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Essence of Extreme Love

This essay will elaborate several forms of extreme love from a perspective of metamodern, metaphysical naturalism. In other words, I will prioritize forms of extreme love which I think are most coherent with present-day science, metaphysics without gods, and the general ethos or way of feeling which is unique to metamodernity.


I am also approaching this from the metaphysical orientation I call optimism. Which, in my usage, is a philosophical system originating from the first principle called the Good. In such an outlook, there are nonrelative, discoverable, eternally true ethical laws. “Is” and “ought” are inextricable.


In such a philosophy, the love between two people may be understood as reflective of the universal habits which push reality towards greater complexity, consciousness, and coherence. As such, love, and perhaps extreme love especially, may be judged absolutely on its harmony or disharmony with the Good. An old alchemist once said that “Gold is the intention of Nature.” The best of love concords with that purpose.



Limerence


Dorothy Tennov’s psychological concept of limerence is now one of the more well-known ways to understand extreme love.



Although the only intense love phenomenon recognized in the DSM is erotomania: a delusional conviction that a—usually high-status—person is in love with you. It is generally associated with situations where there is no existing relationship, and the connection is entirely fantasized. And there is additional literature on the somewhat similar Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD). This is associated with actual relationships, as in a situation where partners break up and one person engages in obsessional fantasies, stalking, or other extreme behaviors centered on a desired reciprocation of feelings.



Other than that, neither limerence nor any other form of extreme love in this essay are recognized by the diagnostic manual of modern psychology.

“The overwhelming majority of the limerents in Tennov’s survey were (otherwise) ‘fully functioning, rational, emotionally stable, normal, nonneurotic, nonpathological members of society’… Perhaps this is the reason that limerence/OLD has not yet been accepted into the DSM as an acknowledged psychiatric disorder.” - Keith Sutherland

So one would presently not get officially diagnosed with limerence. This is not to say these forms of extreme love are not real, valid, or scientific. Bringing in this perspective simply tells us what modern psychology considers diagnosably destructive love. And there are many historical and current controversies surrounding the DSM and its way of partitioning the world—such that we should take both its inclusions and exclusions with a grain of salt.


Still, the concept sheds light on important aspects of our present discussion because it shows how love, an eternally beautiful possibility, can become pathological. In such cases, extreme love can be judged on the intuitive basis of whether it is making the universe, and our little lives within it, better or worse.

"Limerence is an unexpected, overwhelming and debilitating experience that relates to the feeling of ‘being in love’ but in an intense form which is often, though not always, unreciprocated usually resulting in negative outcomes." - Lynn Willmott & Evie Bentley

The authors of this study give five key themes in their findings:

  1. Ruminative Thinking

  2. Free Floating Anxiety and Depression Temporarily Fixated

  3. Disintegration of the Self

  4. Reintegration of Past Life(s) Experiences

  5. Toward Authenticity


Overall, this gives limerence an ambiguous, double-natured valence. It reveals both dangerous and beautiful areas of extreme love.

“Despite Tennov’s insistence that limerence is not a mental health illness it has been seen as anxious-ambivalent attachment, love addiction, mania, obsession, and intrusive thoughts, …leaving its other more positive descriptors, such as inspiration and ecstasy virtually unexplored.” - Jeffrey Sundberg

There is a good case to be made that limerence results in many painful experiences and emotions. But it also wouldn’t be fair to frame it as entirely detestable.

"Limerence created a window of opportunity for undertaking some serious emotional growing up… The respondents regarded Limerence as an opportunity to progress to being truer to one’s inner being as a more authentic self.”- Lynn Willmott & Evie Bentley

How do these forms of extreme love relate to a natural, optimistic metaphysics? As in, if we find some kind of love which is definitely or probably real and defensible in an era of metamodern scientific knowledge, we must equally be concerned with what, if anything, we should do with it. Should we avoid it? Disdain it? Seek it? Cherish it?


