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Protect yourself from being hurt #1

Date posted: November 18, 2013


The opera Carmen shows another example of  how the personality of the lover can change and expand through the lover’s  identification with the beloved.

The setting is in Seville Spain in the 1850’s outside a cigarette factory. It was so hot in Seville that women would work in their underwear as they made cigarettes. In reality, the cigarette factory had a reputation throughout Europe. Men would travel for miles to look through the windows to get a glimpse at the scantily clad pretty women. When the opera is staged, women are often seen smoking cigarettes. A woman who smoked was thought to be a sexually liberated woman in those days.

A number of soldiers including Corporal Don Jose are lingering outside the Guard house in Seville when a group of women who work in the cigarette  factory come onto the Square on  a break. Carman comes out with an acacia flower between her breasts. Men surround her. Don Jose ignores Carman as she sings about her philosophy of love while looking at Don Jose. The song is called the Habanera. It is Carmen’s signature song

Carmen is a beautiful gypsy. She sings: When will I love you, never perhaps, but perhaps tomorrow. Certainly not today. Love is a rebel bird. Nobody can ever tame it. If this bird does not love you, you can call him in vain. One man talks well, while the other is silent, but I may choose the silent one because I like his looks. However, love is like a gypsy child, it has never known laws. If  I love you, you had best beware, because I, like the bird that you thought you had caught, could fly away when you least expect it.

Carmen makes it quite clear she cannot be owned or possessed and if you love her, you take your chances. She follows her passions. Note the sultry seductive tone of her voice.


When will I love you?

I have know idea!

Never perhaps; perhaps tomorrow.

But not today, that is certain.

Love, love is a rebel bird

That nobody can ever tame,

And you call him quite in vain

If it suits him not to come.

Nothing helps, nor threat, nor prayer.

One man talks well, the other is mum;

It’s the other one I prefer.

He’s silent but I like his looks.

Love! Love! Love! Love!

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Don Jose is ignoring her through all of this. Carmen is drawn to this quiet man. She takes out the acacia flower from between her breasts and throws it at him. He reacts as if  he has been struck by a thunderbolt. Suddenly, the factory bell rings and the girls return to work. The soldiers return to the guard house and Don Jose, left alone, picks up the flower.

Later, a fight breaks out in the factory and the girls pour out onto the square alternately blaming Carmen and Manuelita. Jose goes inside with two guards and emerges holding Carmen, whom he found out, struck the other girl in the course of an argument. Repeatedly asked by Lieutenant Zuniga to account for her actions, Carmen refuses to answer him. Instead, she responds defiantly by singing  La,la,la,la.


Tralalalala, cut me in pieces, burn me up,

I won’t say a thing.

Tralalalalala, I defy everything,

Fire, steel, and heaven itself!


Spare us your song,

And since you were told to answer, answer


(staring at Zuniga)

I keep my secret I keep.

And I keep it well.

Tralalalalala, I love another,

And I will die saying that I love him.


Since you take this tone

You’ll sing your song in the prison walls.

All the women

To prison! To prison!


Well! You certainly are ready with your hands.




It’s too bead, it’s too bad

For she is really nice.

But she has to be shown how to behave.

Tie her pretty arms

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Lieutenant Zuniga, responding to her defiance, sentences her to prison and leaves her with Jose. Carmen, cajoles  Don Jose with promises of a rendezvous at the tavern of Lilas Pasita if Jose loosens her bonds. Jose loosens her bonds. Zuniga reappears with confirmation of his sentence  and places Carmen between two soldiers under Jose’s command. As they depart, Carmen frees herself from her bonds, gives Jose a prearranged shove and escapes through the cheering crowd of cigarette girls.

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Romantic love can change a life #2

Date posted: November 14, 2013

Self validation and joint narratives

The lovers validate the uniqueness and worth in mutual love. There is a chance for the lovers to be fully known in love, accepted without judgment, and loved despite all shortcomings. One desires to know and be known by the beloved. For some, love is the first occasion for a deep interest in the inwardness of another. Not just milestones in the Other’s life, but the most insignificant idiosyncrasies take on meaning and importance. What kind of food the beloved likes matter as much as who the beloved’s other lovers have been. Both are part of what makes the beloved who they are, their essence. The otherwise insignificant in oneself and ones beloved is treasured and assumes importance. There is a validation in love because all ones attributes are noticed and are of concern to the beloved. Our insecurities are healed, our importance guaranteed, only when we become the object of love.

Many people make instrumental use of us, just as we do of them. We reduce them to objects. We are not truly interested in the waiter; if we are the waiter,  we know that we are perceived principally as the instrument by which a glass of water may make its way to the table. We do not feel ourselves validated for our central and unique value until we are central  to someone else’s narrative.

