Archives For Love

AttachedAt RatedGRomance, I hear from a lot of women who ache to find a romantic heartmate. They are looking for the kind of guy who craves intimacy; a man who is super attentive – the kind of lover who seems to have a freaky hyper-sense of a woman’s emotional state; a heartmate who believes they must work hard to keep their lover’s interest and are committed to doing so; a mate so tuned into her that he lets her set the tone of the relationship.

When asked, these same women probably would tell you that they don’t want a man who plays games to get their attention; a guy hypersensitive to even the possibility of rejection; someone who clearly has the ability to be “needy.”

I am that guy – both of them – or at least I have the potential to be and I never truly understood why until I read Attached. In their book, Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller use findings from the field of attachment theory to help decode how people interact with those they are closest too.

Attachment theory traces its roots back to researcher John Bowlby.  As stated in the book, Bowlby posited that we’ve been programmed “to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and make them precious to us” and that “from a biological perspective [] dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”

For me, this was a big “duh.” However, it is actually a very counter-cultural notion as it puts the authors squarely at odds with the codependency movement and many other popular self-help approaches to relationships. As the authors put it, most current works encourage us to “ ‘keep the focus on yourself,’ and stay on an even keel. If you can’t do that, there might be something wrong with you. You might be too enmeshed with the other person, or “codependent,” and you must learn to set better “boundaries.” ”

Levine and Heller argue that research in the field of Attachment Theory tells us that this one-sided approach to relationship success is deeply flawed. (I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the equivalent to old notions of separating young children from their parents and sending them off to boarding school so that they could become independent & well adjusted.) Instead, they point out that the research shows that it is the quality of our attachments that is at the root of our happiness and relationship success. “Getting attached means that our brain becomes wired to seek the support of our partner by ensuring their psychological and physical proximity.” We need each other. “Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities.” Ironically, this means, “If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, first find the right person to depend on.”

If, like me, you grew up with marriage described as “two becoming one flesh,” the notion that we are wired this way is not really news. However, what I didn’t know before reading the book was that, not only are were designed to be attached, we are also predisposed to be attached in one of three major ways:  “Secure [~ 50%], Anxious [~20%], and Avoidant [~25%]. Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.” None of these attachment styles is pathologically good or bad, but rather, they just are.

Grace & Bubbles by Bill Blevins (sailorbill @ Flikr)It’s not a perfect metaphor, but when describing the concept to others, I’ve been using the analogy of the “attachment” dogs. Imagine three dogs in the backyard that find the door to the house has been shut on them. The “secure” Labrador lays down at the door and patiently waits to be let in. The “anxious” Border Collie is hyper-alert, notices the door closing before it is even all the way shut, runs at it and barks to be let in. Once let in, it calms back down in happy contentment at the feet of its attachment figure. The “avoidant” Pomeranian sees the closed door, has an epiphany and says to itself “I didn’t want all that attention anyway. Why should only cats be free spirits,” and escapes by digging under the fence. Each dog is just behaving according to its nature.

It turns out that I am that Border Collie. Vigilant, loyal, high strung. As described in my intro, I am overtly romantic & attentive but it turns out I also have the potential to be very needy. However, given that I am surrounded by so many “secure” people and I am married to an amazing secure woman, I didn’t really know that I was “anxious” until very recently. As the authors state, “Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs.” Protected in my “secure” bubble, I had no idea I even had a needy side.

However, it turns out problems can arise when people with different attachment styles interact. In my metaphor above, imagine what would happen if the “Anxious” Border Collie tried to maintain its attachment to the avoidant Pomeranian by herding it and pulling at its coat to keep it in the yard. You can just imagine the fur flying. In the book, this exact phenomenon is described in the chapter called “The Anxious-Avoidant Trap” and sadly, it described to the letter a relationship implosion I recently experienced with an “avoidant” friend. The more I tried to mend the relationship and seek out face-time to resolve things I perceived as problems, the more my friend distanced. The cycle spun out of control and ate at my soul. In the end, we parted ways. My friend couldn’t handle my neediness; I couldn’t handle the perceived shunning. Had I read the book earlier, I could have identified the avoidant behavior, made the decision to part ways much sooner or (more likely) could have prepared myself to “settle” for a more distant, acquaintance level relationship without inciting all the drama.