There are many avenues for personal development, and even the “typical” love experience is considered a gold-standard catalyst of more-perfect selfhood. And this non-limerent (or maybe less-limerent, if we assume that it exists on a spectrum) love can of course be intense—in the honeymoon phase, in swiftly-passing ensouling moments, or enduringly for a lifetime. So it does seem like limerence can often add something intensely negative to this already powerful phenomenon. It could be seen as adjacent to (or including) obsessive rumination, addictive patterns of behavior, the response patterns of those with PTSD, or trauma bonding.


Any of the above experiences, or perhaps any form of extreme love, is at the very least exposed to the critique that—beneath the head over heels feeling of larger-than-life love—there is a simple and unpleasant truth: Perhaps there is no extreme love which is not, in the end, the outer story which encloses complex inner experiences such as obsessive ideation, addiction, or attachment issues.


We could even take it a step further, to the grimy sub-basement of the dogmatically reductionist worldview. This involves some version of the worn-out claim that love is “just chemicals”, or the related evolutionary view that we are nothing but the emergent survival mechanisms of selfish genes.


There are some fairly convincing points to be made in favor of these topics, even though I think they ultimately leave out something fundamental. That said, looking deeper than neurobiological explanations doesn’t mean ignoring them either. Consider the following representative statement on the similarities of love and addiction:

“There are no recognized definitions or diagnostic criteria for ‘love addiction,’ but its phenomenology has some similarities to substance dependence: euphoria and unrestrained desire in the presence of the love object or associated stimuli (drug intoxication); negative mood, anhedonia, and sleep disturbance when separated from the love object (drug withdrawal); focused attention on and intrusive thoughts about the love object; and maladaptive or problematic patterns of behavior (love relation) leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, with pursuit despite knowledge of adverse consequences… Individuals ‘deeply in love,’ when viewing a picture of their loved one, show increased activation on functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of brain regions associated with pleasure and motivation, e.g., ventral tegmental area, caudate, ACC cortex, and left insular region, and increased hypothalamic hormonal secretion. The more intense the passion, the greater the activation in these regions. Activation of these brain regions is also associated with substance dependence, suggesting mechanisms mediating love addiction are, in some aspects, quite similar to those for substance dependence… Moreover, in both cases, a common set of regions associated with negative emotions, social judgment, and ‘mentalizing’ (the negative assessment of other people’s intentions and emotions) were deactivated.” - Michel Reynaud

I’ll let Aubrey Plaza explain the rest:



This is demonstrative of the scientific-reductionist view which does not recognize anything Beyond (or any kind of “holistic” view at all), and is therefore squeezed into a narrower domain with limited explanatory scope.

“Another dominant strand in the literature is the biological perspective, which posits an evolutionary theory as the reason for romantic love. An evolutionary theorist Lindholm suggested, ‘Romantic attraction is an adaption serving to negate the human male's innate predisposition to maximize his genetic potential by engaging in sexual promiscuity. Instead, romantic idealization keeps him tied to his beloved, where his labor and protection are required for the necessary task of child raising.’” - Jeffrey Sundberg

Limerence may very well have chemical and evolutionary factors, but it may also be true that it overlaps with extreme love phenomena which are outside of this type of scientific worldview which reduces everything to the mechanistic interactions of genes, neurons, and chemicals. These reductionist views are also philosophically linked with relativistic ontologies centered on power—or, in another word, nihilism. These views, as I previously wrote, are often opposed to love due to its quality of being overpowering. It is true that there is a measurable correlation between infatuation and loss of cognitive control (such as in one’s ability to focus on basic tasks). And if one is metaphysically oriented to power, nothing could be worse than an extreme form of love which conflicts with one’s desire to be a center of uninhibited and unlimited optionality.


I don’t think these views are true. I think these categories of explanations exist along with the others I am writing about, and should be included in our journey toward a more comprehensive and truthful understanding of reality.


