Unification News for January 2000
The Stages Of Intimacy -- Why Sex?
Have you ever asked yourself, "why sex?" Yes, of course, it is through sex that we, along with most of the animal and plant world, reproduce. There are seemingly easier ways. Parthenogenesisóvirgin birthóthe mode of procreation favored by amoebas and stick insects, would be more simple.
New biological research suggests that sex is essential for our survival; it functions like a broom to sweep away bad mutations that would otherwise drag us quickly into deadly obsolescence. Two British biologists have estimated that on average 2-3 bad mutations have occurred for each person in history. This is an amazing number when one realizes that a mutation can only disappear when its owner, or child or grandchild, dies without offspring.
If we bred like stick insects, the children would have the exact same faults as their parents. The next generation would have those faults plus any new bad mutations. Bad mutations would accumulate with potentially negative or even deadly birth defects.
Sex operates like one of lifeís largest non-regulated lotteries. Oneís genes, all of which exist in pairs with one being dominant and the other recessive, first get shuffled among themselves to produce the "half deck" of genes of a particular egg or sperm. A random assortment is then cut into someone elseís half deck (when the genes in a particular sperm merge with the genes of a particular egg). Bad mutations either get left behind on the cutting floor in the first shuffling of the deck, or are matched with a more dominant "healthier" gene. If bad genes from both parents combine in a fetus, their synergistic effect will probably cause a speedy death, eliminating many mutations at once.
In this sense, biologists say, the gamble of sex beats death. By not acting like stick insects, we escape extinction. [This section based on article by Nicholas Wade, "Why Sex Works," New York Times, January 29, 1999] The only time this sexual "gene lottery" doesnít work this way, is when two much interbreeding takes place. This happened centuries ago when inbreeding among relatives within the Spanish royal family led to high rates of hemophilia. This may be one reason why there are such strong taboos in most cultures against incest, having sexual intercourse with a close relative.
But letís take a less cold, more romantic, look at the man/woman relationship and the stages of intimacy.
The First Stage of Intimacy
Attraction towards someone of the opposite sex is a beautiful part of life, a fulfillment of our sexual being. But for something that is so natural, itís amazing how much confusion exists about what it means to love and to be loved. Why, as the song describes, does love so often lead to a multitude of broken dreams and heartaches? A major reason is the misunderstanding of the stages of intimacy. Pat Love is a family therapist from Austin, Texas who gave a keynote speech at the second annual Smart Marriages conference held in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1998. Many found that her explanation about stages of love and intimacy clarified many issues that all of us struggle with.
First, Dr. Love says, there is the stage of attraction to someone, often based upon how that person looks or acts. Someoneís personality, mannerisms, or voice may remind you of a relative, or a parent who was very significant to you, even though you may not be conscious at all of the resemblance. Components of attraction include: physical appearance expressing health, strength, and fertility, personality qualities such as sense of humor and various kinds of intelligence, psychological issues including unfinished business from childhood, social status, emotional chemistry, and actual chemistry involving DNA and pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals emitted by individuals to attract other members in the same species. Female moths produce sex pheromones to attract male moths for mating. In the animal world, pheromones exhibit powerful control of sexual behavior. For instance, when an ovulating female boar is exposed to a pheromone from a male boarís saliva, for example, she immediately freezes into a mating posture. (Natalie Angier , "Study Finds Signs of Elusive Pheromones in Humans," New York Times, March 12, 1998)
While human sexual attraction is more complex, scientific research is showing that pheromones play a role for us humans as well. One study at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, found that women were most attracted to the t-shirts of men whose genetic makeup was most opposite to their own. This attraction to someone whose genes are different or opposite to our own may have been advantageous in weeding out the "bad mutations," avoiding the inbreeding mentioned above and diversifying the gene pool. Whatever the neurochemical reasons, biological attraction, being as nondiscriminating as it is, itís important to realize that you can be attracted to a real jerk or jerkette.
In the second stage of intimacy, called infatuation, you are more than just attracted. You are obsessed. Thoughts of that person fill your mind every waking moment. You want to spend as much time as possible with your "beloved"! You canít stop thinking of him or her. You feel like youíre on top of "cloud nine" when he or she is around, in the pits of hell when separated. You feel like youíve always known this person and canít imagine living apart. In this stage, whether you realize or not, youíre on drugs.
