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First, a Self, Then a Possibility

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When a man and a woman encounter each other in romantic love they seek union, fusion, and experience of intimate contact. Yet, they come to each other from a context of aloneness.

To understand romantic love we must realise and accept this point. We must grasp that aloneness is the universal condition of us all.

 

In the beginning

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In the beginning we are alone but do not yet know it. A new-born infant does not differentiate between self and non-self; there is no real awareness of separateness from the world.  Discovering the boundaries – discovering where self ends and the external world begins, comes later. It is one of the foremost tasks of infancy. 

The second and overlapping part of this process is a growing awareness of self. The acquiring of the basic motor and cognitive skills that give a sense of physical and personal identity. These represent the foundation of a child’s autonomy.

Separation and self- awareness denote the child’s beginnings as an adult human being. As we grow this sense of self will continue to grow as well. Indeed these processes continue throughout our lives. 

 

Islands of Consciousness

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Breathing is not a ‘social act.’ Neither is thinking. Of course we interact and learn from others. We speak a common language and express our thoughts. Describe our fantasies and communicate our feelings; and we influence and affect one another. But consciousness by its nature is private. 

We are each of us, in the last analysis, islands of consciousness – and that is the root of our aloneness.

We can try to deny the fact of our ultimate aloneness, but it will continue to haunt us.  

To be alive is to be an individual. To be an individual who is to experience a unique perspective on the world, at least in some respects. And to be an individual who is not only conscious but self-conscious is to encounter, if only for brief moment, if only in the privacy of one’s own mind, the unalterable facts of one’s aloneness.

 

Self Responsibility

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Aloneness entails self-responsibility. No one can think for us, no one can feel for us, no one can live our life for us, and no one can give meaning to our existence except ourselves. To most people, this fact is terrifying. It may be the most resisted fact of their being.

It learning to deal with our aloneness, we take more responsibility for our existence and well-being. We learn to express more of who we are through our work and through our relationships. These represent lifelong tasks.

 

Universe

Chico en la albufera de espaldas

Of course, there are a thousand respects in which we are not alone, none of which stands in contradiction to the above. As human beings, we are linked to all other members of the human community. As living beings we are linked to all other forms of life. And as inhabitants of the universe, we are linked to everything that exists.

We stand with an endless network of relationships.

But within those relationships, within the universe we are each of us a single point of consciousness. A unique event, a private, unrepeatable world.

If we do not understand this, we cannot understand some of our most enrapturing experiences. And without understanding our aloneness we cannot understand love. Without an “I” who loves, what is the meaning of love?

 

Personal identity

Relationship difficulties

A romantic-love relationship can nourish us; it cannot become a substitute for personal identity. When we attempt to deny these truths, it is our relationships that we corrupt. By dependency, by exploitation, by domination, by subservience, by our own unacknowledged terror.

First – a self. Then, a possibility.

The joy of one self-encountering another.

 

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This essay draws on the work of Nathaniel Branden and his book The Psychology Of Romantic Love: Romantic Love in an Anti-Romantic Age. To learn more click here.


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