We all know the story of Narcissus, various versions of which were told by different Greek and Latin authors. The legend goes that Narcissus, while bending down to drink from a spring of water, sees his own reflection in the water and falls in love with it. The story ends in some versions with Narcissus drowning in the pool trying to reach himself. The genius of Oscar Wilde, however, rewrites the ending in a very interesting way:
“When Narcissus died, the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.
“And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, ‘We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.’
“‘But was Narcissus beautiful?’ said the pool.
“’Who should know that better than you?’ answered the Oreads. ‘Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.’
“And the pool answered, ‘But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.’”
Narcissism can become a phenomenon affecting both people in a relationship. The other person becomes just a mirror for my ego. The narcissist here is not focused directly on himself, but more deviously seeks out the other to find himself in them. The other person becomes the excuse and the means to love only oneself.
For this reason, my invitation for the second step towards happiness as a couple (see the first step in my previous article) is this: “Dare to go beyond yourself.” Overcome narcissism. The other person isn’t a mirror of your cravings, but is your ally towards creating an “us” that leads each one of you towards a goal that surpasses you and fulfills you. True love requires accepting the adventure (and misfortune) of otherness.
The crystallization of love
Speaking of otherness, who among us hasn’t experienced, while falling in love, a kind of surreal mutual understanding? The other person thinks just like I do at the same time as I do. It seems we don’t even need to talk to each other in order to be in agreement. The attention we pay to each other certainly contributes to this, but to a great extent, in this incredible harmony there’s much of what Stendhal calls “crystallization.”
What does this mean? Let’s listen to Stendhal himself:
“In the salt mines, nearing the end of the winter season, the miners will throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later, through the effects of the waters saturated with salt which soak the bough and then let it dry as they recede, the miners find it covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The tiniest twigs no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw are encrusted with an infinity of little crystals scintillating and dazzling. The original little bough is no longer recognizable.”
So it happens in a heart struck by Cupid’s arrows. This is the phase crystallization where “we are pleased to adorn with a thousand perfections” the person who has stolen our heart. The mind is so active and full of adrenaline that it “draws from all that it sees itself the discovery of new perfections in the beloved.”
In this experience, it seems like I am attentive to—indeed, absorbed by—the other, but not infrequently, what’s happening is that I’m actually absorbed in my projection of myself. The focus is on me and my desire, and the other person is nothing more than an accessory, an excuse. Now, the greater the illusion, the greater the disappointment will be. Consequently, we must make two complementary efforts, which I suggest to you as a friendly task.
The first effort is something you need to do on your own. Think realistically—I know it’s not easy, because Cupid will blind you if you’re newly in love—about who the other person is, accepting their true otherness and not what you want them to be.
The second thing, especially if you have been together for a long time, is to make an initial act of forgiveness towards the other person. I’m convinced that before forgiving the other person’s deeds and misdeeds, one must forgive their very otherness!
Before you fall in love, get married!