Last night I had that dream again. I was back in middle school and I was with Teddy. When I knew him in real life, Teddy was a short boy with a bright spirit who shared art, English, and homeroom with me. What I remember best about him is the way his eyes lit up with pleasure and his infectious laughter whenever something amused him. In my dream we were friends again, playing games and whispering secrets. When it came time to leave, I confessed the feelings I had for him which I was never able to express. He put his arms around me and wordlessly acknowledged that he wanted to be with me too. I was so happy. The dream always ended there, and I woke up with the sweetness lingering in my heart and disappointment that it was not real.
My middle school friend represents for me an unfulfilled longing, and I find that whenever he appears in my dreams, I’m always at a crossroads in my present relationship. This dream reawakens in me the happiness I’m missing. While I know him very little in real life, as an inner lover he is the Apollonian embodiment of light and springtime. The inner lover is a fantasy figure based on a real person in our lives. Often this person is not available to us as a real lover so we fall in love with their image in our minds. They are a projection of the qualities we seek, the vulnerabilities we recognize, and the achievements we want for ourselves. Even if our relationship with the actual person doesn’t work out, our relationship with the inner lover continues to sustain and inspire us. An inner lover can impact us long after an encounter with a real person has become a distant memory.
A conscious relationship with the inner lovers in our lives can help us recognize our desires and aspirations, deal with relational problems, and reach our creative potential. When I first met my primary partner I had an image of him as a mature and confident being brimming with economic potential. I was attracted to his worldliness (including his desire for money and status), his sense of fun and desire to live life to the fullest. I was the bookish type who prided myself on frugality and rarely indulged myself in so much as a drink at the bar. I am attracted to power and prestige but also shy and fearful of wrongdoing. I was attracted to someone who I felt could bring me out of my shell and encourage me to take risks. His confidence and spontaneity were qualities that I really wanted to possess myself. In the years we have been together, I’ve become more entrepreneurial and outgoing, and he has hunkered down with books and explored his interests in psychology, art history, and music. We’ve absorbed from each other qualities we wanted to develop in ourselves.
Visualization often helps us recognize qualities that define the inner lover. In the first few months of being in love with my secondary partner, I saw him as a celestial being, a seraphim with powerful eagle-like wings. I was immensely attracted to this image of him, which represented for me masculine virility, spiritual mastery, guardianship, and otherworldly aspirations grounded in worldly interests in politics, science, and human relations. What I loved about him was a largeness of vision and largeness of presence. As time went on my conception of him shifted to that of a unicorn. This unicorn was white, with a heavy silvery mane and a warm horn. It was a much more feminine image of him, but still imbued with masculine sexuality. It was more playful and whimsical, and together we explored enchanted coves and ruined castles. There was still something transcendent in this figure and an element of the guardian, but it was more earthly and intimate than that of a seraphim.
The inner lover can also help us deal with problems in our relationship. Since I’m in a long distance polyamorous relationship, I don’t get a lot of time with my secondary on a daily basis and physical intimacy is limited to once a month when we are able to meet. I miss him a lot, and sometimes I am envious of the time that his live-in partner gets with him. I’ve found that it helps if I imagine spending time with him as an inner lover. I imagine him the way I like to see him best, full of grace and love, a figure both paternal and childlike, doing something together such as exploring in nature or just resting and looking into each other’s eyes. I’ll imagine a conversation that I want to have with him, or just receiving and giving love the way I want. Since this is in my imagination, there are no barriers to our communication and I am able to get exactly what I need.
In Valerie Harm’s The Inner Lover, she talks about how we are attracted to those that we need to propel our spiritual growth, and even if those relationships do not last long, they teach us what we needed to learn at the time. For years I had an on and off relationship with a young aspiring lawyer. Our relationship was always long distance, and in the end things did not work out, but he burns brightly for me as an inner lover. I admired how he came from a background of poverty and struggle and through academic achievement rose through the ranks to eventually graduate from Harvard and Columbia Law School. I learned from him how to be tenacious and seek opportunities even if you are met with failure many times. He taught me how to do things like negotiate for a lower rate on your phone plan, and how to call your credit card company to waive late fees. He was quietly ambitious but never forgot his humble roots. He always encouraged me to go after the biggest fish instead of settling for smaller ones. Whenever I feel afraid of pursuing something I want, I feel him stirring inside me propelling me to grab life by the horns. He lives in me and is part of me no matter how distance we are in life.
While a relationship with an outer lover can be terminated, derailed, or never started, the journey with the inner lover continues for as long as it needs to and yields rewards commensurate with our effort to unite with them. Valerie Harms writes, “The problem with most of us is that we look too much to others for gratification that they cannot provide, while we miss the rich depth of our own beings.” The yearning for the inner lover is a yearning for God, that which we long for to feel whole. The good news is that we don’t need the outer lover to derive the benefits that we would gain from a relationship, often the inner lover is enough to help us find within ourselves what we need to feel whole.
Here is an exercise for uniting with the inner lover:
Find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit, and for 10 to 20 minutes become grounded in your body. Notice your breath coming in and out, and your chest rising and falling with it. Notice any frantic or distracting thoughts you may have, acknowledge them and don’t feed them, just continue to notice your breathing.
After you have reached a state of mental and physical calm, begin to picture your lover in your mind. Picture him or her in physical detail, and also the qualities that you love about them. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise when you contemplate this person. Who is she? Allow your mind to free associate about this person. What do they remind you of? Perhaps a panther or a bear… Or a bird or a turtle… Maybe a mythical creature like a centaur or a mermaid… You might even see your lover as a tree, a beam of light or a body of water. Try out various concepts and see which one fits.
Imagine yourself interacting with this being that is your lover. What are you doing together? Flying through space? Walking along a beach? Playing games? Making love? If you have something to say to your lover or have a question, say it. Imagine the other clearly and lovingly receiving your communication, and listen to what he or she wants to tell you. Feel the exchange of love, energy, and passion between the two of you.
Finally, imagine that you are your lover, and your lover is you. If you imagined him as an eagle, imagine that you are the eagle. If you imagined her as a rose, now you are the rose. Feel what it feels like to be him or her, fully manifesting all the qualities that you love. Know that the two of you are one.
People are fickle and relationships often don’t work out the way we want them to. With the inner lover, the essence of the loved one stays with us, reminding us that all we want is within ourselves. The lover is never missing from our lives, and we can be united with him/her by finding all the qualities we love about them in ourselves.