Theme Pack 10: Love and Marriage
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Marriage as a Mutual Task, Disturbances in Love Relationships, and Love as a Recent Invention1
By Alfred Adler 
Chapters XIX, XXVII, & XXXVI in The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler: Volume 5, and Chapter XIV in Volume 7
Any aspect of a person's social life or of his personality can be judged properly only when not taken out of context, and when evaluated as a continuum in the course of eternity. Short-term memory attempts, of course, to operate in shorter time frames in order to take quick advantage of any opportunities, which is appropriate when one is constantly measuring against norms. In this study, we cannot afford to adhere to slogans or age-old hallowed concepts. We are always subjected to and compelled by the unshakable relationship of the human being to the world. This relationship burdens us eternally with a task that is imbued with ironclad rules that insinuate themselves unrelentingly into every human experience, at times in the form of rewards and sometimes as punishment. A man is murdered in a moment of irrationality and the world becomes unhinged. When mankind's yearning for harmony with the universe encountered one experience that effectively took form, the ensuing exhilaration vibrated for thousands of years. The rest of us sense only a premonition of the miracle; feelings and moods overwhelm us until someone like Shakespeare, pondering on murder, shows us that debasing the meaning of life will, and must, be avenged.
When a person plants a tree, he thinks of the composition of the soil and the suitability of the climate. He will not allow willfulness or vanity to lead him. By the way, it does not matter what he might think, feel, or desire in carrying out this task. The only thing that matters is that there is harmony between his deed and the essentials for growth. He serves the common good and future generations even were he to think only of his own gain, or even if he wished to carry out an anti-social act, or were to act contrary to his future best interest.
Is there anyone who can recall any accomplishment that was regarded as good, great or noble that was carried out for any reason other than that it advanced society, or enhanced mankind's future? Does not everyone carry within him a standard against which to measure such things? Is there a fully rational person who does not know the difference between good and evil?
This then establishes for us the vantage point from which all human relationships and affairs are viewed. Value and "correctness" are first of all conditional and they are subject to their appropriateness for society as a whole. If
First appeared in : H. Keyserling (publ.): Das Ehe Buch: Eine neue Sinngebung im Zusammenklang der Stimmen führender Zeitgenossen, Celle (Publisher Kampmann), 1925, pages 308-315. [A Marriage Manual: "A new Meaning in Harmony with the Voices of Leading Contemporaries."] Translated into English and published in The Book of Marriage, pages 363-372, Harc. and Brace, 1926.2 New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003.
something is irrational, or logically contradicts reality, it will become obvious even to those unaware of such a conflict. The ease with which we cast blame on people often saves us the trouble to look for these contradictions. Also, the fact that mistakes and consequences always are far apart makes gaining insight difficult and hardly allows for an individual, and even for the generation that follows, to gain fruitful experiences. The thousandfold experiences of the multitude do not lend themselves to individual examination. Thus, a whole generation can go through life without establishing firm traditions. And every individual's pride prevents his own meager insights, often in petulant ways, from coming to fruition and being applied to life-essential relationships, ignoring the fact that thousandfold mistakes are repeated and goals chased that destroy his own and the good fortunes of others.
Man's fate is threefold entwined. His body and soul cling to Mother Earth and to cosmic demands, while they constantly search with always renewed strength for compensation and ways to adapt so as to live in harmony with the laws of nature. Culture and physical hygiene emanate from this compulsion. All beauty draws from this its alluring powers.
The concept of "human being" is linked unalterably to "fellow human being." The prerequisites for human beings to develop physically and mentally are encompassed by fellowship and can exist and grow only in accordance with social needs. Language, understanding, culture, ethics, religion, nationality, and citizenship, are social forms that separately are a deposit for humanity as a whole. These forms of life entail an effective reflection of life on earth; strong and unwavering like the compulsion toward community. Human beings cannot develop free of these prerequisites.
The third constraint is formed by the existence of two sexes. What men and women seek, a search possibly instinctively constituted over eons, is for one form that would not be in conflict with the prerequisites detailed above. In the harmonic composition of sexuality there is as much libidinal as social feeling. And in the most ecstatic moments of lovers there unfold in equal measures joyful creative powers, a desire to offer a tribute, and an affirmation of life on earth. Viewed from that vantage point, mankind's romantic existence takes place under rules for behavior that are not baseless, but also cannot be evaded without serious consequences. The logic of reality is far more frightful than are humans. We are far more apt to want to look aside. And we defend the most serious offenses by arguing the implacability of ruling powers. Our task is to give warning, to ameliorate harmful results, to show the present and future generations what has transpired in a context so that these events are seen as consequences rather than as incoherent, fatalistic occurrences.
Our existence today shows us the passage to the future of mankind. This fact presses so strongly on our way of life that, unbeknown to us, our romantic relationships ensue sub specie aeternitatis. The often exaggerated value we attribute to beauty is meant to ensure a healthier future and greater adaptability. The loyalty and honesty that we demand, the intertwining of two souls that we strive for, stem from the yearning for a stronger sense of community. The same applies to the desire for having children whose affiliation reflects the ideal of a community, which also promises us eternity. Loyalty and truthfulness, above all reliability, are the pillars of human society. These give direction to the future of human civilization and establish goals for bringing up children.
That all these demands come together in love and marriage, that they there solidify and become legally binding, can only be understood in light of the indissoluble connection of historical and organic development. Similarly, every impulsive or mistaken deviation from life's frame of reference creates shockwaves that jeopardize every tendency toward a favorable development. Harmful inherited qualities take effect regardless of any scientific knowledge gained. Incest deteriorates social feeling since, like marriages between blood relatives, it leads to isolation and not to the greater socialization that is advanced through a broader intermingling of bloods. Also, more likely than would otherwise be the case, a strong detrimental organic burden will negatively influence the genetic make-up. Even where there is hope in the future and the courage to meet all problems standing in the way of creating a family, including a close interrelationship with the community, which is a precondition for avoiding isolation and the fruitless expenditure of one's strength within the narrow framework of the family. Marriages between relatives often seem to fail. The other above mentioned characteristics can easily lead the partner as well as children, who often are unaware of these circumstances, in the same direction toward a state of constant mistrust, feelings of insecurity, and a family atmosphere that allows for only aggressive and hostile tendencies to flourish.
All this is only another side of the same psychological dynamics that we should expect to find when measured against the values of a true fellow human being. That kind of person's constant and unshakable principle in this harsh world should only be one: to give! All the profane and holy wisdom comes to that same end. When applied to love and marriage, it is to pay greater attention to the other person than to oneself, to live so as to make life for one's partner easier and more pleasant. How many, or how few people, achieve this end is not for us to examine here. There are too many people in our society who take and have great expectations, and too few who give. It seems that too much of human kind is caught in a love and marriage formula that states: Because I love you, you must obey me!