It is, I think, true that at least some of the people who think they are experiencing one of the other, more positive, forms of extreme love we will be exploring next, are actually experiencing something detrimental and perhaps ego-threatening. At times, perhaps there are explanations for these experiences as simple as chemical imbalances, evolutionary adaptations, or the reopening of unhealed traumatic wounds. And the belief that one has been struck by a benevolent arrow of Eros may simply be more palatable than coming to terms with the full spectrum of oneself. Self-delusion can be soothing.


I should say that my own views, in contrast to some of the others above, stem from my metaphysical optimism. I believe the Good is the first principle of everything, and also the perfect goal for all action. This worldview leads to several interrelated dictums: The absolute possibility of perfection is what actuality strives for; the most moral actions are known as love, and these, more than other actions, make actuality into an increasingly perfect image of the absolute Good; love is what connects Value and Action; and obedience to perfected love is moral, while exploitation of love is antimoral.


Knowing that one’s own lifetime of love is a personal dramatization of an immortal love story, we are led to conclude that its extremities hold treasures and dangers alike. These extreme kinds of love we are exploring should be approached with caution and skepticism, but also desire.


Amigeist


A worldview which is metamodern, naturalistic, and metaphysically optimistic leads us to conclude that we must channel love with wisdom, and channel extreme love with extreme wisdom. I want to know not just what is real, but what is good from as many perspectives at once, simultaneously. Love is the force which actualizes the Good, and so we should seek to be its stewards.


“Amigeist” is an especially powerful form of love. The literature on it is sparse, and begins with Jeffrey Sundberg’s coinage less than ten years ago:

“The new phenomenon is called amigeist and is comprised of the Latin root of love, ami, and the German word geist meaning spirit: Love-spirit then is a heart-centered, intimate oneness that seems to partake of a higher-level, peak-experience, or spiritual connection. The term suggests the many unique spiritually-based qualities of the extreme occurrence, such as the astonishing, rapid experience of soul-mate, dynamic bonding, including very intense emotions and sensations often with an altered state of consciousness. The six amigeist characteristics are: (a) dynamic connection; (b) astonished state of mind; (c) intense sensations; (d) soul-mate connections; (e) long-term relationship; and (f) positive impact.” - Jeffrey Sundberg

Amigeist provides a valuable contrast to the idea of limerence, which leans towards the negative end of the spectrum, even though it may be associated with some level of pleasure, fulfillment, or personal growth. The psychological, scientific, evolutionary views, to generalize, contain their own unique ways of describing extreme love, but often leave out many important ideas or overemphasize others. We risk an unbalanced view of extreme love if we lump all of its different forms together as disorders and delusions.

“Romantic love researchers have tended to lump extreme love into pathology.” - Jeffrey Sundberg

But, Sundberg continues, there appears to be another unique form of extreme love which deserves our attention because it appears to be far more positive than phenomena like limerence. And it contains at least as much intensity and transformational potential. Comparing amigeist with limerence reveals that extreme love can reshape individuals and worlds in diametrically opposing ways.

“[The study’s] results revealed a unique experience with limited correlations to limerence.” - Jeffrey Sundberg

These results are summarized in the chart below. The study participants listed here reported experiencing aspects of both amigeist and limerence.


Overall, 48% of this study’s participants reported no characteristics of limerence. And 80% reported “a positive mindset and outlook on life since experiencing the extreme occurrence of falling in love.” It would appear that, at minimum, we need both limerence and amigeist in our conceptual toolkit to explain the full spectrum of possibilities in the domain of extreme love.

