Valentine’s Day: The perfect time to pick your relationship apart
It seems – anecdotally at least – that there is something to Freud’s assertion of compensating traits
One of Freud’s theories was the notion that we fall in love with people who are a mirror image of our ideal version of ourselves
I have been reading a lot of Freud lately. This isn’t necessarily happening entirely of my own free will (it is an unfortunate symptom of some work I am doing), but it isn’t exactly coerced either. As an activity, reading Freud comes with its hazards. Strange dreams, for one thing. A graphic nightmare in which you believe yourself to be expanding, only to realise you are actually pregnant, and subsequently give birth to a live adult bat, can really only occur after eight to 10 uninterrupted hours alone with Sigmund.
Freud made what can safely be considered (and generally is considered by modern psychology) the error of over-sexualising things. Not in the usual way people misinterpret Freud, snorting that a Freudian slip is “saying one thing and meaning your mother”. Rather, his concept of libido, which refers to far more than just sexual appetite, is the incentivising force which compels us to maintain our own existence. This notion seems inherently true of almost every lanky, shook-looking teenage boy who has just stumbled into adolescence, but not necessarily for the rest of us.
One of his theories on love –because Freud never just had the one outlook on anything – oriented around the concept of narcissism; was the notion that we fall in love with people who are a mirror image of our ideal version of ourselves. Falling in love in this way is an act of self-completion. The other person compensates for those failings which have always prevented us from actualising ourselves fully. This leaves us free to idealise that person, and feel a more fulfilled version of ourselves in their presence. With them, you are simply. . . more.
It is now pertinent to point out that feelings are in no way reflective of the reality taking place outside the context of your love-addled brain, and that vast swathes of Freudian theory are spectacular bilge, at least when it comes to their accuracy – you can’t fault Freud in the flair department and it would be pointless to try. As he strongly advised his readers not to do without the help of a professional, I took this theory on love and looked at my own relationship through its lens. What, after all, is Valentine’s Day for, if not uncharitably picking your relationship apart in the search for neuroses you have already decided are certainly there?
Relationships are difficult. The important thing to remember is that you should never, ever read Freud
I live with a large, kindly Englishman whose background uncannily mirrors my own. Raised by a determined single mother, no morally upstanding man around to learn about “manning” from, not much money in the house, found himself pursuing a career in academia. We met online a few years ago when he had decided he wanted to meet someone he could be himself with, and I realised that I had spent five straight years in a library and forgotten how to talk to other humans.
It seems – anecdotally at least – that there is something to Freud’s assertion of compensating traits. I cannot bear to do the grocery shop (and always forget important things anyway), so he does it. He can’t handle the cat’s business, and, being without hands, neither can the cat, so I do it. I hate awkward phone calls to the electricity company, and he makes them into a sort of delicate art performance piece, remaining politely and stubbornly on the phone until the person on the other end gets so sick of him that they offer him a refund for services we didn’t even buy. He is resilient, and completely immune to social awkwardness. I have a strong stomach for the aroma of cat faeces, and can bake (I always wash my hands if the one follows the other, don’t worry).
With compensation, we run the risk of growing complacent in relationships, and maybe even co-dependent, as opposed to inter-dependent. Never calling Virgin about broken broadband is a pretty sweet deal for me. I would tolerate much to keep things that way. There is a special knack to remembering to appreciate someone to whom you are so accustomed that they feel as much your home as a human being. The knack appears to be copping yourself on when you hurt them by forgetting. Relationships are difficult. The important thing to remember is that you should never, ever read Freud.