Labyrinth of Desire

Labyrinth of Desire

I’ve been doing some research for the book proposal I have been writing (more on that later) and have come across a book called Labyrinth of Desire: Women, Passion and Romantic Obsession by Rosemary Sullivan. In it she investigates the reason we love the way we do. She uses a lot of literary references, which, actually is my only criticism on the book, because I find I want more real life ones (hence the book proposal). But some of her ideas are interesting.

“Falling in love will usually occur at a time of transition. We may not be conscious of it, but something has ended so something new must begin. We are young and ready to begin our lives, or marriages fall apart. Romantic obsession comes when we need to fill an emptiness, a sense of radical insufficiency within.”

To me, this is the essence of the pitfall of love after loss. We are at a dramatic point of transition, trying to fill a void, an emptiness within ourselves, trying, through the mirror of another to find ourselves again.

I’ve often heard/read that our relationships are reflections of ourselves, but for some reason it has never quite made sense to me. I think it was this sentence in Labyrinth that struck me:
“The lover is a vicarious route to some essential part of herself that she does not yet fully recognize of understand. Love is a necessary obession. But is it another we are searching for, or the missing half of ourselves?”

It got me thinking to the various men in my life and what was lacking in me or what I was seeking in them that attracted me to them and I realized that our common bond was always loss. It hit me square between the eyes. Shit. I hate it when things are so damned obvious.

The sucker punch is when I realize that this was even true in my last relationship, and so loss continues to be what I subconsciously seek in a partner. I seek a reflection of my own loneliness. Which totally sucks. I thought I was in a healthy place, able to seek healthy relationships.

I guess I should be happy to at least recognize that this has become a trend. I suspect its a common trend among those of us experiencing loss. We seek others who will reflect that loss back in some way. It’s hard at my age to find people unaffected by loss, so perhaps the whole thing is just one big coincidence, but my gut tells me there is some kernel of truth to the whole mirror idea.

Another powerful idea that this book has provided me, is this:

“For a woman, complete candor in a man is erotic… Women will say that when falling in love, men suddenly open up, and are able to be vulnerable. A man will often unconsciously seduce a woman with the narrative of his own loneliness. And a young woman often misconstrues these confessions as an expression of sensitivity. His willingness to tell her of his loneliness is a gift. She feels unique in her capacity to understand him.”

I wonder if this is true? Are women really suckers for a good sob story? I think what struck me was the sense of special-ness that I know I have sometimes felt within a relationship, as if I, and I alone had been given the keys to a secret kingdom. There is no doubt there was an allure to this.

But here is the real kicker:

“Perhaps all romantic love is the search for a defense against emptiness. And perhaps the more desperate the search, the more obsessive the love. To fear being alone is natural. We need intimates, not least to help us discover ourselves… It’s love that brings us, if only briefly, a sense of being not separate, of being matched, mirrored, met. It is a returning to what life should have been.”

And there it is, the loss thing again. “Returning to what life should have been.”

OK, so we have self-knowledge. Now what?

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  1. Deb November 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    What transition were you going through when you met Aaron? Was he your first love?

    1. Abigail - Site Author November 3, 2010 at 7:09 pm

      It took a while for us to actually fall for one another. I was transitioning from University student to regular person when I first met him and then when things got serious I went to Australia for six months. So that was a transition too. When I got back we moved in together. So all along we experienced transition, most of it having to do with growing up. We kind of grew up together. When you fall in love at a young age, the transitions are natural ones (getting married, having kids), later life, they become much harder (divorce, death of a spouse or child) and put different stresses onto a relationship.

  2. annie November 4, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Interesting theory. For me love has always been about finding someone with whom I can be completely me without fear. Acceptance is all. Loneliness has never been my Achilles heel. The only relationships that have worked in my life were with the husbands (late/current) and the reason is that they loved who I really am and encouraged me to be me – never tried to change me, wanted me to pursue things that I was passionate about. Considering how disappointing most of my dating life was prior to meeting my late husband when I was 34, I am still amazed that I had the opportunity to be with him and then met another man who offered me the same type of love and acceptance. I went through a long phase of trying to mold myself to fit rather than opening my eyes to real possibilities. I don’t know that everyone acts out of a fear of loss/loneliness, but I think that many of us who aren’t in relationships and want to be worry that if they don’t compromise, they won’t ever have a relationship.

    1. Abigail - Site Author November 4, 2010 at 10:35 am

      Annie, thanks for your comment. You have been blessed with two wonderful men. I guess what I found interesting about the book were the relationship traps we can find ourselves in as a result of loneliness (a by-product of our losses). Brain chemicals induced during sexual intimacy can dupe us into feeling something akin to love, and can cause us to turn a blind eye to things, thus making compromises we wouldn’t normally make in a relationship. I think for people who are grieving a loss it’s helpful to be aware of the dangers of so called “romantic love”.

    2. txmomx6 November 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

      I agree … it’s good to know so that we can be aware and really try to think through why we’re in a relationship and if we’re “using it” as almost a way to “medicate” ourselves out of loneliness.
      Also, have totally never heard of that chemical reaction to sexual intimacy. I imagine it must be a “woman thing”?
      Thanks so much for posting this, Abigail.

  3. Jessica November 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    WOW! Don’t know how much I like this. Purely because of how true it seems to be 🙂

    Good words of warning and advice. But it does beg the question – so what? What does one do about it other than agree to be complacent with loneliness until you aren’t lonely anymore? THEN you can have a relationship? – thats not fun or timely!

    1. Abigail - Site Author November 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

      I don’t think we have to be complacent with loneliness, but we do have to look for ways to enjoy our own company and not put too much credence into having another person fill what is missing within us. I do think it’s possible for a lonely person to have a healthy relationship, as long as that person stays alert to the fact that they are vulnerable to some pretty magical thinking when in the throes of grief. It’s prudent to stay aware so that one doesn’t fall into a trap of a counterfeit form of love.

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