What is still lacking in humaneness is also reflected in tension between the sexes. The striving for personal superiority stems from one's own, mostly unrecognized, deep-seated inferiority feelings and drives husband and wife in demonstrative ways to wield their imagined power. Most couples act as if each fears being weaker than the other. Defiantness, selfishness, negativism, often also sexual denial, polygamist tendencies and disloyalty, as well as neurosis, become helpmeets to self-love for the protection of one's own dark plans for power. The husband, because of a common tradition long overdue for change, has a small head start which he selfishly, but to his own detriment, tries to maintain. Those who share our viewpoint no longer lord it over their families. They see marriage as a mutual task in which both parties try to solve problems together, not in arbitrary ways, but according to all the applicable rules. Mankind's organic and historical development toward a monogamous marriage system is proof enough, particularly when one takes into account the raising of children, preparing them to become fellow human beings. What is always meant is marriage as creating social feeling, a social form of the romantic life, a guardian of children and for raising them to become decent fellow human beings. Not following these principles are pedestrian marriages, marriages for money or rank, marriages that are always in decline. A marriage should always be a model for children, else they will carry bad traditions into their own homes, despite their parents' good intentions. Dominating or excessively disciplining fathers can so frighten girls that in their own marriages they will be suspicious of their husbands' every step; it can also lead to such tensed yearning for affection that they will never find satisfaction. Having lost all self-confidence, they can become unfit for marriage or for the upbringing of their children. The sons of strict mothers flee from women and become socially ill adjusted. The reason for this lies in the still only barely recognized function of the mother: to instill in her child total reliability, and to be a model of noble femininity. Mommy's boys are incapable of giving. Instead of mutuality they look for motherly affection, which has its rightful place only in childhood. The selection of older, motherly women as wives is often the result of such upbringing.
Polygamous tendencies, perversions, and a predilection for persons of low moral standing and for prostitutes are always due to a tendency for ostracizing or demeaning a more suitable partner, that is, a fear of not being able to stand up to the opposite sex. How far removed this is from the true meaning and purpose of love and marriage can be seen in the spread of venereal diseases. Whatever their origin, the spread of these diseases is due solely to sexual misconduct. There is only one cure, only one protection from such epidemics: mutual love.
Contrary to popular belief, the correlation between marriage and the most essential social needs makes marriage not a private matter. The entire nation, all of mankind, is involved in this rite. By the act of marriage, everyone who enters into it, even if unawares, fulfills a mandate shared by everyone. Among the most significant prerequisites for a marriage is the means for making a living, a task in which both parties can be involved, and one that will guarantee the family a livelihood. An occupation also is a way for advancing society, a means for participation in production. Contributing to sustaining civilization is also not a private matter. It must be furthered through marriage. The task of the housewife, still unjustly regarded of lesser value, can be fully productive if with good management or in supportive ways it will increase the husband's productivity. Arguing economic problems to avert marriage is another excuse of those suffering from depression.
It is a commonly held superstition that marriage, even a bad marriage, can heal neglect and illness. Love and marriage are no medication. Often only new harm is caused without alleviating the old. The same foolishness lies in believing that there is healing power in pregnancy. The solution to marriage problems, as is true for all other problems in life, comes from strength and not from weakness.
A marriage can also be threatened when it is seen as a sacrifice. Inevitably the persons entering marriage with such feelings will let the partner know this by constantly cheating that person out of their pleasure. Unsatisfactory marital relations, neglect, frigidity, unfaithfulness are the most common outcomes. The goal of marriage, which is to participate in each other's pleasures, is often destroyed at the start. Marriage is not a furnished house ready for occupancy. It also is not an unavoidable destiny. It is a task for the present and the future, a creative achievement in the fast passage of time, a task to establish social values in a future void. Only what one has brought into a marriage can be found there.
So far we have only mentioned significant conditions essential for a firm and lasting marriage. We fear that in the daily rush these essentials can easily be forgotten. It would seem desirable that we look for an easy formula, which despite its simplicity encompasses all marriage tasks. Would such a formula not simply state: be a decent fellow human being?
The decision to marry ought to spring from a striving for humaneness. However, such a decision by itself does not quite make for a marriage in its true sense. Only when marriage and the striving for decency succeed will all problems be solved to mutual satisfaction. The decent fellow human being as a meaning of life must come first; marriage then becomes another step toward achieving wholeness.
However one may conceive of a decent human being that thought will always entail maxims and imperatives that at a minimum will convey a sense of usefulness, thinking more of another person than of oneself, and making life for others easier and more beautiful. These also are the imperatives for marriage. Our quest for ‘Marriage as a Task’ comes down to: How does one become a decent human being?
Physical compatibility is self-evident. The same applies to intellectual maturity. These are lacking in so few cases that they need not be taken into account. However, this does not apply to psychological maturity. It is sorely missing in human society, despite all the efforts that are being made. Individual Psychological research has explained this extensively. Most individuals begin with a false start. Too great a feeling of inferiority forces them to egotistical, demonstrative expressions which they believe will satisfy their compulsion for domination, or they fall prey to a passive pessimism which acts on them as if they were under constant restraints. Their path is marked by arrogance that comes from a weakness or discouragement due to ambition. They are best suited to remain single; they are ill prepared to live with another or in society. Whoever comes near them becomes an object. They must fail in marriage since they lack the psychological make-up for mutuality.
Marriage as a task aims at meeting the requirements of the society, one’s work, and love.
Disturbances In Love Relationships1 2
In order to know people well, it is necessary to understand their love relationships. We must be able to ascertain whether they act properly or improperly; we must be able to determine why they act appropriately in one case and not so in another. From that follows quite obviously the next task: how we can prevent mistakes in love relationships. When we consider that perhaps the greatest part of a person's happiness depends on solving problems in love and marriage, then it becomes apparent that we are faced with a number of most important issues.
One difficulty in exploring this question becomes apparent right at the outset--most people express it immediately. People are not all the same and perhaps two people under different circumstances would have been happier, for example, if each had found a different partner. This possibility might quickly be accepted, but it says nothing other than that those involved have made a bad choice. Whether failures in love are to be found in poor or wrong choices, or whether we examine cases in which the person would have failed under any condition because he had to fail for deeper-lying causes, an understanding of the human psyche and its driving forces will in many cases prevent us from mistakes.
Love relationships present one of the major questions of human life. Understanding it is possible only when we examine it in the context of all other questions of life. Life presents us with a complex of three great tasks on which our future and our happiness depend.
The first life task is the social task in the broadest sense. Life demands from everyone a certain behavior and the ability to establish the most extensive contacts with others, a certain behavior within the family, and a formulation of one's social attitude. A person's destiny is not indifferent to the direction he chooses, such as in selecting a social order that guides him toward his goal, that is, to what extent he thinks only of himself, or how much he is concerned with benefiting others. His internal choice in this regard is often difficult to discern from his external decisions. Often a person is unable in questions of social
Originally published as "Liebesbeziehungen und deren Störungen" Vienna, Leipzig, Moritz Pereles, p. 23, 1926. Reprinted in Psychotherapie und Erziehung: Ausgewählte Aufsätze, Band I: 1919-1929, p. 99-118.
New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003. Editing assistance by Kurt A. Adler, M.D., Ph.D.
matters to make any decision, and often his viewpoint can be understood in a sense different from what it appears. The same applies equally to a political position taken. Rarely does one find that people are satisfied with their political party, but often people are met whom one would like to ascribe to another party. Their attitude toward the community and their behavior toward their fellow man in the broadest sense play a far greater role than what the individual or others believes it to be.
