This is another story--related to love and literature--from the hospital for the insane where I'm currently working. 


A friend recently gave me good language for describing a lot of the mental illness at this hospital: Most of the patients here never developed the "ego functioning" of grown people.  Ego functioning is basically the higher-order brain skills which separate adults from children, including our ability to imagine another person's perspective, to anticipate someone's reactions to our behaviors, to resist impulses, and to plan behavior that "works" for both us and people around us.  Ego functioning is an ability to imagine that people--with whom we all have to deal to figure out some road to happiness--have had different experiences and thoughts than we have.


Ego plays a big role in making romance possible.  On that note, this week one of my coworkers received a romantic, deeply felt love note from a patient.  I'm changing some of the details here to protect identities, but the note said something like, "When you smile and I look in your eyes, I know you are just like me.  I see passion in your eyes--and it's the same passion I live with every day.  When you leave work at night, I hold you inside me.  I'm being discharged soon, and if you agree with anything I'm saying, let me know with a wink or some other sign.  Then I'll know you think the same.  Forever, I will love you." 


I actually didn't think that note was so insane.  In fact, it came frighteningly close to a note I wrote to a teacher whom I fantasized about in the seventh grade.  I remember afternoons spent staring at Mr. K, who had a sign--"Screw Authority!"--on his door, while he rubbed the knee of his corduroys, propped there on the ledge of his desk, lecturing to us about Liberalism in US History. 


When I thought about him, I thought "this man thinks just like me."  Not so different from the patient here at the hospital, I also drew quick conclusions about small, physical clues--thinking the twinkle in his eye represented the same feelings I had inside, at home.  A bit like the patient, too, I imagined that two minds could agree without having to talk much about it: "Just give me some sign," I asked the teacher in my own note to him, written on the yellow legal pad paper my own dad often used for charting his thoughts.  "Then I'll know you feel just like I do."


That's what young love often feels like, I think.  The "ego functions" haven't yet been able to make Reality seem like a distinct, craggy thing unto itself.  A young girl or boy comes into selfhood in a powerful way when she starts to form images of her fantasies: I wanted a teacher in jeans at the ledge of his desk.  A kid comes to take charge of her future by building these distinct fantasies--but the problem is that they are still projections of the inside, not yet tempered enough, like a paper dried out in the rain and sun, by other people. 


Maybe more-adult love has a lot more to do with getting input from the world so the first, fresh fantasy toggles and adjusts.  The teacher, you learn, can't date you, because he doesn't think about things in the way you assumed he did.  Childhood love is like the first projection--as if your inside found its perfect match in the world.  More-adult love is tempered by higher ego functioning: If you can't be with the one you love (idealize and form from scratch), love the one you're with.  Our child selves build great narratives of love.  As adults we edit them. 

by on ‎10-15-2009 12:10 AM

While I'm all for loving the one your with.


Always thought one of the marks of maturity was not just acepting the flaws of someone, but loving the flaws not just the person.

by Lurker on ‎10-15-2009 12:36 PM

Of course, some of us get to be with the one we love and to love the one we're with.  Either that or I have underdeveloped ego functioning, but either works for me!

by on ‎10-15-2009 02:10 PM

A Farewell to False Love

Farewell false love, the oracle of lies, 
A mortal foe and enemy to rest, 
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise, 
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed, 
A way of error, a temple full of treason, 
In all effects contrary unto reason. 

A poisoned serpent covered all with flowers, 
Mother of sighs, and murderer of repose, 
A sea of sorrows whence are drawn such showers 
As moisture lend to every grief that grows; 
A school of guile, a net of deep deceit, 
A gilded hook that holds a poisoned bait. 

A fortress foiled, which reason did defend, 
A siren song, a fever of the mind, 
A maze wherein affection finds no end, 
A raging cloud that runs before the wind, 
A substance like the shadow of the sun, 
A goal of grief for which the wisest run. 

A quenchless fire, a nurse of trembling fear, 
A path that leads to peril and mishap, 
A true retreat of sorrow and despair, 
An idle boy that sleeps in pleasure's lap, 
A deep mistrust of that which certain seems, 
A hope of that which reason doubtful deems. 

Sith* then thy trains my younger years betrayed,[since] 
And for my faith ingratitude I find; 
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed*,[revealed] 
Whose course was ever contrary to kind*:[nature] 
False love, desire, and beauty frail, adieu. 
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew. 

Sir Walter Raleigh

by 1lovealways on ‎10-15-2009 09:42 PM

Hi llana!  You are so right about the "ego functioning" not working in children as in adults.  Of course we've all had those childhood crushes.  It's like your world will literally go up in flames if this person doesn't like you the way your like them.  You're always convinced this person is the perfect match for you and can do no wrong.  Alas, when they do one thing that bursts your bubble that pedestal that you have them on comes tumbling down!


As your brain develops and you age, you begin to put it all in perspective.  Yes, the world does have influence as you analyze and decide what person is right for you based on that narrative that has been edited as you've grown older.  But. I don't think we ever really let go of that fantasy completely.   Not everyone wants to "love the one they're with"  or can.  Some of us want to be like that patient who saw the "passion in the eyes" and that "I know you're just like me" in someone.


What that patient felt does exist.  My fantasy from childhood did become reality even after my narrative was edited as an adult.  I think that was due mainly to the fact that although, I did edit it, I kept the basics of the fantasy in my heart and believed in it!  I'm very glad I did!  I'm not saying this happens for everyone, because we all are different.  The point is stick to the basics as your foundation even after editing the narrative. :smileyhappy:



by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎10-18-2009 06:15 PM


Thanks for the good comments, and sorry for the late reply.  I've been travelling without a laptop lately.


Tigger: I think you're right that in a more-adult love, we appreciate what might have seemed like "flaws" to us at a younger age.  Maybe one reason for this is that in the more adult love, we don't need to find our mirror images in the world, but can love a person who is different and helps us change.  (maybe he's battling a different battle than I am, and we learn from each other.  maybe his "flaws" remind me he experiences things deeply.) 




by on ‎10-18-2009 06:32 PM

Exactly. Instead of looking for an idealized expectation of a desired mate, an adult looks for a mate that will complement both their short commings and their strengths.


As you mature you often find that your idealization isn't what you percieved them to be. That bad boy may still look pretty but do you really want to deal with his arrest record and drug habit?

About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.