This is where “Attached” has the potential to be such a life-changing book. It will help you understand your own attachment needs and identify the attachment styles of those closest to you and, in so doing, it will enable you to make decisions about your relationships that are beneficial to everyone involved. In challenging our pathological North American obsession with independence, Levine & Heller have created a book that I believe will literally transform the relationship landscape of our day.

Related: Q & A with @attachedthebook

"Always do what your afraid too" by Nina Matthews Photography via Flikr.com

There is hope!

This Valentine’s Day something beautiful and wonderful and marvellous happened in our home – my Mrs. took over Valentine’s Day. I’m not being sarcastic and no I’m not trying to make some masculist statement about gender equality and romantic gestures. Rather, my wife’s efforts nearly brought me to tears as they marked another milestone in her climb out of the dark clouds of clinical depression.

Before clinical depression hit our home, I would have been one of those uninformed people that thought depression and deep sadness were synonyms. I remember saying things like “you’ve got a nice home, a good job, great kids, and a husband that loves you. What is there to be ‘funked’ about?” Being totally vulnerable here, I suspect that one of the reasons I pursued romantic gestures in our relationship so vigorously was that I felt I might be able to make my Mrs. “un-depressed” by providing her with happy moments. In retrospect, that’s a little like thinking I could cure arthritis in a joint by massaging it. My efforts helped with the pain of the symptoms, for a moment, but I had no hope of curing the disease. Continue Reading…

Long Distance Love?

February 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

 

I Love You Txt

How do you show love to your distant heartmate?

 

I was one of the original tele-commuters, traveling back and forth between Vancouver and Columbus, OH for work in the 80’s. I was never gone more than two weeks at a time, but at the end of those two weeks I was always ready to go home. I craved face to face communication; the kind of affirmative words that only a smile can convey.

Flash forward to today. The internet has been a blessing to many, connecting potential soulmates across the miles. However, I would be very surprised if one side effect of this has not been an increase in long distance relationships. Add to this overseas military deployment and there will be a lot of couples away from each other this Valentine’s Day.

I would love to hear your ideas about how heartmates can to bridge the gap this Valentine’s Day.  Here are a few to get things started.

Words of Affirmation
  • Plan a romantic txt barrage. A top 10 (or ?) countdown of the things you most appreciate about your heartmate.
  • Send a poem or loving message on the back of numbered postcards – one word at a time. Have your heartmate puzzle together the clues to rebuild the message. As an added bonus, have the cards form a picture on the opposite side.
  • @Teresacapocci  A Video SenT dirrecT2Phone Singing LOVE SONG!
Quality Time
  • @deepbluesealove I’ve done romantic movies w/LD BF on phone, both watching movie while talking on phone. Could have dinner/dessert/flowers delivered earlier. Ex & I were LD for years, we’d even decorate Christmas trees via webcam, etc. We also would make private chat rooms & play romantic tunes… Can watch movie at same time via X Box Live on Netflix, send movie invite.
  • @Teresacapocci  Show up at door Step Unexpectedly Holding a Rose in one hand & HearT in The OTher! BEST GifT “EVER!” … @Ugogurl It just might not be an option though… distance, expense, time, day of the week, no holidays.
Receiving Gifts
  • Many items can be sent. Subscriptions (flowers, chocolates, chips), if you can customize them, might leave a year long impression.
  • Mail order catalogs often allow you to gift items. I love the ThinkGeek catalog, for example.
  • @childsplayx2  I once sent GF’s roommate a gift to hide along with clues where to find it. Each clue led to another friend. We got married.
  • Gordon Simmons (Facebook). Contact the friends/co-workers of the person who will see said person (sorry, you didn’t say what gender) throughout the day and arrange to have them give a little “love momento” on behalf of the one who lives far away. Little cards, a flower, tickets to an event of some sort, a treat of some sorts, etc. Make the entire day special.
  • @Teresacapocci  Send Tix 4 <3 2FLYThere!
Acts of Service
  • Arrange to have a cleaning service drop in to give your heartmate a break from day to day chores. Could also arrange to have the car picked up and serviced.
  • Order a meal that will be delivered for Valentine’s Day dinner.
  • Send a pre-addressed box to collect your spouse’s receipts. Do their taxes.
Physical Touch
  • Send a gift certificate to a spa along with a “touching” note.
  • Mail something personal and tactile – a shirt, a stuffed animal, mittens – that your heartmate will be able to cuddle/use as a reminder of you.
  • Arrange for a surprise proxy hug to be delivered by a friend or relative that lives closer.

