When I was 16 years old, I had my first gynecological exam, but it was not performed by an ob-gyn. It was done in our family doctor’s office, which was a big room with the exam table one one side and a large leather desk on the other. After my exam, Dr. Robbins sat me down and told me he wanted to talk to me. While puffing on his pipe, he stared deeply into my eyes. Even though the idea of a pipe-smoking doctor seems bizarre by today’s standards, the pipe’s fragrance was sweet, unlike his abrasive personality.
For a few minutes, he lectured me about the honor of being a woman (as if he knew), and the importance of taking care of my body. He told me that he thought I would have a very active and happy sex life. How he knew that, I have no idea, and I was too shocked to ask. I recall him waiting for my reaction while continuing to puff on his pipe and staring at me through the bifocal glasses sitting on the tip of his nose. I recall having a flat affect. Anyway, he knew I was a reader and said he had a great book for me to read. From the corner of his desk, he grabbed a copy of Rollo May’s Love & Will. “Consider this book your bible. It’s full of a lot of great information that will be useful for you, now and for years to come.”
I picked up the book while in bed that night. I tried reading the first chapter but fell asleep with the book opened flat on my chest. When I woke up, I tried reading it again, but I had no idea what May was talking about. I skimmed the book for parts I would understand, but to no avail. I simply didn’t have the love or Eros experience to understand. Disappointed, I put the book away on my bookshelf. A few years ago, I picked it up after reading May’s The Courage to Create, which was sitting beside Love & Will. I opened it once again and began reading. I guess I had to be mature enough to appreciate the wisdom in this work. The section titles were compelling and included “The Paradoxes of Sex and Love,” “Eros in Conflict with Sex,” “Love and Death,” “Love and the Daimonic,” “The Daimonic in Dialogue,” “The Will in Crisis,” “Wish and Will,” “Intentionality,” “Intentionality in Therapy,” “The Relation of Love and Will,” “The Meaning of Care,” and “Communion of Consciousness.”
The premise of the book is that Eros is the life force that directs our will toward the highest human potential. Eros, a term often used interchangeably (and incorrectly) with sex, is a state of being that inspires us to transcend what meets the eye. Many people confuse sex with Eros, but these concepts are quite different. “Whereas sex is a rhythm of stimulus and response, eros is a state of being . . . the end toward which sex points is gratification and relaxation, whereas eros is a desiring, longing, a forever reaching out, seeking to expand.” (p. 73) “Will,” on the other hand, implies a choice and is “the capacity to organize one’s self so that movement in a certain direction or toward a certain goal may take place.” (p. 218). This is quite different from “wish,” which is about the possibility of something happening.
In his Foreword, May posits that love and will are interdependent, belong together, and are processes of being. He says that our task as humans is to unite love and will at a conscious level. In rereading the book as a mature adult, I am able to identify the forces of Eros and love in my past and present lives, and see the importance of integrating my shadow side into those forces.
For years I hadn’t thought about Dr. Robbins’s comment, but now, more than 40 years later, I am reminded of it and am amazed by his words.
May, R. (1975). The Courage to Create. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
May, R. (1969). Love and Will. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.