The Prince and the Swallow: A Tale About Attachment in Couples
With this story about the role of attachment in the couple I would like us to reflect on the mechanisms of insecure attachment, how they cause us suffering and how they affect us when we try to control and dominate the other person, giving love as an excuse.
So, what are the differences between love and attachment? Why do we treat them as the same? How can a conditional attachment negatively influence our relationships?
“When we are attached to something there is always fear, fear of losing that thing; there is always that feeling of insecurity “
The prince spent his days looking out the window, waiting for something to happen. There was only one servant who was in charge of doing the shopping and keeping the castle clean. “What a boring life,” he sighed.
One morning in April, a swallow perched on the window sill. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “what a small and delicate creature.” The swallow sang him a short song and left. He was amazed: her song seemed the most beautiful thing in the world and her plumage the most original. What a unique creature!
The swallow returns
From then on, the prince waited impatiently for her return. The day came and the swallow again sang another song. He felt really lucky. “I wonder if she’s cold?” he asked himself just before she flew off again.
The third time the bird returned, the prince worried that she may be hungry. The next few days, he devoted himself to building a little house for the swallow. He sent his servant to buy wood and nails and to hunt for insects. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, he eventually demanded that his servant built the little house as well. “Damn bird,” murmured the servant.
Inside the little house he put the insects and water, as well as some silk fabrics as a bed. When he saw how she came to perch on the window sill, he brought over the little house and enjoyed watching the bird as she drank the water and made good use of the food he had prepared for her. “Do you like these insects, my sweet swallow?” he asked. “I caught them for you,” he added. With a short trill the swallow seemed to nod before flying off again.
The prince has to deal with his uncertainty
Then he became anxious. What if she never came back? What if she found a better place to shelter? Perhaps other princes would build better houses or hunt for insects themselves. He could not allow it. There was no other swallow like this one in the whole world.
The prince spent two days without sleeping or thinking about anything else until finally he decided to use his spare time to make a door with a padlock for the tiny house. The swallow, as always, returned, and when he entered to taste the food, the prince shut her in. “I love you,” he confessed, “you will never lack food or water, nor will you ever be cold.”
A bit confused, the swallow went along with him at first just because of the comfort value. She enjoyed the warmth of his home and having food at her fingertips without having to sniff around the plantations looking for food.
The prince placed the cage on his bedside table to greet her every morning stroking his head. “You’re my swallow, sing me a song, pretty one,” he would say to her. “This life is not so bad,” thought the swallow. And she sang. But over time her music faded, until she finally fell silent.
The swallow loses her song
“Do not you sing anymore?” asked the prince, surprised. “You made me happy when you sang”.
“My song was inspired by the flow of the river, the sound of the wind in the trees, the reflection of the moon in the rocks of the mountain. I gladly brought it to you, but now in this cage I find nothing to sing about”.
“I did it because I love you,” said the prince. “It’s dangerous for you to fly around by yourself.” What if you have an accident? What if you do not find food? What if a hunter shoots you?”
“A hunter? What is a hunter?” she asked.
“I take care of you and protect you, you’re safe from all danger here.”
Then one day the prince woke with a start. He went to stroke the swallow and found she was dead. Full of anger, he looked for his servant and fired him because no doubt one of the insects he had hunted had killed her. The fact that he had found the “guilty party” did not comfort the prince, and he felt even more alone and helpless than before the swallow had even appeared. Then, suddenly, another swallow perched near the window and started singing: the prettiest song he had ever heard…
The houses with padlocks that extinguish love
This story talks about how attachment works in relationships and shows how often our fears and apprehensions are imposed on the desires and rights of the other person. It teaches us the following: by trying to change people we often push them away from what gives their life meaning: their happiness. We “do it all for them” but don’t realize what we are really doing to them.
In a situation of loneliness or emptiness, we can accept our own responsibility to get out of this situation by ourselves, or we can oblige our partner to fill the loneliness by establishing a relationship of dependence.
Attachment can confuse us by exaggerating the qualities of the loved one and turning them into a unique and irreplaceable being in our eyes, thus increasing our anxiety by imagining what would happen if we lost them. Claiming we are looking out for their welfare or just trying to protect them, we can deprive the other of their freedom.
This is a tale about attachment, but it is also a tale about love. Love is accepting and respecting what the other person is like, wanting their happiness over and above the satisfaction of our own needs and – just like the swallows – letting them fly when they need to, if that is what’s going to bring them happiness.
* Original story written by Mar Pastor