Attitudes Regarding Love/Relationships

...For Freud, every infant - subject to physiological, emotional, mental needs but not yet possessed of understanding, or the capacity to fend for itself - is locked in relationships with parents whose love - and power - it both resents and craves. Central to that early life, he realized, lay the more-or-less successful (but always necessary) wrestling with, and attempted resolution of, that intense tangle of love, power and desire that is at the (at first dyadic, then triadic) parent-child relationship...It took him twenty years to recognize that far more likely (than traditional male to mother Oedipal conflict) was that both infants began life attached to the mother, that this created an asymmetry, and meant that the path to such heterosexually oriented 'childish desires' was necessarily more complex for girls than for boys...

Jeri Johnson, in intro to Sigmund Freud's The Psychology of Love

Originally, Freud theorized that repressed memories of sexual abuse during childhood only surface once the child has enough sexual experience and physiological development to interpret what happened, but eventually Freud thought it unrealistic that there could be so much abuse out there. He eventually came to see the disturbance as related to the child's fantasies, which are tied to (its future) adult sexual development.

But, if the child has unconscious sexual desires toward the parent, (and the working out of these desires in the context of development is significant) could not the parent also have unconscious desires toward the child? And could this not be the 'natural' state of affairs, which in the 'normal' resolves itself without hysteria or neurosis in the child? Also - could the parents of adult neurotics have been higher functioning neurotics themselves, some of their unresolved issues transferring to the child, perhaps with extra layers, or simply too much for the child to handle in its undeveloped, dependent state?

...The ghost-ridden character of sex is implicit in Freud's brilliant theory of "family romance." We each have an incestuous constellation of sexual personae that we carry from childhood to the grave and that determines whom and how we love or hate. Every encounter with friend or foe, every clash with or submission to authority bears the perverse traces of family romance. Love is a crowded theater, for as Harold Bloom remarks, "We can never embrace (sexually or otherwise) a single person, but embrace the whole of her or his family romance."...The element of free will in sex and emotion is slight...

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

Retranscription: with new experience, the past is endlessly revisable.

When I was a child, I didn't care about being a child. I only wanted to grow up so that I could experience real love. I am not sure why this is, but I think it is because I associated being a child with an inferior kind of love: duty and obligation. I grew up with the idea that passionate love was the kind that mattered.

When I was 13, in the conversations I had with my father, he told me about all his relationships (including that he'd had sex with my mother's sister, who, on my parents' wedding day, stated that he had married the wrong girl), and it was clear that there was a difference between the safe, secure relationships and the passionate ones. There was also something of a time bomb that began ticking during these conversations: while my father was talking to me about his sexual relationships, about sex itself, telling me dirty jokes, asking me to sit on his lap, his girlfriend was upstairs sleeping. And he was giving me the impression that he found her nice, but that he didn't have passionate feelings for her.

It's not a bad thing for a parent to talk a lot about sex to a kid, and ignoring the subject is not healthy. However, I can't say that I would find it OK if a man I was living with had such conversations about me with his 13 year old daughter while I was asleep - unless it was a super-communicative family as a whole, and I was also part of discussions, contributing, aware - but even then, I would not find a man with my father's focus attractive. The point is that most women probably aren't aware of men's true feelings, or behaviour that they will participate in if they think they can get away with it.

Part of the time bomb was that I would eventually be a middle-aged woman myself, and I would see that most men were likely to conceal their true selves from me.

When I was 14 and my sister moved in with us, my father said that she would be a 'heartbreaker', whereas I would 'do alright'. I really don't think he meant for it to affect me the way it did, but I think this seemingly minor comment might have had an effect on me related to depression - that it contributed to the other factors. I had grown up with the idea that passionate love was the most important kind, the main goal in life, and I was being told that I was not capable of eliciting it. I have throughout my life always done 'alright', but never attracting an extreme passion - or being aware of it if I did.