Not the illegal kind, but drugs that your own body produces. A hormone called oxytocin is produced by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Scientists believe that oxytocin strengthens the brainís receptors that produce emotions. You also experience a natural amphetamine-like drug called PEA, phenylethylamine, sometimes called the "love drug," as well as two other natural amphetaminesódopamine and norepinephrine. (PEA, phenylethylamine, an endogenous amphetamine, or "speed," is discussed in Robert L. Nadeauís book S/he Brain, Praeger Publishers, 1996)
Since you are on internally created "speed" you feel energizedólike you could stay up all night. You feel strong sexual desire because of increased testosterone levels (true for both men and women). When people are in this stage, itís easy for them to think theyíre in love. So strong are the feelings that they feel thereís no good reason to hold anything back. Many teens and adults go ahead with intimate relations in this stage.
The problem is that when youíre infatuated, you donít necessarily have a realistic view of this other person. You think he or sheís "da bomb!"óperfect or at least with so many fine qualities the defects donít matter. If someone says, "Maybe you should slow down," you protest: "Why are you being such a party-pooper? Iíve never been this happy! Why are you trying to take this happiness away from me?"
When someone is using drugs or alcohol, how good is his/her judgment? That person feels all-powerful, with no limits at all. But is that person really all-powerful? No, and the same thing is true about someone who is infatuated. That person can feel grateful for being so happy and connected to another person, but he or she should realize that his/her judgment may not be the best.
Questions to think about when youíre infatuated:
1) Even though this person seems to be so cool, so wonderful, how much do I really know about him/her? What kind of relationship does this person have with his family? This tells you a lot about someone. What do people you respect know about this person? 2) How does this person treat others, including members of his/her family? With respect or with contempt or bullying? Does this person try to force his/her will on me? (These are signs of abusive behavior and personality.) 3) How does this person relate to him/herself? Does she always see herself as a victim? Is he always blaming others? 4) How does this person deal with money? Is he an impulsive spender? Does she like to save for the future? 5) Does he keep his promises? Does she know how to apologize when sheís made a mistake? 6) What are this personís values? What does he care about the most? Who does she admire-who are her heroes? Does this coincide with your own most important values? 7) What are his strong points? Weak points? Could you see yourself living with these qualities for the rest of your life? (Many people wrongly assume they can change another personís weak points.)
You probably know people who were infatuated. They thought they were in love with someone only to see it fall apart, realizing the other person wasnít really committed to them. The cold slap of reality dashes their dreams to pieces. If theyíve avoided sex, they feel a sense of relief at having avoided squandering love on someone who didnít deserve it. If theyíve had sex, they often feel the pain and regret at having given a deep part of themselves to someone who wasnít true.
Having an intimate relationship involving sex may provide relief from feelings of loneliness that we all have, for a while. Sex can mimic feelings of love, but underlying issues of depression or poor relationships arenít solved by having sex. In the end, it often makes things worse.
A study published in the respected journal, Pediatrics, found that teen sex is linked to a lot of self-destructive behaviors. Teen guys and girls between the ages of 12 -16 who were sexually active were much more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs, run away from home, be arrested by the police, or be suspended from school. Teen girls who have lost their virginity have a six times higher risk to attempt suicide. (Donald Orr, "Premature Sexual Activity as an Indicator of Psychosocial Risk," Pediatrics, 87:2, February 1991, 141-7)
Many ask, "How do I know whether itís infatuation or real love?" The answers to the questions above may give you some clues, but the fact is, even if your boyfriend or girlfriend seems to pass all these tests, you still cannot act on the assumption that itís more than a passing infatuation. Whether it develops into something deeper and longer-lasting cannot be foreseen at this point.
Would someone who truly cares about you ever ask you to do something that neither of you are ready to take responsibility for, such as creating a new life? Itís hard to see how uncommitted sex could be an act of "love" because itís based on a false promise of love without the commitment. Isnít it like saying, "Weíll act like weíre married even though weíre not?"
This contradiction was shown, tragically, in the case of college students Amy Grossberg and her boyfriend Brian Peterson, both of whom were convicted of crimes relating to the death of their newborn son. The baby was found in a dumpster near a Delaware motel soon after its birth. They both acted on the belief that they were grown-up enough to have sex, but the reality of a child born at "the wrong time" was too much for them to take. They took action to "get rid of the problem" by killing their son. Sex is a life-uniting, life-creating act. It is much more significant than many people take it to be.
