"There is no force in lifetime that has the intensity, the poignancy and lunacy, and few with greater power to change history." A student of human emotion explores the sweet torture we call
RESTLESS, SHAPELESS PERIODS of history, such as the present, have always been marked by an upsurge of emotional ferment, the spawning of cases of infatuation that survive in folklore long after more prosaic crises have been forgotten. For there is no force in a human lifetime that has the intensity, the poignancy and the lunacy of a state of infatuation; few with greater power to change history and rearrange personal destiny.
Infatuation, most charitably described as a primitive stage of love but more often defined as either temporary insanity or self-hypnosis, is so vivid an experience that it is as unforgettable as terror. Like rage, it has lost its senses. It is also, when recollected from the softness of distance, the most luminous and lovely part of living.
Adolescents and the middle-aged are particularly susceptible to infatuation — not because they are excessively warmhearted, but because they are excessively lonely and uneasy. The possibility of sudden romance is the hope that dies last in human beings, which accounts for the erotic slant of all advertising; for women’s chiffon dresses and men’s tight trousers, for the wail of longing in music, for restless eyes at parties, on beaches, in office cafeterias.
Since the twelfth century, Western civilization has found infatuation so touching that it has been the dominant theme of poetry and prose. Though infatuation turns up in the Bible, with David and Bathsheba, the young French philosopher Pierre Abélard really launched romance when he met and became enraptured with Héloïse in 1118. infatuation’s central characteristic — instant, excited yearning — is the same when Humbert Humbert first sees Lolita, or Romeo discovers Juliet, or Carmen meets Don José, or when Prince Siegfried sees the Swan Queen or Prince Charming the Sleeping Beauty.
It also happens in real life; the psychologists think four or five infatuations are both normal and healthy. “Love at first sight,” groans the biologist Julian Huxley, “is a frequent occurrence, surprising as a fact for scientific consideration as well as to those who experience it.”
The most celebrated infatuation in ancient times was Cleopatra and Mark Antony, duplicated down to the detail of the royal barge by contemporaries Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The infatuation of Paris for a king’s wife, Helen, caused the bloody Trojan War, while the infatuation of Dante for Beatrice inspired one of the most / continued overleaf
"Sometimes infatuation leaves lifelong scars of bitterness, and sometimes it proves to be what it thought It was - the preliminary to eternal love"
continued / beautiful poems ever written. Napoleon’s infatuation for Josephine withstood fourteen years of childless marriage. Edward VIII left his throne for a divorcee, and Ireland’s brilliant Charles Parnell ruined his career for Kitty O’Shea. People who make their livelihood in fantasy sometimes seem the most unsheltered to the whims of infatuation: Ingrid Bergman for Roberto Rossellini, Leslie Caron for Warren Beatty, Sybil Burton for Jordan Christopher.
Infatuation, being mostly a passion of the imagination, almost always dies. Sometimes it leaves lifelong scars of bitterness, and sometimes it proves to be what it thought it was: the preliminary to eternal love. Mark Twain became infatuated with a picture of a young girl; he met her, married her and adored her for as long as he lived.
The fact that infatuation always believes itself to be genuine love makes it the despair of all its participants, along with their relatives, lawyers and clergymen. Despite the demonstrable fact that inability to distinguish permanent love from a two-week siege of fatheaded bliss regularly misleads humans into making bizarre and desolating alliances, psychiatrists, philosophers and psychologists have shown little clinical interest in the phenomenon. But a few have contributed such observations as these:
“If erotic love is not also brotherly love, the union is likely to be orgiastic, transitory. The essence of love is to labor for something and to make something grow.” (Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst.)
“When the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one’s own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists.” (Harry Stack Sullivan, psychoanalyst.)
“Passion is a pathological state which implies defectiveness of soul. If we love an object, an indefinable flow of a warm and affirma-
tive nature will emanate from us.” (Ortega y Gasset, philosopher.)
“The emotion of love, despite the romantics, is not self-sustaining; it endures only when the lovers love many things together, and not merely each other.” (Walter Lippmann, political columnist.)
“Feeiing of affection is primary in normal love, whereas with the neurotic the primary need is the need for reassurance.” (Karen Homey, psychoanalyst.)
“Love is only possible when you attribute a higher value to another person than to yourself, when you see her or him as a personality who is, in certain directions at least, superior to you.” (Theodor Reik, psychoanalyst.)
THE ESSENCE OF REAL LOVE, the experts seem to agree, is that it is concerned with the well-being of the loved one and gives up, in a large degree, preoccupation with self. It is marked by a sense of unity, permitting the mutual relaxation of artificiality and wariness. The poet Rilke spoke of love as two solitudes, touching and greeting one another.
