Guest Post by Robert Johnson excerpts taken from We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love.
The task of salvaging love from the swamps of romance begins with a shift of vision toward the inside: we have to wake up to the inner world; we have to learn how to live the “love of self” as an inner experience. But then it is time to redirect our gaze outward again, toward physical people, and the relationships we make with them-we must learn the principles of “human” love.
Many years ago, a wise friend gave me a name for human love. She called it “stirring-the-oatmeal” love. She was right: Within this phrase, if we will humble ourselves enough to look, is the very essence of what human love is, and it shows us the principal differences between human love and romance.
Stirring oatmeal is a humble act-not exciting or thrilling. But it symbolizes a relatedness that brings love down to earth. It represents a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night. To “stir the oatmeal” means to find the relatedness, the value, even the beauty, in simple and ordinary things, not to eternally demand a cosmic drama, an entertainment, or an extraordinary intensity in everything. Like the rice hulling of the Zen monks, the spinning wheel of Gandhi, the tent-making of Saint Paul, it represents the discovery of the sacred in the midst of the human and the ordinary.
Carl Jung once said that feeling is a matter of the small. And in human love, we can see that this is true. The real relatedness between two people is experienced in the small tasks they do together: the quiet conversation when the day’s upheavals are at rest, the soft word of understanding, the daily companionship, the encouragement offered in a difficult moment, the small gift when least expected, the spontaneous gesture of love.
When a couple are genuinely related to each other, they are willing to enter into the whole spectrum of human life together. They transform even the unexciting, difficult, and mundane things into a joyful and fulfilling component of life. By contrast, romantic love can only last so long as a couple are “high” on one another, so long as the money lasts and the entertainments are exciting. “Stirring the oatmeal” means that two people take their love off the airy level of exciting fantasy and convert it into earthy, practical immediacy.
Love is content to do many things that ego is bored with. Love is willing to work with the other person’s moods and unreasonableness. Love is willing to fix breakfast and balance the checkbook. Love is willing to do these “oatmeal” things of life because it is related to a person, not a projection.
We can learn that human relationship is inseparable from friendship and commitment. We can learn that the essence of love is not to use the other to make us happy but to serve and affirm the one we love. And we can discover, to our surprise, that what we have needed more than anything was not so much to be loved, as to love.