What is Love?

May 23, 2009 — 3 Comments

“What’s love to you?”

“I don’t know. You tell me!”

A dear friend caught me off guard a while back when she challenged me to define love. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. The problem for me was not that I don’t know what love is, but rather I had a hard time trying to identify and pull apart the characteristics of the kind of love we were talking about – spousal love; the love you hope you can share with a partner for a lifetime. I had to think about it a lot and essentially the best I could come up with is that it is a kind of “pinnacle” love… it contains all the characteristics of many kinds of love.

"I asked my 6 year old goddaughter what is love? Her response, 'When two people come together and form the biggest heart.' This is her painting." - Photo by Andreanna

"I asked my 6 year old goddaughter what is love? Her response, 'When two people come together and form the biggest heart.' This is her painting." - Andreanna

So, for example, I believe the sentiments of the following verse: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” While this is a component of my relationship with my Mrs., obviously I love her differently than I love God or my neighbor.


I also look to a different verse – Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is the “rope over a precipice of death” test. If I was dangling on an unraveling rope with her, would I be willing to let go if I knew my sacrifice would save her life? Is there a component of wanting to put the other person first? This one is a little counter cultural these days, but I feel it still applies if your goal is a long term relationship. It must also be viewed in the light of the first verse as it follows that if we do not love ourselves, we can’t really offer love to our neighbor. The problem with this definition of love, however, is that there are many people that I could say this about. I certainly would let go of the rope for my children, for example.

Then there is the oft-quoted-at-weddings passage from 1 Corinthians 13.

“4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Verse 7 alludes to a kind of unconditional love built on truth and staying power that I believe is essential to spousal love, but ultimately I am not convinced that this passage is even meant to describe romantic spousal love. Rather it is there to give some ideas on how we should “love our neighbor as ourselves.” I know that it guides me in my interactions with everyone, not just my Mrs.; it is just that the degree to which it applies and my overall success in achieving these ideals is best and deepest in my spousal relationship.

One of my favorite discourses on love comes from a movie I once saw. I can’t place it (anyone?), so I’ve never been able to get the dialog quite right, but it goes something like this.:

“Do you want the best for her?”
“Yes.”
“And do you want to be a better man around her?
“Yes.”
“If that isn’t love, what is?”

Or, a little more flowery but somewhat similar, this quote from the Notebook is really beautiful:

“The best love is that kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more. That plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That is what you have given to me, and that’s what I hope to give to you forever.”

This is definitely a type of love, but again I can’t say this is exclusively spousal love. I have a list, albeit a pretty short one, of others in my life besides Mrs. that I love in this way – they make me want to be a better man when I am around them and I want all the best for them.

So we still aren’t there yet.

My biology background tells me that it can be argued that sexual reproduction is the core essence of love. I was taught in evolutionary biology that a species’ biological fitness is measured by its ability to create children that can also reproduce. As such, it has been argued that all of the trappings of “pair bonding” are there merely to ensure the replication of our genetic material.

Sexual “love”, eros, in Greek terms, is obviously a very, very important part (one of my favorites <grin>) of a lasting relationship, but it shouldn’t be confused with the kind of love I am trying to define. If people are capable of having dozens of sexual partners in their lifetime, it follows that sexual love is not the same as long term relational romantic love.

I personally believe that, while we are driven by our biology, we are not prisoners to it. We are spiritual entities capable of reason and choice that goes beyond our animal nature.

However, the significance of sex and reproduction probably explains why this is something most spousal couples reserve for themselves and in that sense it is a very important characteristic of spousal love. Sex is something I share with my spouse exclusively, so in that sense it must be part of my definition. But it is only a partial definition as I know I would still love my Mrs. even if, knock on wood, something horrible happened and sex between us became impossible. In its truest expression, I believe sex can be a reflective metaphor of true love, but it is not love in and of itself. We’re still not there.

The kind of love described in most love songs is what I used to call infatuation. However, after doing some research, the more correct term apparently is limerance. Limerance is “what is meant when one expresses having intense feelings of attachment, preoccupations with the love object, and a similar mind-state to obsessive compulsive disorder.” It’s the “can’t live, if living is without you” feeling; what people often call being “in love.”

However, limerance is involuntary love – a chemical response. It is essentially no different than being on drugs and it comes and goes. Studies have shown that the full force, continual effects usually wear off in under three years.