The Third Stage of Intimacy-Connection
Selection from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams about a conversation between a toy rabbit and an older toy called the Skin Horse:
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isnít how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "Itís a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you donít mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesnít happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. Thatís why it doesnít often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things donít matter at all, because once you are Real you canít be ugly, except to people who donít understand."
"I suppose you are Real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
"The Boyís Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you canít become unreal again. It lasts for always. "
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.. (Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit: or How Toys Become Real, Doubleday, New York)
In this childhood story, the Skin Horse says that when someone really loves you for a long, long time (not just to play with, but really loves you) then you become real. We seek to experience real love from someone who isnít changeable or just for a short time because deep down we all know that lasting love is an essential ingredient in becoming fully human. After all, when your life has run its course, who wants to look back at how much money you made or even how important or famous you became? Isnít the love you gave, the love you shared, one of the key ways you will judge your own life?
The Rabbit wants to become Real, to know what it feels like to be loved, but he is afraid of having his plastic eyes and whiskers fall out. Similarly, while we all seek out love, we often fear its demands, knowing that when you love someone, there are costsófinancial, emotional, sacrifices of time and freedom.
Feelings of infatuation must end. In his statement at the beginning of the chapter, Harville Hendrix, the psychologist, explains that infatuation is natureís trick, a Shakespearean A Mid-Summer Nightís Dream, to bring two incompatible people together for the purpose of mutual growth. No couple can afford to stay in this dreamlike, drug-induced state forever. After being together for months or years after the first moments of infatuation, itís usual for feelings of neutrality for oneís partner to set in. The brain becomes used to the chemical "high" produced by the mix of dopamine, norepinephrine, and PEA and needs greater and greater doses to get the same "buzz."
Other demanding tasks press in that demand clear minds and strong wills. As if afraid to face the future, many couples break up. When the intense feelings wear off, they wonder what they ever saw in their boyfriend/girlfriend and try to find some one else, as if they were "romance junkies" literally addicted to feelings of love. They try to find a new partner to stimulate those PEA "love drug" feelings again and again.
Such people often find it difficult to enter the third stage of intimacy, what Pat Love calls "Connection." The relationship is in transition from passion to companionship and a more lasting love: from irrational need and obsession to mutual affirmation and acceptance. Ongoing physical contact, not just sexual excitement, leads the brain to release continued high doses of oxytocin and increased levels of morphine-like substances, endorphins, that lead to feelings of calmness, security, a general sense of well-being. In this stage one can feel the joy of clear-sighted unity. This deep kind of friendship depends less on passion and more on stability.
Tender looks are the pieces of treasure at this stage. As Peter Ustinov once said, "Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit." We all enjoy being passionately desired, but even more fulfilling is to be deeply accepted. For your "soulmate" to accept you when he or she knows most, or even all, of your weak points and sees you at your worst, is to experience a deeper level of love.
Lucy says about her twenty-one-year-long love and marriage to Rick: "It becomes so comfortable, you know, like an old shoe." Rick just smiles and says thank you at being compared to an old shoe. Lucy continues, "Itís just not that crazy feeling anymore. Thereís security and caring and it just gets better and better. So the infatuation is gone? You just bring it to another level." (Alan Feuer, "Whatís Love Got to Do With It?", New York Times, February 14, 1999)
In this stage the character of the other person becomes a very important issue. Whether that person has good or poor qualities of character can lead to your enduring happiness or misery, whether you can feel proud or ashamed of your boyfriend/girlfriend and yourself. Whether your partner is really "cool" or sexy-looking becomes much less important than whether he/she is honest, sincere, trustworthy, hardworking, giving, unselfish, etc. We all know of countless Hollywood couples who rate on the top of the "Sexiest Man" or "Sexiest Woman in America" lists whose marriages broke up within just a few years.
As the PEA high of passion recedes, you will begin to see each other more realistically, with the strengths and weaknesses that all human beings have. The habits of relationship this person learned in his/her family will now be revealed more and more. Dr. Joel Bernstein, a New Jersey-based marriage counselor says that a mix of deep respect and a good sense of humor works best, "The teasing, and particularly a sense of playfulness, absorbs the aggression in relationships and fosters love."
