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Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters

The Power of Romantic Passion

Ethel S. Person, M.D.

  • ISBN 978-1-58562-655-7
  • Item #62655

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This groundbreaking study has been widely hailed for its focus on a human emotion generally considered impervious to rational analysis: romantic, passionate love. Ethel Person views romantic love as a powerful agent of change, arguing that it is as central to human culture as it is to human existence. This new edition of Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters emphasizes the relevance of passion not only to lovers but also to mental health professionals whose patients often enter treatment because of love-related issues—from the inability to love or make a commitment to the perils of extramarital love to love sickness or loss of love. She forthrightly addresses not only the power of love to unlock the soul but also its inherent paradoxes and conflicts.

Employing a philosophical perspective in order to understand the existential dilemmas posed by love, and a cultural perspective in order to understand its cultural variability, Dr. Person breaks with contemporary intellectual and philosophical dismissive assumptions about romantic love. She acknowledges love's vital importance and power, proposing that passion serves an important function not only for the individual but also for the culture while charging psychoanalysis with a reductionist emphasis on sexuality and psychopathology that has narrowed the focus of inquiry into love. Among the issues she discusses are:

  • romantic love's sources in our early lives, its relationship to imagination and creativity, and its capacity to enable the lover to transcend the self
  • how romantic love often demands a reordering of values and promotes personal growth by exposing the self to new risks and possibilities
  • the transformational potential of transference love in the therapy process
  • flaws in the common misperception that women are more influenced by romantic love than men
  • considerations of homosexual love, love across generations, and love triangles, focusing on the individual growth that can result from such relationships

Citing accounts of love drawn from literature, film, and real life, Person focuses on the lover's internal soliloquy and external dialogue with the beloved that can develop over an individual's life. An uplifting resource for people experiencing failing or unorthodox romances, Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters boldly takes on issues pertinent to lovers, to professionals who encounter patients for whom key conflicts revolve around romantic love, and to anyone who has struggled to understand the importance of romantic love in his or her own life.


  • Preface to the Reprint Edition
  • Introduction
  • PART I: The Experience of Romantic Love
  • Chapter 1. Falling in Love
  • Chapter 2. Love Realized: The Idyllic Phase
  • Chapter 3. Love's Divided Nature: The Pleasure and Pain of Romantic Love
  • PART II: The Aims of Love
  • Chapter 4. How Love Develops: Love Dialogues and the Life Cycle
  • Chapter 5. The Creative Synthesis in Love
  • PART III: The Paradoxes and Struggles Inherent in Love
  • Chapter 6. Self-Surrender: Transcendence Versus Enslavement
  • Chapter 7. The Link Between Love and Power
  • Chapter 8. Disillusionment
  • Chapter 9. Triangles
  • PART IV: The Gender Difference in Love
  • Chapter 10. Transference Love and Romantic Love
  • Chapter 11. Modes of Self-Realization: Women and Romance, Men and Power
  • PART V: The Fate of Love
  • Chapter 12. Unhappy Love: Experience and Consequences
  • Chapter 13. Love That Enriches, Love That Endures
  • Final Thoughts: Romantic Love as an Agent of Change
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

About the Authors

Ethel S. Person, M.D., is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York City.

Encompassing the subtle blending of infinite shades and hues from the palates of emotion and cognition, romantic love is a seminal force that shapes the human condition. Behavioral scholars have, nonetheless, eschewed intensive study of romantic love—largely because of its inherent complexity and innate elusiveness. Encountering this breach with the passion, creativity, and transcendence that mirrors romantic love, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Ethel Person has crafted a pioneering work that provides luminous and illuminating insights and conceptual coherence to the subject. I whole-heartedly recommend Dreams of Romantic Love and Fateful Encounters as a unique and indispensable resource for mental health practitioners of all stripes (including my fellow neuropsychiatrists) and for the patients and families whom we serve.—Stuart C. Yudofsky, M.D., D.C. and Irene Ellwood Professor and Chair, The Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Infused by the perceptive brilliance of Ethel Person, a truly extraordinary psychiatrist, this volume provides profound insights into that most mysterious and powerful force, romantic passion, using a naturalist's eye to trace the myriad possibilities in its course and actualization. The study of passion's transformational role and importance—whether we dream of it, have it, do not have it, keep it, change it, are changed by it, or lose it—is informed by wisdom, keen observation, rare intelligence, and scholarship from disciplines as varied as the sciences, the arts, and history. A volume of wonderful value for therapists and, indeed, for all of us, it is beautifully written by an open and inquiring mind, and is a great read. Ethel Person has made a magisterial contribution!—Jack D. Barchas, M.D., Barklie McKee Henry Professor and Chair, Weill Medical College of Cornell University; Psychiatrist-in-Chief, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, New York, New York

Ethel Person brings her keen intelligence, rich life experience, and all that she has learned in the course of a distinguished career as a clinical psychoanalyst to bear upon a set of crucial, age-old questions: What is love? How do we find love? How do we maintain love? How does love change us? She has written a fascinating book, filled with wisdom—one that is a pleasure to read, reread, and share.—Owen Renick, M.D., Training Analyst, San Francisco Psychoanalytic Inst; Clinical Assoc Prof of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco; former Editor-in-Chief, Psychoanalytic Quarterly

In setting out to rescue love from its devaluation in an age of science and celebrate its transformative power, Person doesn't sidestep the destructive powers of love, but rather makes you sit up over and over again at love's sheer inventiveness, complexity, and variety. She brings a psychoanalyst's insight to bear on the roots of love in childhood feelings, bridging the gap between specialist and general reader, and further enriches her argument with well-chosen case studies, examples form popular culture and the luminous testimony of poets and lovers. You'll find yourself reexamining your own experiences and understanding more about love, not just as an occasional passionate interlude, but as a powerful and abiding fantasy that drives so much of our dreaming and waking lives.—Molly Haskell, film critic and author of Love and Other Infectious Diseases: A Memoir and Holding My Own in No Man's Land: Women and Men in Film and Feminists

The author takes a very difficult topic, romantic love, and details a fascinating and useful examination of it. There are few other books that explore the topic so well, and love is often avoided by other authors or cast in a negative light. The author takes a positive look at the benefits and pitfalls inherent in romantic love and explores both equally. [Person's] clinical examples are appropriate and the literary/film references help to provide a setting or situation that everyone can appreciate. I particularly enjoyed the section on the paradoxes and struggles in love and I gained a new perspective on some of my patients' difficulties. I would recommend this title to anyone, clinician or lay person, interested in romantic love.—Doody's Book Review Service, 4/27/2007

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