I attended MinnSpec’s February meeting this past Sunday called “Love Stinks: Writing Dysfunctional Relationships.” Our panelists were Catherine Lundoff (author) and two therapists: Sherry Merriam and Rebecca Chesin.

We discussed many different theories and ideas, but one that stuck with me was Sherry’s version of the homunculus theory. I’m not sure if this was her idea or if she got it from someone else, but either way, it made a lot of sense to me.

A homunculus is typically defined as “a little human in your head.”

As she explained it, you contain an image in your head of every person you meet. Every relationship you have is with your personal homunculus of that person, not the actual person. So when you’re in love with someone, you’re really in love with their homunculus.

In other words, you’re in love with your idea of the person, not the actual person.

Problems arise when your homunculus doesn’t match up with the real deal.

Let’s look at an example. You meet Dave, and he’s a great guy. He tells you Shakespeare is his favorite writer, but he’s just saying that because he wants to impress you. You attribute this information to your homunculus. Your Dave-monculus loves Shakespeare.

Years later, Dave confesses. You have a conflict. You realize your Dave-monculus is not the man you married.

You hear couples talking about this. “You’re not the man I married.” No, you married Dave-monculus. “You’ve changed.” Maybe, or maybe your Dave-monculus was just wrong.

Issues can arise without one party lying. Perhaps you project qualities on Dave’s homunculus without really knowing what Dave wants. You want kids, and you’ve never asked Dave about it, but since he gets along so well with your nephew, you decide Dave wants kids too. Dave-monculus wants to make babies, Dave does not.

You’ll never know someone 100%, so there will always be differences between your homunculus and their real-life representation.

So how do we interact with others knowing it’s via proxy (through a homunculus)? An unchangeable homunculus will cause problems. You must keep yours flexible enough that when new information filters in, you can modify your homunculus as necessary.

I think there’s plenty of fodder here for writing, but it’s also useful information for real-life relationships.

What do you think? And more importantly, what does your homunculus of me look like?

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