The Lover’s Journey: Love With A Thousand Faces

joseph campbell
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One of the problems we face in developing satisfying and sustainable relationships is that the narrative we have been given makes love a lottery.  If you meet the right One.  If the stars align.

This is a problem because when relationships don’t work out, we think it is bad luck.  Or that we have yet to meet this one magical person.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The Heroic Journey to love

I find it much more helpful to think of relationships as being a quest.  In order to reach the mythical Happy Ever After, we have to meet challenges and situations that call us to evolve to be more than we were.

Our journey is one of growth and becoming more authentic and reaching more of our potential.

In this post I want to show you the 12 key stages of the quest.

These stages are unashamedly based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.  The Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth, was Campbell’s insight that all great stories have the same universal path.  He talks about it here;

Love is an adventure.  It is a quest from the self-doubt that the world has given you as to whether you are worthy or capable to becoming the person that knows they are worthy of love. 

Here is the path for Lovers.

The Ordinary World

The ordinary world is the safe comfort of the life you know.  It may be a little dull or you may be perfectly happy with it.  Either way you are about to be awoken and a whole new world of adventure offered to you.

In movies, this is the stage where Luke Skywalker is bored with life on the farm.  It’s Harry Potter being banished under the stairs or Neo asleep at his computer.

The story begins with you as single.  It may be that you are happily single and have no thoughts of meeting someone.  Or you may be unhappy and desperately want someone, but frustrated with the people you meet.  In some way though, your current world is missing something.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The Call To Love and Adventure

Something happens, what Scriptwriters would call an inciting incident.  It makes you aware of the limitations of your ordinary world.  It causes you to desire or be curious about what extends beyond the limitations of your comfortable existence.

You can see this when Luke Skywalker sees the video of Princess Leia pleading for help.  

It’s the Owls delivering Harry Potter’s Hogwarts invites.  

It is Neo waking to find an unsettling message on his computer.

Maybe you come across someone you feel a strong attraction to.  Someone asks you out.  Or maybe you see couples around you and feel a pang wishing you could be with someone.

The important thing is that something makes you aware of your desire to find love.  You are being made aware that there is a choice to add something more to your life.

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.

Refusal of The Call

Almost every Hero at first refuses the call.  As Bilbo Baggins said… 

“Nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things… make you late for dinner”.  

Adventure never comes wrapped in comfort and safety.  It calls to awaken you and disrupt your life.   We refuse because we don’t believe it is in our best interests.  Refusal is the stage of recognising what the adventure will cost.  It is doubt and fear that causes us to refuse.

However, life shows us that when we refuse the call, the world becomes unbearably dull.  Eventually we recognise that we have no choice, but to heed the call. 

Luke Skywalker feels he is needed on the farm.  Harry Potter doesn’t believe.  Neo refuses the invitation to go out until he sees the White Rabbit on a tattoo.  

Maybe, in your journey, you’re too shy or inhibited to act.  Maybe, the circumstances aren’t right.  Your kids are too young or at a difficult stage.  Maybe you feel you need to lose weight before you start dating.  Or maybe, you do approach someone and they’re not interested and you recoil and swear of ever making yourself vulnerable again.  Or perhaps you get out of a relationship battered and bruised and swear off ever having a relationship ever again.

The key element of this stage is recognising that though you may doubt yourself and while you may fear the trials ahead, ultimately when you have been called you have to answer or life will always be less.  You have seen a glimpse of what could be and the old world is no longer enough. 

There is a great cost in finding and starting a relationship.  We have to face rejection, discomfort and loss.  Yet we come to realise that the greater cost is in never loving.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

The Meeting Of The Mentor

No Hero does it alone.  This is a journey of becoming and we cannot become more than we are without someone wiser or more experiences to make us aware of what we do not yet know.   

The Mentor is a wisdom, knowledge, tool or resource that you trust in.  It may be a person or a book or training.

Luke had Yoda and the Jedi way to teach him how to use the force.  

Harry Potter had Dumbledore and Hogwarts  

Neo had Morpheus and the resistance.    

Where are you getting an insight, tool or confidence that makes you believe that things could be different.  Perhaps it’s from a chance conversation or maybe it’s a book you read.

The critical element is that you feel you have something that makes a successful relationship possible.  All of us doubt and fear we’re not attractive enough or smart enough to succeed.  Initially your belief may not be in yourself, but in the tool, mentor or insight.

Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.

Crossing The Threshold

This is where you leave the ordinary world and enter the new world that you are going to have to journey through.

This is Luke going to the bar and meeting all the strange looking Aliens that show him how much wider the universe is.  

It’s the moment Neo is offered the red or blue pill and he becomes aware of the Matrix.  

It’s Harry learning of the existence of a wizarding world.   

For you it might be being buoyed by your newfound confidence and taking the leap.  This might be asking someone out, downloading a dating app or otherwise opening yourself up to the adventure of love.

This is the threshold where you leave the ordinary world for a new world that you are about to journey through. 

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.

Tests, Allies and Enemies

When you start school, a new job or anything else where you meet a whole new group of people, you find new challenges, make new friends and find people who oppose you.  In your adventure you are going to meet a new cast too.

Luke Skywalker found his allies in Princess Leia, Hans Solo etc.  He was taught and tested in feeling the force by Obi Won Kenobi.  For Neo it was meeting Morpheus’s crew, being put through tests and downloading skills and learning about the Matrix.  Harry Potter found his gang in Gryffindor House, his enemies in Slytherin and he was plunged into many tests at school. 

When you enter a dating site, it’s a bit like a new world of people.  Some will be allies and friends.  Some will be rude, hostile and unpleasant.  You will be tested as you get rejected, sent aggressive messages and upset when people you have such hopes for let you down.

