A familial model of love.

General discussion about relationship issues.
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Mr. Paradox
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A familial model of love.

Postby Mr. Paradox » Fri Jan 18, 2008 2:55 pm

This is a model I've been bouncing around in my head for the last year or so. It takes a rather biological-functionalist approach, but it's my best shot at re-framing our discussions on relationships, romance, and attraction so we can move past our usual states of befuddlement.

These conversations of relationships versus Relationships tend to lead us into semantic swamps because we're trying to find mutually agreeable language to describe preexisting experiences we by and large hold in common. The truth of these experiences is stronger than the words we use to explain them away, and it's at the experiential level we should be starting. How can you tell when a relationship becomes a Relationship? When it does. We label relationships as we wish, but love is something that happens to us.

We tend to shy away from bringing "love" into the conversation because it seems like a fuzzy term, but it's actually far more real than "romance" or "relationships" -- it's a measurable biological process of hormones and stress responses, and its primary mechanism lies somewhere well outside our control. While the R words are cultural constructs, love is the thing itself. Taking the process of falling in love as a manifest phenomenon beyond our control, what we should be asking is, how and why does it happen?

Let's set aside the giddy early stages of love for a few paragraphs, and look at the end result. If everything goes as it should, the fully ripened form of love is what biologists call a pair bond. This is, I believe, the precise behavioural term we're reaching for when we capitalise Relationship. It's a "strong affinity" that develops between breeding pairs in many monogamous or serially monogamous species -- though it should be noted that there are plenty of same-sex examples from most of these species. It's an important adaptation because it is a bond, and compels both mates to think cooperatively, allocating energy and taking risks as a single unit.

Experientially, this bond might be felt as a concern for the other person equalling or overshadowing concern for yourself, a willingness to go to great lengths and sacrifices to help them, and a large emotional stake in their successes and failures. As it matures, this love seemingly turns unconditional. It may not prove to be so in the long run, but our tolerance for accepting negative behaviour from one we love undoubtedly increases with the strength of that love.

This resilient, seemingly unconditional love describes what we call family. The link between "romantic love" (or pair bonding) and family should be entirely obvious: one can eventually become a part of the other. This is culturally formalised through the ritual of marriage, after which the two conceptual categories are allowed to blend together. But what if we look beneath the concepts and follow the thread of familial feeling back to its start?

First, what is family? Now, this may be a stretch in light of the thread on family relationships that's running right now, but biologically speaking a family is a group of individuals bound to each other in common needs and mutual support. This is partly because families share common ancestry and genetic material, and supporting someone who carries a large percentage of your genes helps those genes survive. There's more to it than this, as well-structured kinship groups can have their own benefits and not all family members have to be blood, but basically there are solid reasons that most of us tend to tolerate and love our families whether we want to or not (it doesn't always work out so smoothly, particularly in post-industrial society, but then neither does love.)

Let us propose, then, that the person we marry has gone from being a one-time stranger to being a very close family member. Unless it was an arranged marriage -- which have a fascinating dynamic all their own -- the shift in allegiance probably took place, or began taking place, long before the ceremony. How did this happen? Nobody else in our lives ever makes such a leap, unless we adopt children or are adopted, and these processes are themselves fraught with difficulty. For an outsider to cross this firm boundary -- the limen, or threshold, in anthropology speak -- into the family core threatens our identity and world view, causing all sorts of cognitive dissonance. It's best accomplished under the influence. I propose that the "romance," the giddy early stages of falling in love, and most specifically the cocktail of hormones involved, are the anaesthetic for this familial transplant operation. For most people, the sexual bliss associated with this period would provide a further distraction. The whole experience is involuntary and compulsive and you just can't stop. When you emerge from the haze, you feel a little funny and you've got yourself a Relationship.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

Kez
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Kez » Sat Jan 19, 2008 3:04 am

So by that reasonsing, then a best friend type relationship can never be a Relationship, because it lacks the sexual bonding?
And a pair bond can only be romantic love joined?

I'm not sure if I agree with you fully there.

I do agree that the r vs R thead was mainly about semantics - I think we all _know_ what a R feels like, and what a r feels like, but trying to put it into words that other people can understand and identify with is the problem, because we're all coming from different backgrounds (albiet mainly all Western), and thus have different ways of thinking and reasoning.