People who never achieve this third stage of intimacy, connection, are like leaves blowing in the wind, or like the shiny, windup toys mentioned in the story. They attract a lot of attention for a few hours, but break easily. They have no root and gravitate to this or that person for a while, but are never able to establish the love and intimacy which are based on real trust that comes with commitment.
In most cultures in the world, a couple shows their enduring committed love by getting married. While marriage ceremonies may differ because of religious or cultural differences, all known cultures in the world have the institution of marriage.
The Fourth Stage of Intimacy: Caretaking
"Itís the little things my wife does every day, because the little things are the hard things and they make you know someone is there. Sheís up every day, making breakfast for the kids and taking them to school. Sheís consistent and solid and full of discipline and dedication. I know it sounds corny, but Iím amazed by that." (Denzel Washington, Mars and Venus)
"Youíll never be happy if you canít figure out that loving people is all that there is. And that itís more important to love than to be loved. Because that is when you feel love, by loving somebody. Iíve learned that you get the rewards of love by giving love." (Gwyneth Paltrow, Parade magazine, January 17, 1999)
The fourth stage of intimacy involves caretaking. Now the couple who spent much of their time in passionate embraces and long walks in the moonlight shifts their attention to the hoped-for birth of a child as a fruit of their love and a chance to pass onto future generations their ideals, traditions, and dreams.
Even though having children often means the shifting of time, resources, and energy from other goals, most parents find the sacrificial, caretaking role to be very rewarding as well as very challenging. The transformation of the couple into a family will change all of them forever.
After birth and while nursing, increased levels of oxytocin help to bond mother and child. The support and caring of the father relieve feelings of anxiety and concern for the future the mother may have.
There are sacrifices. Before the couple could spend their time and resources primarily to enjoy each other. Now they may spend much of their money on baby formula and diapers. They can barely remember the last time they could afford to go out to eat at a nice restaurant.
If they have not prepared their minds and hearts for these sacrifices they may even become resentful towards the new child, blaming it for taking away their youthful freedom. Weíve all heard of tragic cases where a young parent takes out feelings of resentment on a child or abandons the child and other parent to seek "freedom."
Isnít such a turning away from oneís own children and partner also turning away from oneself? Deep down, parents who abandon or abuse a child and a spouse must know they are turning away from one of the deepest fulfillments of being a man or a woman.
Yes, the lifelong commitment of getting married and becoming a parent may look like a mountain one hesitates to climb. Yet, as pointed out by Academy Award Winner Gwyneth Paltrow, when we pour ourselves out for another person, we learn what love really means. Mother Teresa, the woman who started homes for homeless people who were dying on the streets of Calcutta, once said that "Love hurts." And sometimes it does. But few who have experienced it would give it up for more passing pleasures. When we love in this unselfish way, our awareness of what life is about changes deeply.
It is fortunate that most parents have a natural desire and willingness to spend large amounts of time giving love and attention to their newborns and young children. The connection these children develop with their mothers and fathers will help them to develop empathy and sensitivity for the feelings of other human beings. A special edition of Newsweek magazine with the title, "Your Child: From Birth to Three," reported that "cutting-edge science is confirming what wise parents have always known instinctively; young children need lots of time and attention from the significant adults in their lives."
The article goes on to state that "the long-term effects of inadequate nurturing can be devastating" and hamper brain development. Babies "who are hugged often and feel loved and cared for are much more likely to grow up confident and optimistic." ("Your Child: From Birth to Three," Newsweek, Spring/Summer 1997, New York.)
During World War II, doctors identified a mysterious, deadly disease they called "marasmus." It was discovered in a group of orphaned babies who were placed in an orphanage with brightly colored toys, new furniture, and good food. In spite of the good physical living conditions, the children were getting sicker and sicker. They stopped playing with their new toys and lost their appetites. Their tiny bodies weakened and some children died.
United Nations doctors were flown in to find out what was wrong. After a short time, the doctors prescribed a treatment which cured the problem within days: for ten minutes each hour, all children were to be picked up by a nurse, hugged, kissed, played with, and talked to. With this simple treatment, the infants became more lively, began to eat again and to play with their toys. Their "marasmus" was cured.
