Falling in love is intoxicating. But it is also dangerous. It is no accident that we say we “fall” in love, because in this process we can easily lose our rationality and our common sense.
In Jungian psychology we find a potent explanation of this process. In the unconscious of each man lies an anima, literally “soul”. This anima is feminine in nature, and is composed of all the elements of oneself that a man is trained to see as feminine, elements that don’t fit a masculine role. These elements tend to coalesce around the figure of an unknown woman, often a very powerful and elemental figure, which appears with regularity in a man’s dreams. The story for a woman is the same in reverse. She has a masculine unconscious element called the animus, also appearing in dreams as an unknown male figure.
When we fall in love (in the heterosexual example) a man projects his anima onto the woman in question. He sees in her his own soul, all the elements missing from his own conscious self. Likewise, she projects her animus onto him. The process isn’t completely arbitrary, and the person we fall in love with must to some be a suitable target for the projection, but at the same time, no flesh and blood human being can live up to this projection fully. Ultimately, we discover that our wonderful lover has feet of clay.
It is precisely at this point that the real soul work of conscious relating begins. Now that we see the other person clearly, can we love him, can we love her, as this person really is? The excitement of infatuation must be converted into something quieter, more stable and reassuring. If we can’t turn that corner, the relationship may end, and we are doomed to continue the search.
The ancient Greeks and Romans understood that Love is a divine power. It is Venus and Aphrodite, it is Eros, and even the mischievous but nonetheless dangerous Cupid. Bringing all the clear sight and mindfulness we can to the process, we are still in a dangerous situation, and will remain so, unless we can learn to love the real person and not the projection.