It is better for me if I make no pretences from the start. I know what a relationship is, and I have no expectations that it will be more. I try to focus on what I like about it, what is good about it, what I learn from it. It is not always possible to pull away easily when I think it's for the best, and sometimes I just have to go through it, but obsessions do tend to dissolve with concrete information.

The obsessive tendency started when I was 13. It did coincide with adolescence, but in my case was more extreme than the crushes of others I observed. I think it relates to:

1. Moving away from my mother, and her subsequent anger toward me. When I moved in with my father, I spent a lot of time before and after school alone, whereas in the past there had always been my mother and siblings (and a very cute dog bounding/bouncing down the road toward us after school). But she sent the police, she called repeatedly, and said a lot of angry things to me. I tried to remain calm because I understood that she was hurt, but I think she took that calmness for coldness or bitchiness.

2. At the time, I thought I was handling it well, but in reality I think that my self-esteem was affected and that I felt rejected. At the same time I was dealing with a father who made immature and inappropriate comments denigrating my mother (some related to her appearance, some related to her irrationality). At the time, I looked up to him, and I think this behaviour was difficult to assimilate.

3. I wanted my father's girlfriend to like me, but she was very non-communicative, and I think that me moving in was not what she wanted. Also, I think she herself had some major food and body and self-esteem, as well as assertiveness issues. I liked her, but I don't think it was reciprocated. Usually, the teenage girl is the one more likely to feel anger related to a new woman in her father's life, but in this case, I think my father's girlfriend thought I was a bitch.

4. I did receive attention from my father and I was for some time pleased with that attention. I liked being an only child. However, I might have seized upon small bits of attention and seen them as 'bigger' than they were, perhaps most of the time being left to my own devices or not considered - left to raise myself.

5. From that age on, I received no female nurturing. My father's nurturing was like that of an inconsistent buddy, and his conversation was very frequently sexual.

I think that this state of affairs led to my obsessive tendencies - I was lacking attention and nurturing, and my mother's reactions to me choosing to live with my father had hurt me deeply. I would always be passively waiting for the person I was obsessed with to show me some sign of attention. A good day at school might include accidentally bumping into the person somewhere in the halls, or even an accidental glance in my direction. I was able to consciously associate a feeling of depression with not being noticed or with my feelings not being reciprocated, but I was not able to see that I might be projecting my home situation upon strangers, and seeking out relationships that had similar features or resulting depression related to a feeling of non-reciprocation.

I was obsessed with a boy I was able to 'go with' for 2.5 weeks before we broke up. The breakup was painful for me, and later on I became even more obsessed with this boy. He was not interested, but in Grade 11, another boy began to ask me out. I refused many times, but he was incredibly persistent. He often came to school drunk. I did not want to date him. Finally, one day he asked if I would go with him to a party, as friends. I knew the people who were going to be at the party, so I finally said OK - to the 'just friends' part.

He picked me up, gave me some beer, and drove me to a secluded place in the woods. There was no party. I blacked out, but he later told me that he had tried to have sex with me and couldn't believe how hard I had struggled. He hadn't been able to have sex with me. At that time I was 15 years old, and I had never had intercourse. It was winter 1982. I had a reputation for making out with guys when drunk, and I had a reputation for having a problem with alcohol - it's not that I had had it all that many times, but the few times I had, I had made out with guys. I felt guilt about this, because although sober I wouldn't have made out with them, I thought that unconsciously I must have wanted to if I did it drunk. I often apologized to these people later, telling them that I was sorry for leading them on and behaving badly, which is also what I did after this first incident with this persistent boy.

He kept showing up, following me around at school, asking me out. I eventually caved, and agreed to date him. But I was conflicted and right from the start I would try to break up with him, but he would not accept it. It was difficult to resist the attention. I wrote exams, and on the last day of exams, my mother picked me up to take me up north for March Break. When I returned, he threw a party for my 16th birthday at his parents' house. After the party, he tried to have sex with me while I was passed out drunk, but his father stopped him. I didn't really find this odd when he told me about it, and so I don't know if certain ways of thinking were common among my social group, or if it might have been related to an incident in which I had heard my mother clearly saying 'no' to her boyfriend, and sounding upset, and like he was hurting her, and yet he continued on and my mother ended up staying with him. I had felt like I should do something, but I didn't know what to do, and I felt guilty for not helping her. I was somewhere from 10-12 at the time.

