A theory of romantic relationships.
As a father of a boy and girl (now grown into early adulthood), I gave witness to both the subtle and blatant differences of the feminine and the masculine. Certainly, each gender has its own agenda in personality building and establishing their worldviews. There are reports, however, that suggest that the major differences between boy minds and girl minds are constructs of society and while there are certainly well defined cultural roles for both, it does not take a psychiatrist to grasp that nature has equipped males and females with their own directives and values.
In ancient times, Greek mythology tells us that once males and females were the same but Zeus, their supreme god, decided to split them apart and since then the two have desired to reunite. What is intriguing about this is that great thinkers such as the philosopher Otto Weininger (1880-1903) and the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961) were pioneers in suggesting that men and women are united by both feminine and masculine elements. Jung called this the shadow self and named the male component in the female psyche, animus, and the female component in the male psyche, anima.
The image of the anima is what we, as male individuals, deem as the perfect woman. She is always a combination of best friend, mother, sister and lover while the image of the animus is more complex and connected to all the male myths of heroism; the dragon slayer, knight in shining armor and so forth, he nevertheless, is the perfect male in her inner-vision of true maleness. When people talk about romantic attraction between a man and a woman, the more each other correspond to the images within, the more attraction there is.
For clarity’s sake, I will tell you a story about a young girl from a middle class family that I have told many times: Julie was described by her father as, “a saint of a girl”. Julie was indeed a wonderful young woman. She was class president in her last year of High School and an honor student. She attended church regularly. She sang in the choir and served as the substitute Sunday school teacher. In all her nineteen years she had never-that’s right never gave her parents a problem. Then one day during the summer a young man rode into the driveway on a motorcycle-he wore his hair half way down his back and was a display of tattoos. He walked onto the porch and rang the bell. Julie’s mother answered the ring and was a little frightened by the stranger who was asking to see her daughter. Thinking fast Mom said that Julie was sick and she sent the young man away. What was such a ruffian doing in the neighborhood anyway?
When Julie came downstairs, her mother told her what happened and Julie openly admitted that she had been seeing the boy… for a few months. Mom forbade her to see him again and later that evening her father also put his foot down. They had never seen Julie respond so rebelliously, she left the room crying and screaming at them that she was in love.
Her parents said that they didn’t care if she was in love or not, that she was not to see the young man again. Don’t worry, they added when you go to college at the end of summer you will be meeting new people and you will forget all about this.
One late afternoon, however, the boy arrived on his motorcycle, the girl ran out of her house carrying a bag she had packed, climbed on behind the boy and off they went.
No one could believe that this young, sweet girl had done this or even that such a rough and rugged person would ever appeal to her. The truth is that she returned home after a couple of weeks in tears, the romance just wasn’t how she thought it would be. And, she did go off to college and eventually met a man everyone approved of and, as Shakespeare would say, all’s well that’s end well.
The question is what had this delicate, lovely girl seen in such a ruthless young man to give her feelings to him? The answer is… her! Well, that is, beneath her own soft and feminine personality, her shadow self, her animus was a fearless, brute of a man, rebellious and daring. The young man with the long hair and tattooed arms came close to filling that inner-image and this is exactly what creates magnetism between males and females.
However, it also happens that when two people meet one may fulfill the other’s image while the other does not. This is the reason why a woman or man might meet someone who is absolutely attracted to them but they are not attracted to the other at all. In this regard I specifically remember a young female who came crying telling me that she did not understand what was wrong with her; that she did everything she could for this fellow to make him happy, to fulfill all his needs and yet he obviously did not love her back. The truth was that there was nothing “wrong” with the young female. She simply did not fill the inner-image of her fellow’s anima while he filled the image of her animus as much as any man might.
It is safe to say that all physical attraction begins with projecting one’s own shadow self onto the other. More simply put, he is responding to this female outside himself because she represents what he believes that he would be, had he been born female and not male. When she finds herself physically attracted to some handsome male stranger, it is for some reason that he represents what she believes she would have been like if she had been born a male instead of a female. Sometimes these relationships work out and sometimes they do not. The future romance depends on how mutual the images match one another’s other-gender projections.
Do males and females ever fall in love and marry who haven’t fulfilled one another’s inner-images of the anima and animus?
Couples grow to love one another that do not necessarily fill one another’s inner-images of the perfected other gender. But probably there is never a strong magnetism between them and they probably never experienced that in love feeling that people feel that have their shadow selves fulfilled by one another.
There is another side to this romantic coin, however. Carl Jung tells us that sometimes when we find that perfect image in another and marry him or her, it can end up that we are marrying our own worst enemy. This is precisely where the young girl I wrote about would have done had she married the rough and tumble motorcycle rider. Indeed, she fortunately realized the relationship would never work soon after moving in with him but some people end up living unhappily ever after when they happen to truly marry a person who fulfills their inner image of what they think a (real) man should be or a (perfect) woman should be. For only two examples, he might fulfill her animus image by appearing to be physically fearless and strong and yet in private life end up being cold and unfeeling or even weak. On the other hand, she might be charming and lovely as his shadow self is charming and lovely when the relationship starts but after marriage, she may reveal herself to be coercive and demanding. It is obviously impossible to list every possibility of how one’s perfect mate turns out to be the imperfect mate after the relationship becomes committed.
