Looking for the Beloved: Dating as Shadow-work

When Cupid struck Apollo with a golden arrow through the heart, he fell hopelessly in love with a nymph named Daphne. But, to Apollo’s chagrin, Cupid had struck Daphne with a leaden arrow, causing her to abhor the thought of love and despise marriage as a crime. So, Apollo pursued her, inflamed by the chase and pleading his intentions. And Daphne fled, her hair streaming behind her and feeling no wish to be caught, even by the god of song and healing.

As Apollo gained upon her and her strength began to fail, Daphne called on her father, the river god, for aid. Instantly, her limbs grew stiff, her body enclosed in bark, her hair turned to leaves, her arms to branches, and her face to a tree-top. Apollo embraced the nymph, now a laurel tree, and proclaimed that he would wear her for a crown.

Our myths and fairy tales of first love and its pursuit motif contain some of the themes and images of many people’s early dating experiences: They act as if they are under a spell. One person, longing for love, chases the Other. He or she, longing for separateness, runs away. There’s very little authentic contact between them. If they meet to spend time together, the first typically pursues intimacy while the Other keeps a distance. In generations past, this dynamic typically occurred along gender lines, with the male pursuing and the woman holding the boundary. But today that distinction has broken down. Some women aggressively pursue a man, while some men run in flight from getting involved.

Here we will explore these ideas in the context of shadow and soul. First, we will consider dating and some of the painful shadow issues that single people face today: the feeling of being unacceptable, the terror of being hurt and rejected, and the fear of commitment. Dating, as the timeless search for a romantic partner, may be led by the persona in its quest for the image of the perfect Beloved in human form. In its search for image, the persona also seeks companionship, pleasure, and sexuality from dating partners.

But, with a deeper understanding, dating can become an ideal forum in which to explore unknown aspects of ourselves by doing shadow-work. Whether as one who is not yet married but remains hopeful, or as one who is divorced or widowed and suffers with feelings of grief, we can view being single as an opportunity to cultivate self-knowledge. Rather than avoid the cycle of living as a single person by frantically looking for someone — anyone — to date, we can use these periods to find our own internal sources of stimulation, build sustaining friendships with both women and men, and draw upon our creative inspirations, all of which may get eclipsed with the demands of a full-time relationship.

Romance, the divine madness of finding an erotic partner, may be choreographed by the personal shadow in its quest to recreate the familiar feelings embedded in the way we were raised as children. For this reason, people abused as children often find abusive partners; children of alcoholics often are attracted to drinkers; children who suffer neglect by parents may find themselves with neglectful lovers. When the shadow arranges a marriage, it puts us face to face with our unresolved childhood issues.

We consider dating, then, typically to have less depth and entail less commitment than romance, which emerges when a mutual attraction is acknowledged and a shadow projection finds its target. In dating, we long for an end to loneliness, a companion in joy and sorrow. But the shadow also contains those missing parts of our authentic nature that were rejected in childhood. So, beyond the persona connection, in romance we long to complete ourselves in the Beloved. And the shadow leads us to retrieve those rejected parts, which seek acceptance so that we can feel whole again.

So, we re-imagine committed relationship and suggest that, with shadow-work, it can become something larger than the sum of its parts — a transpersonal field in which love and consciousness grow. At that time, the object of the quest changes: from the beauty of image and the ideal Beloved to the beauty of depth and the real Beloved.

In these ways the search for an authentic relationship mirrors the search for the authentic Self, as told in the Sufi tale in our introduction. During dating the Master leaves the Butler in charge of the house; that is, the Self goes dormant and the ego takes over. But as the romantic relationship deepens and becomes increasingly conscious, the Self returns and demands more recognition and authenticity. If the ego resists relinquishing control and continues to dominate the dating process, we seek again and again an ideal image of the Beloved that reinforces its fantasy expectations. As a result, the relationship ends, and we search for yet another partner.

However, through the pain and frustration of failed attempts at bonding, the Master’s henchman, the shadow, eventually may force the ego to see its limitations and to relinquish control. With shadow-work, we then hear the call of the Self, the Master. And, as a result, a conscious relationship really can begin.

Whom do you desire and pursue? Which character in you desires which character in the Other?

(Learn dating as shadow-work with Connie via Skype from anywhere in the world.)

Shame and the single person

Some people, of course, enjoy the light side of dating: they view a single life as an opportunity to experiment socially and sexually, to feel the freedom of their own rhythms and to maintain their own privacy. They may wish for a committed relationship in the future but recognize wisely that they are not ready for it. Or they may dread commitment, imagining it as a jail sentence.

But for others the dark side of dating is oppressive: they suffer with feelings of isolation, alienation, and sexual frustration. For many people, to be single in a culture of couples is to be a carrier of shadow projections, to feel the pain of being seen as strange, a loser, an outsider. It is to feel the banishment of the one who is not chosen. It is to feel perpetually awkward, caught in a sustained adolescence, not yet belonging among the grownups who have mated and formed families. To be a young single is to be seen as inexperienced, naive, one who has not yet begun to live. To be an older single, especially if he or she has never married, is to be seen as eccentric, tainted, one who has failed the test of maturity. In a culture that defines people in relation to others even on simple institutional forms—single, married, divorced, widowed—the life of the single person is filled with daily reminders of being tainted with shadow.