Another life task that awaits our solution concerns a person's occupation, that is, the manner in which that person’s energies are applied to serve the community. The answer to that question will illuminate very clearly the individual’s nature. For example, when we encounter someone who detests every occupation, we do not think of him as a suitable fellow human being, either because he is not yet socially mature, or because he will not mature on his own without any help from us. When a person enters a particular occupation, certain interconnections take place of which he is unaware. These correlations are subconscious because no one who selects an occupation thinks of it as a step toward being useful to others, seeking a place in the general division of labor. Certainly, much also depends on how that person acts in the workplace. There are people who arrive at a point where they choose an occupation, but who fail in their work, or recognize at some later time that they should have chosen a different occupation. We can determine from people's frequent changes in work that we are dealing with individuals who really do not wish to have an occupation, who think they are too good for any kind of work, which means they think they are not good enough and pretend they are trying.
The third question posed by life that every person must solve is that of love and marriage, which we should like to examine here in particular. This is a question into which a child grows apace as he matures. One's environment is surrounded by love and by marriage relationships. It is unavoidable that a child, beginning in his earliest years, develops an attitude and tries to find a direction for taking a position on these questions. What the child utters on this subject is not what matters most because a child is consumed by an overwhelming shyness as soon as this topic is raised. There are children who very decidedly make it known that they cannot discuss this subject. There are children who are very devoted to their parents, but find it impossible to act with affection toward them. A four-year old boy responded to kisses that were offered by striking the person in the face because the feeling of affection appeared strange to him, frightening, and actually humiliating. If we look back on our own life, we cannot escape the feeling that every impulse of affection was accompanied by something like shame and the impression that one might be weakened and be reduced in worth for expressing it. This is very curious and requires an explanation. We grow up with a sense that any expression of affection is shameful. This sentiment agrees with the uniform direction of our society towards a masculine ideal. Accordingly, our children are brought up in school, in their reading, and in their total environment with an impression that matters of love are not masculine, a view they sometimes express very openly. Some go so far in this respect that we speak of them as being insensitive.
The first feelings of affection appear very early in the child. We can easily see in children’s development that these are impulses of innate social feelings. The fact that social feelings are innate is illuminated by the regularity with which they appear on each occasion. The degree to which they unfold presents us with the possibility of gaining a broader view of the individual's attitude toward life. The concept of "Mensch" (human being) already entails for us our total understanding of the social feeling. We could not conceive of a human being who lost it and could still be regarded as human. Also, in history we cannot find people living as isolated individuals. Wherever we find people, they appear in groups, unless an individual was artificially separated from the rest, or became separated because of being deranged. Darwin demonstrated that animals not favored by nature live in herds. The vitality, the life force, of these disadvantaged animals has the effect of their gathering in herds, following subconsciously a principle of self-preservation. We can further understand that all those animals living separately, those poorly treated by nature in the development of a social feeling, had to perish. They became victims of a natural selection. The principle of natural selection also threatens human beings who are poorly equipped to struggle with nature.
The state of inferiority and inadequacy of the human race results in both the individual as well as the masses being constantly driven to a state approximating calm and stability. We are still on this course and for now humankind might perhaps best be comforted by being aware that our present situation is nothing other than a transition, a momentary phase in human development. Those in harmony with reality and able to justify the logic of the way things are will endure all problems of life, while those who resist that logic will be ill fated by nature. In the deepest sense, however, a feeling for the logic of human co-existence is the social feeling.
The whole development of a child demands an imbedding with circumstances were there is social feeling.3 Life and health are guaranteed only when there are people who will devote themselves to that person. A newborn calf, for example, very soon can distinguish a poisonous plant from others. The newborn infant, however, because of the inferiority of his organism, is dependent upon the social feeling of adults. Children must be cared for a long time, taught, and brought up until they have acquired independence to care for themselves.
Even when we consider the capabilities that give us our pride and preeminence over other living things, such as reason, logic, speech, understanding, and our predilection for all things beautiful and good, we must recognize that the individual alone never could have attained those qualities, which first had to be created, in a sense, in the psyche of the masses. With these
3 (Editor’s note) Compare this with Adler's comments in "Discussion of Paragraph 144, Legalizing Abortion" in Chapter XXVII of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, Volume 5.
we pacify needs that would never have burdened the individual, since those came to life only in a human community. A solitary person with no connection to a community would have no need for a conscious, consciously controlled, logic; he would have no need to speak, and it would be all the same whether he is good or evil, a concept that loses its meaning without a relationship to a community, to a fellow human being, as is the case with solitary animals. All qualities of the human inner life, all attainments of the human spirit, are conceivable only in the context of people interacting.
This human interaction is ensured not only by need, not only by daily necessities, but also by our sexual make up. The division of mankind into two sexes is by no means a separation, but rather signifies an eternal compulsion toward one another. It provides the sense of a mutual relationship because in the veins of others there flows blood common to everyone, because the flesh of each is from the flesh of the other. The marriage laws of nations can be understood only if one accepts that they regard love as a common bond of the group. They prohibit marriage and sexual relations among members of a family since that would lead to the isolation of the family. Poets, religions, the Ten Commandments, turn against inbreeding and try to eradicate it. The greatest scholars have racked their brains over the reason for the existence of a natural aversion to family members. We can understand it easily on the grounds of the social feeling that develops in every child and that excludes all possibilities that could lead to people becoming isolated.
We have now reached the point where we are ready to understand that what we actually call love, the relationship between the sexes, exists always in the context of social feeling from which it cannot be separated. Love as a relationship between two people as part of social feeling has its own rules and, as an essential part for upholding human society, is inconceivable outside of the community. Whoever consents to the community must by necessity also consent to love. Whoever is possessed of a social feeling must support marriage or a form of love that is similar or worthier. However, those whose social feelings were throttled, who have been unable to develop freely among others, will display a strange form of love relationships.
Looking back, we can now draw a number of conclusions that will facilitate an overview of the extensive range of love relationships and will illuminate the darkness somewhat. We can establish that a person whose social development was marred, who has no friends, who never became a true fellow human being, whose philosophy of life is a purely personal one and is contrary to social feeling, and also is probably unable to solve problems in his work. Therefore, a person who is all but lost for the community must have problems in his love relationships and is hardly able to deal with matters relating to sex. People who develop in that direction will follow strange paths, create problems, and look for safe excuses at every opportunity. We shall now examine these difficulties more closely, in order to gain a greater insight into the entire problem. We shall be able to ascertain that in love relationships also, the entire personality of an individual resonates. It is possible for us not only to understand his personality from his love relationships, but also to surmise from an understanding of his total personality the unique sexual demands that he makes. In sexual relationships we see very widely held premises, even though wrong, according to which love obligates the other partner.
If we pay somewhat closer attention to life around us and at the same time observe ourselves a little, we can become convinced that the person we love is obligated to us by virtue of being loved. This mistake somehow appears to be contained in our total outlook. It arises out of our childhood and from the relationships within the family in which the love of one obligates the other. We carry only a residue of that childhood viewpoint when we decide to transfer these relationships into our lives. The negative forms this takes can somehow be grouped along the following line of thought: "Because I love you, you must do this and that." This has a considerable impact on those who really care for each other. One individual’s need for power demands that steps, expressions, gestures, achievements, etc. are followed according to his will only because "he loves this person." Supported by the emphasis on his own love, he wants to pull the other into his scheme, into his pattern of life. This can easily lead to tyranny. We can find a trace of this in probably every love relationship.
