Thursday, March 22, 2012

M. Scott Peck on Love and "Falling in Love"

It's been too long since part 1 and part 2 of my thoughts on M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. His take on love is just fascinating. How does a sort of mystical secular psychologist evaluate love and infatuation? He distinctly draws a line between real love and "falling in love".
Two problems are immediately apparent [with falling in love]. The first is that the experience of falling in love is ... consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated. The second problem is that the experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough. This is not to say we invariably cease loving the person with whom we fell in love. But it is to say that the feeling of ecstatic lovingness that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes.
If falling in love is not love, then what is it other than the temporary and partial collapse of ego boundaries? I do not know.

I'm 100% with him that real love is hand in hand with commitment. What was really different to read were his theories on "falling in love" and ego boundaries.
By the time of mid-adolescence, young people know that they are individuals, confined to the boundaries of their flesh and the limits of their power, each one a relatively frail and impotent organism, existing only by cooperation within a group of fellow organisms called society. Within this group they are not particularly distinguished, yet they are isolated from others by their individual identities, boundaries, and limits. It is lonely behind these boundaries....
Most of us feel our loneliness to be painful and yearn to escape from behind the walls of our individual identities to a condition in which we can be more unified with the world outside of ourselves. The experience of falling in love allows us this escape - temporarily. The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual's ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself into the beloved, and the dramatic surcease of loneliness accompanying this collapse of ego boundaries is experienced by most of us as ecstatic. We and our beloved are one! Loneliness is no more!
I think this is a pretty accurate description, at least in my personal experience. It makes you feel as though you are no longer bound by the limits of your individual identity. It's euphoric. It has little to do with the actual relationship or even necessarily the person.
In some respects (but certainly not in all) the act of falling in love is an act of regression.
One by one, gradually or suddenly, the ego boundaries snap back into place; gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving. ...
I love that Peck here describes falling out of love not as a point of hopelessness but rather as the beginning of the opportunity to develop real love.

What's real love? Peck's definition is limited, but again I'm fascinated to hear some of these things come out of the mouth of a secular psychologist in an age of narcissism. In describing why falling in love is not real love, he shows what he thinks characterizes real love.
Falling in love is not real love because:
1. Falling in love is not an act of the will. It is not a conscious choice. We can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, but we cannot choose the experience itself.
2. Falling in love is not an extension of one's limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them. Lazy and undisciplined individuals are as likely to fall in love as energetic and dedicated ones. Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.Falling in love is not.
3. Falling in love has little to do with purposely nurturing one's spiritual development. If we have any purpose when we fall in love it is to terminate our own loneliness.
It all gets at the idea that falling in love is a false sense of relational intimacy, and it will pass. Mistaking falling in love with real love actually prevents real love from developing, because you are constantly seeking for the emotional connection rather than building the foundation of love upon which the emotional connection with grow and thrive.


Jaimie said...

"[Falling in love] has little to do with the actual relationship or even necessarily the person."

Yeah, that's why I experienced that whole euphoria when I started writing. It had 100% to do with the breaking down of my own ego boundaries. Really interesting stuff.

mcmemorykeeper said...

Wow...powerful. Thanks, seester!

Isaac said...

I appreciate seeing the most beautiful and mysterious divine seed planted within humanity being dissected dispassionately with such analytic exactitude. Thanks.