The Wanderer Archetype: To Strengthen Your Relationship, Strengthen Your Self

April 28, 2021

minute READ 

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” my husband said, tongue-in-cheek. “Sadly, I will be back.”

A few minutes and kisses later, he was off. I closed the door, not fully able to believe that for the first time in a long, long time, I was alone. I had the entire place to myself. I had all of me to myself.

Instead of needing to be done with my workout by dinner time, I could exercise whenever I wanted. Speaking of dinner, I could eat whenever I wanted. Oh, and go to bed when I wanted. No need to compromise. No need to check in with anyone. Nothing.

Just me, a lot of space, time, and silence for myself. My self.

If you had asked me a week ago what I wanted, alone time wouldn’t have been anywhere near my priority list. But life has a funny habit of surprising us. Back then (for a week ago feels like the ancient past to me), an unexpected loss and the ensuing grief prompted me to do something I had been wanting to do for a long time: start a reading challenge where I read one book per day.

One of the books I had been painstakingly collecting over months for this reading challenge was The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson. In it, the author describes different Jungian archetypes (such as the Martyr Archetype) that influence our lives. And as soon as I got to her description of “The Wanderer,” goosebumps appeared on my skin.

How the Wanderer Archetype helps us find ourselves

The Wanderer archetype sees life as an adventure. It is the part of us that leaves the prison of the status quo to venture out into the wild. As Ms. Pearson put it in her excellent book: 

“Wanderers make the decision to leave the world of the known for the unknown.”

Along the way, Wanderers confront challenges and develop trust in their abilities. The Wanderer’s journey is a heroic adventure, a quest for one’s own identity.

This archetype is willing to choose authenticity over almost everything — security, relationships, perhaps even life itself. The journey of a Wanderer is, at its heart, a solitary one. Because it has to do with identity, nobody can truly walk with us. When we are in a Wandering phase, we have to strike out on our own and rely on ourselves.

Of course, this focus on the self can get in conflict with our relationships. While Wandering is often portrayed as irresponsible behavior (particularly for women due to society’s gender roles — “how dare she?”), I agree with Ms. Pearson that it is crucial for living a good life.

People who never express the Wanderer archetype risk creating a life that is not authentic for them. They might wake up one day and realize that they are in the wrong job, the wrong relationship… the wrong life. Because they never looked deep within themselves, they didn’t make choices that are based on that self-knowledge.

Reading about this archetype helped me realize what had been missing in my life: I was overdue for another Wandering phase!

While I had gone on epic quests to define my identity in the past, I have spent the last six years in the proverbial castle with my knight in shining armor. After making the drastic decision to leave my legal career and move to another continent to be with the love of my life and live my passion, it was perhaps inevitable that I would turn into a homebody.

After all, I had confronted a dragon and needed time to recover from that. I also needed time to enjoy my reward — the relationship I wanted. But months turned into years and slowly, I lost a sense of who I really was.

A strong self is crucial for a strong relationship

I believe it’s somewhat common for people in relationships to lose contact with their own identity and sense of self. In my observation, people generally tend to be more self-reliant and aware of their own identity when they’re single.

In my case (and, I suspect, in the case of many people in relationships), the pandemic exacerbated this pattern. While it probably was easier than dealing with the pandemic on my own, having my partner or family around at all times was challenging in its own way.

While my relationships deepened as I got to spend more time with my loved ones, the connection to my self suffered. And as I realized when I read up about the Wanderer archetype, we ultimately cannot have an authentic connection with others if we don’t have one with ourselves.

Over a decade ago, I realized this during a heated exchange with a friend. Back then, I was in a Wandering phase. Naturally, my search for my authentic self led to some awkward changes in my demeanor which, naturally, were met with resistance by those around me.

At one point, I was accused by this person of damaging relationships with my honesty. I retorted, full of fierceness and passion: “If I can’t be myself, it’s not really a relationship.”

Making that declaration — however clumsy and inelegant it came out — was powerful for me. Over time, I thankfully became more skilled at integrating the Wanderer archetype and expressing the need to be myself in ways that didn’t upset other people.

And yet, I will never forget how I felt when I made that declaration. It was a stark reminder that a stronger, more authentic self leads to stronger, more authentic relationships.

How Wandering strengthens your relationship and helps you have authentic love

Upon telling my husband about my thoughts, he offered to visit his parents so I could have alone time. Popular culture would not see this as a romantic gesture (“If she wants to be alone, shouldn’t he try harder to change her mind?”).

Popular culture is wrong. There is nothing more romantic than giving someone what they need… even if it’s time by themselves.  Some people might see my need for alone time and my husband’s willingness to give it to me as a sign that our relationship is in trouble.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite. My husband’s mature offer shows that he deeply cares about me. Even though he’d rather be around me, he’s willing to drive six hours round way so that I can have what my soul craves. Coincidentally, that once again shows me that I have married the right person.

What this also shows is that Wandering doesn’t have to be anything drastic. It doesn’t have to threaten a relationship. I don’t need to run off to take Ayahuasca in the jungle or have a passionate affair with a Yoga teacher to fulfill this need.

Some time by myself will do the trick.

I will return from that time alone with a renewed sense of identity and even more gratitude for the relationship I have. By strengthening my self, I can strengthen my relationship. That is the lesson of the Wanderer archetype. 

It is only by being a Wanderer that we become a truly trustworthy Lover.

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About the author

Bere is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Bere loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at www.workyoulovecoach.com.

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