Infatuation, on the other hand, is dedicated to feeding a starving vanity by seeking out continuous admiration and praise. It takes jealous possession of another and is insatiably demanding. It may be little more than pure lust, disguising itself piously as soul-love. Women, more often than men, tend to sanction their sex impulses by convincing themselves that they are magnificently in love. When it works, it is a superb guilt pacifier; it also lends an air of attractiveness to the liaison.
Unhappily for confused lovers, infatuation isn’t sporting enough to show its selfish shape until it is nearly over. Like love, it also contains an element of protectiveness and sympathy and provides a
Infatuation's penalties and rewards: death, scandal, adulation
sense of trustful coziness. Like love, it is the finest therapy for ailing confidence. People in love summon out all the latent goodness in one another and send it down the middle of the street on parade: they are kinder, more generous, more courageous, more interesting, more poised. Lovers enjoying the counterfeit, infatuation, feel no less; they dazzle themselves with their own excellence.
The moment of recognition of a mutual infatuation is almost heart-bursting. A Toronto matron with grown children still warms herself on such a memory from her college days. She had been attracted to a handsome stranger for some months, until she was almost obsessed with him. One evening at a fraternity party he approached her and asked for a dance. They looked at one another and fell in love on the instant. Subsequently they discovered they had little in common, but the enchantment of that dance has never faded.
“I know how Cinderella and Prince Charming must have felt,” she sighs. “It was sheer heaven.”
(Pragmatists have some views about that famous infatuation. Some forty years ago, the marriage of the prince and Cinderella was explored in a play Cinderella Married, which established that the sophisticated prince soon tired of simple Cinderella and neglected her to spend his time with the ladies of his court. It’s a universal plot, psychologists say, applicable to most infatuations.)
A doctor in his mid-forties recently observed that men of his age in a teaching situation with young women are especially vulnerable to infatuation. “Nurses, students, secretaries and the like find successful older men very attractive,” he commented. “I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that they may not have outgrown their dependency on their fathers as yet. Whatever the reason, it s dynamite I can tell you. Men of my / continued on page 33
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“Romance,” says an expert, “is fostered by dissatisfaction with oneself”
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vintage are enormously flattered, of course, and we’re still . . . well . . . sexually viable. It’s a great temptation.”
The real motivating force in infatuation, however, has little to do with propinquity or even accessibility. It depends, the authorities say, on how inadequate a man or woman is feeling, how bored, how forlorn, how afraid. In such a mood, people tend to invent romance because they need its comfort. Lovers, writes Erich Fromm, take the intensity of the infatuation for proof of the intensity of their love for each other — “while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.”
“Whenever in my practice,” notes Theodor Reik, “I could penetrate into the emotional situation, I always found that romance is fostered by dissatisfaction with oneself. The unrest, the dismay and discontent observable before the emergence of love is a constant in the psychology of the situation.” Love develops, Reik continues, out of self-dislike, because of the necessity of re-establishing selfesteem.
Consequently, the two age groups most prone to infatuations are teenagers and the middle-aged, because both are in a state of emotional change, which is characterized by impaired self-knowledge and an acute sense of being unendurably alone.
What’s its role with teenagers?
In the case of teenagers, infatuations are believed to be learning experiences, vital parts of a growth process that eventually prepares young adults who can make wise decisions about the choice of a marriage partner. A few infatuations in adolescence are not only normal but desirable; a great many infatuations or a single infatuation are both unnatural conditions.
“Some teenagers are promiscuous in their infatuations and their many relationships have no depth,” observes the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital’s Dr. Paul Steinhauer, who specializes in teenage problems. He feels that a multitude of skimpy, frivolous relationships indicates an inability to commit oneself truly, a lack of stability and core. “It is equally unnatural,” he adds, “to have no infatuations, or only one. In such cases, the teenagers show a lack of confidence in themselves, to a degree that is damaging.” Unconsciously, says Dr. Steinhauer, they are blocking their own development because growth frightens them.
Parents are amused at first by the inlatuations of their children, but begin to show alarm when the intensity shows clearly that a powerful sex drive is at work. Experts offer a helpful hint: the teenager with a good working relationship at home, with some interests and hobbies, with some close friends is not likely to be swamped in an infatuation. "It’s the child with no one, who puts all her eggs in one basket and depends
desperately on one boy to fill all her needs—that's the girl in real trouble,” says Dr. Steinhauer. "She's our potential unmarried mother.”
As with others who deal with troubled teenagers, Dr. Steinhauer deplores the erotic suggestiveness of the modern environment. “We’re pushing sex at these kids pretty hard,
arranging mixed parties for tenand eleven-year-olds. We tantalize them and then demand that they be pure. It’s illogical.”