Likewise when you start a new relationship, you’ll meet a group of new people.  Some will be allies, some not so much and you’ll face new challenges and tests.  The key isn’t to judge, but just to sort people into the right categories.

We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known ... we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.

Approaching The Inner Cave

This is where shit gets real.  This is the stage where you are getting drawn deeper into the conflict and you become acutely aware of the danger and challenge you face.  It is the stage where you face your biggest doubts.  

In Star Wars it was when they were being sucked into the Death Star and facing the Stormtroopers.  

For Neo it was when he visited the Oracle and she told him he wasn’t the one.  

In Harry Potter it was the first film’s adventure into defending the Sorcerer’s Stone.  

For you, it might be when you start dating and realise you have to put yourself out there in a way that makes you uncomfortable.  It could be facing the doubt that you’ll ever meet someone you can love who’ll also love you.  It could be getting into a relationship and doubting you have what it takes to make it work.

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form - all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.

The Ordeal

We can only find what we can be through being tested.  The Ordeal is when we face our crisis.  It is when something happens that causes us to grow into our power.  To grow into our power means that we have to face the situation that challenges us to dig deeper into our resources than we ever have.

In Star Wars it was finding that Princess Leia was held captive and needing to rescue her despite the risks in entering the Empire’s ship.

For Neo it was when the group are ambushed and Morpheus sacrifices himself.  Neo and Trinity attempt to rescue him on what seems like a suicide mission.

At Hogwarts it was a number of trials from poisons to strange creatures that the trio had to pass through.

What will your tests be?

Will it be when your heart is broken and you think you can never love again?  

Will it be when you face disappointment after disappointment in dating and relationships?

The key to this stage is accepting the challenge that breaks through all our barriers and fears to force us to access capacities we never thought we had.

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

The Reward

When we meet the demands of the ordeal and prove ourselves, we find our reward.  This is the treasure we journeyed for.  Sometimes there is an external treasure.  The Holy Grail.  Always though there is an internal treasure.

For Luke it was the Death Star plans, but it was really knowing that he could become a Jedi.

In the Matrix it was when Neo faced rapid fire from Agent Smith and he amazed himself by dodging them all and saving Morpheus.  He began to believe he could be the One.

Harry Potter saved the Stone and so the wizarding world and began to see that he could be more than the boy under the stairs.

For you it could be eventually meeting someone you click with and in that encounter, seeing that you are loveable and capable of making a relationship work.  

It could be having a huge fight and seeing that you can resolve the conflict and restore harmony.  

Or it could be having your heart shattered and healing back to wholeness and in the process learning that you are stronger and more capable than you believed.

The key element is in seeing what you can do when tested.

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.

The Return Journey

We all like to believe that if we just find the right person, all will be smooth sailing.  We want the secure job and never have to worry about money again.  But life is not like that.  Even after we get the treasure our challenges are not over.  The enemy chases us to recapture it.  

In Star Wars, they are chased by fighter pilots trying to shoot them down.

Neo gets stuck in the Matrix when Cypher betrays the crew.

Harry has to fight Voldemort in Professor Quirrell’s body and is almost killed.

For you, finding the one is not the end of your challenges.  You will face conflict.  You will face temptations, jealousy and differences in your outlooks.  Finding your inner strength was the beginning of the new you  The return is the challenges that solidify what you have become and make it a lasting change.

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don't bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.


This is the final test of the Hero.  It is the challenge that reveals whether he/she has really grown to be greater than the ordeal.  Have you really become something more? 

This was when Luke was the only pilot to get within range of the Death Star, but is in danger from Darth Vader before Hans Solo helps him escape.

It is when Neo dies, but Trinity whispers that he has to be the One because she loves him.  He revives and in a fight with Agent Smith shows how much stronger he has become.  Everyone sees he is the One.

Harry Potter wakes in hospital and Dumbledore tells him the story of his parents and how his Mother’s love protects him.

Likewise, you are going to face your epic test.  It will be the ordeal that tells you that you have mastered all the lessons from the mini-tests and ordeals up to now.  It is only in this final test that you will have the true belief in yourself.  

It might be the loss of a loved one who you believed was the source of your strength.  It could be when everything you believe is shaken and yet you still manage to cope.

This is the moment when you know you have mastered the skills you’ve acquired.

When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.

Return With The Elixir

The hero has a purpose greater than their personal growth.  Their journey was for a greater good and who they’ve become, what they’ve learned is the prize, not just for them, but for the wider world.  

The Buddha faced every challenge meditating under the Bodhi tree and returned enlightened, which he spent the rest of his years sharing for others to gain from.

Jesus is the Saviour for suffering the crucifixion to pay for man’s sins.  

In films, Luke and co returned to the Rebels bringing peace to the Galaxy.

Neo walks among the people and uses his mastery to awaken people from the Matrix.

Harry Potter has saved the wizarding world from Voldemort and brings them faith that they can defeat evil.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself

The Ultimate learning

The journey is a quest to follow your heart and desires.  What you learn along the way is that your journey wasn’t about those desires.  They were just milestones along the way.

It isn’t really the relationship or partner that you seek.  They are a side product of fully living your life and becoming all that you can.

Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn't that. That is a relationship for pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it's off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you're not married....The Puritans called marriage "the little church within the Church." In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament – love and forgiveness.... Like the yin/yang symbol....Here I am, and here she is, and here we are. Now when I have to make a sacrifice, I'm not sacrificing to her, I'm sacrificing to the relationship. Resentment against the other one is wrongly placed. Life in in the relationship, that's where your life now is. That's what a marriage is – whereas, in a love affair, you have two lives in a more or less successful relationship to each other for a certain length of time, as long as it seems agreeable.

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