It would be interesting to see if our interests (like bun is a maths major, I'm a linguistics major, etc etc) have an effect on how we try to explain and/or identify with the different concepts. And even though I'm a linguistics major, I have trouble putting concepts into words, as I'm a generative linguist, rather than a functional one. (Although I think this is more of another topic, I'm not going to take over here)

Is a R only romantically based, or (like ghosts said with the example of her and her grandmother) can it be between two family members that aren't stereotypically romantically linked.
Are there then different types of Relationships, in different categories?

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby 70thousandfathoms » Sat Jan 19, 2008 9:48 am

If Kez's reading is accurate, that starts to complicate things in interesting ways. I'm aromantic, but I'm not burning any bridges. I'm willing to concede that there's a remote possibility that someday, I might blunder into the sort of Relationship I would find agreeable... which would look more like the "best friend" I always wanted and never had than I was a kid than any sort of "romantic" - let alone sexual - Relationship (I don't even like cuddling, for crying out loud). Probably none of them "giddy feelings" involved, either; this strikes me as being a different sort of love. This is wild speculation, and quite honestly I could take it or leave it, but is an (a)romantic quote-unquote Relationship with a long-term best friend/housemate, separate bedrooms, have-power-of-attorney-when-you-get-old-and-stupid sort of person still "pair bonding?"

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Mr. Paradox
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Mr. Paradox » Sat Jan 19, 2008 11:18 am

Kez wrote:So by that reasonsing, then a best friend type relationship can never be a Relationship, because it lacks the sexual bonding?

No no no! I wasn't saying anything about sexual bonding. I intentionally left sex out of my model.

Okay, I know this is a touchy subject. There's a difference between aggrandising something with a special label, and just being precise. Pair bond is a value neutral label for a specific development in a relationship, which we can define without devaluing any of our other relationships. "Just friends" do not form a pair bond, by definition, which is what makes them just friends. Ghosts and her grandmother do not form a pair bond. They have an important bond, I'm certain, but it's another sort. An "(a)romantic quote-unquote Relationship with a long-term best friend/housemate, separate bedrooms, have-power-of-attorney-when-you-get-old-and-stupid sort of person" involves a pair bond only if one develops. If you're using Relationship as I define it above, then you're signifying that there is one.

I should make clear that the "giddy early stages" was my attempt at describing "romantic love" and its role in forming pair bonds. To answer Kez's other question, that's not to say that pair bonds have to progress through this phase. It's a particularly modern, Western notion that first comes love, then comes marriage. An equally common conceptualisation of matrimonial love throughout history, and still in much of the world, is of something that grows slowly after you've been married off to someone, a love rooted in common struggle, support, and respect and much more redolent of family. Obviously it doesn't always work out along such ideal lines, but when it does you end up with just as much of a pair bond as you might following a whirlwind romance. These things have a way of developing naturally on a sub-cultural level, whatever labels we choose to apply, and it's possible that they might form in any relationship given the proper circumstances.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Jessamyn
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Jessamyn » Sat Jan 19, 2008 11:41 am

yeah, Mr. P, I was just going to respond to 70k that the western view toward love is very much a sudden, head over heels kind of emotional rush that happens very fast. but love can also be built slowly, on trust and respect* and shared experiences. in fact a lot of people believe that the latter form is a stronger, more lasting version of love, not based on oxytocin but on true emotion.


*I don't think I'll ever be able to say that anymore without laughing. :lol: okay okay, moving along...
I may be a bunny, but I still have sharp teeth. *gnaws*

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Vittoria
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Vittoria » Sat Jan 19, 2008 6:02 pm

This is what I'm getting from your post, Mr Paradox. Blood relationships are Big and can be Painful but it doesn't mean they aren't important. Non-blood relationships can be just as Big and Painful but the process of moving from acquaintance to pseudo-blood relationship is fraught and therefore the chemicals of romance numb people to the scariness of crossing that line.

Is that what you're saying? Because I think that's fascinating, speaking as a person who has much more of a connection to pseudo-blood relations. And usually, I go through a giddy stage (asexual and platonic though it may be) when meeting people that I'd like to be "related" to.