Lovers must tell the truth about who they are for mutual validation to occur. Validation cannot be complete without full disclosure. People who are afraid to disclose the truth of who they are erect a barrier to falling in love, staying in love and in being redeemed through love.

Obsession and Possession

The lovers have an urgent, ceaseless need to make each other feel and confirm the fullness of their love in mutual love. They search each other’s faces for the effect of  each word, each thought, each idea, and  each glance when they are together. They can think nothing but of one another when they are apart. They wish to know all the time what the other is doing. The lover’s ruminating about everything feels almost like the lover is possessed. It’s as though thinking about the beloved is the same thing as embracing the beloved.

The ruminating in romantic love makes outsiders judgmental of love. However, the ruminating is at the very heart of love. It is what enables love to change a life. The working and reworking thoughts about the beloved begins to write the beloved into every experience and dream. The ruminating is a sign that a major change is occurring in the mind. There are changes occurring in allegiances, values, perceptions, goals and the sense of self. Identification with the beloved occurs as a result this working over process and a life is changed because of this. Now a picture of the beloved exists within the personality of the lover and enriches it.


So, a second way in which love can change a life is that the lover incorporates features of the beloved into themselves. A characteristic of romantic love is that the beloved’s feelings are as important as one’s own. The lover is always alternating between looking at the world through the perspective of the beloved and looking at the world from the lover’s own perspective. Eventually, the lover comes to identify with the beloved. Namely, the lover molds a part of the personality after the beloved. A change occurs in the lover’s personality because of this. For example, suppose the beloved strongly values kindness and tolerance. The lover may, in time, become like the beloved; a kind and tolerant person toward other people. This second way in which love changes a life may be reflected in the lover’s expanded interests that now include those of the beloved. The lover may develop an interest in old movies, a greater facility in intimacy, a passion for skiing, and an ability to trust and to open up. The lover may give such gifts in return to the beloved.


La Traviata

I would like to return to La Traviata. Verdi must have intuited this second way in which romantic love can change a life, because he conveyed this musically. Alfredo discloses his love for Violetta.



And since that happy day

You flashed lightly into my life;

And since then I’ve lived

In tremulous possession

Of that unspoken love,

“The pulse of the whole world,

Mysterious and unattainable,

The torment and delight of my heart”


Listen to the melody

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Alfredo’s confession inflames Violetta and as she muses about him she sings.



This man so watchful yet retiring,

Who haunted my sick bed

And turned my fever

Into the burning flame of love.

That love

“The pulse of the whole world,

Mysterious, unattainable,

The torment and delight of my heart”

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Violetta sings the same melody as Alfredo, she sings his song, indicating that she is beginning to mold her own personality after him and expand her sense of self.

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Romantic love can change a life #1

Date posted: November 11, 2013


Most often romantic love changes the lover for the good. Debunkers of love focus on the lover’s idealization of the beloved and subsequent disillusionment, and elaborate on the dailiness of life together. However, not all love ends in disillusionment with the beloved. Some change the lover for better or worse.

Love allows the lover to feel more attractive. Love confer beauty where it “objectively” does not exist, because the lover and the beloved are enabled through the power of love to believe in that beauty.

One  principal way in which love can change a life appears in the changes in the lover’s sense of self. Love evokes in us something positive; a sense of goodness, restoration, harmony and mutuality. The worth of each, previously buried or unrealized, is allowed to surface because of the way in which each lover sees the other as their best self. The lover feels expanded, conscious of new powers and a newfound goodness within. The lover attempts to be their best self, not in the sense of putting the best foot forward, as they might in courtship, but in a deeper sense of rising to the occasion. The beloved sees the good in the lover, of which the lover was only dimly aware. Often what allows us to fall in love is the lovely picture of ourselves reflected in the lover’s eyes. That picture enables us to love ourselves and hence to love another. We often become more lovable as a result of being loved. The new self is richer and fuller.


La Traviata

Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” illustrates this process. La Traviata means the fallen woman or the woman led astray.

Violetta is a courtesan in Paris in the 1850’s. Like many poor women she has adopted this life of being a consort to wealthy men to support herself. She takes no one too seriously. She lives for pleasure and the moment. Alfredo falls in love with Violetta when he sees her, proclaims his love for her and wants to take her away with him. His proposal changes Violetta.