We thus see this element weaving through the love life of every person; this quality that elsewhere always leads to troubling human fellowships: the striving for power and personal superiority. In a humane community, the freedom of the individual must be respected to the extent to which there is an uninhibited development of that person. Whoever strives for personal superiority avoids connection with the community. In their relationships with others, such people seek subordination, not integration. With that, they naturally disturb the harmony in life, in the society, and among fellow human beings. Since no one will allow himself to be constantly under a yoke, those who seek to dominate, even their partner in a love relationship, will face enormous difficulties. If they wish to bring their tendency toward superiority into the sexual relationship, they must either find a partner who appears to submit to them, or they must struggle with a partner who also seeks superiority or victory in sex, or can be enticed into it. In the first instance we see a transformation from love to slavery, in the second there is a constant mutually generated struggle for power that has no promise of harmony.
The paths that are followed in this context are enormously varied. There are domineering natures who fear so much for their ambitions, their power, that they seek only a partner over whom they believe their superiority to be ensured and one who always appears to be subordinated. This relates not only to worthless ambitious persons, but to the obsession with striving for power as a generally dominant characteristic in our culture. The immeasurable damage it causes to the development of all mankind has been the subject of Individual Psychological research, which has recorded the approximate limits to which it reaches. If one, for example, were to examine Goethe's love life from this perspective, one would be astonished at the enormous insecurity with which this ambitious person encountered problems in his love life.
We can thus understand those peculiarities that often confront us in life when people in their choices in affairs of love descend into a much lower and inappropriate social milieu. Not too infrequently, for example, one finds a man who occupies himself with only the most serious problems facing mankind and then surprises everyone by marrying his cook. We, who emphasize so much the equality of all people, are not indignant about this but see in this behavior a falling out of character and wish to understand it from the standpoint of the actor by examining his ultimate intent. We have in mind a norm according to which people seek each other out who are socially well suited for each other based on their educational background and preparation for life. If we observe the suitor who chose someone quite different from what commonly is expected, then we see in most cases a person who faces the problems of love with extraordinary timidity and preconceptions, who fears the sexual partner, and for that reason seeks a partner who is suspected to be less powerful and strong. It probably is possible that someone from a feeling of strength would depart from the common norm. In most cases, however, we see that this occurs out of weakness.
With such a choice of partner some cautious natures might look upon themselves as having been extraordinarily lucky, even though they do not understand their own ultimate intention, cover their deeper motives with love and sex, and are convinced that the god of love had a hand in their affair. The course that such a relationship takes is usually bad. It has been shown that avoiding this kind of rivalry between the sexes is fraught with manifold disadvantages. The disadvantages appear to be not that the person who is intellectually or socially more advanced will be disappointed, or that there will be problems of a social nature when the "lower" partner is not competent in meeting certain demands and thus introduces difficulties into the family or social life. These and other external factors could be eliminated or covered up if the ultimate purpose of the higher standing partner could be realized. However, the result is the peculiar fact that the partners who are of a lower rank do not tolerate for long having their weakness abused. Even if they do not understand what goes on here, they cannot escape the feeling that their shortcoming is being toyed with. They walk away from that feeling and arrive at a kind of revenge in which they try to let the partner understand that they are not lesser persons.
There are many conspicuous cases of this type. Often, a young, cultivated, highly intelligent girl throws herself into the arms of an unimportant, frequently even corrupt person, sometimes with the idea of saving him whom she seems to love, and to wrest him from the grasp of alcoholism, gambling, or indolence. Never have such people been saved through love; the effort fails almost every time. Deep down, the person of lower status feels the oppression derived from being classified as inferior. He does not allow himself to be loved and to be saved because the moving forces of his life are totally different and cannot be recognized by common sense. He probably gave up long ago the hope that something would come of him, and he sees in every situation that requires of him to be a true fellow human being a new danger in which his supposed inferiority could come to light.
We also know many people who have another, unexplainable tendency to seek as their love partner only someone with physical shortcomings. There are young girls who are enamored only with older men, and there are as many cases the other way around. These facts become apparent and rightfully stimulate our need for clarification. When we examine these people more closely, we can sometimes find in particular relationships natural, well-founded, explanations, but in all cases this tendency reflects the usual lifestyle of such persons: to take the line of least resistance.
We can also find people who fall in love only with partners who already are committed to someone else. This unusual fact can reveal a number of intentions. Under certain conditions, it can mean as much as a "no" in response to an offer of love, to strive for something impossible, sometimes an ideal that cannot be fulfilled. It can also reveal the characteristic of having a desire to "steal away," which in some people is carried over into the sexual realm, and is determined by the rest of their style of life. However, first we would like to examine the large number of cases in which the suitor is intent upon evading the sexual life task, and who tries to solve it by this no longer unusual means.
There are people who have developed a romantic attachment for someone without knowing whether that person even exists. This attitude speaks clearly of the ultimate intent: They don't want to know anything of love or marriage and have romantic feelings where these probably can never be realized. The same is true for the predominant number of people who constantly experience unhappy love. In most cases, it is the means to realize that that from the beginning was the life goal: with an apparent justification to give up a normal life and to turn away from the world. In those cases, an unhappy love can never be too tragic to fulfill this purpose. It applies to those persons who were always ready to run from the questions of life, and in particular love. This being on the verge of running away sometimes finds welcome support from a deception, a subterfuge. Such is not always simply made up of whole cloth, but has some bearing on an actual relationship in life and now no longer appears to be a subterfuge, but the obvious result of an experience. An enormous number of people have not fully matured socially, see in affairs of love and marriage a danger zone, and express their immature views in manifold, but often outwardly incomprehensible ways. When such people speak about these always disturbing questions, they utter generalities that might be true in some context and not appear to be banalities. When someone, for example, who is otherwise a timid person, declares that he is not going to marry "since life would then be too difficult," for those who do not get married every word is true, at the same time it also is true for those who marry. Only those make such assertions who, even without these truths, would have responded with “no,” except that they would then have grasped at other “truths.” It would not be appropriate to support a preconceived intent with a poor rationale when good justifications are easily available. Those who have had the opportunity to study the frighteningly large number of people who run away from dealing with questions of life will not be surprised that sex is used to mask this avoidance.
For those who run away one much tested subterfuge can be recommended in particular. That person first acquires a new idea, a particular ideal. Against this ideal all those whom one meets are measured. This results in no one measuring up. All diverge from that ideal and when we reject and exclude them, we then appear to be reasonable and justified. Only when we have selected and examined a particular case do we find that the people who choose so sensibly would have said "no" from the outset, even without having to resort to an ideal. The ideal contains wishful goals of candor, sincerity, courage, etc.. These concepts can be extended at our pleasure as far as we wish, exceeding all human measures. We, therefore, have the power to wish for something that heretofore was "made" unattainable by us.