Two days after my party, I attempted suicide. He visited me every day, and constantly pressured me for sex. I thought he was in love with me. At that time, it was difficult to give up the attention, but after I got out of the hospital, I still continued to make attempts to break up. He would cry and threaten suicide. He would just keep showing up at my house, calling, etc. I thought that there was so much wrong with me, including ichthyosis, that no one else was likely to ever accept me. In a way, I felt like I was 'doomed' to be with him for the rest of my life. (instead of 'destined').

I think it was about a month after I was released from the hospital that we started having intercourse. I don't remember the actual occasion, but it was consensual. It probably wasn't long after that that I became pregnant.

A person who gives a child up for adoption is at least saying that they hope the child will have a good life - that they want them to live. A person who has an abortion denies the child life, a chance. I am not grateful to have been given my chance. I would not want to bring another creature such as myself into the world.

I am not sure about the timing (it was some time during the summer months, while I was still living on the farm), but I think it was not long after I had the abortion that he raped me anally. I didn't think of it as rape at the time, because I had consented two other times, and also consented to the occasion I would think of as rape - at least initially. The last time turned out not to be like the first two. It was very violent and painful, and when it began I was immediately afraid to move or complain, in case he caused me permanent damage. The confusing part is that when the pain let up, when he was finished, I wanted to have vaginal intercourse not long after - I may have been experiencing an endorphin rush after the release of pain. But after the incident, he told me that he had known I wanted him to stop, but that that had turned him on more.

I bled for about a week, and was afraid to eat. Sitting and even standing were uncomfortable. I felt alienated from him, and made more attempts to break up, but always went back to him. It took a few more months for me to finally make it permanent. I became firmer in my refusals, and he became abusive. I would hang up the phone, and refuse to see him. It finally stuck. When I moved away, I didn't let him know my new address, and the one person from high school (my best friend) who knew it promised never to tell. After I had moved away, he had come around and asked the neighbours our forwarding address - but no one gave it to him.

I had confused ideas about love and relationships. My next relationship was also with an abusive person. However, slowly over the years, I got better at breaking up, and making or attracting better choices. I have sometimes been accused of being 'cold' when it comes to breakups. The thing is that I was so extremely (and easily) emotionally manipulated in the early years that I had to learn to 'toughen up', for my own good. I probably became desensitized.

Can you love anybody if you do not love yourself? If you do not find yourself acceptable, what can attraction lead to? Can it help to find those who see something different in you that others do not see, can this help you to see yourself differently? When people say that all the answers are in ourselves, that acceptance must come from within, are they just failing to see that we all affect each other, and that there is no such thing as an absolute, stable, unchanging acceptance of oneself that has nothing to do with the outside world whatsoever?

I don't accept the view that we must work on ourselves in order to be ready for a valuable relationship. I don't think that there is a final destination regarding knowing oneself, learning all there is to learn, or becoming a whole person. I think that having a variety of relationships can help in learning more about ourselves, and in becoming more 'whole'.

It seems to me that over time, even through having relationships of short duration and sometimes negative consequences, that I learned how to find those with whom I was more compatible. Even through 'doing the wrong thing' (having relationships when I was not already 'whole'), I have eventually managed to find better and better relationships. I still think I am capable of greater connection, but it may be that someone more compatible does not exist out there. For me, the answer would not be to try to change myself, fit in and gain the respect of the world such that I could attract another 'whole' or respectable person - it would be to find those who could already see something in me.

Learned helplessness in relationships

One of the major causes of my parents' violent fights before their eventual separation and divorce was that they had different approaches to spending money, and different attitudes about money. As a child, the way I processed it was that they didn't have enough money, in large part because they had so many kids. The divorce involved a long drawn out battle with lawyers, with both parents I suppose trying to find dirt on the other.

