Once Upon A Time: The Root of the Myth of The One

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The One

Once upon a time, before humans could crisscross the globe in a matter of hours and chat with one another instantaneously from anywhere on the planet, geography was a severe limitation.

Where you were born was more or less where you’d grow up, reproduce, and die. Until the high days of seafaring exploration, someone who was well traveled had been from one mountain range to another. Only the truly adventurous had regularly been to other continents.

Even after the circumnavigation of the globe, most people were still more apt to stay in their homeland than to venture to other nations. Getting around was difficult and dangerous. The comfort of a support network simply didn’t exist unless you were already introduced to a group in the foreign land. “Vacation” wasn’t a common idea.

During this long stretch of time–really the bulk of human civilization–the idea of Romance as we know it today didn’t come up all that often. In many levels of society, marriages were arranged to cement political and economic positions. You either learned to love who you were paired with or you suffered through bearing/siring children until you or your mate died. In less formal circles, you may be lucky enough to pair off with someone who’s the best you’ve ever met–but the sample size to draw from would most likely top out at a few thousand.

It is from those rough times that we get the ideas of duty and fealty that still permeate our familial and romantic relationships. Anything more–deeper ideas of Love and Romance–were the dalliances of philosophers and nobles. People who didn’t have to fight to put food on the table from day to day.

But those philosophers and artists began to craft stories focusing on Romantic ideals. They brought us passion plays and romantic intrigue. By the time the more modern times rolled around, there were dozens upon dozens of re-interpreted myths and original plays where wild hearts bucked the bounds of society in the name of Love!

Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Don Juan… all characters that became more and more widely known as it became easier to spread the stories far and wide. Little by little, life for the average person became easier, allowing them time to dabble in what once was only the domain of philosophers. The ideas of Romance took hold deeply and mixed with the concepts of duty that once governed most relationships.

The idea of that One True Love who would appear in a sparkle of light and to a choir of angels took hold. Literature and theater, and later film and television would continue to romanticize Romance, driving the idea of The One deeper and deeper into the collective consciousness of the Western World.

Through is all the idea grew: There is only One person out there for each of us. We will know that One when we see him/her and we will be together forever.

And while that idea grew, the details of all of those myths blurred. People forgot that Romeo and Juliet ended up dead, as did Antony and Cleopatra. They forgot the trials of Psyche before she finally ended up with Cupid. And one of the grand romances–that of Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot–that “destined Love” destroyed Arthur and the kingdom he helped build.

Somewhere along the way, we as a culture have lost sight of the fact that finding The One just doesn’t happen on its own. We forget that there is no promise that it will happen as we’ve imagined.

Perhaps most tragically, we don’t realize that, as in many stories, when we meet our One, tragedy often follows.

But the world is a bigger place now than it was when those stories first took hold and we can cover more of it in a day than our ancestors could in a week. Reality has changed ever more quickly while our mythology has slid further from common knowledge, leaving only the horribly skewed, half-remembered idea of how things “should be”.

The myth of The One is just that: a fanciful story that is poorly remembered by most and recited differently by many.

Within that myth, though, there is Truth that is often missed. The One does, indeed, exist, just not quite as we’re lead to believe.

That’s what we’ll talk about next time.

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