The subterfuge by which we do not have to love, because we love something that is unattainable, has various possibilities for becoming concrete. We can love a person who appeared to us for only a short period of time, made an impression, disappeared and can no longer be found. We would have to search the whole world in order to find him. At first, we are touched when we hear of such fervent and faithful love. The requirement for realizing such love on this earth, that is to search the whole world to find that person, is super human and challenges our already aroused suspicions.
We also can make a person unreachable. Often, the suitor at the outset has the impression that he is not going to get far. This then becomes the starting point for more extensive action. He believes it impossible to live without the person he loves, woos that person although every objective outsider would consider it unlikely that there would ever be requited love. The person even admits that to himself. Often, one can observe that the courting was conducted in a form that provoled a negative response, in that, for example, it was noticeably vehement, or took place at a time when there was absolutely no guarantee that living together would be possible.
Courting of this kind is bent on an unhappy love relationship. The vast number of those who steer in their courting toward unhappy love is truly surprising. If viewed objectively, one might believe that such behavior is contrary to human nature. However, we are unable to recognize from external indications that we are dealing here with individuals who are only "bolters." Individual Psychology's illumination explains that an unhappy love represents an excellent hiding place for such people. If unhappy people live with hapless love for five or ten years, they actually are secure for that time from any other solution to that problem. They clearly have suffered and have paid for having succeeded in their intention. However, they reached in good conscience the goal for a solution to the problem of love and marriage, of which they were not aware and which they did not understand, and now feel justified. Their deepest tragedy is the fact that this goal and its attainment, which did not solve anything at all, is not in consonance with the reality of this world and with the logic of human coexistence. Only this deepest insight can finally be the corrective intercession.
Tendencies to love people who already have made other choices in their love life must always mean a "no." The history of prominent persons can teach us a lesson in this regard: in our complicated civilization such people have grown up with an extreme passion for stealing, taking from others. The desire to covet married women is always followed by new endeavors, to conquer the object of love, even when such actions often appear to be most honorable. Richard Wagner seems to have been this type of person. His poetic creations almost always appear to be interwoven with the idea and the complication of a hero who desires a woman who already is possessed by another. Richard Wagner's life seems to follow this path as well.
Generally, the feeling of insecurity dictates many forms of sexual relationships. There are young men who find sympathy only for older women based on the ill-founded idea that the problems of living together are made easier in such a relationship. They also betray their feeling of weakness by a certain need for maternal care. They are among the most pampered people who have a great need for support and about whom one can say, "They still need a nanny." They represent the type of person who cannot get enough security in relations with the other sex, and who is seriously troubled meeting with someone from the other sex. In our culture there is a frighteningly large number of such insecure people; they openly display the blemishes of this phase of our development: the fear of love and marriage. This is not an atypical phenomenon, but a general characteristic of our time. Our society is fraught with bolters. Feeling pursued and persecuted, they are constantly in flight from some unhappy and failed situation. There are men who are isolated and in hiding; there are women who fear to go out into the streets convinced that all men seek a romantic relationship with them, and that they always will only be molested. Here, pure vanity plays its game and can totally ruin a person's life.
Experience and insight can be applied positively as well as negatively. Among the latter, we have found that the exaggerated rectification of a mistake itself can be a mistake. The antithesis of restraint and taciturnity is candor. We thus find people who by being candid make mistakes. There are people who tend to offer themselves to others. While it is nice to acknowledge one's love freely, we are, nevertheless, also imbued with the truth that in our culture, which is difficult to cope with, this can lead to serious mistakes. There is no one who would not have some trouble dealing easily with such an offer. Not only the pain of remorse and regret will burden the person who made the hasty offer of love, but the partner also will have trouble allowing his feelings of love to unfold freely. Apprehension ensues that the offer of love was not genuine or, because of the common misuse of love and existing tensions resulting from the struggle within the sexes, the offer is suspect of concealing harmful intentions. There are no hard and fast rules; we must take into account the particularity of the partner and adhere to the reality of our culture. It would seem advisable today to rein in one's predilections.
Among artists, love, requited and to an even greater measure, unrequited, plays a special role. We might say that unrequited love is such a common experience in our time that there could hardly be anyone who has not been burdened by it. However, among those who are particularly sensitive, the artist plays an exceptionally prominent role. This is more apparent because in art the artists seek a life "next to life;" they see themselves active not in real life, but look for a substitute world in which reality is all but cast out. Clearly, they attain the rank of artist only when they create characters in a manner that makes them acceptable in the real world. Every art becomes such only when it encompasses a universal value by which artists through their creations find the way back to the reality of the community.
In detouring from the reality of life lies a tendency to perceive as hostile and troubling the reality of life's emphasis on the institution of love and marriage. We encounter numerous artists who look upon the ties that are part of life literally as bonds, shackles, or barriers to which they give limitless form even in their fantasies. They are barely able to overcome these perceived immeasurable obstacles and find themselves in their relationships with the other sex facing an insolvable problem by displaying not only the actions of a lover, but concurrently and in greater measure, the actions of one who takes flight from love. This is expressed in their thoughts and in their creations, which reflect the problems of mankind in an accentuated form. The partner in some way is perceived as overpowering and soon the love affair takes on the character of a dangerous venture. These thoughts are found almost verbatim in the works of poets and writers. All problematic natures have the same characteristics because all are extremely ambitious and sensitive, regarding any denigration of their power status as a serious affront or simply as a danger. In that vein, the poet Baudelaire said: "I could never think of a beautiful woman without also sensing immense danger."
The sight of a person entering what he presumes to be the "danger zone” presents us with a series of movements that are defensive and protective in nature. Hebbel in letters sent in his youth to his friend, describes his feelings somewhat as follows: "Of course I am living here again across the street from the most beautiful girl in town and have fallen head over heels in love with her. Hopefully, the antidote here also will be next to the poison.... And when I see her lover climb through her window again today, I shall then be done with her." This is the consequence of an impression from which we should have expected a different outcome.
The woman as danger is an invariable ideal in art. We need only scrutinize the paintings of Rops, who depicted women as danger, alarming, or at least as overwhelmingly powerful. Art today is mainly masculine, conveying the male tradition, raising primarily male problems, and revealing women as enchanting or dreadful figures, which they actually are in the eyes of many men. Women cannot keep up with such a masculine ideal of our time and find difficulties in taking up art not because they lack in talent, but because they cannot serve the exaggerated male ideal. The introduction to "A Thousand and One Nights" describes how the author is shocked by the guile and deceptiveness of the woman who saves her life from the man with incredible inventiveness. Even the oldest literate art, the Bible for example, which captivates every person from earliest childhood with its distinctive mood, is infused by the constantly accompanying thought that women represent a danger, so that a child grows up shy, emotional, handicapped, and timid with regard to them. One of the greatest creations of art, The Iliad, describes with great precision the calamity caused by a woman. All literature and art resounds with the problem of our time: Women as danger. Grillparzer says of himself: "I have rescued myself from love by escaping into art."
