Psychology for Writers

Insights for the writer and the writing

The Anima/Animus Archetype and Romantic Chemistry

Why we're irresistibly drawn to seek our other halves.

Romeo & Juliet by Ford Madox Brown
Romeo & Juliet by Ford Madox Brown
“Chemistry,” as we now call it, has long been thought of as the need for and recognition of your “other half,” and as psychologist Carl Jung saw it, this recognition was prompted by the archetype of the anima (what draws a man to women) or animus (what draws a woman to men). Plato’s Symposium, written in 360 BC, provides an interesting mythological explanation for how the need initially developed.

In this story,

the sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man [made of 2 male parts], woman [made of 2 female parts], and the union of the two [one male and one female part]… But the primeval humans made an attack upon the gods [and Zeus said]: “Methinks I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two.

After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. Each of us when separated is always looking for his other half... And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.

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What all of this means is that, just like in real life, your characters should be attracted to their love interests for a reason. The potential love interest’s traits and behavior must resonate with your hero because they somehow make him or her more whole.

Many writers create love interests that reflect their own ideas of the “perfect” (or at least extremely attractive) man or woman; the danger is that sometimes we’re actually creating love interests (and there by animas or animuses) for ourselves rather than for our characters.

We may assume that everyone would be attracted to the same things we are, and that little explanation is needed to justify why our heroes and heroines would fall for each other. But if your hero or heroine is so universally appealing, 1) Why hasn’t s/he been snatched up yet? and 2) Why has s/he fallen for this love interest?

If the answer to 1 is that s/he’s been waiting for the “right one” to come along, 2 is even more important. Also remember that in real life, the people we’re most drawn to aren’t always the ones who are best for us—sometimes we’re so focused on a bad choice that we don’t even see Mr. or Ms. Soulmate when s/he wanders by. Scarlett O’Hara’s obsession with Ashley is doomed to failure because he can never be what she needs.

Story characters who fall in love with a fantasy—like Scarlett O’Hara’s infatuation with the undeserving Ashley—are doomed to be disappointed when the real, flawed person shows through. Sometimes falling in love with one’s anima or animus isn’t what’s really best for us. As Scarlett learns when she meets Rhett Butler, sometimes what we need most is what infuriates us the most.

As Jung puts it in an old interview,

The [anima] archetype is a force; it has an autonomy… Falling in love at first sight… You see, you have a certain image in yourself without knowing it of…the woman. Now you see that girl, or at least a good imitation of your type, and instantly…you’re caught. And afterwards you may discover that it was a hell of a mistake…[but you had] no choice at all. [The man] has been captured… That is the archetype…of the anima.

When the anima and animus come together, they create Syzygy, a term that represents the same kind of cohesive whole Plato described when the two halves of sundered humans wrap their arms around one another once again become one.

In real life, finding and getting along with your “other half” is difficult. Have you ever read a story in which the characters constantly misunderstand, insult, and stonewall each other, yet by the last page you’re to believe that they will live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before the last? In real life, it doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t in fiction, either. Conflict is the engine that keeps every story going, and the love relationships between your characters are one of the most important parts of that engine.

Think about it this way: There’s no way Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler would settle down without ever arguing again, but what fun would they be if they did?

© 2012 Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD ♦ Psychology for Writers on Psychology Today 

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD is the author of The Writer's Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior.  More information is available on the book's website.

 

Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D., is an Assistant Professor at Columbus State Community College and author of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

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