“People can love in extraordinary ways that are neither pathological nor tragic… The extreme occurrence of falling in love stands closely related to romantic love and limerence, yet is sufficiently different to warrant a distinctive designation. It is a unique phenomenon with intense and powerful, positive physical and emotional sensations, creating an almost immediate, familiar, effortless, and lasting nonordinary dynamic connection, often inspiring personal growth with lifepartner potential, which was reported repeatedly and congruently by participants. Just as Tennov coined limerence to describe a particular extreme love phenomenon characterized by pathology, the positive extreme love connection identified in this research deserves a designation that reflects its unique qualities.” - Jeffrey Sundberg

Amigeist seems more distinctively good from all perspectives when we compare it to the more obsessive, addictive tendencies of limerent love. It is characterized by reciprocation of feelings, further distinguishing it from limerence, erotomania, and OLD. And its main trajectories seem to be profound fulfillment, deep bonding, moral development, and eudaimonia. At its best, then, love is participation in the actualization of the absolutely possible Good, and amigeist is a nonlinear leap in our steady attempts to remember the perfection which prefigures reality.


Nemesis


I previously wrote about this particular kind of extreme love, so I won’t say much more here. In short, though, my metaphysical beliefs seem to logically include the belief that soulmate-type connections can exist between two who would otherwise be “enemies”. When you combine deep animosity and love, you get the “nemesis” bond. I found this article about soul enemies which shares similarities with my own thoughts. And I enjoyed this comic which playfully subverts the “red string of fate”:



Ecstasy


In ecstasy (or the original Greek ecstasis), one leaves and returns to oneself. The same description could be applied to love in general. There are many nonromantic, nonsexual forms of ecstasy which may be brought on by practices such as meditation, yoga, dance, or rhythmic drumming (many of which have been included in shamanism for thousands of years). These ideas are tied to the picture of love as divine madness.

“Socrates [in Plato’s Phaedrus] examines the nature of ecstasy. He states that ‘the greatest blessing comes by way of mania, as long as mania is heaven-sent,’ differentiating between mental illness and the entry of a god into the soul. The behavior of one divinely inspired is odd: ‘the multitude regard him as being out of his wits’… Socrates further divides the mania that is god-inspired into four kinds: divination, katharsis, poetic mania, and erotic love.”- Todd Swanson

Ecstasy as a whole gives us the insight that love often involves a tumultuous departure from safety. This is akin to the literal act of leaving one’s house, and, in so doing, meeting someone who makes you feel like you are at home. There are many ecstatic arts which act as portals to transcendent and transformative experiences. We’ll explore a few examples which demonstrate that extreme love is within reach for those who venture beyond their usual walls.


Within a broad range of possible manias and ecstasies, some are specifically found in the sexual territories of love. A literature review by Jenny Wade found seventeen subtypes of sexual-spiritual experiences. These could all conceivably relate to the kind of “divinely inspired” madness described by Plato—and I’m inclined to believe there is still more to discover beyond these examples.


Interestingly, these forms of extreme love might be open to anyone through voluntary action. Other cases we’ve explored so far are more like unexpected visitors. The lovers who are entangled in limerence or amigeist often seem to be caught in the strings of fate whether they like it or not. But it may also be the case that moments of extreme, self-transcending love are at least occasionally present during the course of most lives. And with intention and practice, one could learn to replicate the experience frequently.


Sundberg’s study participants experienced what he called amigeist. But it should also be noted that some of the characteristics of that form of extreme love overlap with several practices which hold the potential to spark ephemeral but still highly transformative experiences.

“[Sundberg’s] respondents describe psychic and paranormal phenomena, intense feelings of fulfillment, electric bodily sensations, life-changing peak experiences with lost perception of time and space, psychological transformation and growth, and being ‘the same’ as their partner… Grof and Grof (1990) found similar awakening phenomena triggered by spiritual practice, psychedelics, sex, emotional experiences, or sometimes happening spontaneously.” - Christian Stokke

Tantra, as one example of these themes, is a mystical, philosophical practice whose goal is personal development, shadow integration, and enlightenment. Historically, it has been the esoteric side of exoteric systems of Buddhism and Hinduism. It often takes a purely sexual connotation, but this is actually just one of its faces.

