Love & all who sail in her.
The Road Less Travelled is truly ground-breaking and so brilliantly brutal in some of the conclusions it draws and arguments it puts forward. What follows is a breakdown of Peck’s rebuttal of notions of romantic love, and how it differs (is actually at a polar extreme) from real love in that it doesn’t allow for enlargement of the self necessary for spiritual growth, but instead, temporary release from it.
So ‘falling in love’ is a specifically sex-linked experience. It occurs only when we are sexually motivated whether consciously or unconsciously. The feeling of ecstatic lovingness always fades.
To understand the inevitable ending of ‘falling in love’, he explores what psychiatrists call ego boundaries. When we are babies, we cannot distinguish between ourselves and the rest of the universe. When we are hungry, the world is hungry. When we move our legs, the world is moving. Through various stages of childhood and adolescent development, we learn our identity as individuals, the limits of our flesh and boundaries of our power.
Falling in love therefore represents a sudden collapse of one’s ego boundaries, permitting an individual to merge their identity with that of another.
In this respect, falling in love is a regression. It echoes a time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy. Feelings of omnipotence, much like a child at the age of two might have, make a comeback. What also reappears is the false sense that problems are no more, all boundaries can be overcome and loneliness has been banished.
Sooner or later, ego boundaries snap back into place and two separate identities re-emerge. Either the ties are dissolved or the individuals begin the work of real loving. Real loving occurs in a situation in which the feeling of loving is lacking; when we act lovingly in spite of how we feel, not because of it.
This is because falling in love is not an act of will. It happens even when it is inconvenient and undesirable. While we can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, we cannot choose to create the experience itself. Further, falling in love is not an extension of one’s ego boundaries, it is a temporary collapse of them. The experience requires no effort – those who are lazy and undisciplined fall in love just as easily as dedicated and disciplined ones.
From a biological point of view falling in love serves only to terminate loneliness and facilitate successful procreation. Spiritual development is not something that can be summoned through the process, as when we are in love we are at peace, striving no higher than what we already have achieved. Falling in love, according to Peck, is “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour”.
If that isn’t a passion-killer, I’m not sure what is. I’m sure I have come across the idea before as the book has been around since many years before I was even born, but it makes for an arresting, eye-opening read. As with most things that strike me as exceptional, it’s always better to know them and have the capacity to mull them over, than to ignore the more unpalatable truths that our society avoids dwelling on.
Every day I am making more of a conscious decision that an alternative lifestyle is where I’m headed. I don’t want to be fed on popular media that patronises and perpetuates myths that are flagrantly untrue. I refuse to work in a job which has no intrinsic purpose apart from the acquisition of wealth. Money is the most stupid, ridiculous reason to do anything. I reject spending my vital life energy in an environment which deadens the mind, and which is exactly what it was designed to do.
When I am insulted or misunderstood, I like it because it shows me that I am going the right way. I was told yesterday that I have “a sh*tty outlook on life”. I am delighted to hear such words because they remind me that I am destined for bigger and better things, far beyond what those unenlightened and conventional slaves to the system are even aware of. I’m designing my own philosophy of love, life, self and career.
I’ve been aware of it for a while but I am unconventional. I’ve tried to fight it and spent much of my twenties toeing the line. I thought that if I did the things that everyone else did, I’d truly want them too. I strove to be a normal girlfriend, to want normal material things, to work in a normal job, do normal things on a Saturday night and fit in with anyone who happened to be around me. For a while I kidded myself I was just like everyone else.
It never worked. My relationships were fraught, my friends were merely drinking buddies, I made myself depressed through work, I found emptiness in the things I bought, and drinking made me irresponsible and thoroughly unlikeable.
Now, everything has changed. All the trappings have gone. Friends have gone, my livelihood will change, my lifestyle has uncluttered, my life in England is coming to an end. Fundamentally my priorities have shifted. What is most important to me now, in this period of transition, is to be true to myself.