My siblings and I were all affected, and I think all of us were more wary of marriage and having kids than most people.

Both of my parents formed relationships that were financially necessary. They probably did so because they had kids. Both expressed desires to leave, and although my mother also faced threats of violence and murder, both parents had financial reasons to stay in the relationships they were in. To live in the country and have horses, my father needed another paycheque to contribute, since he had to pay part of his salary to child support. My mother went in on a business with her boyfriend - a small summer/fishing resort in Northern Ontario.

My father clearly was not happy in any of his relationships - he seemed to believe in 'soulmates', but he didn't seem to ever find anyone who was close to being a soulmate. His long-term relationships often seemed based upon a mutual need to escape, with drinking/getting high occurring (sometimes) on a nightly basis. He was usually angry and upset when his relationships broke up, but I think I probably unconsciously wasn't ever surprised that they did - he seemed to be acting in ways to bring it about, or at least his attitudes were not those that I think any partner finds it appealing to accept. I think it is human to feel upset at the end of a relationship, but I guess I was never really sure that he wasn't more angry than sad. That it was something he wanted, but resented that the other person was the one with the strength to leave.

There is some parallel between my father's behaviour after his relationship broke up - for example, getting caught three times for drunk driving, and a few months later falling down the stairs and fracturing his skull - and my boyfriend's threats of suicide - followed by an accident in which he rolled his car (while drunk).

My mother was also financially tied to the risk she had taken with her boyfriend. Picking up and starting again would have been disruptive and difficult, especially if she didn't have access to any real money - if all money went into keeping the business going, and it wasn't possible to put any away.

My scholastic achievements would have pleased my mother, but she couldn't help wanting a daughter who could be a model. She constantly watched me and tried to 'help' me become more acceptable. My father would have preferred a 'street smart' kid who could think on her feet and who had a knack with animals, especially horses, and who was also athletic.

I was influenced by both sides, unaware of what I really wanted, and without a realistic appreciation of how my talents could be developed. I had a natural inclination to writing, but I think both parents, while they would have approved of a 'writer', had dismissed my writing as empty or had not been able to perceive the early stages of development. They were too caught up in their own need to appear as good people, sure of what was right and wrong or irrelevant, too vindictive and immature to be generous or patient. I could not use writing as an outlet because it would hurt them or anger them, which would result in me feeling like a bad or ugly person, which meant that I was not lovable.

Maybe I had to get to the point where I realized that no one really loved me and that no one was ever likely to, before I was 'free' to communicate.

Learned helplessness can also refer to witnessing other 'helpless behaviours'. My mother could not leave an abusive boyfriend. My father couldn't manage anxiety without alcohol (binge drinking on weekends) and cigarettes (3 packs per day), and was unhappy even though he made the effort to live in the country with horses. My father's girlfriend was not assertive - she probably didn't really want to live in the country and I think it's pretty likely she didn't want any of my father's kids to move in - but it took her a few years to leave. Both parents seemed dependent on relationships they did not really want to be in.

For my father, love could include both wanting me to die and berating me that he always had to worry he'd discover the body. It could include saying that he didn't really want to live with his girlfriends, that he found them intellectually or sexually uninteresting, or that he didn't really want to get married, although he went through with it. It meant that he would sometimes lament that he could be happy if he did not have kids to raise, and that he had not had a conscious thought until the age of 30 (What did this mean? That until the first trial separation he had not really considered the mess he would be in by blindly procreating?), it meant that he could admit to fantasies or hallucinations that he had killed all of us while drunk, it meant that he expected us to show some understanding of the pressures and responsibilities he had while he was incapable of returning anything remotely equal, it meant that he could overlook and trivialize my contributions and expect me to be grateful for the state of neglect and poverty I lived in while thinking I constantly owed him? Owed him for all he invested in my future? For all the concern he had regarding my original potential? And a mother who had already dismissed me as lost to 'the devil'? As an ugly person? How could anything good possibly spring from the loins of such utter imbeciles? What could 'love' be worth?

