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Those Aren't Fighting Words

2009-08-03 04:56:53.461422+00 by Dan Lyke 6 comments

NY Times: Modern Love – Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear:

Let me be clear: I’m not saying my husband was throwing a child’s tantrum. No. He was in the grip of something else — a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did. But I decided to respond the same way I’d responded to my children’s tantrums. And I kept responding to it that way. For four months.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Fashion Marriage ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-03 11:22:53.025357+00 by: jeff

This is a very good read, and it explains the costs of externalized happiness very well. I'm certain that many relationships could benefit from using the approach this person's wife took.

Ironically, I was passing through Whitefish (MT) less than two weeks ago while vacationing in Montana. Debby and I needed to use their public library to get online to catch-up from 4-5 days offline. Sometimes we all need a break from our daily routines.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-03 16:09:20.847298+00 by: m [edit history]

There was a very short ancient Hebrew poem that I read many years ago, and many times since. I can't find the book it was in. I think it is still packed in a box somewhere.

Paraphrased in prose: When first you came to me, you were like fire and honey on my tongue. Now, like my daily bread, I barely taste you. But like bread, it is you that sustain my life.

The first stage of love is limerence. A crazy time of absolute insanity, aptly but inadequately described in Wikipedia:

"Limerence refers to an involuntary cognitive and emotional state of intense romantic desire for another person. The term was coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe the ultimate, near-obsessional form of romantic love.

The concept is an attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic love. Limerence can often be what is meant when one expresses having intense feelings of attachment and preoccupations with the love object.

According to Tennov, there are at least two types of love: limerence, what she calls "loving attachment", and "loving affection," the bond that exists between an individual and his or her parents and children.

Limerence is characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual. It can be experienced as intense joy or as extreme despair, depending on whether the feelings are reciprocated."

Limerence usually lasts about 18 months, although 10 years is not uncommon, and a lifetime is not unheard of. From an anthropomorphic view, it seems to serve the purpose of bonding two people together.

Limerence morphs into something else. The complete change over takes a lot more time. States of limerence can be induced by setting, music, anniversaries, etc. The insane state devolves into a more rational relationship. Confusing limerence with the totality of love, some of us don't perceive that they are in love anymore. This wrecks marriages and individuals. Some become addicted to limerance, and jump from partner to partner leaving as soon as the delusional magic starts to wear off.

The taste of a life long love can become so familiar that it can only be detected in its absence. But that is no indication that profound, life giving love does not exist. Unless there is some specific reason like overexertion, I rarely notice my breathing or my heart. But they support my life.

Like my anatomical heart and respiratory system, my beloved supports my life because she is a part of me. There is so much more unity than friction that I see her as myself, which is often not at all. This may sound terribly unromantic, but I believe it is one the more desired goals of a relationship.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-04 18:41:47.519027+00 by: Dan Lyke

I think another phrase for "limerence" might be "new relationship energy", oft abbreviated NRE.

In The Girlfriend Experience[Wiki], there's a (WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILER) scene where the heroine says "I realize that this is out of the bounds of our relationship, but I have to go off and experience this weekend without knowing where it may lead", and her boyfriend says "that's unacceptable, you're going to go off, get yourself hurt, come crying back to me, and I'm not going to be there for you."

In conversation after the movie I said "well, if he really believed what he was saying, he'd say 'go, experience it, learn about yourself'" and then accept it when she came back. I've since been reminded that, in that situation, I have said exactly that.

Sometimes we need to feel that "new relationship energy", or, to tie in the conversation about Pratchett and assisted suicide, to feel like we have choices and options, even if we don't end up exercising them. It's not like "sleeping 'til the crack of noon, end up howling at the moon" is all that attractive, but the thought that we can't... well...

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-05 16:39:52.305013+00 by: warkitty

Honestly, the biggest problem I wind up having in relationships and the reason mine all seem inevitably to fail after the 4mo "high" of it wears off, is that I no longer feel like I'm being allowed the freedom of choice and instead have the burden of expectation.

I chafe at that, resent it and quickly find other things that annoy me enough to say "goodbye, I'm outta here."

Hence, I think my record thus far is 9mo. I've quit bothering to try.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-05 20:19:46.920168+00 by: m

It is hard to know what people mean when they talk about and attempt to compare physical and emotional experiences. This is difficult even when comparing the pain of a broken bone, undoubtedly a more similarly perceived experience than falling in love.

Does new relationship energy (NRE) include the characteristics that define limerence? The initial "high" that warkitty speaks of? A grossly altered consciousness such that life's focus is targeted on that one individual? The obsessive intrusive thinking about the object of ones emotions? The extreme sensitivity towards the actions and reactions of the "crush?" The overwhelming need to be with, and to please the other? Finding ones normal concentration disrupted by untimely thoughts of that person? Rapid and extreme emotional ups and downs depending upon not only what the other does, by what one thinks they might do? In short a form of insanity that is peculiar and unique to the early stages of love. What the poets mean when they speak of the agony of love.

NRE sounds more like a relationship in which there is attraction, physical and/or emotional. Pleasure in the other person, a longing to spend time with, and sexual desire for, but missing the insanity found in limerence.

I am convinced that a lifelong love can grow from either.

Please correct me in part or total.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-08-05 21:42:37.304828+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks for getting me to read and think more. We've had a couple good threads here recently!

Wikipedia's "Limerence" entry describes the distinction with:

New Relationship Energy (NRE) thrives on open communication and known mutuality of feelings and is mostly seen as a positive bonding experience, while limerence can dissipate once reciprocity is established, and is characterized by uncertainty and anxiety.

So perhaps limerence is that obsessive consuming feeling that, in its extreme, leads to stalking, listening to Nine Inch Nails, and even liking Celine Dion ("And Aye(eye-eye), will always love you(ewew-ewe)") (yes, I've been frighteningly there, except for the Celine Dion), whereas NRE is more of the sense of discovery and exploration?

And though both can be a conduit to a long-term relationship, a feeling that "oooh, I want to spend more time with this person and learn more about them", both of those experiences are kind of ancillary to the portion of the relationship that lends itself to long-term practice, a lifelong love?

To Warkitty's comment, not only is there that sense of discovery and exploration wearing off ("Okay, now I know where they like to be kissed, the boundaries are plain, no more risk or excitement as we push them"), but, yeah, there's a lot of unstated assumptions that we then make about the other person that sometimes, at least in my experience, need a big kick to get restarted. "Oh, look, we do change over time! We aren't the same person we were last week." And it's real easy for me, especially, to start conforming to some image of what I think the other person wants and thus start to feel constricted.

And sometimes things deteriorate into a "we have to do everything together" rather than a "sure, go see that movie" space.

(Oh, clarification on my above comment, when I said "I have said exactly that" that is that I've said "Sure, go figure out what you need to." Which, perhaps, is some of what Laura Munson was saying in that original comment.)