Excerpted from We; Understanding The Psychology of Human Love, by Robert Johnson, Ph.D., Harper Collins Publisher, San Francisco.

People become so wearied of the cycles and dead ends of romance that they begin to wonder if there is such a thing as “love.” There is. But sometimes we have to make profound changes of attitude before we can see what love is and make room for love in our lives.

Love between human beings is one of the absolute realities of human nature. Just as soul-Psyche-was one of the gods of the Greek pantheon, so was Love: His name was Eros. For the Greeks understood that love, being an archetype of the collective unconscious, is both eternal and universal in humankind. And for the Greeks, that qualified Love as a god.

Because love is an archetype, it has its own character, its own traits, and its own “personality”.  Like a god, love behaves as a “person” in the unconscious, a separate being in the psyche. Love is distinct from my ego; love was here before my ego came into the world, and love will be here after my ego departs. Yet love is something or “someone” who lives within me. Love is a force that acts from within, that enables my ego to look outside itself, to see my fellow humans as something to be valued and ‘cherished, rather than used.

Therefore, when I say that “I love” it is not I who love, but, in reality, Love who acts through me. Love is not so much something I do as something that I am. Love is not a doing but a state of being-a relatedness, a connectedness to another mortal, an identification with her or him that simply flows within me and through me, independent of my intentions or my efforts.

This state of being may express itself in what I do or in how I treat people, but it can never be reduced to a set of “doings,” or acts. It is a feeling within. More often than we realize, love works its divine alchemy best when we follow the advice of Shakespeare’s Cordelia: “love, and keep silent.”

Love exists, regardless of our options about what it ought to be. No matter how many fabrications or how much selfishness we justify in the name of “love,” love still keeps its unchanging character. Its existence and its nature do not depend on my illusions, my opinions, or my counterfeits. Love is different from what my culture has led me to expect, different from what my ego wants, different from the sentimental froth and inflated ecstasies I’ve been taught to hope for; but love turns out to be real; it turns out to be what I am, rather than what my ego demands.

We need to know this about love. Otherwise we could never stand to look honestly at our self-deceptions. At times people say: “Don’t make me see my illusions; if you take away my illusions, there will be nothing left!” We seem to think of love as “man-made,” as though we invented it in our minds. Even though romantic love has not turned out to be what we thought, there is still a human love that is inherent in us, and this love will be with us even after our projections, our illusions, and our artifices have all passed away.

Human love is so obscured by the inflations and commotions of romance that we almost never look for love in its own right, and we hardly know what to look for when we do search. But as we learn love’s characteristics and attitudes, we can begin to see love within us–revealed in our feelings, in the spontaneous Row of warmth that surges toward another person, in the small, unnoticed acts of relatedness that make up the secret fabric of our daily lives.

Love is the power within us that affirms and values another human being as he or she is. Human love affirms that person who is actually there, rather than the ideal we would like him or her to be or the projection that flows from our minds. Love is the inner god who opens our blind eyes to the beauty, value, and quality of the other person. Love causes us to value that person as a total, individual self, and this means that we accept the negative side as well as the positive, the imperfections as well as the admirable qualities. When one truly loves the human being rather than the projection, one loves the shadow just as one loves the rest. One accepts the other person’s totality.

Human love causes a man to see the intrinsic value in a woman; therefore love leads him to honor and serve her, rather than to try to use her for his ego’s purposes. When love is guiding him, he is concerned with her needs and her well-being, not fixated on his own wants and whims. Love alters our sense of importance. Through love we see that the other individual has as great a value in the cosmos as our own; it becomes just as important to us that he or she should be whole, should live fully, should find the joy of life, as that our own needs be met.

In the world of the unconscious, love is one of those great psychological forces that have the power to transform the ego. Love is the one power that awakens the ego to the existence of something outside itself, outside its plans, outside its empire, outside its security. Love relates the ego not only to the rest of the human race, but to the soul and to all the gods of the inner world.