We cannot readily predict how the tendency toward unhappiness will affect a person. His total attitude toward life, his lifeline, becomes significant in this respect. If we have a person before us who loses courage when difficulties arise and who stops being active, then a ruined love affair could mean that his life will also be in ruin. The unhappy love itself does not lead to this consequence. The person who has it in him to be spurred on by difficulties will be able to bestir himself out of an unhappy love affair and attain greatness. An unhappy love is neither tragic nor restorative; either consequence can be drawn from it, depending on whether the consequences are drawn by a courageous or a broken down person. Common psychology often points to the great achievements that come out of an unhappy love affair, sometimes recommending it as a cure. We know people who have achieved greatness even without having to experience an unhappy love. The correct kernel in this half-truth is that the artist is attracted to and fascinated by the problem of love to an exceptional degree.
The life of Goethe in this regard is particularly instructive. He always saw danger in the female; he was constantly in flight from love. The underlying thread in "Faust" is the eternal search for a solution to the problems of love. He constructed his world out of his own tensions, feelings, and striving, dissatisfied with the reality of life, magically producing common human characteristics before our eyes. The greatness of his art evokes in us the feeling of harmony whenever he sounds that timeless song of tension between the sexes in which people diffidently fear that devotion equals loss of one's personality, sexual dependency, or slavery.
Mention should also be made here of Schleiermacher, who has a wonderful treatise in which he tries to show that love is no simple matter, that it is foolish to believe that when a person goes out into the world he already knows something of love. Everyone actually should undergo a certain preparation, a simplified pre-school. Even this idealist of the purest sort, highly esteemed by the most religious people, cannot close his eyes to the fact that in matters of love, people cannot easily find the way to one another. In my lectures on the knowledge of human nature, which are attended regularly by about 500 people, most questions raised are about love, which indicates that people have greater difficulty in that area than, for instance, in their occupations.
Why are there so few happy love relationships? Mankind has not yet attained full maturity in matters of love because we are deficient in the area of human fellowship. We are too defensive because we are too fearful. One need only consider the difficulties encountered with the idea of educating children of both sexes together, co-education, which really has no other purpose than to overcome fear among the sexes early in life, and to provide youth the opportunity to get to know one another better.
There is no cure in the form of a fixed rule for behavior for problems in affairs of love. The experiences of Individual Psychology show anew each day that the peculiarities of human sexuality are a facet of the total personality which in each case has to be comprehended individually. We must understand the context of all expressions of an individual, his personality and his relationship to those around him in order to change his failed sexuality. The line of movement of a person will also assert itself in love. It will force a person sometimes to look for an unhappy love and to persist in it, or it will allow for accepting such a situation more easily, leaving the individual to go on with life and progress. If these are people filled with ambition, unable to accept any kind of rejection, then this ambition may seem to lead to suicide, given that our society fosters subordination. Such a situation gives rise to the opportunity for a highly tragic situation that combines fleeing from life's responsibilities with revenge against society as well as against individual persons.
Love relationships are enhanced and refined through the cultivation of the social feeling that encompasses all people. Love relationships are not formed suddenly, but indicate a long period of preparation. Sexual attraction between people is always present, but it requires certain conditions before it is felt and becomes apparent as love. The stirrings of love began in those distant days when such feelings were colored neither erotically nor sexually, when only the broad stream of social feeling poured forth in the form of devotion and kindness, when only a universal human relationship was apparent, which (such as between mother and child) connects people instantly. It did not become what we call love, that enduring bond between individuals serving mankind eternally and ensuring its stability. It is both a bond and a perpetuation. These relationships cannot be formed arbitrarily, but must be left to their own designs. An understanding of such matters has not yet matured because the individual is capable of deceiving himself about these processes in his own soul. Both sexes are only too easily led into the maelstrom of prestige politics, playing a role of which neither is capable, disturbing the innocence and spontaneity of their lives. This process fills them with a prejudice in the face of which every vestige of happiness and joy must simply disappear.
Whoever has absorbed these thoughts will not, of course, wander on this earth flawlessly, but will at least remain aware of the right path and will steadily diminish rather than magnify his mistakes.
Marriage as a Responsibility12
Further Thoughts on Marriage
The greatest problem in fulfilling one's marriage responsibilities is neither incompetence nor modern man's attitude toward monogamy. Homo sapiens by nature tend to be neither monogamous nor polygamous. Greater spiritual values, however, are in such preponderance in favor of monogamy that only cowards tend to avoid it. For cowards to succeed in avoiding marriage requires steering their inclination in another direction. Then they will feel in accord with their inadequacy. The unmarried state, polygamy, or polyandrous tendencies and perversions always bear out an avoidance of marriage responsibilities. Unfaithfulness is so contrary to the responsibilities of marriage that it seems to me akin to a release from them, a compromise at odds with marriage. Whenever I had the opportunity to observe such marriages, their dissolution took place in an atmosphere where extreme anger could justifiably be expected. Breaking the marriage vows then is justified by finding a new love, "love excuses everything," and increasingly stimulated sexuality, heightened by anger, provides ameliorating circumstances. Obviously, predicaments such as a long period of separation, a chronic illness, or one partner's infirmity can cast a different light on unfaithfulness; those circumstances might be likened to the termination of a marriage caused by death. However, I have often observed how after the death of one partner, fear of another marriage is clothed in self-reproach, or, as has often been attempted, the marriage with the deceased is continued (in fantasy).
Differences in social classes do not appear to us to be insurmountable. Initial problems will disappear with some patience, particularly when social relationships develop in tandem. On the other hand, the antagonism of in-laws can often be devastating. In most cases, one they are battle-tested people well aware of the influence they exert. Their son or daughter had always been under their control. Then when their child tries to act independently for the first time, he or she is tortured with malicious prognoses for the future, or is sent to the marriage bed cursed by the parents. Small wonder that the couple mistrusts each other and becomes fearful, setting off in wrong directions, and testing every step as to whether the parents were not correct in their assessment. Add to this the ill humor of the partner who was the target of hostility, and one can see that it
1 Originally published as "Die Ehe als Aufgabe" in Bereitschaft, 6 (7), p. 4-6, March,
2 New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003.
requires a very forgiving person not to allow such a dowry to poison one's attitude. Of course, parents have a right to counsel their children in the choice of their partners, even to influence them. However, as soon as the ties are established, they are also bound with all their powers to support the marriage and the accompanying responsibilities. This also applies to those whose relationship with the couple is not close, so that only positive influences surround the married couple. This principle clearly arises out of social feelings and almost instinctively creates a negative attitude toward those who harm a marriage.
A considerable difference in age is generally not advantageous. I have often found that in such cases one or both partners are weak. The choice of partner in such cases is conditional, as if otherwise misgivings would arise, or as if the joy of marriage would not come of itself, but must be attained by subterfuge.
The marriage situation reveals, like an experiment, whether the parties were properly prepared for marriage. People poorly prepared for a social life, for their job, or for love, who always had bad luck, who always changed jobs, friends, or lovers will also fail in their responsibilities in marriage. Neurotic people also are not promised a happy marriage; they will constantly demand privileges. It would be a true blessing for marriages, mankind in general, and future generations if before every marriage, counseling would be provided by Individual Psychologists with the object of filling gaps in improper preparation and improving poor attitudes.