The fourth stage of intimacy, caretaking, coincides with the crucial need of babies and young children for lots of time and attention from emotionally mature adults who are capable of giving them a loving, secure environment. The circle of love is made complete when we, who were once taken care of, now give our love, attention, and kindness to our own children. Their experience of love as children and in their friendships will prepare them for their future adult roles.
Think how strange it would be if parents kept a daily count of all the time and resources they spent on their children and gave those children a bill at the end of each year! Stranger still would be a baby who stopped his crying in the middle of the night and said to his parents, "You look really tired. I can wait until morning to be fed!" The parental, caretaking role is one of the greatest opportunities most of us will experience to learn the meaning of completely selfless, sacrificial love.
3-Sided Triangle or 4-Sided House?
Robert Sternberg, a psychologist, has studied many couples to understand what love is. In his model, love is like a triangle. Its three sides are: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Passion, the strong desire for physical affection, usually occurs without much effort, particularly in the first stages of a relationship. Intimacy, the emotional element, requires both a willingness to open oneís heart to another and the skills to communicate and to listen. If a couple lives without intimacy, they never get to know each other deeply and can never merge or bond. Commitment, the third side of the triangle, is based on the will and character of the couple and on their mature understanding of the importance of keeping their promises.
A fourth element, compatibility, includes the shared interests, beliefs, values, and traditions of the couple. This provides common ground for the two so that their commitment is not just an act of will, but a shared agreement on the meaning and purpose of their marriage. That is why one needs to spend time getting to know someone before one rushes into marriage. Passion isnít enough. It cannot last indefinitely.
Active participation in a shared religious faith is one factor that helps relationships. Among married couples, those who attend church more than once a month are twice as likely to stay married as couples who are less active. Couples who initially are passionately in love often find out later that failing to understand each otherís religious beliefs was a serious mistake.
Couples need to have shared interests and spend time together doing them. Otherwise they can become strangers, roommates sharing the same house. Intimacy, commitment, and compatibility are needed to create a marital house that wonít fall apart when the first strong wind comes along.
That is why many engaged couples are being urged to take a premarital inventory and have counseling. They examine areas of agreement and disagreement on the many key issues that few couples "in love" think about until theyíre faced with the realities of financial pressures, different ideas about child-raising or even whether and when to have children.
The four stages of intimacy are 1) attraction, 2) infatuation, 3) connection, 4) caretaking. Many people get stuck in stages one and two and never fulfill stages three and four. Itís as if they are addicted to having certain feelings of excitement and passion. The minute those feelings begin to fade, they look for someone else. They are never able to achieve the deeper qualities of love that require sacrificial giving. Even as they hurt others because of their immaturity and self-centeredness, they hurt themselves by never growing up.
These four stages of intimacy are part of a larger life cycle where we experience different qualities of love. First, as children we have an enormous hunger and capacity to receive love from our parents. This receptivity could be called childrenís love. As we grow older we form friendships on a more equal basis and begin to learn how to give, not just receive. We should also be learning how to relate to the opposite sex in brother/sister relationships. This second stage could be called brother/sister love, or more simply, friendship. On the basis of having experienced childrenís love and real friendships we have the capacity to proceed through the four stages of intimacy and upon realizing them to enter into marital love. The 1998 movie Ever After in which Drew Barrymore played a dynamic "Cinderella" figure called Daniella displayed these four stages. Daniella, whose mother died while giving birth to her, developed a strong bond with her father. On this foundation she was able to deal confidently with the opposite sex, including a boy she wrestled with as a child, and even the prince of France. The movie made it clear that sound romantic/marital love comes on the foundation of the two previous loves, childrenís love and brother/sister love. Developing these three loves prepares a couple for the sacrificial love required in the stage of parental love.
Needless to say, if you want to achieve the mature form of love being described, thrusting yourself into possible premature parenthood by having uncommitted sex is the last thing you want to do.
This text is an excerpt from the Relationship Training curriculum, 17 chapters, 170 pages in loose-leaf binder. Teacher's guide ($24.95 plus s&h) also includes Lesson Outline and slidescript for 60 accompanying slides. Accompanying slideset $119.95 plus s&h. Powerpoint presentation on CD-ROM, $69.95 plus s&h. For more information, contact Center for Educational Media, P.O. Box 97, Westwood, NJ 07675/1-800-221-6116/Fax: 1-201-358-9013/Email: CenEdMedia@aol.com/ Website: Lovesmarts.com. Credit cards accepted.
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