To emphasize why limerance should not be confused with spousal love, we need only look to the “limerance trap.” There is research to show that one of the ways a guy can keep a girlfriend on the hook is to not reciprocate limerant feelings, essentially creating a chemical love trap by being distant – a classic “bad-boy” move. If this is your form of love – if it is your addiction or what you are content with it – you are essentially committing yourself to a life of manipulation or a string of relationships to keep the chemicals flowing. The 7 year itch is not a myth (although apparently it is now the 3 or 5 year itch). It is a side effect of people establishing the foundations of their relationships on this type of “love” alone.

While downplaying limerance seems unromantic and thinking this “love” will wear off almost offensive, try and imagine a world where limerant feelings did not eventually wear off. Everyone would always have their head in the clouds, daydreaming about their significant other, be overly sensitive or mellow, or on the uphill or downhill side of an emotional rollercoaster. The world would be one giant middle school! <grin>

Fortunately, while we can’t control the chemicals, we can control our actions. So, being brutally vulnerable here, I confess that there have been at least two times in our 26 years together that I can remember being “in love” with – or more precisely, had a limerant “crush” on – a women other than my wife. But I have been able to openly tell my wife about these because she knows that our love is deeper than mere chemicals and she trusts me to stay within the boundaries we have set for our interactions with others. An ironic side-effect of this kind of trust and expression of true love is that I ended up “crushing” on my Mrs. again at those times because I was reminded of how special she is and, well, the chemicals were already flowing. :-)

Limerance is not love and we are not slaves to it. If limerance is your idea of love, I can see where the above paragraph may seem very, very, very odd. Our culture tends to view limerance as an excuse to “move on” or “trade for someone new,” not as a signal to try harder with your existing significant other. And that is sad.  Limerance is there to help us get to the point where we have built the kinds of roots that will sustain deeper, lasting spousal love; a kind of kick start, if you will, but not the real deal.

But if being “in love” is still not the special, exclusive lasting love we are after, what is?! I think for me, the following is the closest description written by someone else of what I mean by love in my “I love you” to my Mrs.

A visual metaphor for spousal love? Needs leaves.

A visual metaphor for spousal love? Needs leaves.

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like a volcano and then subsides and when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part, because this is what love is. Love is not the breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promise of eternal passion, and it is not the desire to mate every minute or every second of the day. That is just being “in love” which any fool can do…Love itself is what’s left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.” -Louis De Bernieres

or consider this poem that I wrote for my Mrs. during our 25th anniversary romance-a-thon.

eyes closed, smiling
I hold your hand
embracing warm
intertwined fingers,
memories and dreams.

I guess for me, what distinguishes spousal love from all the others is not that it is different from all the “loves” I’ve discussed before, but rather that it is all of those loves PLUS the unshakeable conviction that the world you two have built and will build together is better than what you could have built alone or what you could possibly conceive of building with anyone else.

What does that look like? For me, it’s the kind of love that lets us be apart, but makes me wonder what I’m missing out on when she’s not there. It’s the kind of love that encourages me to make a better world by helping others, but makes me run back home when she calls for my help. It is sex that is so much more than mere gratification. It is love so entwined in history and dreams, so much more than simple emotions, that saying “I love her, but I don’t really like her at this moment” can make perfect sense. It’s missing half my brain – confirmation and reminder of the subtle tones and colours of my memories – when she’s not there to add to the picture. It is feeling safer and more “me” in her arms than anywhere else. It is me separate, but connected, with our forever as my context.

Now that the site is up and running, I just had to write up our Valentine’s Day. The Mrs. and I had a really special day.

The day started with me giving my Mrs. the black fuzzy scarf I had been secretly knitting for her. I’d been sprinkling gifts throughout the week (flowers, a couple books on making handbags/purses, etc.), but the scarf definitely got the best response. It was simple, mostly because I had just rediscovered how to knit. I eventually had decided on a “no tassels” design to which I attached three heart shaped lockets with pictures attached. I also finally got to tell her about the knitting explosion in my class, so we got to share some laughs there. ‘A great way to start the day.

After lunch, the Mrs. did a little work over at her mom’s which gave me some time to Mapquest all of the sites, make up a romantic mix CD for the car, and get otherwise prepared for the day. This was our first attempt at a “surrender date” (i.e. all the decisions in my hands), so I wanted to be prepared if I was going to be responsible for everything.

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