My definition of being related to a person means something fairly close to unconditional love. I'll take you along with all your faults but there is, of course, a certain line we'd get to (theft, for example) where that'd be it.

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ghosts
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby ghosts » Mon Jan 21, 2008 3:17 pm

OK - I'm not sure how I feel about your theory, Mr. Paradox, although it is interesting! It's a lot to digest, so forgive me if I ask questions that sound kind of stupid.

First off, you mention that sort of giddy feeling you get when you fall in love - or "romantic love", perhaps? But, is it possible that at least some of this is some sort of socially constructed feeling? I know some people feel that's a buzz word as of late ("social construction"), sorry.

Second - I'm not sure what you mean by a "pair bond" - could you clarify? I figured you were talking about it here:
Experientially, this bond might be felt as a concern for the other person equalling or overshadowing concern for yourself, a willingness to go to great lengths and sacrifices to help them, and a large emotional stake in their successes and failures. As it matures, this love seemingly turns unconditional. It may not prove to be so in the long run, but our tolerance for accepting negative behaviour from one we love undoubtedly increases with the strength of that love.

But maybe you weren't?

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Mr. Paradox
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Mr. Paradox » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:21 pm

First: it's definitely possible that some of the romance is socially constructed. That is a good point. To quote an old man I saw on Indian television picketing outside a card shop on Valentine's Day -- yes, some people actually do this -- "these kids aren't in love, they're in love with the idea of being in love!"

On the other hand, there are recognised and measurable physiological changes one undergoes when falling in love. Our bodies and brains may treat certain relationships differently whether we want them to or not. Here are two studies I'll add to the Knowledge Base.

Marazziti et al (1999) compared the density of a particular serotonin transporter in the brains of people who had recently fallen in love, non-medicated obsessive compulsive disorder patients, and controls. Those in love and those with OCD shared a low density of this transporter and low serotonin levels, which the researchers linked to psychological dimensions shared by the two conditions, i.e. obsessive behaviour.

Bartels and Zeki (2000)-- at my university-- used MRI scans to reveal brain activity in OCD-linked areas in the brains of people in love when they were shown photos of their romantic partners. These were not activated by photos of friends of similar age, sex and duration of friendship as their partners.

All of this brain and hormonal activity means that falling in love is biologically real, though it also keeps the possibility very much open of some people simply not being susceptible to these changes. I maintain that some such people (the aromantics, essentially) may still be capable of forming pair bonds, as I suspect this is a separate process. They would just have to get there without being moody, obsessive, and monomaniacal along the way.

As for what a pair bond is, it's a common behavioural pattern seen in many permanently or serially monogamous species. For example, it's what swans do when they mate for life. We can't say what it feels like to swans, except to say that a bonded pair act a lot healthier when they're in each other's company. In humans, where the pattern appears to operate in similar ways, we have all sorts of emotions like "unconditional love" to describe it. There is evidence for a pre-existing behavioural pattern behind all the labels, though.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Vittoria » Mon Jan 21, 2008 6:39 pm

I've always used that brain scan test of people in love to prove that people in "love" are really half-crazed by the serotonin, which wears off within 18 to 24 months.

I hadn't considered that that meant that some people probably wouldn't have that chemical reaction ever--like people who can't be "haunted" because the frontal lobe of their brain doesn't pick up on the inaudible sound waves that cause spooky feelings in people who have ghosty experiences. Huh. Very interesting.

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ghosts
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby ghosts » Mon Jan 21, 2008 7:58 pm

"these kids aren't in love, they're in love with the idea of being in love!"

Yeah - I find myself repeating that same quote a lot! I feel like some of these things/feelings/whatevers that people refer to as part of "falling in love" are more like lust, in a way.

What is falling in love like for you? I'm willing to bet that it at least differs a little from person to person - what you experience is probably different from what I experience. Does that mean I don't really "fall in love" - that I'm really aromantic? How do you know if someone's really in love, or if they just think they're in love?

I'm still not sure on what the pair bond is... Is it that quote that I had in my post above? Is that what a pair bond is like? Just trying to understand the concept.

