I accidentally skied off of a cliff and into an abyss. It awakened me with a gasp and a racing heart. I found myself sitting up in bed at 3 a.m. with not a chance of falling back to sleep easily. So I laid back and thought about it. Part of me had died in that dream and when I asked myself which part or self had died, the answer presented itself immediately, the Yearning Lover. Specifically, the Yearning Lover had accidentally skied off of a cliff into an abyss. And it was about time.
The Yearning Lover, is part of the Lover Archetype. Archetypes were popularized by the seminal psychologist Carl Jung who was working with concepts Plato wrote about a couple of thousand years ago. Archetypes live on a continuum ranging from superficial to serious. The Yearning Lover is often created in childhood, but it can develop at anytime under the right circumstances. In my case, the Yearning Lover entered my psyche as a child. Parented by a narcissistic father and an emotionally unavailable mother, I was working daily to earn love.
With most every passing year for the first ten years of my life, my mother had another child. There was a lot of work to do, so the opportunities to work for love and affirmation were endless. I was the oldest child and a daughter. I had the temperament and the capacity. I yearned for love and learned from my parents that love was conditional and they decided the conditions. I got to work. The Yearning Lover had entered my psyche, unpacked and settled in for the long run. I was about five.
The Yearning Lover archetype shaped my core expectations of my relationships for decades to come, until finally I recognized it’s presence and the impact it was having on my life.
We all recognize the Yearning Lover, if not in ourselves then, in others. Think of the jilted friend who just can’t get over their lost love; another who obsesses over the latest hot date; or just about any chick flick with Hugh Grant in the lead. The Yearning Lover is a cultural standby.
But don’t think the Yearning Lover is only an hormonally driven archetype of dubious depth. The Yearning Lover can awaken serious compassion and sympathy. The Yearning Lover’s serious side is the widow grieving his or her life’s love; the abused child pining for love; a parent who has lost a child, the empty-nester and anyone feeling left out or left behind, yearning.
The Yearning Lover pines for love. Any kind of love can be on that list and how that list manifests can surprise us. The thirst, desire, wishes, aspirations and other hungers of the heart can be lead by craving, coveting or choosing – consciously or unconsciously. The young Yearning Lover is visually impaired by both nature and nurture. Love is blind. With maturity comes the option of consciousness. Love and clarity intertwine, and love is light. The Yearning Lover isn’t about either weakness or strength, good or evil. Yearning drives the desires we use to shape our lives with every choice. Accountability is necessary for eventual clarity. Until then, we usually are blind to the effects of the Yearning Lover in our lives.
Despite my best efforts to live consciously and embrace clarity, I suspect that I miss a lot. The intersection of hope, aspiration and whatever version of reality I’m in often leave me with better hindsight than here-and-now-sight. It took me a really long time to viscerally understand the Yearning Lover within the rooms of my psyche. I married and divorced two men for a total of 30 years of marriage, had one daughter, worked, played and made a lot of art.
With my divorce from my daughter’s dad, the Yearning Lover began diminishing. Again – I just can’t seem to know what’s really going on at a deeper level when it happens, so I didn’t notice at first. My head was down and I was getting through those very difficult few years. The difference was, I decided that I was done with yearning. Life was too short.
Less than a year before the shit hit the fan in my marriage, a friend died in my arms while I was performing the Heimlich maneuver on him. It was a cold January evening when I joined him and his wife and family for dinner at their home. Within the first few bites, he choked. Within five minutes, he was dead on the floor by the side of their dining room table. I was shocked to my core. As I lowered his body to the ground, a profound knowing filled me. Life was short.
I know, that seems obvious, but it really isn’t – especially as I’m blessed to live in a peaceful place with my basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and clean water met. I get caught up in the day and what I think I “have” to do. I forget that life is short.
The next three or four hours were a blur of sorrow. When the coroner and EMTs were done, I went home. My husband and daughter were out of town and I was alone. I thought of that profound knowing and realized that I needed to stand up for exactly what I needed. No more yearning. If I didn’t get it, oh well. At least I wouldn’t be yearning. With that profound knowing fresh in my mind, I became emboldened.
I thought that my odds were good – I’d talk to my husband and this time I would not be dissuaded or put off. He loved me, I reasoned, it will all work out. After a session of marriage counseling I would imagine that everything would be ok with us. But instead of hoping, pining and wishing he would like and love me again, I changed how I framed my desire to connect with my husband. When I felt myself becoming an emotional supplicant, yearning for love, I would stop and observe myself. I turned my feelings of yearning away from my husband and my marriage and pointed that feeling towards what I could do for myself.
I was still yearning, but at least there was a possibility for fulfillment, I told myself. No more carrot and stick relationships, no more emotional supplication. Not that I really knew what to do for myself to create the feeling of fulfillment, I was at a loss. But I decided to change what I could and trust that as I learned more about myself I would know what to do. Mostly I changed my mental and emotional focus.
The energy I spent trying to earn my husband’s friendship and love slowed to a trickle and then stopped. We had been together about 20 years. I decided to stop working for his love and see what happened. Surely, I thought, deep down he loved me for who I was and would make my happiness a priority. Did I feel more loved by him after my assertions? No. But nothing had changed on his side. He was content with how he felt in our relationship. My side of things had changed.
Though I wondered and worried that I was doing the right thing I stuck with my new level of emotional assertiveness despite his lack of response because of unexpected positive side-effects; I was less tired, less exhausted and an intermittent eye-tick that had plagued me for years was diminishing. So, I stayed strong and turned any yearning into assertiveness. Then my acid-reflux lessened and mostly stopped. I kept at it. Calm assertiveness was my mantra. Don’t repeat or reiterate I would tell myself, gently persevere. Demand parity. My weekly counseling sessions were a crucial reality check. My meditation practice was calming.
Then my husband told me he wanted a divorce. It was just a few days before Christmas. The opportunity to yearn was huge. I backslid here and there. But I kept at it. The next few years where incredibly difficult. Nonetheless, the actions I took to realign my feelings of yearning into feelings of having enough and being enough became a habit. I wasn’t lying to myself with affirmations that were aspirational at best, instead, I re-framed how I defined what I wanted, always looking for the deeper theme. Another unexpected and positive side effect of that habit was the trickle-down effect it was having on the rest of my life.
When I find myself trying “too much”, I back down. Reciprocity is a balancing act and one that is not always easy, but at least I didn’t feel like a constant emotional supplicant anymore in my relationships. I have developed new relationships as older relationships reformed or ended. Yearning is no longer a daily feeling. My eye tick and acid reflux are rare to none these days. Without being overly strict with myself, I use my recognition of yearning as a caution-flag that I might be slipping back into old ways – and how I still deal with aspects of the Yearning Lover still within me.
The Yearning Lover is no longer a dominant archetype in my psyche, retreating to the role of extra in my life. The habits of thought I had worked to hard to develop successfully became habits. Last night’s dream was my unconscious telling me that I was successful. My Yearning Lover accepted it’s passing. My journey continues.