion whereby he says he wants to be with them but the next minute says he feels he can’t be with them.
And then we have the more worrying version of the woman who falls head over heels for the wrong guy. Not only do all her friends tell her he’s the wrong guy but, intuitively, she knows it herself. This kind of woman is perfectly capable of telling someone else, should they be in a similar situation, to get out of there as fast as they can. And yet, uncannily, can be incapable of following her own advice when it comes to her own relationship.
What do you call that? What do you call it when a woman is in relationship with someone whom they adore and yet who shows practically no signs of returning the love? That type of unresponsive partner can just as easily slip across the line to being abusive, through verbal, psychological or physical means, and still the woman remains in the relationship.
Modern psychoanalytic theory, particularly Lacanian theory, has spent a vast amount of time writing and researching from the clinical setting on the subject of the sexual relationship. From that perspective, it throws very interesting light on what it is that operates in the woman (or equally the man) who finds themselves in any or all of the situations mentioned above. Although the context is the sexual or romantic relationship, it isn’t purely about sex.
It is as much about being propped up and confirmed as a person. It is about our subjectivity, if you like, the place where our sense of ‘I’ resides. I know that sounds a little high falutin’ but bear with it. In our identifications with those around us, we bring into ourselves the part of others that we most admire. That is generally accepted theory no matter what school you belong to. Lacanian theory goes a step further, in this and many other areas, in that there is another side to this psychical action.
We take into us those parts of others that we like ‘because’ it nurtures and feeds an inner ideal we already have of ourselves. This inner ideal began to form in our first year of life. It is the thing that kick started our ego, our imaginative life and our development as a thinking, speaking being. So you could say the image we fix on is feeding the soul except that while I like the word ‘soul’ the concept doesn’t quite capture the notion of bodily and psychical entirety that I am aiming at. Nevertheless, that is the general idea.
When we fall for someone, it is usually as result of their physical image combined with our imaginative activity. This is what first captivates us. And that image the other person represents feeds, as I said, a very intrinsic and fundamental part of us. That is why, if the reality of that person falls far short of the image, we still find it virtually impossible to stop loving them. The grip the image has is particularly strong and, if the relationship collapses, it continues to have an ambiguous effect: it causes pain if it remains and if attempts are made to dislodge it. That is the delicate conundrum that psychoanalytic psychotherapy regularly comes to grips with in the therapeutic session.
Now you’ll want me to give you the chapter and the book where you can read up on this notion and find a possible cure for love. Sorry to disappoint but there is no single chapter and there is no single book. It is out there in the body of knowledge generally but there is no easy access to it. And if there was it still would not represent a cure in itself. Knowing is one thing but it does not guarantee cure. The route of psychoanalytic therapy is down the particular experience of the particular individual. There is no text book or manual for that. No single book can provide for the detail of an individual’s significant life experiences. Their meaning must be re-encountered, re-established and at times defused through the act of speaking them out, one by one.