I don't know about all this... It just seems to depend a lot on things that really seem to differ from person to person. Yeah, it's totally understandable that different feelings exist for our various relationships, because I experience that too. You're generally not gonna feel the same exact thing for different people, so that's not what I'm trying to say. But as for the theory that this act of falling in love happens in order to allow outsiders into the family - I guess I don't know if I believe that. I'm not sure what your own concept of in love-ness is, first of all - but also, I think people are perfectly capable of forming families without crazy hormonal influences. And what about the concept of community?

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Mr. Paradox » Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:25 am

ghosts wrote:What is falling in love like for you? I'm willing to bet that it at least differs a little from person to person - what you experience is probably different from what I experience. Does that mean I don't really "fall in love" - that I'm really aromantic? How do you know if someone's really in love, or if they just think they're in love?

Well, if you were using a strict definition you could check their serotonin levels and brain activity, but that would be ridiculous; these are just a few indicators at best. I'm certain we all experience it a little differently, between ourselves and from one relationship to the next. There are just some very general patters we can recognise in humanity as a group. In my one particular experience, I'd say I suffered a lot of the common symptoms like distraction, disrupted sleep patters (we were both waking up at six in the morning for the first two weeks), and persistent euphoria.
ghosts wrote:I'm still not sure on what the pair bond is... Is it that quote that I had in my post above? Is that what a pair bond is like? Just trying to understand the concept.

Those are all aspects I recognise in it, but the bond itself is something biological and arguably instinctual. It's the drive that motivates us to stay with another person and treat their own well-being as equally or more important than our own. It's not widely accepted that it exists in humans in the same way as, say, birds, and it's probably not as strong if it does, but I think it has a role. This is another case where some people probably just don't have it, and you can tell.
ghosts wrote:But as for the theory that this act of falling in love happens in order to allow outsiders into the family - I guess I don't know if I believe that. I'm not sure what your own concept of in love-ness is, first of all - but also, I think people are perfectly capable of forming families without crazy hormonal influences. And what about the concept of community?

Again, I'm just talking about these hormones and things as possible mechanisms to facilitate integration of a stranger into the mental family. There are plenty of others. This is why I say that people who don't experience the physiological stages of romantic love can still undergo longer-term pair bonding; they're separate functions. The inverse is also true: psychologists recognise a phenomenon of "relationship junkies," people who thrive on the emotional and chemical highs of budding romance, but continually break up as soon as these start to fade. These are the people who burn through intense relationships on a monthly basis. In my mind, humans experience a whole set of functions operating at different levels and stages -- sociability, physiological "romantic love," pair bonding, sexual attraction, sexual response -- and if you take any given permutation of hyperfunction and hypofunction, including complete dysfunction, in these things you'll get something recognisable.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby ghosts » Tue Jan 22, 2008 1:31 pm

I wrote:I feel like some of these things/feelings/whatevers that people refer to as part of "falling in love" are more like lust, in a way.

Actually - I think the word I was really looking for was "infatuation" rather than "lust."

Anyway... I'm still skeptical about calling some of these symptoms that you're referring to as part of falling in love - although please don't take that as me saying you're *not* in love! I'm not trying to invalidate anyone's experiences and I believe you when you say that it happened, but I guess I feel that those feelings are more part of infatuation rather than love. Those 2 could always be mixed up together, though. Maybe the same deal in which many asexuals generally say that sex and love are separate, although they're often "confused" of being kind of one and the same, in a way (can't have one without the other and such).

Perhaps I'm getting nitpicky, and people would just say that I'm "aromantic" or something, but ehhhh. I think you know how I feel about all that.

Re: the pair bond:
Mr. Paradox wrote:Experientially, this bond might be felt as a concern for the other person equalling or overshadowing concern for yourself, a willingness to go to great lengths and sacrifices to help them, and a large emotional stake in their successes and failures. As it matures, this love seemingly turns unconditional. It may not prove to be so in the long run, but our tolerance for accepting negative behaviour from one we love undoubtedly increases with the strength of that love.

Mr. Paradox wrote:It's the drive that motivates us to stay with another person and treat their own well-being as equally or more important than our own.

