Johnson uses the story of Tristan and Isault (the precursor to Romeo and Juliet) to examine and illustrate the role that romantic love plays in our society. Using a Jungian perspective, he asserts that the phenomenon of romantic love has taken the place of religion in modern society as a place where we look for meaning and completeness; it’s something that we strive for and exalt. Romantic love is the stuff of poetry and myth; it’s the projection of our own idealizations on our partner, the “butterflies in the stomach.”
By contrast, human love is the everyday. It’s not glamorous and sparkling; it’s the “we’re in this together, paying the bills, getting the kids to school” quotidian kind of love. It’s the partnership, the seeing the other as a human being, flaws and all, and loving them as they truly are. It’s the removal of idealizations, expectations, and demands for transcendence that we place upon another human being in the name of “being in love.”
If the idea of human love strikes you as dull by comparison, there’s no need to banish romantic love. You can put it in its place by turning it inward. Take the idealizations that you’ve placed on your partner, and incorporate them as your own “inner ideal.” Doing so enriches your own inner world, and frees you to love your partner in a realistic, human way. Here’s how Johnson distinguishes it:
“But one of the great needs of modern people is to learn the difference between human love as a basis for relationship, and romantic love as an inner ideal, a path to the inner world. Love does not suffer from being freed from the belief systems of romantic love. Love’s status will only improve as love is distinguished from romance.”
Certainly this brief overview only touches the surface of the concepts presented in this book. If this piques your interest enough to learn how your relationships can flourish under this perspective, I encourage you to explore the book. If you have thoughts on human vs. romantic love, please comment below.