Nevertheless this is also exactly why you will sometimes see a couple who obviously appear unmatched but have happy and wonderful relationships-you know, the beautiful, shapely woman wed to a Mr. Peepers type or the extremely handsome male in a most successful marriage with a mousy wife. In both these kinds of relationships the whispers are, what in the world does he (or she) see in their mate. The answer is that they see their inner-selves demonstrated in the world by their mates.
When we think about what has been said in the above, we can say that by the time we begin noticing the other gender, we unconsciously have begun our search for completeness-indeed, when we are males, females are a living, breathing expression of our other-gender selves. When we are female, males are a living, breathing expression of our other-gender selves.
As we mature and our anima selves and animus selves become more defined images we begin being more attracted to specific types and looks of the other gender. This is because we are more aware of our own other-gender natures and cannot express those natures in the outside world ourselves. Traditionally males are not supposed to have anything feminine about them and females are not supposed to have anything masculine about them. This however is a social myth as no boy or girl has ever been born without at least having some of each other’s qualities.
However, there are males who are more masculine than other men are in that they have either buried their feminine side too deeply in their psyches to be influenced by them, or women so feminine that they simply do not have a very visible or knowable animus at all. Such men are typically brutish and overly aggressive while such women are typically frail and overly passive. (In their way, they are the stereotypes of our worst traits as separated genders).
While the human species is absolutely equipped to becoming polyandrous or monogamous or polygynous and especially promiscuous the age-old question is nesting with a single mate the strongest drive for our specie’s call to fulfill nature’s reproductive strategies, is asked. The biological answer is probably not since one male can theoretically impregnate hundreds of women within a short time span but it takes females the better part of a year to deliver offspring. The boundaries of marriage are no doubt a social establishment based on creating heirs and therefore keeping tight reins on female sexuality so that those heirs can be legitimized. For centuries, however, only female monogamy was (truly) made into a moral obligation while males, in many cultures, were even expected to have lovers. This seemingly was never the rule in America although the rule of lifelong commitment to a single mate has seldom been obeyed. And, there have been some groups to advocate polygamy along the way. Nevertheless, for our own culture monogamous relationships are clearly the most productive and certainly family unity itself was once called the cornerstone of the entire nation’s stability.
There are, incidentally, around 4% or 5% of around 4000 mammals that maintain monogamous relationships such as wolves and beavers; among the primates gibbons mate for lifetimes and some birds do. People on the other hand, as already said, are capable of having any kind of relationship by choice alone. If for example, the United States supported polygamy as the mating standard we would not deem it immoral but righteous. We are simply capable to freely-willing our own mating habits or at least being receptive to whatever our cultures indoctrinate us to believe is right and moral.
There are other forces at work than religious-social engineering of course. Going back to the topic of the anima and animus there is that inner yearning to be made whole by connecting to an individual of the opposite sex. Indeed wives and husbands are often named, our better or other half… marriage itself symbolizes two halves being joined into a perfect oneness.
In regard to this, with some individuals there exists a terrible feeling of incompleteness until mating and having a member of the other gender give expression in the real world to their inner-world of other gender feelings and desires; to have the other give actualization to the anima or animus that has been consciously kept unrevealed through a persona of total maleness or femaleness. In this view wife relinquishes her maleness to her husband and husband relinquishes his femaleness to his wife. A result of this relinquishing is for husband to feel (all) man and for wife to feel (all) woman in their psyche lives. I suggest that this relinquishing of the female soul by men and the male soul by women is not necessary for males with more subtle animas and females with more subtle animus’; those that are molded more comfortably into their own gender images and do not have a strong attachment to their shadow selves.
Nevertheless, we love, nest and mate with a specific member of the opposite sex so the other gender can demonstrate the femininity that cannot be demonstrated by males and the masculinity that cannot be demonstrated by females in the relationship. That is to say, the wife expresses the husband’s feminine side of his personality by her presence in the relationship and husband expresses the wife’s masculine side of her personality by his presence. Thus, there exists a male/female balance in the life of each. (In this regard women usually feel more comfortable in their own skin because their ability to give birth substantiates their human value-males, in general, find it more difficult to find inner-acceptance of themselves because male mythology and legends challenge their manhood in terms of male bravado and therefore he finds it more difficult to reconcile himself as having human worth. Remember most fairy tales and legendary stories have their male heroes who are virtually all dashing, fearless and brave, a difficult image for most men to fulfill).
