If we care or dare to look at what those who have thought deeply about love have written, we could learn that romance is potentially transformational but never lasting. Research conducted by social scientists suggests that "romance" lasts 18 months to three years. (Isolde's love potion worked for three years before it wore off.) We could learn that sexual union is only one expression of transcendent passion and human connection. More often sex is neither. We could learn that although the chemistry of connection can occur in an instant, the passage of time—along with friendship and respect—is a crucial element of grown-up love, what might be called enlightened love.

"The passion of romance is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies," Johnson writes. "It is a love not of another person, but of ourselves."

On the other hand, "Love is the one power that awakens the ego to the existence of something outside itself, outside its empire, outside its security."

Love, in other words, is transcending the ego to connect with another.

Johnson writes: "The task of salvaging love from the swamps of romance begins with a shift of vision—. 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."

Enlightened love is the connective tissue of existence—a state of being that exists regardless of our opinions of what it ought to be. We live for this kind of love. We work for this kind of?love.

The noted psychoanalyst Ethel Person wrote in Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters: "Love is an act of the imagination." She says, "Most of us are not originators of stories. Most of us pull our ideas of love from the culture, from the poets and artists who bring this form of desire and gratification together into one script, one scenario. Only then does the average individual try to change the imaginary act into a lived life." In other words: Me, Meg Ryan; you, Tom Hanks—even in New Jersey, maybe especially in New Jersey.

So love is a story we tell ourselves. Except the familiar love stories have gone stale. Today Cinderella's sisters hold jobs, and her stepmother has a support group. The prince buys Viagra on the Internet, and the king opens his castle to the public to make ends meet, if he's not trafficking in insider trading. Romance has been degraded into a sexual how-to. We need a new story or a new telling of the old story. We need a Star Wars of the heart—an epic, with heroes and heroines, huge challenges and glorious victories.

Next: "Love is a raft in a swiftly moving river"


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