Even though they may enjoy several intimate, ongoing friendships, some single people suffer terribly because they feel the stigma of being alone. Feeling lonely, they may devalue their deepest friendships rather than cherish them, as if these heartfelt connections cease to exist and the only valid relationship were a sexual, monogamous one—a couple.

Some observers of single people eating alone in restaurants or sitting alone in movies may feel uncomfortable as well, projecting their own fears of solitude or abandonment. The singles may, in turn, sense this attitude from others as discomfort, disdain, or even pity. On the other hand, married observers may feel the mournful discontent of envy around singles, imagining the joys of free time, free choice, and self-reliance. One woman, unmarried into her 50s, noted that her close married friends frequently imagine that she has a busy, fascinating social life that is off limits to them. She chuckles as she recounts this and then, turning serious a moment later, tells us that she is so ashamed to be home on Saturday nights that she never answers the phone.

Of course, the single person at 25, whose college friends have coupled and cocooned, has a different perspective than the single person at 45, whose friends have married, perhaps divorced and remarried, and given birth to children by then. But in both cases, the single person may feel the same pain, raging against others (“All of the good men are taken”) or against social institutions (“The women’s movement has made women hard and angry.”). For them, potential partners never match the internal romantic images. Each one fails to meet their standards of beauty, intelligence, success, or sensitivity, as they project their own inferiority onto others. If a relationship forms and they continue to judge and blame the other person for being inadequate, they risk becoming critical, nagging mates.

Instead of blaming others, some single people may blame themselves for their fate, feeling inadequate, unlovable, even hopeless. In this case, they themselves are not enough—thin enough, successful enough, smart enough, sexy enough. For some, this shame leads to endless routines of diets, workouts, therapy, singles events, and self-help books. All of this compulsive activity may cover up a deeper self-loathing and a desire to fix some secret flaw, which feels as if it’s been there forever. This feeling — it’s been this way forever—signals the legacy of a family shadow, a self-hatred that is absorbed from one or both parents, whether spoken or unspoken, and passed down from generation to generation.

Some singles reason that they have been cursed by an incident, such as molestation or abandonment, that bars them from trusting anyone. Or they have been branded with a bodily trait that makes them feel unattractive, thus undermining their confidence and capacity to make contact with potential partners. Bonnie, an Artemis-style father’s daughter and art director in her mid-40s, disclosed that she had never felt comfortable in her own body. After years of feeling ashamed for her failure to mate, she noticed that her mind would move around her physical form at times, becoming obsessed with various bodily traits. In her 20s, she felt intensely embarrassed about her large breasts and was convinced that they kept men away. Later, her legs became the problem: they were too short, too muscular, too pale to be seen as attractive. Finally, at midlife, as small lines appeared around her mouth and her cheeks began to sag, the voice of her inner critic concluded that the aging in her face held the key to her isolation and loneliness.

Bonnie’s mother had told herself the same critical messages about her own body. She felt chronically overweight, stodgy, unfeminine, and very different from the cultural standard of beauty. Although her Mom had never spoken critical words to her daughter concerning her appearance, Bonnie unknowingly had absorbed this aspect of her mother’s shadow as her own critical voice.

When she became aware of this pattern and began to witness it, learning to root her identity in her Self, she grew able to laugh at the noise of her own mind, which told her that the “moving fatal flaw” had ruined her life. Gradually, she separated from this character and grew more accepting of her body image, felt more attractive, and as a result became more attractive to men.

But, to her surprise, Bonnie then found herself rejecting those men who desired her. She became judgmental as her critic turned the negative inner-directed messages outward toward her pursuers: He’s not smart enough; he’s not rich enough; he’s not psychologically developed enough, the critic told her. With the advent of real opportunities for a relationship, Bonnie uncovered a previously hidden shadow figure, the Assassin, who unknowingly protected her Artemis nature. With even more judgmentalism and perfectionism than the critic, this character would maintain her independence at any cost by killing off those who wished to share her life.

In order to pursue her dream of a committed relationship, Bonnie needed to find a place at the table for the assassin, the protector of her vulnerability and independence. She needed a way of relating to this character so that it would not push away the very men she might truly desire. Eventually, she found the gold in her dark side when she realized that the perfectionistic assassin could be useful at work, where she critiqued the fine detail of award-winning television ads. But in her love life it sabotaged her deepest longings, eliminating potential romantic partners.

What is it about you that you fear will be rejected? What do you fear that others will find out about and consider unacceptable?

Contact Connie now to find your beloved and discover your Self in the process.


About Dr. Connie Zweig

Connie Zweig, Ph. D., a retired therapist, is co-author of Meeting the Shadow and Romancing the Shadow and author of Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality. She is a Certified Sage-ing Leader and is now writing THE INNER WORK OF AGE. She is blogging excerpts at Medium.com/@conniezweig. You can connect on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Dr.ConnieZweig/ Or get book updates by request from conniezweig@gmail.com.
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