"Tantra is not a single tradition but a diverse set of practices and beliefs that vary across different regions, languages, and historical periods… While some tantric traditions do incorporate sexual practices, these are not central to the tradition as a whole.” - Gavin Flood

Having given this caveat, we will indeed focus our attention on sexual tantra in order to illuminate certain themes. In particular, I think this form of extreme love highlights universality. Love can be so good. And extreme love breaks known limits of goodness. We can hardly deny that it should be made as abundant as possible.

“Here is the key to all the metaphysics of sex: ‘Through the Dyad toward the Unity.’ Sexual love is the most universal form of man's obscure search to eliminate duality for a short while, to existentially overcome the boundary between ego and not-ego, between self and not-self. Flesh and sex are the tools for an ecstatic approximation of the achievement of unity.” - Julius Evola

So, although tantra can take many different forms, most of which are non-sexual, I think it’s interesting and inclusive to view it as a scientific-philosophical sexual practice. In practices such as tantra, the ecstatic “stepping outside” of oneself happens in a mutual moment of soul-exploration. Like many other spiritual/esoteric philosophies, it is erotic in the strictest sense—an art of Eros. In this way it may also be seen as “existential kink”:

“Existential Kink is a way of working with the shadow, of making conscious the unconscious, of bringing light to the dark. It’s a way of embracing the taboo, the forbidden, the hidden, and using it as a tool for transformation… The fundamental tantric idea is that it’s important to work with the strong energies of attraction and aversion, pleasure and pain, to facilitate awakening, rather than avoiding them. Why? Because avoiding desire, aggression, and socially taboo or forbidden things only makes them stronger and more powerful in the unconscious… Tantra is a path of embracing the shadow.” - Carolyn Elliott

Thus, there are forms of extreme love which are dangerous and pathological; there are forms which are beautiful and beneficial; there are forms which last for a day or for a lifetime; and there are others still which may be taken up by anyone who is willing to expend a certain amount of time and devotion. For better or worse, extreme love, in some ways, is available to all. This accessibility should be treated with cautious excitement. I think all of these forms of extreme love carry transformative potential—a statement which I hope highlights how it may be used for either moral or antimoral ends. Sutherland suggests, for example, that limerence is a “spiritual transformation gone wrong”. If this is so, we should similarly expect that practices like tantra can either heal or mangle the souls involved. It will be extreme, but not necessarily extremely good.


Twin flames


This concept has qualities in common with ideas such as limerence, amigeist, and soulmates. At its core, I think this form of extreme love has to do with a subjective sense of (and maybe objective existence of) an immortal connectivity, and instant and mirror-like recognition, uncanny thought-sharing and synchronicities, and a shared moral-spiritual purpose.

“Upon meeting your Twin Flame, you sometimes instantly recognize your other half behind the eyes of each other. The eyes have rightfully been called the windows to the Soul. Even their voices are familiar to each other at times, like a remembered chord of music. These are two beings that immediately sense the unalterable fact that they have been, are still, and must always be one. Even if they have fought against their fate for centuries and struggled in vain to escape their linked destiny. Almost from the first moment they meet and gaze upon each other, their spirits rush together in joyful recognition, ignoring all conversations, customs, and all social rules of behavior. Those two reunited halves are driven by an inner knowing too overwhelming to be denied… This is the ultimate spiritual connection of self awareness. When true Twin Flames reunite, they always have spiritual work to do. This is the primary reason for the reunification. For in finding each other, a huge birthing of creative energy is released to be used on their mission together.”- Arthur L. Jones & Sandye M. Roberts

I think this idea falls on the line between natural and supernatural. Or, perhaps, it may be interpreted either way. My feeling is that there is nothing necessarily supernatural about it, and that it is an imperfect way to describe something real—much like a symbol points towards a constellation of ideas which can’t be fully expressed. Most importantly, I think the connection described above can be stripped of supernatural claims and still remain valuable: It teaches us that certain love connections, more than others, lead to the perfection of the Good. It paints love not as a passive carrier of ephemeral pleasures, but as world-reshaping challenge which urgently calls for our engagement.


