Last week, the Phoenix Symphony performed my favorite choral piece, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This is a musical treat that is all about the triumph of the human spirit. I still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, and it’s a week later. It was spectacular, and I was smiling afterwards as I climbed a 4four-story garage to retrieve my car. On the way up the stairs, I overhear this guy tell his wife the music was just too romantic. I almost said something but kept it to myself thinking how could there be too much romance. I think romance is God’s gift that lets us be free to express our passions. Romance to me is a boy sitting alone fishing on a dock lost in his dreams; or little girls dressing up for an imaginary tea party; a paraplegic on the dance floor in a wheelchair; or a double amputee finishing the New York City Marathon.
I am an incurable romantic who also happens to be a psychiatrist. My predecessor Sigmund Freud, however, did not believe in romantic love. Freud declared romantic love “an overestimation of the erotic object.” He thought romantic love a neurotic appetite that needed to be curbed: if you let yourself be dominated by those primitive Id impulses, you would ultimately become consumed by the loved object.
What Freud believed is that human beings are always divided and tormented by internal conflicts. People are always struggling because the Id (the agent, the pure desire, that part of self that wants what it wants when it wants it and won’t take no for an answer) is always up against the Superego, that internal agent of authority that looks harshly upon the Id as a hopeless out-of-control child.
That said, however, Freud acknowledged that a powerful Id could take over the controlling superego . . . at least for awhile. He knew that romance, even if it existed in a small window of time, could fill the soul with magical intoxication. But such a state is destined to collapse because the underlying conflicts (shoulds, wants, fantasies, prohibitions) always rear their ugly head The best you could hope for was to get psychoanalyzed and learn how to see the struggle more clearly and hopefully not get sucked in.
Freud also didn’t believe in God; he was a lifelong atheist, which makes sense to me. If you don’t believe in romantic love, you can’t believe in God because both require a willingness to let yourself free-fall in the magic of its presence. You can’t see the face of God if you can’t fall in love.
We need to expand our definition of Eros (romantic love) to encompass all passionate expressions of the soul’s freedom (music, animals, landscapes). Anything that can seduce you into experiencing awe is always a gift . . . you can never be too romantic.