Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships. X. Forming a Relationship
The Tale of Narcissus
Some of the psychologists who have tried to describe and explain the first stages of love talk about “primary narcissism.” They derive this term from the Classic Greek legend which tells of a handsome young man, Narcissus, who happens to pass by a still pool of water and, seeing his reflection in the water, immediately falls in love with his own reflected image. Sad to say, Narcissus spends the rest of his life (which is quite long in old Greek legends) staring at his own reflection.
In some ways, the process of falling in love with another person, at least initially, resembles the story of Narcissus. First of all, we don’t really have much information to go on when we fall in love at first sight (or even second or third sight) with another person. Rather, we are falling in love with our own internal image of this person. This image is a composite of the real person we see along with previous people in our lives (including our parents, siblings, and pat loves), idealized images of our “perfect” mate or lover and deeply embedded (some would even say, archetypal) images of beauty, sexuality and seductive allurement. We have fallen in love (like Narcissus) with an image of love that is largely of our own making. When we are enthralled with another person, we tend to become very confused about boundaries. We don’t know what comes from inside us and what comes from the other person. We think we love another person, but are, in fact, falling in love with something we helped to create.
The Images of Anima and Animus
Carl Jung and his associates offer a complimentary though slightly different version of this narcissistic process. As in the story Narcissus, the Jungian propose that we tend to project a particularly powerful aspect of ourselves onto our new love object and then promptly fall in love with that aspect of ourselves that we have just projected onto this other person. The Jungians go on to note that men are typically inclined to project onto their new love object those aspects or forces in themselves that are feminine (what Jung calls the “anima.”) Women are inclined to project out the masculine aspects or forces in themselves (the “animus”.) Initially, we are inclined to project only the most positive aspects of our opposite gender characteristics onto our new love. At a later point, however, when we become disappointed because our loved one can’t live up to this idealized and projected image of the perfect love, we tend to also project the less agreeable aspects of these gender-based forces onto the loved one.