The Mafia Don

The Mafia Don by J. M. Kearns

As far as the ego is concerned, nothing is more dangerous than risking your heart out there in the big, bad world.

That’s because losing at love, in the ego’s view, is a reflection on our whole worth as a human being—not just on our performance in that one area. Our love score becomes our life score.

That makes sense, if you consider that mating may be the highest stakes game that we humans play. When you attach yourself to one partner and form a couple, all nature vibrates with the exciting Darwinian news that these two people are going to try for the brass ring—the chance to reproduce and thereby defeat death. It’s a risky, scary enterprise, not one to be attempted with just anyone. It’s your genes betting that his genes are the right ones to fuse with. It’s an act of supreme trust, faith, and courage. It’s a man in a casino saying, “I am not a gambler, I know the odds and I’ll stake my reputation on this number.”

When you pick someone to love, in front of the world you are saying, “You shall know me by this choice. This is me, this is who I am.”

Small wonder that the ego watches all this with great concern. This is a huge opportunity for humiliation. In fact the ego advised against the whole thing, had to be excluded from the final conference where the heart’s decision was made. The ego already feels maligned by that slight.

And then, months or years later, you get dumped or spurned or replaced. Your broken heart lies in the public square and that means your whole worth has been trashed, your dearest gamble repudiated. Your leap of faith, your attempt to sing your own beautiful song for all to hear, has met with scorn.

Like a mafia don, the ego values respect above all else. An insult cannot be left unanswered: that would be bad for business. In extreme cases, this means retaliation. There are two ways it can go:

1. The ego says: I buy that you don’t want me anymore. But not wanting me is not acceptable behavior. So something must be done to punish you. Revenge must be had.

2. The ego says: I don’t buy your story. Not wanting me is not possible. You are mistaken about your own feelings and you need to be corrected. Therefore I will take control of your life and make it right again for both of us.

In Case 1 we get a scorned lover throwing her beloved’s undergarments onto the street and posting his worst photos on Facebook, or in harder cases, angry spouses jeopardizing themselves and their children for the sake of a vengeful divorce settlement.

Case 1 can easily shade into Case 2, where the spurned lover simply rejects the premise. A cool way to accomplish this is to carry on as if nothing had happened. Continue to call the ex and talk lovetalk on the phone, send amorous gifts, show up by surprise at the ex’s house (or in their bed). The next, more severe step would be to get the rival out of the picture, not so much for the sake of punishment as for control. The goal is to rid the loved one of the distraction that has been leading them astray. This might take the form of filling up the rival’s voicemail, adding salt to their gas tank, or implicating them in a recent spate of bank robberies.

But he has another approach, more frequent in most of our lives, that is very relevant to our chances of future love. That is when the romantic ego decides to turn inward and protect its owner. We have now arrived at what may be the most destructive thing that commonly happens to those of us who are injured by a breakup. It’s the hardest to detect and admit, and it goes farthest to derail our future relationships. Learning to recognize it and overcome it is a huge step towards better love next time.

So what does the ego do? Stinging from the insult to our dignity, it vows that this will not happen again. No matter what, it won’t allow anything that risks rejection. Like an over-protective brother, in its zeal to defend the heart’s honor, the ego robs the heart of its freedom. It declares: “From now on, you will love only so far as you have the upper hand, the balance of power. At the first sign of trouble you will vamoose.” 

“Sorry, heart,” it says. “You are grounded.”

Excerpted from Better Love Next Time. Copyright (c) 2009 by J.M. Kearns. Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

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