It is disheartening to see how many years it takes sometimes to become aware of perspectives that were originally judged too unacceptable to be allowed anywhere near consciousness (partly too disloyal), instead acted out aggressively upon the self, with the self too clueless to interpret. Or too afraid of being ugly, and therefore never worthy of love.

Am I still trying to 'earn' the love of my parents? Am I on my website trying to be the closest thing to a 'model' I can be, for my mother? I'm sure she would be pleased that I have travelled. And as for my father, I managed to avoid all the responsibilities that made my father so stressed and unhappy, plus I have a very natural relationship with animals. I have perhaps learned something from their examples besides helplessness. But I did not learn how to be happy, and the kinds of love I seem to find all seem to conceal unconscious resentment and devaluation, in which the eventual result is a wish for or a waiting for my death - in some cases so the person can be free.

'Love', according to what I have learned, is an extremely complex emotion, and it can include that those who 'love' you might wish that you die. How could I ever calmly participate in any relationship without wondering about what was going on below the surface of everyday conversation and activity? is not swoon, possession or mania, but a 'cognitive act, indeed the only way to grasp the innermost core of personality'...

O Schwarz, The Psychology of Sex, quote by Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch

How can love be a cognitive act if men (or women) are unable to identify and discuss their feelings, or are unwilling to think or talk about the relationship itself?

When I speak of my obsessions, my aim in getting to know the other better is not about clinging to the obsession, but about a 'cognitive act' that results in me gaining the knowledge (ideally) that we have something in common that opens up the possibility for a kind of relationship I have not had before, a more equal relationship - but all obsessions are a kind of inspiration, and are worth exploring to the extent it is possible to explore.

What I call 'obsession', others might call 'love' or 'eros' - I am just not able to be that blind. I think of obsession as something that can occur unexpectedly, and lead me to understand more about myself and about life. I don't think I know the other person, but I feel compelled to learn more. I think of the chemicals involved as a 'good thing', a part of life that signals aliveness. I realize that my preoccupation is usually more extreme than that of others with crushes, and I realize that this is because my life is different - I have a lot of time on my hands, and my psychological background and mental abilities combine in such ways that I link and escalate associations, chemical reactions - in most people the natural desired outcome doesn't seem to be death.

I think it can be a cognitive act to choose to explore this tendency in myself - with my eyes open. How can others grasp the 'innermost core' of my personality if I don't try to explain this process? I am trying also to challenge people's ideas of what 'real love' is, and to point out that those who think they know each other don't always grasp the innermost core of each other's personalities.

..The Romantic taste for the moribund heroine is itself a manifestation of sexual disgust and woman-hatred...

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

I hadn't really thought before that my death-romance fantasy was about self-hatred, but I do think now that it might have been related to an unconscious kind of non-acceptance of myself. If I could die, I would be 'convenient', no more trouble to anyone. My death would be a relief, a relief is about pleasant feelings, closer to 'love' than the stress related to being inconvenient. I created a romantic fantasy around it - complete with a hero who shares my ideas and aims - so that I could be allowed a love/romance of my own while being as convenient as possible. My fantasy is about 'cleaning up the mess' that is my life, and attempting to put a 'positive' spin on it.

Finding someone who wanted to go on a trip and die with me? It seems like a solution that made sense: passion couldn't last with me especially, but maybe I could have it for a short while with someone who had important things in common. If that person did not live with me long-term, perhaps they wouldn't be disgusted by the daily reality of my appearance and character. And I would be 'convenient' to my family by finally dying and fulfilling the prophecy, earning their affection by such convenience, and granting them a sense of relief - I would not be a drain on the resources ever again.