Even where there is unwavering confidence, the often painful past should be discussed. Such discussions between married couples often are useless, if not harmful, because the other partner usually hears something different from what is being said. Sometimes it would be more favorable to hold such discussions beyond the scope of the marriage itself, so as to draw on a wider range of experience that would be useful to each partner.
Bad habits from the past can also disturb the harmony of marriage. Disorderliness, pedantry, hypersensitivity, spitefulness, slovenliness in behavior and language, shamelessness, domination, irascibility, screaming, etc. reflect poor preparation and also prevent the partner from making the marriage work. Often these indications become apparent with insurmountable force only after the yearning for marriage was lost, and responsibility for the marriage given up. The, on.y a lack of strength causes marriages that had long been failures to break up many years later.
There are no counseling facilities for these problems, just as there are none for those who leave one failed marriage and, usually with their old failings, enter into another marriage. These inadequacies that stem from childhood have been practiced for a long time, and can be remedied only by proper psychological methods because those afflicted never know at what point they must begin making corrections. Wrong perception of life has become so much a part of such people that they twist and turn all experiences until they seem right to them. Then they continue in their past patterns.
As can be seen from our discourse, next to the few who look on marriage as a responsibility that must be exercised humanely, there are many others who fail. Those are the people who do not recognize their responsibilities, or who expect them to be met either by their partner or favorable circumstances.
Love is a Recent Invention1
Papa said with some embarrassment to his ten-year-old hopeful, “Johnny, have you been enlightened about the facts of life?”
“Yes, Papa,” the lad replied with eager solicitude, “what is it you would like to know?”
We know more about sex today than our fathers did. But do we know more about love? We sometimes confuse the two. Many a Miss who comes to me for consultation has an imposing list of “complexes” and “repressed desires.” Young and old know the patter of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. And they know a great deal that is not true. Forty per cent or more have at least an inkling of the technique of sex, but hardly one out of five knows the meaning and nature of love. Nor is this surprising, for in its ideal sense, love is a comparatively new discovery. Or perhaps, I should call it an invention or evolution. It has evolved only recently out of muck and confusion. It certainly did not exist one hundred years ago.
Love is a word that is bandied about too freely. Falling in and out of love is a common experience, but how many men and women qualify as great lovers? How many would receive a passing grade in amatory proficiency? Even today, how many would deserve the degree of A.D.--Amoris Doctor--Doctor of Love?
Poets and philosophers have written much nonsense about love. But the percentage of human beings capable of perfect love was always insignificant. However, it is possible to report “progress.” Possibly twenty per cent of those who talk of love today have the right to call themselves lovers.
Here the reader, with contracted eyebrow, may properly ask, “What do you mean by love?” Don’t expect a humble psychologist to say in one sentence what ten thousand poets and rhapsodists throughout the ages have been unable to explain. It is easier to tell what love is not than what it is.
Love is not the glorification of the body that inspired King Solomon’s Song of Songs. Physical fascination is merely one of its elements. It is not the romance of Antony and Cleopatra. Each of these glamorous lovers attempted to beguile and dominate the other. That is not love. Love is not the syrupy song of
1 Published in Esquire Magazine, 1936.
the Troubadour, whose one-sided adoration feeds on its own lyric frustration. Tannhauser thought he knew something about love. But did he? Love is not dramatically exaggerated seductiveness.
Love is not Don Juan’s impotent lust for conquest. I remember one patient who boasted of a new affair every week. I told him: “You are a collector of scalps, not a lover.” It is not the pleasure hunger of Casanova. The voluptuary seeking a sensuous thrill in every moment, in every swish of a skirt, is pathological. He is an amorist, not a lover.
Many neurotics come to me lost in blind alleys, vainly seeking love. Love is not a blind alley. It is not the infatuation of Narcissus with his own lovely image, nor the inane devotion of the nymph, Echo, pining hopelessly for the beautiful youth. I have known too many young men and women who imagined they were in love with others when they were merely in love with themselves; I have known too many unhappy women who frantically hug an illusion.
The other day a patient came to me who extolled the virtues of lesbianism in which she sought her barren satisfaction. I told her: “My dear girl, you are all wrong. The House of Love has many mansions. But Love’s other name is not Perversion.” The passion of Hadrian and Antinous, the desire of Sappho for her maids, may have vivified sculpture and poetry, but it was not love.2
All departures from the natural path are sired by neuroses and mothered by inferiority complexes. They violate the first law of life. Life insists upon perpetuating itself. I have met too many erotic egotists, too many defeatists in love, who vainly attempt to transport to Hollywood or to Broadway, the Athens of Plato of the Lesbos of Sappho. Stripped of aesthetic pretensions and psychological evasions, all diversions from the path of normal love are inspired by fear of the other sex and the refusal to make the mutual sacrifices which love demands of both parties. They are flights from, or substitutes for, reality.
Many of these subterfuges have been mistaken for love. The ideal of modern love did not exist until women were emancipated from their social and economic shackles and human life was placed upon a level higher than the mere satisfaction of physical appetite. According to legend, Venus, goddess of love, rose from the white sea foam. I believe that love is more indebted to the vacuum cleaner, the electric refrigerator, and the electric washer than to the briny deep. Oscar Wilde once said that civilization depends upon the slavery of the machine.
2 Whereas Adler’s views on the equality of women were ahead of his time, his criticism of homosexuality here (and elsewhere) reflects the common bias of his time and place. These opinions, coming out of the early 1900’s in Vienna, do not represent contemporary Classical Adlerian psychotherapy. While we respect every individual’s sexual choice, we apply the same psychological criteria to all relationships, promoting increased cooperation, respect, equality, mutual benefit and empathy, and working to eliminate domination, subordination, depreciation, exploitation, or abuse. Adler’s comments have been retained in the text in the interest of scholarship and historical accuracy.
He was right. Only the enslavement of the machine gave the average man and woman sufficient leisure to develop the more exalted emotions. To the extent to which our civilization still falls short of realizing these essentials, it still falls short of achieving love.
For centuries before the conception of the eight-hour day and five-day week, grueling tasks absorbed the vital energies of men and women. As a rule, women were uneducated and did not take exacting care of their bodies which came with the age of plumbing. Marie Antoinette, for all her rococo daintiness, was careless about brushing her teeth. We know this from the letters of her mother, Maria Theresa, to the Queen of France. Bathing was regarded as a luxury, even by royal ladies. The home of peasant and burgher, even the castle of the feudal lord, was primarily a factory. Eve cooked and spun; she made soap and candles and minded the children, but she did not visit the beauty parlor. She was primarily a housewife and mother. Adam ploughed the field, he hunted and he fought and he performed his conjugal duties with great regularity. Devotion to the mother of his children did not always exclude the seduction of housemaids. He was sexually active, but sex activity is not love. Domestic devotion is not love. Love includes both, but it demands more.
We can meet these demands better than our ancestors. The new leisure has enabled us to develop a new conception and feeling of love.
