Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Breaking it Down

The way I was trained to think from a very young age, was this: you want to find a perfect person (of the opposite gender, of course) who you will have romantic feelings for, have sex with, want to pair-bond with as your partner, and want to have children with and live happily ever after.

It's amazing how ingrained that perspective is, unconsciously, and how I have to intentionally question it and "manually" readjust my attitudes or actually choose something other than my automatic assumptions. Even now when I'm becoming close to someone, there's this momentum of thought that says the only way to safely proceed is for this relationship to follow a particular track towards increasing commitment, and that I should employ certain tactics to make sure that this person becomes attached and bonded to me in a unique way so that we will need each other more than we need anybody else in the world.

Screw that. I don't want to manipulate anyone this way. I understand a lot of people would find following that track mutually enjoyable - good for them. But I can't do it and feel clean about it at the same time.

But what I wanted to write about was "breaking it down" - break down this perfect person that is supposed to fulfill me and make my life complete. Break them down into needs.

It seems that several wants, usually conflated into meaning one and the same thing, can actually exist quite independently of each other, in the same way that yawning and sleepiness can exist independently of each other. If I want one of these things with a particular person, it does not necessarily mean I want any of the other things. What I want is always something to be verified with my own feelings, and not assumed. So this is how I break it down at the moment:

1. Need for meaningful, intimate emotional and spiritual connection.
This is my primary need in relationships and what comes up the most. I'm not particular about who I have that with - I can have it with anyone who shows themselves to be willing, open and capable of intimacy and radical honesty, even if we have differing opinions or interests or are at different points in our life paths. I don't care. Give me truthfulness and transparency any day, and I will be irresistibly drawn to it. That's my ultimate passionate attraction. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing and knowing each other as we are.

2. Need to pair-bond.
Now this is the confusing part, I always used to think that wanting #1 must mean that I want #2, must necessarily lead to #2. That when I'm feeling #1, I should already be planning for #2. I'm seeing now that the two do not necessarily overlap, and expecting them to overlap is an unexamined simplification. I don't get a lot of desire for pair-bonding and never have. Pair-bonding is what girls did with each other growing up, when they were best friends and shared everything, and it was a world I was never privy to - I never "got" how you were supposed to do that. Pair-bonding is what you are expected to want with your romantic partner, when you start thinking as a "we" rather than an "I" and you plan everything together and buy things together and people see you as a unit and invite you places together and address you in plural and always have you sit together. I've experienced some of that once, in the early stages of my longest relationship to date. But it did not stay, and I can't honestly say I feel any need to find a particular special person to settle down with and see myself as paired with.

3. Need for sex.
The fact that this can exist independently of anything else, has been covered at length in many different places. Further broken down into need for sexual release (masturbation will do) and need for sexual intercourse with particular people. Neither of which I experience.

4. Need for intimate loving touch.
I experience a lot of that, and do desire and crave it as a physical, visceral, most immediate expression of trust, closeness and affection. I'm often frustrated and feel blocked because the kind of physical closeness I would enjoy with my dear ones is normally socially sanctioned only within relationships that are romantic and sexual.

5. Need to have children.
Never experienced it, or only in a somewhat detached intellectual way, as something I think I'm supposed to want. I'm fascinated by some women's accounts of the clear sensation of a biological urge - and only reaffirmed in my knowledge that I have never sensed that.

And so I attempt to exist, feeling a bit alien living from a template that is unlike that of most people, not even knowing yet where I want to go with this. But as I am, so my world becomes - and unsubscribing from common unexamined beliefs brings me in touch with new people more open to experimentation. Which I'm happy about.


  1. Congratulations!
    I think that it's important to make explicit this decomposition you wrote. These things are usually confused by people.

  2. Pair-bonding is what girls did with each other growing up, when they were best friends and shared everything... It's funny, that's still how I feel about pair-bonding. I just want a best friend to share everything with. Breaking this down is a good idea. As for me, if I ever want to have children, I can always adopt.

  3. This was an excellent breakdown, it brought me a fresh perspective. I'd never really thought to separate #1 and #2 - although for me, too, they are very separate needs. I don't WANT to be considered as half of a couple - I do have a best friend who some people would pair me with, but only some. For me the separation of #1 and #2 is also linked to the fact that I don't want to have to choose just ONE person to have that sort of a connection with - that I don't want to be told I can't have a meaningful, intimate connection with more than one person at a time.

  4. thoughtful analysis - I now identify with much of the feeling. but I am much older and already live in a conventional (pair-bonded!) marriage in a conventional society which would be heartbreaking to disrupt. I suppose if I don't wish to hurt someone deeply I will stay as long as he can tolerate being with the one he loves exclusively, but who can no longer be exclusive with her emotions and needs more freedom to be open and intimate with others. still working on this.... but your last paragraph is spot on

  5. Kingfisher: I used to live in that arrangement too. How old is "much older"? How tragic when we think that the choice is either hurting others or hurting ourselves!