I have never believed that any relationship would 'save' me, or make me want to live. Some people have seemed not to believe I really mean it. When I have been obsessed with anyone, I have never fantasized about living with the person. It's just not possible for me to imagine a life that I want to live. What I imagine is that soon I will die. That is where the hope lies. I understand that there may not be anyone who shares such a fantasy. That's what I try to work out, and when I know for sure, an obsession with a particular person ends.

My father's seeming acceptance that I would kill myself before age 21 seems to relate to this. If he had unconscious feelings which resulted in a mostly covert incest, but left him unsure of how to deal with me, he might have tried to cover his own feelings of guilt by wishing to solve the problem by my death. When you have males who have grown up with the winning-isn't-everything-it's-the-only-thing attitude, it may be impossible for them not to see every relationship as not only a struggle for supremacy, but in some cases a fight to the death. It's not about 'fairness' or everyone's 'best interests', it's about winning at any cost. It's a primal instinct. 'If I don't kill her, she will kill me.'

This issue is probably at the centre of my relationship with my father, and why we no longer have a relationship. I recognize now that he was willing to sacrifice me to cover up that he himself had messed up. I was willing to try to understand, but long after I had moved away, and he had a new step-family, I saw that he had not learned anything from the past. His attitudes were still the same, and he was still inflicting harm.

What may have been exposed was an unpleasant human reality - but if all of our family relationships contain within them the possibility of extreme betrayal in the service of our own survival or even in saving face, how can you go back to spouting 'love' words to family members once that truth has been exposed? In my case, I think I needed love to be a 'cognitive act'. I needed the discussion, I needed acknowledgement, I needed to be seen. Without that, 'love' and 'family' were just words with no real meaning.

In all my relationships, I was aware that I was not prepared to commit to monogamy. I realized very well that in all cases, I was still hoping for a 'deeper' connection, and realized that my behaviours within the relationship would be likely to reflect this. I was not prepared to be silent and just wait for a certain amount of years not dealing with this - I let the other person know, such that they had access to information which I thought essential when it came to making decisions about their own lives. I never 'cheated' - I was always aware when there was the potential for me to act on attraction, and would discuss this beforehand. My partner was never the last to know.

I also realized or was aware of the unconscious attractions that are all around, affecting everyone. I could not just pretend that I did not see this. You can't demand that people not experience attractions. You can't force people to talk about attractions that they are not consciously aware of, and to try ends up looking accusatory, even if it is not meant that way. I was never asking anyone to talk about things I was not prepared to also face in myself - and to pave the way, I would be the one to go first. I just thought that there was a better chance to build a significant relationship when both parties are willing to examine who they really are, and how they are affected by what I would now think of as evolutionary factors.

My family 'loved' me, but expected me to kill myself, and I am still trying to live up to those expectations, and I seem to unconsciously associate 'love' with doing so.

See also: sexual development, and What Is A Family?

I also think it's possible to become habituated to another person without becoming fundamentally comfortable with that person. It's a kind of adaptation born of necessity. I still seem to have some wish for a higher level of 'comfort'.

I can't see it as 'wrong' that I still wish for 'more' in a relationship. In my early 20s, I had a kind of extreme longing that was both for passion and for comfort. In all the relationships I have had, neither of those aspects has been sufficiently addressed. I continued to experience that longing all through the years, although not always to the same degree. I have never been in a relationship that I wanted to keep. There were many that I thought I would have to live out in slow motion, I didn't know how to speed up the process, but I wouldn't have fought an ending, and didn't. I seem to lack whatever it is that people feel when they seek to hold on to a relationship or prevent an ending. Is it about rational assessment? Is is about feeling I don't deserve a long-term relationship, a commmitment, and a resulting graceful lack of demand or expectation? It is like the other issues in my life, it requires thought to untangle.

It does seem likely to me that because of my unusual baggage, I am less likely to engender a feeling of happiness in another. I am less likely to inspire passion or a feeling that a person can relate to me. However, I have tried to hold on to the possibility that there are others who have been shaped by their experiences in ways that are complementary to mine or compatible. The relationships I have found so far do seem to represent this, but can it go further?















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