“Are you sure you really want to do this?”
There it was, lying on the “giveaway table” at the gym. A book on the “magical Other” just as the Supreme Court was about to take up the issue of gay marriage. Guidance for my next post.
Even before reading the book, I assumed that the magical Other is the beloved, the fascinating individual imaginatively endowed with the attributes necessary to inspire lifelong devotion. That is increasingly rare in our culture, so as I walked away with my book, I wondered: Will gay couples be more successful in finding the magical Other? Could the magical Other be the magical Same?
As I tucked in to read this fascinating book, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other, by James Hollis, Ph.D., I soon realized that it was not about love or marriage necessarily but about relationship. The author’s insights derive from decades of counseling as a Jungian analyst. Of course you have to take into account the fact that he was working with individuals whose relationships were failing. Whether those that succeed have the opposite profile is not addressed.
So what does this book have to do with gay marriage? It was written in 1998 when life seemed simpler, but it drives right to the heart of the unrealistic expectations that may scuttle any romantic relationship, including gay. Hollis’s main point is that people often seek through love to return “home.” That signifies our history, the original relationships that failed the child in some way. The hope would be to correct that deficit through the Other. That mythical individual would probably be described as protective, trustworthy, supportive, and understanding.
Would this be more likely with an individual of the same sex? The couple would have more in common just because of their shared physiology. Then they would also share a very special understanding of what it is like to be a different kind of Other within conservative society. At the outset, they might have more in common than heterosexual lovers.
But Hollis’s focus is really on our psychic history, our experience of the family into which we were born. For the gay individual, one might assume exceptional deficit in nurturing and acceptance. However, it would be impossible for another person to free him or her from such psychic history. After all, the Other also has issues. The failure of each person to make the other whole in this way is why so many relationships of every ilk fail.
So what’s the solution? Hollis points out that we cannot ask another person to serve as the perfect parent or to do for us what we ought to be doing for ourselves. We cannot ask the other person to save us from the need to individuate. “If I am expecting the Other to spare me the rigor and terror of living my own journey,” Hollis writes, “then I have abdicated from the chief task and most worthy reason for my incarnation on this earth.”
The bar is thus set very high. We are to abandon the idea of “going home.” Instead “We are asked from birth to death to become as fully as possible that which we are capable of becoming.”
Only then, it would seem, is the ideal relationship possible. This is one in which each individual is freestanding and perfectly comfortable with the “otherness of the Other.” Trust, commitment, and delight in companionship are possible at the same time that separateness rules. Here Hollis quotes Czech poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
It is now clear that the magical Same, the concept I started with, does not work. The magical Other must remain so.
In the final analysis, Hollis ends up describing a relationship that can be both the source and the fruit of enormous personal growth. However, the necessary separateness seems antithetical to the concept of marriage. It is a tie that does bind, that restricts in some cases, requires sacrifice in others, and imposes roles and responsibilities that are not always comfortable.
As I put the book away, I found myself addressing the gay mind yearning for marriage: “Are you sure you really want to do this? Society now largely accepts your relationship, and you will sacrifice an enviable freedom through marriage. Now you may become just like us.”