If love is moral action, and if something like the twin flame idea is true, then our metaphysical system would need a non-relativistic ontology. Or, in other words, the “choice” in love would be more superficial than the twin flame soul-entanglement which began long before your current life; there would be better and worse epistemic tools for grasping these absolute truths of perfected love; and there would be ethical imperatives attached to our participation in that love.


Being soulmates, twin flames, or otherwise would, in that case, be rather like unchanging geometric laws: the length of the legs of a triangle always relate to the hypotenuse. This kind of connection is non-relative; it is stitched into the fabric of existence.

“Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.” - Rumi

Whether one believes in anything supernatural or not, I would say there is a strong, naturalistic, and optimistic case to be made in favor of viewing some love-connections as discoverable things—possibilities which are out there whether or not we find them or make them actual.


There is nothing necessarily unscientific or supernatural about this kind of realist metaphysics. In this case, the twin flame experience might be interpreted by some as religious, supernatural, or maybe pseudoscientific. But I would encourage the view that love has perplexed us since the beginning of time, and even a partially true theory must contain some value for the ever-confused. Whatever else turns out to be true or false, the twin flame idea is a good way to describe a key feature of all extreme love: Presence. I think that intensity of love correlates with intensity of felt-presence. The greater the love, the more ever-present is your lover.

“He saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” - Leo Tolstoy

This all-encompassing state of seeing one’s love everywhere feels like the core of the twin flames concept. Some of the “signs” which seem popular within this concept are rather dubious—such as seeing repeated number (e.g. 11:11 on a clock). Whether what one “sees” is real or significant may be hard to prove—to oneself or others. One’s particular perspective, illuminated by their sun-like lover, will not be shared by anyone else.

“In 2014, Ryan Gosling got a restraining order against a stalker convinced he was her Twin Flame. He apparently disagreed.” - Chris Vognar

It is slippery thinking, and the core claims and beliefs within the twin flames concept may even be weaponized. There was, on that unfortunate note, a cult called Twin Flames Universe which took over the name of this form of extreme love—using the ideas to amass power and wealth while encouraging the love-starved to engage in stalking and other harmful behaviors.



One might initially suggest that cults in general fit within the framework of extreme love. But this is not the case. A key feature of cult membership is the surrender of one’s individuality. One is objectified. And love stretches between two whole individuals, only. Cults are examples of relationships mediated by power, and constituted on the banishment of true love.

“Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.” - Erich Fromm

However, it may be worthwhile to consider unusually intense love from the perspective of a general human capacity for extremism—as in the following paper which enfolds certain kinds of love within the broader category of “motivational imbalance”. In other words, extreme beliefs or behaviors can be understood as a hostile takeover of the motivational system as a whole.

“We propose that all cases of extremism, across different manifestations and levels of phylogeny, involve the same psychological mechanism… On occasion...one need becomes so dominant that it overrides the others and crowds them out. In such a case…a highly salient and important goal cognitively inhibits other goals, decreasing their accessibility and importance… When ‘insanely’ in love, one may sacrifice one’s work, health, and finances to please the object of one’s affection, thus acting in extreme ways most people would avoid.” - Kruglanski, Szumowska & Kopetz

In the moment, you may be certain that your love is non-arbitrary—something which is written, somehow, in advance. Not as an unchangeable eternal recurrence, but as possible musical notes to be played in the most inspired patterns, resulting in the greatest beauty. Doubts, however, imposed from both within and without, will likely poke holes in one’s faith. Am I extremely in love? Am I crazy? Both?


I’d venture to guess that some people who say they have identified their twin flame are experiencing some kind of unhealthy, obsessive, and delusional form of love. However, some of them may be experiencing something closer to amigeist—an intense, perhaps spiritual, bond which tends towards the exaltation of all. There is an undecidability here which gives love both its healing touch and jagged edge.