In that case - well, my relationship with my grandmother would be a pair bond. And I have some other pair bonds as well.

Mr. Paradox wrote:Again, I'm just talking about these hormones and things as possible mechanisms to facilitate integration of a stranger into the mental family. There are plenty of others. This is why I say that people who don't experience the physiological stages of romantic love can still undergo longer-term pair bonding; they're separate functions.

Ok, I think that makes more sense - sorry if I'm misunderstanding you! Still, would you say that the main reason these physiological stages occur is for the purpose of integration of a stranger into a family?

Mr. Paradox wrote:The inverse is also true: psychologists recognise a phenomenon of "relationship junkies," people who thrive on the emotional and chemical highs of budding romance, but continually break up as soon as these start to fade. These are the people who burn through intense relationships on a monthly basis.

Semi-OT, but this kind of reminds me of romance movies/books - the excitement/purpose of the plot is to see all the buildup & tension of a relationship that is forming, but they generally don't go beyond that.

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby pretzelboy » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:55 pm

Semantics isn't my thing--I've only a week and a half of it so far ;) (I'm also studying linguistics of the generative kind.) However, I sense a lack of clarity in terms of what is mean by "pair bond." As I am understand it, a pair bond--at least in animals--is primarily a behavioral thing (animal behavior is, of course, a major things that biologists can study). In humans, it is believed that the pair bonding mechanism evolved in order to have two parents for offspring. Since members of the human species are very helpless for several years after birth, there is considerable evolutionary advantage in having two parents rather than one. Since given the way human reproduction works, it is perfectly possible for the male to run off after the impregnating sexual encounter, a mechanism that keeps the couple together for at least the first several years of the infant's life (and possibly a lot longer) is evolutionarily advantageous.

Certain emotions, neural chemicals, etc. seem to be the mechanisms that generally form these sorts of bonds. (Emotional attraction, falling in love, sex, etc.) However, as we all know, not all these (neurological) mechanisms function in all people in the same way. Sex is a very important part of pair bonding for most people, but asexuals have demonstrated that it is not a necessary part for all people. Romantic attraction is an important part of this for most people (including most asexuals, it would seem.) But it is possible that something that socially/behaviorally functions like a pair bond could function without romantic attraction (or it could be possible if only one of the two had romantic attraction, just as it is possible for pair bonds to be formed with sex/sexual attraction being an important of the formation and maintaining of the bond for only one of the two people.)

Ultimately, I think that trying to appeal to biology and the pair-bond to find an answer to the question of what is a "Relationship"--while certainly able to provide important insights--has a couple serious issues to overcome. First, when you appeal to neurological conditions rather than behavior ones, you have to face cases of one person "falling in love" with someone else when that feeling--which may be just as real as those in pair-bonds--is not reciprocated and does not lead to any Relationship. (But the neurological state could be the same.) People can still get pretty obsessed. I am inclined to think that the the pair bond is largely a behavior thing (rather than neurological which is the usual mechanism for the pair-bond rather than the bond itself) . In humans, however, we cannot seriously think about behavior apart from the societies and cultures they exist in. And this seems to mean that the Relationship is still a culturally constructed idea/relationship regardless of whatever physiological and neurological mechanisms are involved.

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Mr. Paradox » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:25 am

Thank you, pretzelboy, you've done a fantastic job of explaining what I'm on about. I'm going to like having you around here.
pretzelboy wrote:this seems to mean that the Relationship is still a culturally constructed idea/relationship regardless of whatever physiological and neurological mechanisms are involved.

It's precisely these mechanisms I'm interested in here, as the culturally constructed ideas are what tend to get the most airtime in our discussions. I fully recognise the cultural aspects, but I feel like the biological experiences can be of particular use when looking at the fringes of culture, where some people feel like our cultural standards of relationship are "wrong" for them. Unless we propose that these are purely a reaction to cultural norms, it seems worthwhile looking to biology for some of the mechanisms behind this feeling of difference.
pretzelboy wrote:First, when you appeal to neurological conditions rather than behavior ones, you have to face cases of one person "falling in love" with someone else when that feeling--which may be just as real as those in pair-bonds--is not reciprocated and does not lead to any Relationship. (But the neurological state could be the same.) People can still get pretty obsessed.

