The Fallacy of Romance

This week’s recommendation!

Yet another book by Tom Robbins – Still Life with Woodpacker.

On the fourth day, she decided to think, in an organized manner, about the problem of romance. “When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled; we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on- series polygamy- until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter. Hey, that’s pretty good. If I had pencil and paper, I’d write that down.” Alas, she had no pencil, while the roll of paper that sat by the chamber pot was destined for a different end.

Next, she thought, “When two people meet and fall in love, there’s a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then. We tend to feed on that gratuitous magic without striving to make any more. One day we wake up and find that the magic is gone. We hustle to get it back, but by then it’s usually too late, we’ve used it up. What we have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start. It’s hard work, especially when it seems superfluous or redundant, but if we can remember to do it, we greatly improve our chances of making love stay.” She was unsure if that idea was profound or trite. She was only sure that it mattered.

Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker, pp. 157-158

lovewho knows how to make love stay?

Who knows how to make love stay?
Help before it gets away.
That’s the question of the day.
Who knows how to make love stay?

From “Slugcology” and “Music for the Hard of Thinking”
Doug and the Slugs

The famous Canadian band Doug and the Slugs asked the same musical question that is posed throughout Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker. What, exactly, is up with love? With romance? And how, oh how, do we get love to “stay?”

The question itself comes from an essential misinterpretation regarding the meaning and purpose of life.

One answer to the “Meaning Question” is: We are driven by a biological imperative to “fall in love,” and the biological purpose of falling in love is reproduction of our DNA, ala Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. In a sense, the initial flush of falling in love is akin to an endorphin rush, and as we know, endorphin is the heroin of hormones. No wonder we feel so flushed and full of beans when we meet someone new.

Although some people would argue that the biological imperative is “all” that life is about, we at The Phoenix Centre look at things differently. It’s likely why I like Tom Robbins so much. In each of his books, and in a multitude of different ways, he returns to the same theme – which is our answer to the “Meaning Question” –

“self-development requires self-responsibility.”

Which is the point in the first part of today’s quote. Many people who come in for relationship counselling admit to having pretty much no idea as to why they are in the relationship they are in. They talk about what Robbins, above, calls “magic” – the sappy, simplistic blast of hormonal energy that makes knees weak, stomachs queasy and brains to operate on half cylinders.

I want to eliminate the biological imperative from this equation, not because I find it unimportant, but because that’s what everyone does anyway. People almost never come in for counselling complaining that their relationship is on the rocks because of reproductive incompatibility. They are considering ending the relationship because the magic died, and they couldn’t get love “to stay.”

In other words, relationships end for

That, of course, is our point around here, week by week. A relationship is simply one more arena where we play the only game we ever play – figuring ourselves out. Thus, it is impossible to figure yourself out through a relationship. Or, as Robbins put it:

…we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.

Robbins uses the word fulfillment and completion interchangeably, while we might say “self-development” or “self-knowing.” My sense is that most people mistakenly enter relationships to overcompensate for their upbringing or to avoid dealing with their resistance to self-discipline.

In other words, it’s not unusual for people to latch on to people to try to work through dysfunctional relationships with their parents. Or, because people sense what a difficult discipline “getting over themselves” entails, they avoid dealing with their issues, neediness and incompleteness by drafting another person to fill the gap. The intent is to fill in the blanks so that, between two people there is one whole person. Thus the expression, “(S)he makes me feel complete.”

As Robbins indicates, love leaves, and the magic dies at approximately the moment that the first of the two people realize that the other has failed at the task of making them feel better about themselves. Then the, “How dare (s)he! Doesn’t (s)he know how much energy I’ve put into this relationship?” Rough translation: “I’ve wasted years! Now I have to go out and find someone else to make me better, or make it better for me.”

If I play this out in another way, in a self-responsible way, then, from the get-go, I won’t be looking to “be taken care of” or “to be understood” or “to be loved the way I should have been when I was growing up.” I will have gotten over the need to look outside of myself for someone to blame, or for someone to rescue me. I will be quite willing to do whatever I have to do to know myself and be responsible for myself. And I will be responsible for “keeping the magic alive” because I’m the only one who can – I’m the only one who can keep it alive for me.

Robbins: “work like hell”, “it’s hard work.” Indeed. Much easier to look outside and to sigh and wonder when “it’s all going to magically work out.”

Too bad easy doesn’t happen and magic isn’t.

The Phoenix Centre for Creative Living - © 2019