In sight of the above, a problem arises between countless men and women who have mated and find themselves in unhappy or disappointing relationships. This “problem” is the discovery that no living or actual human being can live up to the perfection of the projected anima or the perfection of the projected animus. All males and females fall short of their mate’s inner-image of perfect or authentic maleness or femaleness. After all, we all have our faults and frailties and we are all subject to our moods and feelings. And there is no such thing as absolute maleness or absolute femaleness. We all have some of the qualities of the other gender but also some of the faults too. This is why there is always an adjustment period after marriage, because one’s true personality is revealed from beneath the masks husband and wife wear in their public lives. However, when one makes the general comment that says you are not just who I thought you were is actually said more accurately by stating, you are not the person that I projected you to be. (Understanding the difference would reduce the number of divorces for a lot of couples because couples would give each other room to be their unperfected selves without having judging values placed on their attitudes and/or actions).
This can take some thinking about but what is important to grasp is that what attracts us most in the mating procedure is seeing in the other a reflection of what we believe that we would be like if we had been born the other gender. That image is always or, in the least nearly always, quickly shattered by the experience of living daily life one with the other; when mates begin seeing each other as each other actually are as opposed to what they have projected them to be.
Our romantic view of the other gender is of course also anima or animus based. The adolescent girl’s imagination conjures images of male vigor, strength and handsomeness while the young boy’s imagination conjures images of female faithfulness, kindness and beauty. Even though these boys and girls are at an age where they have reached puberty it is romance that fills the daydream and not their own or the other’s sexuality. Sexual fantasies typically do not come about until an actual past of male/female sexual experiences have occurred but even then, under normal psyche-conditions, there remain *far more romantic thoughts about the other gender than genital-related thoughts that directly stir the libido but not the heart.
*Most truly erotic thoughts do not project before the mind’s eye through imagination but rather memory.
We are a species that are far more romantic than *id driven. This does not mean that we are not sexually orientated, because of course we are. However, the anima in males is relationship driven and yearns for spiritual (or love) attachment is nearly as strong, if not as strong, and sometime stronger, than for some living, breathing females. But of course, accordingly, females are attracted to their animus projections and so to men who are strongly independent and self-assured. (It should be said here that how the anima in males and the animus in females evolve is highly complex and depends greatly on the actual experiences one has had with the opposite sex outside psyche life. **Mother/son and father/daughter relationships are no doubt intrinsic in how the shadow self develops in individuals).
With the above in mind we need to return directly to the subject of romance and so Eros; Eros in psychology is the instinct for pleasure, for self-preservation and procreation. The name arrives from the ancient Greek God of love and so Eros becomes that part of us that yearns for sexual love; of the unionization of masculine and feminine pairing. In this sense, Eros is not at all an extension of anima or animus but is rather like an outside temptation permitting us to fall in and out of love; to enjoy sexual intimacies without fulfilling the drive to mate permanently. Eros in this sense can be fickle. It is the anima and animus that seek pair bonding, to merge souls and become in oneness with another-to find that special other who will make the self complete and so whole.
In the far reaches of what we’ve been talking about, what we are seeking when we are seeking true love is to find that other who best reflects in the outside world that secret or shadow part of our personalities that we ourselves cannot openly express. This might be the reason that in some very successful, loving and lasting relationships something never feels the wholeness that one desires the relationship to produce. That is, there is a feeling something like, we are terrific together, loving and supportive but… there is something of being soul mates missing.
This is not at all uncommon and might even account for most committed relationships. First of all, as already said, no living human being can match the perfection of a male anima or a female’s animus. They are not real after all but mere images conjured from our own psyches and projected onto that special other who we are attracted to, and in a term, who rings our bells and so forth. Remember there is no living male who is all masculine or living female who is all feminine. And knowing this about ourselves, we need to realize that we all fall short of being everything our mates would have us be, or all our mates believe that they would be if they were us. Indeed, for even those romances wherein one or both mates have actually found much of their own shadow selves in the other, those shadow selves after all may be, as Carl Jung states, one’s own worst enemy and so, as we say, the unhappy maker! (Recall the story of the sweet young woman and her rough and rugged lover).
*The “id” is a Freudian terms most basically referring to the unconscious part of the psyche and is the source for our primitive impulses and drives.
**While the anima and animus are described as archetypes (images from the collective unconscious) by
Carl Jung, those images are remolded by life experiences in the process of becoming personalized.
In nearly all cultures males and females are seen as complimentary principles of nature and so the universe. We fall in love with the other that best represents what we deem to be most complimentary to our own goals of wholeness and being. While the anima and animus have their female and male components, they are not truly other gender personalities and so, there is no male who can fully grasp what it is like to be female and no female who can fully grasp what it is like to be male-we can only choose to quit seeking ourselves in the other and instead to love, support and nurture the one we’re with for being wholly their different and imperfect selves. And, in the spirit of all times, to be cooperative in the union with our select mates.
Note: I have not attempted to cover all the aspects of especially the anima and have used “her” only as part of the male’s psyche. There is the theory that anima also belongs to the female psyche and is sometimes even portrayed in real life by certain women. I do not pretend to be anything other than an observer and philosopher of Jung’s fundamental concept, however, that we all have components of the other gender in us and how we respond to those other gender realities is how well we respond to our most devoted and romantic relationships.
By: Mark Pierce