In my quest to find a long-term, romantic partner, especially that is, the RIGHT long-term romantic partner, I find myself pondering the whole notion of romance and romantic attachment. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we learn it? Why do we seek it?
Much has been written on the subject. Much of what has been written amounts to malarkey, well-intended admittedly, but malarkey none-the-less. The most cogent writing I have ever seen on the subject of romantic love was written by Sue Johnson in a book intended to offer couples counselling. The book is titled, Hold Me Tight.
According to Johnson, love is our central source of joy and heartache, it is a dance that has its own rhythms. Love is not a rational bargain, it is an emotional bond that is based on attachment, reliable connection and comfort. Its key attributes are accessibility, responsiveness and engagement. Love relationships experience trouble when any of these attributes are withdrawn by partners.
I expect that we learn most about love from years of influence provided by parental modelling. My own parents were very much in love (I judged) with each other. They were both raised as farm children during the Great Depression, then matured as young adults during World War Two. Dad was the youngest of twelve Polish children, though he was born in the U.S. Mom was the youngest of three girls born to a French-Canadian father and a Mayflower-descended mother (Bushnell line, via William Brewster).
Dad was the he-man type, he was strong, proud, athletic in build. During the war, he once fought a few rounds with a Golden Gloves boxer in Madison Square Garden. Later, he served as one of the show-piece marching group that was sent around occupied Germany to show the dis-spirited German people that they hadn’t been defeated by the bunch of drunken louts they regularly saw on the streets around them, but by this proud and well-disciplined army. That was dad. Proud. Disciplined.
Mom had something quite far from the usual girly-girl upbringing. Her mother, it seemed, had told her husband that if he bought ‘that farm’ to save his parents from bankruptcy that she would refuse to help him in any way. She made good on her promise too. So it fell to the three daughters to fill in for a mom who tried to make herself happy by playing her piano, visiting with friends, drinking tea, playing cards, knitting and crocheting. While her older sisters took on cooking, cleaning and mending tasks, it fell to my mom to follow her father around the farm and help where she could. My mom learned about romantic love mainly from the views expressed by her father, many of which had to have been about the fickleness of women.
When mom (age 16) met and married dad (age 21), she transferred her one-man love and loyalty from her dad to my dad and together they produced three very solid, very hungry boys in short order. By the time mom reached age 21 herself, she had all three of us trailing around after her. Imagine!
Mom was a curious mix of feminine and well, let’s just call it ‘not-so-feminine.’ She often expressed revulsion at women who played the helpless-little-me role. She eschewed make-up except for nights when mom and dad would go out drinking and dancing. On those nights she got dolled up, and she did it well. But mostly, mom had a strong air of judgment about her that excluded any woman who was flighty, overly feminine or unreliable in any way.
Our emotions are complex things that are developed from many sources, I expect. I saw the on-going romantic love expressed by my parents for one another. They often kissed and cuddled with each other. I saw the challenges they faced together, not the least of which was us, me and my brothers. I realized that although they loved us enough to make sure that we were fed, clothed and sheltered, by the time I was born, dad held sway in the parenting department and he deemed that physical affections shown by mom and dad to their children were wrong at any age above the toddler stage of life. They made a formality of it by separating me from my brothers and informing me of this policy when I was four years old. No more hugs and kisses from mom or dad! That kind of affection would have to wait until I found a woman who might marry me and give me all the affection I would ever want or need. So they thought. It was a cruel sentence, but then, the making of a man is often a cruel process.
Parenting ideas from a man who was the youngest of twelve, who left high school in grade ten or eleven, who found meaning and worth in being the highly-disciplined, model-soldier, were apt to be a bit lacking. But dad and mom did the best they could with the education and skills they had. Everyone has faults, but love embraces many faults. It just folds them in with the batter and hopes for the best outcome.
When a life’s story is reduced to such an outline form as I have described above, it seems that the meaning of it is easy enough to judge. That is not my intention. My intention is to do the best I can with what I have. But my personal needs are really no different than the love needs of anyone else. I would need my partner, my woman, to be accessible, responsive and engaged (with me). In turn, I would expect to be accessible, to keep myself responsive to her and to always offer my full engagement with her as she tries to relate to me. I have my flaws, just like anyone else, but I hope that finally, I will be found to be enough, just the way I am. Wabi-sabi, perhaps overly affectionate, Jake.
The wabi-sabi tradition in Japan is to mend broken pottery by introducing gold-leaf into the mend, thereby enhancing the existence of the mend to better show the item’s age and the love and caring that mended it so. If only we could do something like that as human beings when discord rends our hearts yet we find a reason and a way to love again, incorporating the flaw right into our awareness and our acceptance, and finally into our love.
My woman and I need to be able to build trust and to live securely within that trust. We need to make a connection that deepens and becomes more supportive over time. We need to establish an intimate connection that is strong enough to bear up under the threats and stresses that will surely face us as we return confidently to each other’s embrace and hold each other tightly, with love. I wonder. Is that too much to ask?