October - November 2001

The God of Love

You might say that in any situation where powerful forces are at play and where we are called upon to practice devotion, the most potent force we are ultimately compelled to yield to could be called god. I am not talking about God/Goddess the creator of the Universe, if such an idea is included in your personal mythology. I am speaking of that which, in actual practice, we revere, bow to and cower from despite what we claim to believe.

In our contemporary culture of love, jealousy is god. I say this because, beyond and in spite of love, jealousy seems to be the power to which we surrender our souls, the one force with which we are certain we cannot reckon, and the source of fear that will not give way to the light. I could not say this, if so much love were not lost to the ravages of jealousy.

In prior essays in this series, I've described the surrender-sex-death connection that is Scorpio. But Scorpio is also the realm of the occult: the hidden, the denied, and that which is presumed unknowable. Surrender is barely speakable, and sex and death are shrouded in veil after veil of taboo. It is still, in our time, exceedingly rare for people to share their true feelings about any of these. So we get very few opportunities to open up our inner worlds and see what we contain. As a result, our own existence remains a vast and fearsome mystery.

Jealousy is an emotion that lives right at the point where sex, death and surrender fuse, at times violently, into one reality.

Sigmund Freud, the philosopher and inventor of psychiatry (1856-1939), pointed out that there are two forces which seem to be at war within the psyche, which he called Eros and Thanatos. Eros was in ancient Greek times the god of love, and Thanatos was the god of death. In psychological terms, Eros is the impulse and desire to create, procreate and share erotic love. Thanatos is the death-urge that we know lives within us, the impulse to die.

Relationships dominated, silently or otherwise, by jealousy are what we get when we make Thanatos the god of love and Eros the god of death. This confusion is so basic to our nature and so pervasive in our culture that most of the time we don't even see what we are doing. But we feel its effects as alienation, fear, and the sense that to love or be loved is to die. We owe it to ourselves to note that we live in an era dominated by the idea of death, including nuclear bombs, ozone depletion, war, gunfights outside our doors, the threats of anthrax, smallpox and AIDS, global warming and dioxin. These are all related to the basic formula that death is love and life is death.

Is it any wonder that we are confused about relationships in a time when death is exalted over life? Is it any wonder we are terrified of one another in a world where we are taught to be alienated?

Love based on jealousy is one expression of that confusion. Love based on death is another. Note that it's almost impossible to write an interesting love story that is not based on death or jealousy, and usually both. It's as if we find contentment, community, creativity, sex and love boring if devastation is not knocking at the door.

I need to be clear that when I speak of jealousy, I don't mean envy, guilt or anxiety; these are like layers of an onion on the way to the core emotion, where we get lost, and which we mistake for the real thing. This process is explained by a writer named William Pennell Rock in an essay called Jealousy and the Abyss.

What he says, though I recommend that you read the full essay a few times, is that when we are confronted with a jealous episode, we are confronted with the potential death of the universe of a relationship. This is the terrifying sense that it's all about to be over, the simultaneous sock in the gut while the floor caves in while we lose the one and only person we desire to someone else. Jealousy is the experience of death in the midstream of life, but it is the death of love. We know it's jealousy because it's devastating in a way that approaches death.

In our culture, we have a strong tendency to deny the existence of death, and to treat death with great disrespect. We also tend to deny the reality of jealousy and the corresponding fact that all relationships someday end in their current form. To embrace love at all is to embrace the transience of that experience, if only because (from our viewpoint) life itself is transient. What we deny, we give power to, and if the denial is total (which it often is) we end up signing total power over to a value of death above life, and loss above love.

Jealousy presents us with one of the most important opportunities of love. It's an opportunity so powerful that it has the ability to guide us to our core ideas about existence, and the meaning of relating to other people. Jealousy is not something to overcome, in my view, but something to live through, even though living through jealousy consciously means embracing tremendous pain at times. It is so important to stay with your feelings, to share your feelings, to acknowledge your feelings, rather than attempting to run or control others as a way of coping with jealousy. Many other chunks of debris will fly to the surface in this process. Old wounds may seem to open -- like that ancient feeling of being abandoned by God or our parents, or by the lovers who rejected us, or by we who have so often forsaken ourselves.

When we face jealousy, we face the void of existence, and can then learn to exist.

If we can stay present, aware and remember that we are alive, there are rich rewards on the other side of the void. We can go through the experience of death and into the experience of love.