She has been reconciled to a life of sterile pleasure going from one wealthy man to another. Alfredo’s proposal of true love shakes her. She fears if she responds to him she could be vulnerable and get hurt. Yet, the more she thinks about Alfredo and his proposal, the more excited she becomes. She is aware that this proposal of true love has kindled a flame in her unlike anything that has been awakened before. Alfredo’s love for her has made her feel safe to love him in return. Alfredo has awakened Violetta’s long dormant capacity to love. She is able to be her best self because of the loving image she sees of herself in Alfredo’s eyes. She muses that Alfredo may be the man she has always dreamed of when she was alone and ill with fever and now she may have found the man she has always longed for. Her life is beginning to change.

Changes like this in the capacity to love, whether or not love endures, is one of love’s greatest gifts. We may seek love because we intuit this. On the other hand, some passionate love affairs are destructive. The lover not only suffers but may also undergo a loss of self-esteem and a withdrawal from the world. Sometimes these negative changes are temporary, but sometimes they last.

The question of how love changes a life is important. One way that love changes a life is that the beloved’s approval offers a kind of redemption for the lover. Violetta, for example, feels less ashamed about her past life because Alfredo is so accepting. His acceptance gives her a kind of peace and self-confidence comparable to what one feels when one achieves religious certainty. The change in her mood now reflects a newfound generosity and a sense of herself as a better person. This change allows her to feel more engaged with the world. Violetta may doubt whether she is worthy of Alfredo’s love, but she no longer doubts her fundamental goodness and her abilities.

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Realized Love #4

Date posted: November 7, 2013

I would like to make a small digression at this point. Psychoanalytic theory posits that many human beings have to resolve what is called an Oedipal conflict as part of normal development. This theory is based on observations derived from working with patients in treatment. Children develop sexual feelings for their caretakers. In the case of the boy, he desires his mother and wants to eliminate his father whom he sees as a rival. He eventually renounces these desires for mother by identifying with his father. Being like his father allows him to nourish the hope that one day he will marry a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad. Boys who are overly indulged or overly frustrated become stuck or fixated at this stage of development. One manifestation of this fixation are conscious feelings of inferiority that have their unconscious roots in the fact that  mother chose father and rebuffed his advances. Another manifestation of this fixation is a continued unconscious attachment to mother and because of this a tendency to see ones loves in adulthood as stand ins for mother. Sexuality is consequently felt as wrong because it is equated with doing something incestuous. This is one barrier to falling in love and staying in love. This is one barrier to falling in love and staying in love. Many of us are able to overcome these attachments and with the advent of adolescence invest our love in our peers. However, to the degree that there is a residual attachment to our parents, there is a tendency to experience sexuality and love as doing something wrong. A parallel development exists for the girl. A deeper understanding of the common experience of transgression in erotic desire  occurs when we appreciate the significance of the Oedipal conflict in development.

Aspects of erotic desire

I would like to say a few words about aspects of erotic desire.

First: There is a sense of transgression in the sexual act. One has to break through this inhibition about doing something wrong to consummate one’s passion. Nevertheless, consciously there is a feeling of transgression that colors the consummation of desire. It is a longing for closeness, fusion and intermingling that implies the necessity of  forcefully crossing a barrier and becoming one with the beloved. Conscious or unconscious sexual fantasies refer to invasion, penetration, or appropriation. There is a search for pleasure that is always oriented to the beloved, the person to be penetrated or invaded by. The erotic gratification promised decreases when the sex does not serve the broader unconscious function of fusion with the beloved. Wagner illustrates this in the opera Siegfried. Siegfried is brave enough to penetrate the wall of fire surrounding Brunnhilde to consummate his love for her.

A Second characteristic of erotic desire is identification with the partner’s sexual excitement and orgasm in order to enjoy the complementary experiences of fusion. There is pleasure derived from the desire of the other and the love expressed in the other’s response to the lover’s sexual desire. This is  associated with experiences of fusion and ecstasy. There is a sense of becoming both genders at the same time, temporarily overcoming the ordinarily unbreachable barrier separating the genders, and the sense of completion and enjoyment of the penetrating and encompassing, penetrated and enclosed aspect of sexual invasion.  In this identification with the other, there is gratification of the wish for fusion.

Siegfried, in the Opera Siegfried, alludes to this experience of fusion with his beloved, when he is about to consummate his love for Brunnhilde.


“I love you: did you but love me too!

I am no more my own: were you but mine!

A glorious flood flows before me:

With all my senses I only see

That sweet surging sea.

If it breaks up my reflection, I myself

Burn to cool my glowing heart in the flood:

I will leap, as I am,

Into the stream:

Oh that its waters might blissfully swallow me.

And my longing to be lost in the flood!