To reflect, consider Catherine and Heathcliff in the story of Wuthering Heights. The two are unhesitatingly certain of their soul-connection.

Catherine: “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” - Emily Brontë

But what do we say about it from the outside? Such cases inspire or forewarn us, depending who you ask. Other characters in the novel express their own concerns.

Nelly: “The two, to a cool spectator, made a strange and fearful picture.” - Emily Brontë

Brontë’s depiction of Catherine and Heathcliff has much in common with the themes of limerence, amigeist, twin flames, and extreme love in general. It might be up to the reader to decide for themselves which of these phenomena best describes these lovers. And, as we’ve done so far, we should look at this story and the twin flame idea as opportunities for reflections on the metaphysics of love.


The juxtaposed relationships which Catherine has with Edgar and Heathcliff creates insights about how extreme love might differ from romantic love in general. In one scene, for example, Catherine asks Nelly who she should marry, and they consider the diverging paths her life might take.

“‘First and foremost, do you love Mr. Edgar?’‘Who can help it? Of course I do,’ she answered.…’Why do you love him, Miss Cathy?’ ‘Nonsense, I do - that’s sufficient.’‘By no means; you must say why?’‘Well, because he is handsome, and pleasant to be with.’‘Bad!’ was my commentary.‘And because he is young and cheerful.’‘Bad, still.’ ‘And because he loves me.’‘Indifferent, coming there.’‘And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband.’‘Worst of all… And now, let us hear what you are unhappy about. Your brother will be pleased; the old lady and gentleman will not object, I think; you will escape from a disorderly, comfortless home into a wealthy, respectable one; and you love Edgar, and Edgar loves you. All seems smooth and easy: where is the obstacle?’‘HERE! and HERE!’ replied Catherine, striking one hand on her forehead, and the other on her breast: ‘in whichever place the soul lives. In my soul and in my heart, I'm convinced I'm wrong!’” - Emily Brontë

Catherine marries Edgar, even though she is convinced that on some level it is wrong. Practically, there are many things we could say about this—many in defense of Catherine’s choice. Metaphysically, the choice embodies disharmony and incompleteness; it might even be called a revolt. It also highlights how we choose some relationships, and are given others.

“For Catherine, the enduring love she feels for Heathcliff cannot be reduced to what one may call romantic infatuation as it is rooted in her own being. The everlastingness of this kind of intense soul-to-soul connection can be effectively contrasted with the ephemeral quality of the ‘love’ she has for her husband Edgar. It is also important to note that Catherine’s love for Heathcliff is a source of ecstatic transcendence which annihilates ego boundaries and takes her to the realm of non-dualistic awareness. Such a heightened cognitive/emotional state makes the thought of a life without Heathcliff utterly unbearable and brings her to the brink of complete breakdown. For Catherine, letting go of Heathcliff completely is not only unbearable but also impossible since she believes that the bond that unites them is impervious to worldly conditions or interventions.” - Hatice Övgü Tüzün

For Heathcliff’s part in all of this, there is no doubt that he is the most disliked person within the world of the book. Even Isabella, his wife, wonders “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?” And he ends up committing heinous, cruel acts throughout the book. This orientation is at least understandable—not to say it justifies his actions—if we apply Elie Wiesel’s lens that “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” Perhaps there is a warm glowing kernel of love within hate—a lingering heat which is not extinguished by animosity or even death. He and Catherine never fully connect. And love denied is not nothing; Heathcliff is incapable of indifference, but capable of having his love twisted into something inwardly tortuous and outwardly destructive.


If we are reading Wuthering Heights as philosophical fiction, then I think it is telling us that the twin flame connection is real in some sense. What is it exactly? We are still trying to figure that out. But, subjectively, it manifests in Catherine and Heathcliff as being inseparable (even though they are separate in many practical and physical ways for much of their lives).