Thus love is by its very nature the exact opposite of egocentricity. We use the word love loosely. We use it to dignify any number of demands for attention, power, security, or entertainment from other people. But when we are looking out for our own self-styled “needs,” our own desires, our own dreams, and our power over people, this is not love. Love is utterly distinct from our ego’s desires and power plays. It leads in a different direction: toward the goodness, the value, and the needs of the people around us.

In its very essence, love is an appreciation, a recognition of another’s value: It moves a man to honor a woman rather than use her, to ask himself how he might serve her. And if this woman is relating to him through love, she will take the same attitude toward him.

The archetypal nature of love is perhaps nowhere better expressed than in the simple language of Saint Paul:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up… Love does not seek her own way, is not easily provoked, is not anxious to suspect evil…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail, whether there be tongues, they shall cease, – whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”

Here is a brief and eloquent statement of the difference between an ego left to its own devices and an ego under the influence of love. My ego is concerned only with itself; but “love suffers long and is kind.” My ego is envious, always seeking to inflate itself with illusions of absolute power and control, but “love does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up.” My ego, left to its ego-centeredness, will always betray, but “love never fails.” My ego only knows how to affirm itself and its desires, but love “seeks not her own way.” Love affirms all of life: “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.”

This is why we have taken exception to romantic love, and this is the main distinction between human love and romantic love: Romance must, by its very nature, deteriorate into egotism. For romance is not a love that is directed at another human being; the passion of romance is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies. In a very real sense, it is a love not of another person, but of ourselves.

“It should now be clear that to the extent that a relationship is founded on projection the element of human love is lacking. To be in love with someone we do not know as a person, but are attracted to because they reflect back to us the image of the god or goddess in our souls, is, in a sense, to be in love with oneself, not with the other person. In spite of the seeming beauty of the love fantasies we may have in this state of being in love, we can, in fact, be in a thoroughly selfish state of mind.

“Real love begins only when one person comes to know another for who he or she really is as a human being, and begins to like and care for that human being.

“…To be capable of real love means becoming mature, with realistic expectations of the other person. It means accepting responsibility for our own happiness or unhappiness, and neither expecting the other person to make us happy nor blaming that person for bad moods and frustrations.” (Sanford, Invisible Partners, pp. 19-20).

When we are focused on our projections, we are focused on ourselves. And the passion and love we feel for our projections is a reflexive, circular love that is directed inevitably back to ourselves.

But here, again, we run headlong into the paradox of romantic love. The paradox is that we should love our projections, and that we should also love ourselves. In romance the love of self becomes distorted; it becomes egocentric and its original nature is lost. But if we learn to seek it on the correct level, the love of self is a true and valid love: it is the second great stream of energy that flows into romantic love, human love’s archetypal mate, the other face of Eros.

We need to revere the unconscious parts of ourselves that we project. When we love our projections, when we honor our romantic ideals and fantasies, we affirm infinitely precious dimensions of our total selves. The riddle is how to love one’s self without falling into egotism.

As we learn the geography of the human psyche, with its islands of consciousness, its multilayered and multicentered structure, we see that the love of the total self can not be a centering of the universe on our egos. Love of self is the ego’s seeking after the other “persons” of the inner world, who hide within us. It is ego’s longing for the larger dimensions of the unconscious, its willingness to open itself to the other parts of our total being, and to their points of view, their values, and their needs.

Understood in this way, our love of self is also the “divine” love: our search for the ultimate meaning, for our souls, for the revelation of God. This understanding returns us to the words of Clement of Alexandria:

“Therefore, as it seems, it is the greatest of all disciplines to know oneself; for when a man knows himself, he knows God.

“The fault in romantic love is not that we love our selves, but that we love ourselves wrongly. By trying to revere the unconscious through our romantic projections on other people, we miss the reality hidden in those projections: We don’t see that it is our own selves we are searching for.”

The task of salvaging love from the swamps of romance begins with a shift of vision toward the inside; we have to wake up to the inner world; we have to learn how to live the “love of self” as an inner experience. But then it is time to redirect our gaze outward again, toward physical people and the relationships we make with them-we must learn the principles of the “human” love.