A Third characteristic of erotic desire. There is a sense of transgression, of overcoming the prohibition implied in all sexual encounters, a prohibition derived from the oedipal coloring of sexual life. A sense of doing something  wrong during the sexual act will be evoked to the degree to which we are still attached to our parents unconsciously as objects of desire. This sense takes many forms. The simplest transgression against the ordinary social constraints occurs in the very act of undressing. This repeals the social notions of shame and permits lovers to face each other without shame. Getting dressed marks a return to conventional shamefulness.

Fourthly, transgression involves violating the oedipal constraints and unconsciously triumphing over ones rival and possessing the beloved who is experienced as forbidden. Wagner expresses this in Siegfried defeating Wotan, Brunnhilde’s father. Wotan bars Siegfried’s way because he wants to keep Brunnhilde for himself. Siegfried shatters Wotan’s spear, the symbol of his authority, with his sword. Siegfried triumphs over his rival and can now pursue his beloved Brunnhilde.

Transgression also involves transgressing over the beloved who is experienced as seductive and withholding. Erotic desire includes a sense that the beloved is both offering and withholding themselves and the  sexual penetration of the engulfing  beloved is experienced as a violation of the other’s boundaries. Thus transgression involves aggression against the other. This aggression is exciting in its pleasurable gratification, and reverberating in its capacity to experience pleasure in pain. The aggression is also pleasurable because it is being contained in a loving relationship.

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Realized Love #1

Date posted: October 28, 2013


When love is mutual, for a moment or a life time, it has certain characteristics. When love is mutual the lovers often feel their love is unique; the feeling of uniqueness is one of its defining characteristic. Regardless of its duration, romantic love is not only exultant but transformative. It changes thinking, feeling, perception and the very sense of self.

When apart, each has a dread of something going wrong, imagining the worst when they are not in each other’s company. There is panic when the letters don’t arrive, the call is cut short, the weekend cancelled. The lovers alternate between feeling a need to be cared for and a wish to protect the Other.

Pledges are made to establish the covenant of love. The covenant is a guaranty of safety; by promising continuity, it makes the risk of opening up seem smaller. Tokens are exchanged as the concrete expressions of the promise that the lovers belong to each other, now and forever. The ring and the pin are the material evidence of good faith and the promise of eternal union.

In love, there is a desire to generate endless time. Only the present matters, past and future are dispensable, irrelevant. Only the present matters, past and future are dispensable, irrelevant. When love is interrupted by death, the surviving lover may fear the very passage of time that friends look to as balm for the pain. Time may indeed heal, but to the lover, time is like a terrible train, rushing the lover away from the last moment with the beloved. Time becomes space and inexorably separates.


The lover’s sense of self is expanded in the arms of the beloved and the lover’s life is suffused with a sense of drama. Love catalyzes a kind of high –the feeling that the true, most spirited, most alive part of the self, long slumbering, has been awakened. The beloved’s affirmation of the lovers desirability awakens in the lover a capacity to love in a the lover that the lover may never have felt before. This is one way Romantic Love can change a life. Only feelings lead to truth, the body does not lie. The lovers feel a deep sense of affinity. Their dreams coincide; they believe that the way their wishes and rhythms match must be unique. Nothing the Beloved wants feels like an obligation or imposition. To be alone together and feel as one is to experience a harmony more perfect than either thought possible.

This experience is conveyed in the duet that Sigmund and Siglinde sing together upon discovering their love for each other. This is called Winter Song from Wagner’s Die Walkurie.

Siegmund likens the exaltation he feels about his love for Sieglinde to the vanishing of winter storms and the arrival of spring. He speaks of  feelings within that feel  like balmy breezes bringing miraculous scents that blow through the woods. Bird songs proclaim the arrival of this love. And marvelous flowers sprout from its hot blood while buds and shoots grow from the strength of his feelings. Siegmund’s aria conveys this feeling of exaltation.

Die Walkurie


Look the spring shines into the room.

Winter storms have vanished

Before Maytime;

In a gentle light spring time shines out.

On balmy breezes light and lovely

It weaves miracles as it wafts.

Through woods and meadow its breath blows,

Buds and shoots grow from its strength.

With an armory of delicate charm it conquers the  world.

Winter and storms vanish before there stout defense.

At these bold blows, of course,

The stout doors yield too,

For stubborn and hard they kept us from the spring.

To its sister here it flew.

Love decoyed the spring.

In our hearts it was hidden deep;

Now it smiles joyfully at the light.

The sister as bride is freed by her brother.

In ruins lies all that kept them apart.

Joyfully the young couple greet one another.

Love and Spring are united.


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Sieglinde responds that he is the Spring that she longed for in the frosty winter time. She declares that her heart greeted him with holy terror at first when his glance first fell upon her. Before he came she was surrounded by strangers and her surroundings were friendless. However, when she saw him she felt he belonged to her. She saw her friend.


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