Inseparability should be taken quite seriously as a feature of extreme love. Brontë’s “love realism” is evident in the book’s narrative structure: Catherine dies halfway through, and yet there is no doubt that her love story with Heathcliff continues. He seems to make absolutely sure of this with his parting words to her.

Heathcliff: “And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" - Emily Brontë

If these two lived today, would they be taken in by some cult which promises divinely-sanctioned, soul-unifying love? This is a possibility—the abuse of power always is. But I also have the intuition that, whatever the outward story may be (such as having a soulmate, twin flame, astrological alignment, etc.), we are giving imperfect names to real experiences. These concepts should neither be entirely dismissed nor uncritically accepted. Personally, I also lean towards naturalistic explanations of phenomena. So I choose to see the reality and value in ideas like twin flames rather than focus on the question of whether or not I may literally have a soul which is connected to another soul. Likewise, Catherine and Heathcliff did not need science or philosophy to know they were in anguish.


A pragmatic approach to extreme love can get us quite far while we find our way through a labyrinth of unanswered questions. All I really need to know is that people have a capacity for love, extremism, and extreme love; I should take into account that if one “looks in” on relationships like the one between Catherine and Heathcliff, many aspects of it can appear insane and, accordingly, experiencing what I subjectively identify as extreme love should be connected with mentally updating the likelihood that I could be experiencing something insidiously detrimental—something which wears a mask and convinces me of its benevolence; but if I reason that I am experiencing something like the twin flame connection or amigeist, rather than some kind of self-incendiary obsessional fantasy, then I may reasonably pursue that extreme love as both a personally coherent goal and an experience of unity with every other act of love which is pulling us towards perfection.


Concluding thoughts


On a final note, there is a certain class of extreme love which is most recognizable from fairy tales. This is not to say these are completely fictional or absolutely impossible. I’m talking about things like love potions, enchantments, and possessions. As with ideas like twin flames, our interpretation ends up mattering. My goal is to present things scientifically and metaphysically—and to make these two halves into a coherent whole.


One could start with similar objections as were made in regard to cults. These forms of extreme love have an air of non-consent about them. Love may be overpowering, but that is different than overpowering someone into love. Perhaps these examples should be excluded on these grounds as well. And so-called magical (maybe demonic) possession or Harry Potter-esque love potions also seem further from our consensus about what’s possible, so we could also skip this topic based on a scientific view.


However, both of these objections are a bit too literal—and that view runs the risk of hiding the truth. Something may be real in possibility, or metaphorically, or in other ways which the literal view overlooks. If extreme love is real, and a love potion is symbolic of extreme love, then love potions are real (even if they are less real than the thing symbolized). I believe that the realms of stories, myths, and symbols contain many real lessons for those with double vision. So it is at our own peril that we write such things off with the pen of literalism.


I think, many times, such myths and symbols and fairy tales actually lend support to completely real phenomena. Many of these myths originated in ancient cultures with little or none of our scientific knowledge. The same can be said of poetry which predates the birth of modern science, and yet seems perfectly capable of describing the common patterns of extreme love.

“Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream. 
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
   To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” - William Shakespeare

The symbolic-mythic domains are the products of communally iterated personal experiences: The picture was drawn by all, and in its unity it points back to a multiplicity of individual contributions. A love potion, then, is not a meaningless fantasy, but rather a symbol of an actual phenomenon experienced by many people over many years. To me, ultimately, that reinforces the idea that extreme love is real—even if we have yet to perfectly describe or actualize it. Symbolic, mythological, and poetic depictions of extreme love aid us in our painstaking investigations.

“The day will come when, after harnessing…the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness…the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” - Teilhard de Chardin

The dangers of this fire are matched only by the dangers of treating it with indifference or inaction. We can strive to harness its potentially destructive energy in order to forge gold—to love the greatest possible future into existence.

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