Voltaire said the same thing two hundred years ago: "Our daughters are taught to spare no pains in pleasing: they learn every refinement of the art. When they are trained to
a fine degree, we punish them if they so much as venture to show their accomplishments. What should we think of a dancing master who. after drilling a pupil for ten years, broke his leg when he found him dancing?” Teenaged rapture over the Beatles, a television character known as Ulya Koryakin (of The Man From
U.N.C.L.E.) and movie star Paul Newman is also a form of infatuation, permitting release of half-formed sexual tensions as well as an opportunity to hand together.
The infatuations of the middle-aged have pathos. They stem from fear of waning sexual potency and attractiveness, which needs the spur of novelty, and from the dismay that attends the realization that youth has ended. The quest for adultery, which marks so many of the social events of this age group, is an exercise in brinkmanship: to enjoy the freshness, the
exultation, the drama of abrupt romance without jeopardizing marriage and status.
“Romantic love is never more highly developed than in adulterous relationships,” wrote a San Francisco psychiatrist, Dr. Edward S. Dean, in the American Journal Of Psychotherapy. “Here security is at a minimum; either can end the relationship without tangible cost.” Because the lover has so little to offer, Dr. Dean notes, he magnifies his feelings and transforms his love into a passion; the woman must offset the stale sex provided by the legal partner by offering wantonness.
Comments Erich Fromm, “Such persons may be at times very potent, particularly if the circumstances of the act are such that their vanity is flattered, their feeling of omnipotence encouraged.” This is not genuine potency, he adds, and “such individuals, sooner or later, are apt to meet with disaster.”
Most authorities agree that it is not possible for a normal adult to avoid having two or three infatuations. By comparing the objects of one’s infatuation, it is possible to chart personal development. “It’s not too healthy sounding if the love objects are always the same type, over and over again,” comments Dr. Daniel Cappon, a psychiatrist on the staff of the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital. “If they are progressive in type, it shows maturation.” Ortega y Gasset puts it poetically: “The type of human being we prefer reveals the contours of our heart.”
Infatuations, however, are inevitable in the best-ordered life. “They are bound to happen,” remarks Dr. Frank Rubinstein, a Toronto psychiatric social worker. “They don’t have to include the physical acting out— mature people forego the sex aspect because they are capable of doing without satisfactions that might have a disruptive effect on their lives. But it can be real torture.”
As with teenagers, the unnatural adult is the one with many affairs, and also the one who has never been infatuated at all.
The choice made in the process of a seemingly random infatuation is actually under heavy internal control, a response to an evolving restlessness. Dr. Cappon observes the peak periods of infatuation in a human lifetime, adolescence and middle-age, correspond in the years when most people are seeking a new image of themselves. They use idealizing of desired qualities in another as a technique of growth, as the dour are drawn to the gay, the skeptics to the tender, the careless to the patient. Lawrence Durrell writes in his Alexandria Quar-
tet that “all lovers invent images on which to feed.” People afflicted with savage self-dislike, or so sexually inhibited with their own kind because of early indoctrination that sex is thought basically improper, become infatuated with inferiors—the gamekeeper syndrome. Intellectuals perversely are drawn to barmaids, “nice girls” to hoods.
Dr. Cappon points to the historical parallel: infatuation flourishes most in periods of world unrest, as in the twelfth century which invented romantic love and as a consequence gave women importance for the first time. (Aristotle thought women inferior by nature; St. Paul saw them as instruments for procreation; much of the world, untouched by the idea of romance, holds the same view.) Cappon ascribes the current North American boom of infatuations to the upheaval general in this century.
“One tires of all”
Eventually, infatuation dies. As a Frenchman, Valmont, gracefully told his mistress in the eighteenth century, “One tires of all, my sweet.” Science gives a cooler explanation. Says Erich Fromm, “As two persons become well acquainted, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character until their antagonisms, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement.”
Some suspect that infatuation dies
most quickly if it is consummated, that the entire point of the infatuation is the romantic prelude. Dr. Dean, in the American Journal Of Psychotherapy, stated, “Romantic passion fades when sexual relations occur freely. Surfeited with sex, romance dies. On the other hand, feelings are usually strongest when barriers stand in the way of sexual union. Barriers heighten the romantic tension, leading to glorification of feelings for the sake of which one dares all, defies all . . . Romantic love comes to full flower in relationships of limitation, insecurity and irresponsibility.”
Immunity to infatuation, as Dr. Dean so severely indicates, is based on sound character and a serene environment. Some hundred Family Services Association of America agencies, reporting last spring on the increase in infidelity in North America as seen by their marriage counselors, remarked that affairs never occur in healthy marriages. Oswald Schwartz, writing in The Psychology of Sex, notes, “Complete devotion to each other makes the man and the woman insensitive to the sexual attractions of any other woman or man; one appreciates in a detached manner the qualities of the men and women one meets, but they are never felt as temptations.”
What an orderly world it would be without infatuation. How sensible. How self-possessed. How uncomplicated. How dependable. How insane. How unthinkable.