I fully agree. While this may not form a "real" pair bond, it can still represent some of the mechanisms operating. Just as a hungry person with no food is not actually fulfilling the activity of "eating" but is going through the associated hunger pangs, salivation, and desire.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby ghosts » Wed Jan 23, 2008 12:54 pm

Mr. Paradox wrote:I fully recognise the cultural aspects, but I feel like the biological experiences can be of particular use when looking at the fringes of culture, where some people feel like our cultural standards of relationship are "wrong" for them. Unless we propose that these are purely a reaction to cultural norms, it seems worthwhile looking to biology for some of the mechanisms behind this feeling of difference.

Hm, that would be me - I mean, that the cultural standards of relationships aren't right for me. I guess I'm really hesitant to say that the reason for this may lie at least partly in biology. I'm not sure why. It just seems so definite and unchangeable. I might be overreacting to what you're saying, though, or possibly misreading. Bah! Maybe I need to give my brain a rest.

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby pretzelboy » Wed Jan 23, 2008 4:55 pm

As I try to think about the R/relationship problem, in one sense it is a very hypothetical thing for me—all of my relationships are definitely relationships. In another sense, desire for a Relationship is directly connected to how I found out about asexuality in the first place. In asexy lingo, I call myself hetero-romantic, though I sometimes wonder if I might better call myself grey-aromantic, and I have long wanted to get married some day because I want the emotional intimacy involved—in particular, I want this emotional intimacy with someone that I live with. Also, I want to have children and have a family. In some ways, I feel rather traditional because I haven’t disidentified with the dominant model of family structure (in terms of what I personally want). The problem is that while I would sometimes get crushed on people (all female) in middle school and high school (I think about five people in all), this ended when I was 17. I was then more-or-less aromantic for about five years. This worried me because the one time I had a girlfriend, I wasn’t attracted to her at all, which I figured at the time wasn’t too much of a problem because I had come to the conclusion that I had ceased having the ability to have such feelings, although I can’t recall how I came to that conclusion. That ended up being a disaster for a lot of reasons—looking back, I should have never gotten involved in it in the first place. However, I decided that in the future, in starting any relationship of that sort, actually being attracted to the person should be a requirement. Thus, five years and not being attracted to anyone was getting me kind of worried. Then at the age of 22 there was someone I found myself attracted to, quite unexpectedly, but for various reasons I don’t want to get into, there was no way that things could possibly have worked out, so she never even knew.
I just started grad school last semester, and since I’m aiming for a Ph.D., I’m going to be here a while. I decided that since I do want to get married and some point, and because in the culture we live in, as a male, I am expected to initiate a “Relationship” if I want one—although by disposition I would much rather be pursued by someone than do the pursuing—and because whatever I have been doing up to this point hasn’t been working, I decided I needed to start taking the issue a lot more seriously than I have up to this point. However, as of the start of last semester, there had been one person that I have been attracted to in the previous 6.5 years or so—I’m currently 24—thing weren’t looking too good. I had read that for both males and females, in mate selection the most important thing people look for at first is physical appearance. This would often create initial interest, and of course other things are important too for things to develop beyond that. Since I was well aware of the fact that I have never been attracted to someone on the basis of physical appearance—something I had to that point never heard of in anyone else—I speculated that this lack was responsible for the infrequency of my being attracted to other people.
Being utterly baffled by my sexuality as I had never heard of anyone else similar, I decided to go to the university counseling center, figuring that they had people with Ph.D.s in psychology so they should presumably know something. Also, this service is free for students. After an initial meeting with someone whose job it was to assess what would be the best way to deal with my issues, I was told that coming to understand and accept one’s sexuality is something that meeting regularly with a therapist can be helpful for, so they set me up with a guy that had been hired to deal with gay and bisexual men’s issues. In our first meeting, he asked me if I had ever looked into asexuality and I said that I hadn’t. A few days later googled it and found AVEN.
The point of this all this is that for me, the mechanisms involved in pair-bonding work a lot differently than they do in most people—they don’t seem to fit well at all the cultural means we have set up for pair-bonding. I think looking at the pair-bonding mechanisms to understand Relationships loses some of its validity when looking at those of us for whom things work a lot differently—which seems to be parallel to reasons that a good number of asexuals have more difficulty finding the line between relationships and Relationships than sexuals do. I still think understanding the role of hormones, neurological processes is certainly valuable, I'm just not sure how much it helps answer the Relationship question.

