The End of Love. 2

A sweet little love song. 
And this really is a love song, unlike most of the others which are actually infatuation songs. 
One of my favourite books, John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman is set in Victorian England and is about a successful and established young man, Charles Smithson. Charles is engaged to Ernestina but becomes curious about a woman named Sarah Woodruff, reputedly the abandoned lover of a French naval officer. Charles has some contact with Sarah and soon realises he is in love with her. On a trip to settle some private business, Charles decides to visit Sarah. At this point the author intervenes in the story and offers the reader the first of three possible endings. 
1. Charles decides not to visit Sarah after all, returns to his home in Lyme Regis, marries his fiancee and lives a dull and unsettled life. 
 The reader is invited to read on and an alternative story develops. Charles visits Sarah and they have an impetuous sexual encounter. Charles returns home to end his engagement and join Sarah but promptly loses contact with her. He spends years seeking her. And then the author intervenes again and offers two more possible endings:
2. Charles finally tracks Sarah down and they have a poignant, quietly joyous reunion in which he meets the child of their former encounter. A difficult  but satisfying life lies ahead of them.
3. Charles meets Sarah and their meeting is sour. After a brief conversation in which he realises that his feelings are unreciprocated, and groundless,  Charles departs to face a bleak and uncertain future.  
 With the different endings the same events are given a different meaning. So, in ending 1 Charles feelings are revealed as a passing, inconsequential infatuation arising from his nervousness about his impending marriage. In ending 2 those same feelings are revealed as a true and noble love; a soul relationship which triumphs over all the hardships Charles has endured in their pursuit. In ending 3 his feelings are shown to be a kind of insanity: an obsession which has destroyed him. 

John Fowles is making a profound and powerful statement. All relationships end and the ending gives meaning to everything that went before it. All the events of any story - of any relationship - are prolegomena to the revelation of the true state of things which the ending reveals. The ending is what all that other stuff was leading to. It's not that the ending of a relationship changes anything but rather that the ending reveals what was there all along. 

We are all ambiguous creatures and our relationships are uneasy composites  of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, selfish and selfless components. We simultaneously show love to the other and use them to satisfy our conscious or unconscious needs. Over time however the deepest strongest forces in the relationship reveal themselves and these are seen most starkly at the relationship's end. 

Where has this relationship left us? What has it done to us? Has this relationship proven, in its final revelation and analysis,  to be one in which we were nurtured and encouraged and grown? Or is it one in which we have been restricted and lessened and damaged? Have we left it bigger and more whole? Or have we left it broken and restricted? Has it opened doors for us or closed them? An ending may be fraught. In the ending most strong unions, by whatever means, there will be an overloading of grief , which is the process by which we learn to accommodate ourselves to the loss of the beloved other and learn to live without them. But even in the sometimes overwhelming force of grief we still recognise the strengthening and empowering contribution with which the beloved  has gifted us. Or perhaps the gall of grief is made all the more bitter by the ending of our illusions about what it was that we were actually being used for.



Alden Smith said…
The Romantic/Eros and the Agape Love divide is an interesting one (Although in a sense they are both inextricably interwove). The relationship between the two is dealt masterfully in the 'Tristan and Iseult' Myth. An equally masterful and accessible analysis is provided in a book by Robert A Johnson called 'WE - Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love'. It provides insight and direction for those who have been formed in the crucible.
Kelvin Wright said…
The myth is about Tristan attachment to two women neither of whom in the end is satisfactory and both of whom are compelling but for different reasons. That is the story is about Tristan drive to satisfy his own needs. It is NOT about his recognition of the two women he is compelled to pursue and even less about his extending himself for their wholeness. That is, while it is a powerful portrayal of the process of being in love it is not about love at all.
Alden Smith said…
The myth is about Tristans Romantic Love which is a projection of his own desires and needs onto another - which in the end collapses under the weight of the impossibility of another being able to carry that weight (and the impossibility of of Tristan maintaining the projection). The 'solution' (or the reality of TRUE Love) is to love in the Agape sense which is a love where one extends ones self for the other. To love the other unconditionally carries with it the ground upon which the wholeness of the other can develop.

That is the way I read the myth - is there something here that I have missed?
Alden Smith said…
.... also, with respect, I disagree with your assessment that the myth is about Tristans "attachment to two women neither of of whom in the end is satisfactory...etc ".

Myths, deal in symbols and metaphors and contain an important universal message. My interpretation is that the myth is about two ways of loving. The woman Tristan loves (Isuelt) can be loved in two ways, either as a psychological projection of his needs and desires (and/or as a projection of aspects of his higher self) OR she can be loved in the way of 'True Love' defined by Scott Pecks as "extending oneself for the good of the other.. seeking the wholeness of the other." The myth (in my opinion) points to the fact that the way of Agape in the end is the most sustainable way of loving and the way of growth for both the individuals involved - it is a giving and a gifting out of a sacred center which ultimately facilitates the growth and 'Individuation' of both people. Reciprocated Agape love in terms of personal relationships requires that both people withdraw their respective projections. A personal relationship begun with Romantic Love only survives long term if the demands and reality of Agape love is understood and lived. In the myth Tristan is the 'Universal man OR woman' and the object of his love i.e. Isuelt is a symbol of two differing ways of loving.