DYAD OF EQUAL PARTNERS
Love is neither a gamble nor a one-sided infatuation. Love, modern love, is based upon mutual physical and spiritual devotion. We are not lovers until we know that it takes two to make love. When I explained this to a patient of mine who, in spite of innumerable amours, somehow never finds happiness, he laughed. “And you call that a discovery? I knew that from the day when I first made eyes at the janitor’s girl.” No doubt, that is the average reaction to my statement. Paradoxical as it may sound, the average person does not realize that love is a task for two. “A task?” said a pretty young friend of mine. “I thought it was a pleasure.” I deliberately use the word “task.” Love may have its beginnings in a sudden infatuation, but it does not mature or deserve the name of love, without labor, discipline, cooperation, and sacrifice.
In the past, as in the present, the predatory male seized the female and the predatory female ensnared the male. Such a relationship involves neither reciprocity nor mutual sacrifice. Like a dance, love requires the harmonious cooperation of two partners. To this day, German peasants impose upon a newly betrothed couple the task of cutting a tree trunk with a two-handed saw. Predictions as to their chances of connubial felicity are based on the way they handle the job and their ability to cooperate.
“My husband loves me,” remarked a rotund brunette to me, “he gives me all the money I want for clothes and does not mind if I lose his hard-earned money at the Bridge table.” What have such things to do with love? Very little. The husband in question receives in return merely frigid caresses. Possibly, he even admires his wife for being a “good” woman--too good to be thrilled by passion. Obviously, even if they consider their marriage satisfactory, neither has guessed the secret of love.
Love is not an unequal partnership where one gives all and the other gives little or nothing. Love is the equal partnership between a man and a woman where two are merged into one, a human dyad, reconciling the sex urge of the individual with the biological needs of the race and the demands of society. “Dyad” is a dictionary word worth looking up. I use it because it is the only word that completely expresses my meaning. It signifies the true marriage, on equal terms, of two souls and two bodies.
ACHIEVING THE DYAD The following guidelines may help achieve the dyad of perfect love.
- Don’t look up at your mate, and don’t look down; approach love as an equal.
- Don’t expect an impossible perfection in others of which you yourself are incapable; love a woman, not an angel; a man, not a phantom ideal.
- Don’t think of yourselves as one or two, but as a twosome.
- Don’t take without giving, or give without taking.
- Don’t pick out a partner who does not entice you physically, but do not entangle your fate with one who appeals to you merely on a physiological basis.
- Don’t lose yourself in by-paths and blind alleys; a way out of emotional labyrinths is possible.--Potentially, humans are fundamentally normal.
- Cooperate with your mate on every plane: socially, economically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and biologically.
- Be a slave neither to convention, nor to your own idiosyncrasies; remember you are not merely an individual, but a unit of your social group and the human race. Liebnitz, a great German philosopher, said that the soul was a “house without windows.” All mortals in his opinion were “monads,” solitary creatures incapable of communication. But he did not know that love opens the windows of the soul. When Jack and Jill find love, they cease to be monads. In place of solitude, “the solitude of all created things,” the lovers discover a new and blessed state for which Nietzsche has coined the term Zweisankeit--dualitude. “Though indeed,” as Sir Thomas Brown remarks in Religio Medici, “they be really divided, yet are they so united as to seem as one and make rather a duality than two distinct souls.” We may well say with Shakespeare of perfect lovers: “An apple cleft in two is not more twain than these creatures.”
If we believe the testimony of his sonnets and his biographers, Shakespeare was not a successful lover himself. But he has said many beautiful things about love. He was sufficiently great and, belonging to all time, sufficiently modern, to have at least an idea of the new conception of love. Romeo and Juliet is a beautiful early version of modern love, a love that defies family convention and sacrifices, if necessary, even life itself. In the days when Romeo and Juliet lived and in the days of Queen Elizabeth, such love was rare, so rare that it inspired the greatest of playwrights. Today, the story of Romeo and Juliet is no longer exceptional. Every day, some girl in the Bronx defies her family for her love’s sake.
Everywhere in the world, youngsters approach love and marriage on the basis of complete equality and unstinting cooperation. It is not necessary to be a Robert Browning to be a great lover. I have known many couples in small houses and Lilliputian apartments who live in perfect dual felicity. Their names will not thunder down the ages, but they are contented lovers. The little girl with the feather in her hat, who sits opposite you in the subway, and the young man who gazes into her eyes, may know more about love than all the poets put together.
The philosophers knew even less than the poets. Plato has devoted symposium after symposium to love. But Plato himself was an imperfect lover because he could not, or did not wish to, find a woman who was his equal. Nevertheless, it was Plato who originated an enticing theory of love. According to him the male and female were one until the gods, jealous of man’s perfect bliss, split them in two. Since that time each half seeks its counterpart forever, and often seeks in vain. The search is gradually becoming more successful in recent times.
SOCIAL AND BIOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
As a rule, even the great lovers of the past lacked a social conscience. Perfect lovers are adjusted perfectly, not only to each other, but to their social environment. Their personal adjustment must be physical as well as emotional. Even the most idealistic lover must realize that love is an art that requires technique. Both the Occident and Orient have given us manuals of love, textbooks of passion. Kamasutra for The Scented Garden, and even Lady Chatterley’s Lover have much to offer, and popular scientific books attempt to give expert knowledge to amateurs. But knowledge and artistry are futile unless they are shared by both lovers in mutual devotion.
We should not, with false modesty, close our eyes to the truth that love, even in its physical aspect, involves the harmonious and whole-hearted cooperation of both parties. Don Juan must be forever unsatisfied, because to him sexual intercourse is a task for one. Prostitution depends on the fatal error that a carnal relationship is a task for one. From this error springs not only the red-light district, but also the disease and infection bred in its unhealthy atmosphere. No young man who understands the secret that supreme sexual satisfaction requires mutuality can be content with the inferior artificiality of paid pretenders.
Two American writers, Viereck and Eldridge, in Salome, the Wandering Jewess, portray a woman who seeks perfect equality in vain for two thousand years. Their heroine gives her favors freely to sturdy gladiators and Nubian slaves, but denies herself to the one man she loves because she will not accept him without absolute equality. She attempts to achieve this equality by leveling the difference between her sex and his. Salome, or her interpreters, fail to realize that equality in love does not imply equality of function. It requires, on the contrary, biological differentiation.
Although it requires the union of the two sexes, love is not based solely on the sexual function. The pleasure of sexual union is the premium nature pays to insure propagation. But neither pleasure nor propagation is sufficient in itself Love is not love unless it uplifts spiritually as well as physically. This uplift must not be at the expense of society or of the race; it must be in harmony with man’s biological function and the preservation of civilization.
In our century, love has emerged from its Dark Ages. Many elements of modern life favor love. Nevertheless, certain factors from the imperfections of human society still work against love. These factors inspire the “masculine protest” in women and the inordinate “fear of women” in man. No man is civilized or a perfect lover until he knows that he can find complete self-realization only in what I have called “the human dyad.”
Woman is even more handicapped than man by ancient taboos, somber vestiges of her sexual past. Language itself creates antagonism between the male and female by referring to Eve’s daughter as “the opposite sex.” Language denies women the complete equality essential for love. We still say that a man “takes” a wife. Words and proverbs in which the old prejudices still linger are more potent than most men realize. They keep false traditions alive and subtly corrupt our judgment. Love or marriage should involve no “taking,” but a mutual “give and take;” a Holy Twinty (if I may be permitted to coin a word), in which neither the male nor the female strives for domination.
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