A Critical Transition
Cupid’s desire to remain unseen by his beloved tells us that, while romantic love eases separateness and loneliness, it also aggravates fears of exposure, rejection, and vulnerability. To limit the expression of love to physical passion suggests that romantic love cannot exist in a light that exposes the true, less-than-perfect self to the other. The wish to shield or keep the “true” self hidden from the other instead leads to a loss of self and a relationship tainted by mistrust and anxiety. Ultimately, the feeling of ecstatic love fades and there is an awakening to the reality that the lovers are, once again, separate people.
In concrete terms, he wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to spend Christmas with her family, he doesn’t. He wants a new car; she wants a house. She wants to talk about her feelings; he wants to watch the football game. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their own hearts, realize that their beloved has and will continue to have individual opinions, tastes, prejudices, and shortcomings. Gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love and either find a way to end the relationship, remain with the other with a secret hope that ecstatic love will return, or begin taking steps to build a new relationship defined by mature love.
Attaining Mature Love
It is through the interactions between Venus and Psyche that we identify the tasks that lead to mature love. Venus knew that Psyche began her search for Cupid because she was in love, not with Cupid, but with idealized romantic love. Growth for Psyche was the awakening to all of life — from the gods and goddesses of the heavens to the smallest creatures on earth — and the consciousness of an interdependence among all of these elements. Maturity requires the ability and will to sort through the seeds of family beliefs, values, and principles so that childhood myths and illusions about relationships can be discarded.
To love is to extend ourselves beyond our fear of being vulnerable to seek the good we each desire within ourselves and in the other. To have our love endure, there is a need to develop the strength and resources to survive times of famine. To love another is to relinquish the hope that the other will be our idealized beloved; therefore, mature love rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of lost illusions.
Mature love began for Cupid when he resolved his ambivalence about leaving his childhood home. Legend also tells us that when Venus tired of Cupid’s immaturity, she released him from his only-child status through the birth of his brother, Anteros, the god of reciprocal love. Therefore, love that lasts requires an acknowledgement that adult relationships are independent of those we have with parents, children, and friends. Mature love does not grow from a posture of dependency and physical appearances; it builds upon the growing autonomy of each so that one will survive the death of the other. To love another is to relinquish the intention to change the beloved. Mature love arises from the death of belief in one’s own god-like powers as it flies towards the future on autonomous wings.
What can the story of Cupid and Psyche tell us about how to live “happily ever after”? Their story demonstrates that romantic love begins with idealized passions and physical attraction. And yet, it is only through the commitment of each lover to a process of integrating the internal awareness of love and soul individually that a mature union can emerge between them. It is mature love that provides children with a model by which to develop future relationships. Therefore, it is mature love that lives happily ever after — in the generations yet to come
Happy Valentine’s Day