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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Placebo » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:04 pm

pretzelboy wrote: The point of this all this is that for me, the mechanisms involved in pair-bonding work a lot differently than they do in most people—they don’t seem to fit well at all the cultural means we have set up for pair-bonding. I think looking at the pair-bonding mechanisms to understand Relationships loses some of its validity when looking at those of us for whom things work a lot differently—which seems to be parallel to reasons that a good number of asexuals have more difficulty finding the line between relationships and Relationships than sexuals do. I still think understanding the role of hormones, neurological processes is certainly valuable, I'm just not sure how much it helps answer the Relationship question.


That's true, it does look like a lot of us deal with this differently. But it would be interesting to see how the pathway of interest/hormones/neurological processes relates in . . .say, an aromantic asexual versus a romantic sexual. It's possible that we do things in a different order, or with different subgroups or to a varying extent or something.

I can identify with the idea of "pair bonding" even though I don't think of my relationships as Relationships--I've felt the oxytocin surge (hormonal) without feeling in love--or even being aesthetically attracted to someone--it was more like a feeling of touch-lust, almost--I had a roommate in college and was always looking for ways to (nonsexually) cuddle with her or exchange back massages--it developed into almost a pair bond because we were living together for years, and I would say that I love her as a member of my family even though I would never have said that I was "in love" with her or in a Relationship--it was just an incredibly intense friendship.

The relationship I'm in now is similar--it doesn't feel like a Relationship to me even though it's exclusive to the two of us, but I would say that I love my friend in the same order as a family member, even though--as I keep telling him--I'm not "in love" with him, nor am I sexually attracted to him. Similarly, I feel the touch-lust--the physical attraction that I'm addicted to, and a certain level of neurological interest in him, but I think it set up backwards. Friendship/interest/love first, then tactile addiction, then more friendship.
"Now it's right for me to be me."

Phil Halvorsen, from "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" (Theodore Sturgeon)

Witch of Wapping
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Re: A familial model of love.

Postby Witch of Wapping » Sat Jan 26, 2008 4:22 pm

I am dashing all over this board (in a lurking kind of way, strange mixed metaphor but there you go - ) trying to work out what I want to say before somebody else says it better, but also distracted by how all the threads entangle - anyway, might as well start here.

I have no appropriate academic qualifications at all, but I don’t want this pair bonding experience to be biological, or related to family – in general I mean – though I’m happy for those of you where it works out well.

The trouble is, I know the deep feelings I hang grimly on to are cultural, in the sense of 1970s counter-cultural. I still dream about alternative living arrangements where friendship networks are the most important thing, and at best (of course not all the time) are the best shots some of us have to be people who are working at placing each others’ needs on a level with our own. Even with the ability to fall in love, which I think I have experienced, we don’t all make or want to make life pairs or families, and I’m feeling a bit excluded – not self-pityingly, just saying! I’m beyond pair bonding by age and inclination, and my family of origin are all dead (that sounds dramatic, but I’m just older).

Back in those very different times I was in a community of lesbian feminists who changed our minds at dizzying speed about whether we believed in monogamy or were writing the polyamory rule book for ourselves. I still feel bewildered about why people are supposed to form units of two, though I can see it works when it works. When we did form pairs we had relationships that could sometimes change to and from friendship at equally dizzying speed (so I’ve changed the font to get a middle-sized “r”) but somtimes we experienced love, still believing that it was time-limited, and the wider community of women were our “real people”. The time in our lives couldn’t last and it didn’t, the emotions and in-fights were all over the place, and everyone moved on. Besides, I had very few relationships - as I’ve said elsewhere, the few were important, partly because one partner died violently - but I felt awkward about sex (in a manner I’ve only identified as being A thirty years down the road; at the time I just thought I was crap at relationships).

Sorry, this has got long and rambling, and bits of it belong in about eight different threads. Told you.