Recently, in a conversation between two older women at the weekly market, I overheard the sentence: “Now, if the two love each other, that’s a good start in my opinion…”
“Well”, I thought to myself, “concerning love it’s almost like the dilemma of the chicken and the egg: sometimes it’s difficult to determine what is the start, the middle or perhaps even the end – and what’s the cause and what’s the effect of the other…”
But since I prefer to philosophize on my blog rather than at the weekly market, it is you, dear readers, who I will take with me to my world of thoughts in that regard.
At the end of Entry 14, I quoted the following four sentences¹:
“Thus, intimacy is a cardinal process, defined as feeling understood, validated and cared for by partners who are aware of facts and feelings central to one’s self-conception.
Contributing to this perception is trust (the expectation that partners can be counted on to respect and fulfil important needs) and acceptance (the belief that partners accept one for who one is).
Empathy is also relevant because it signals awareness of an appreciation for a partners core-self.
Attachment also contributes to perceived partner responsiveness, notwithstanding its link to interdependence and sentiment, because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others.”
I would like to take a closer oligoamorous look at these statements, because in my view they contain the very essence which configures the basis for a stable loving relationship.
On that score I find the wording “one’s self-conception” and “core-self” particularly remarkable. Because these terms suggest that sustained intimacy and closeness are not possible without basic self-awareness and a predominant acceptance of oneself.
The conclusion seems trivial: Elementary, my dear Watson – how would I be able to trust others if I don’t trust myself?
“Absolutely!” I agree as your tour guide on the remote island of the Oligoamory. Exactly that is the reason why on so many occasions I emphasize the »desire for self-exploration«, without which the foundation for any relationship that we are trying to build on it will keep a rather rickety ground work. Or rather a “rickety basement”, which is literally a symbol of our unconscious mind with its hidden chests containing our fears and defence mechanisms (see also Entry 35).
“Fears and defense mechanisms” are the key words in terms of our ability to relate, because our loved ones could show us as much validation, consideration, empathy and affection as they wanted – none of this would have any sustainable value for us if we were not able to accept such feelings in the first place.
If we are not sufficiently clear about our own motives (e.g. because we have so far avoided realising them in detail) or if we try to maintain more or less conscious dishonesties as part of our relationship management, reasons of self-protection alone will prevent excessive depth of engagement in any relationship. Because if we do not have narcissistic personality traits right away (which often goe hand in hand with a pathological inability to empathize), there would always be a part in us that would nourish our deepest social fear because of our incoherent behaviour: That we are not worth it (after all).
If we believe in this way somewhere within ourselves that we are not worth it, a problem arises, quote: “because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others.” Because as a result, our expectation and (non-)experience influences our “perception”. And if our perception has deficiencies due to a deficient self-esteem, then – regarding “love and affection” – we will only perceive insecurity and deprivation instead of security and abundance from our loved ones, despite their best intentions.
And uncertainty is exactly the reason for the a semi-alert state of careful vigilance I mentioned in Entry 42, causing ongoing mental stress.
Even the vernacular says: “One should always have the ability to accept a compliment with grace.” In our loving relationships, this “ability to accept” goes far beyond mere compliments. Since that ability is the basic requirement for integration and inclusive behaviour (see e.g. Entry 33). Especially towards our closest loved ones – and in further consequence towards all the significant others of our loved ones as well.
However, if our ability to accept and integrate as well as our self-esteem is already weakened, we live very close to the reflex of immediately pointing away from us as soon as potential difficulties might occur. Thereby allocating guilt and blame (which, in essence, is mere “causality”!) to somebody else…
[At this point it is important to me to briefly point out the socio-political dimension of good relationship management. Because currently the vast majority of economical units (states, communities, families, etc.) still work largely on the principle of “guilt-allocation”.
In that regard self-reflection and mindfulness towards oneself with the aim of self-awareness is surely a contribution to a more peaceful world.
Are folks in ethical non-monogamy, like Poly- or Oligoamory, therefore more “developed” than people in monogamous relationships? No, I don’t think so, precisely because the measure for “relationship-skill”, as I outline here, is at its root not a question of the chosen relationship model but of the individual’s ability (and will) to reflect.
Since monogamy is admittedly the recognized main mode of relationships in our current system (with its mentality of “guilt-allocation”), it might be a little bit “easier” in such a standard-mode to ignore personal or inter-personal deficiencies by projecting them “onto someone else”.]
In this way, “self-awareness” is also an essential part of “self-confidence”. Essential – to reverse the sentence from above again – because if I don’t trust myself, then I can’t trust the others.
The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel once called “trust” the “middle state between knowledge and ignorance”, regarding a “hypothesis of future behaviour/conduct”. This hypothesis had to be reliable enough to “justify practical action on it.” ²
As far as our (loving) relationships are concerned, I think that this provides an excellent description. We humans “trust” in everyday life, surprisingly often, countless circumstances that we consider “reliable enough”: We drive vehicles that are capable of speeds far beyond 100 kph, or we sit back on chairs that we can’t even see at that very moment (!) – rock-solid convinced that they will be exactly there nevertheless, the moment our buttocks are going to meet the level of the imagined seat…
So, basically, certain types of “trust” seem to belong to our “second nature”, types of trust without which extensive everyday processes would be impossible or at least very inconvenient.
However, the mutual trust that we need for reliable loving relationships is actually somewhat more complex than that which we need to sit on a chair or to drive a car. These two examples are more likely to be assigned to a situation-based or quality-based trust: We have e.g. learned that chairs normally do not move stealthily when not being observed (Caution, exception: sitting balls!) and we know that cars can be kept on track and are sturdy even at high speeds – provided they are regularly serviced.
But among fellow human beings we rather need “identification-based trust”, which – according to the American philosopher David Kelley – consists of the components openness/communication, empathy, community and sympathy ³.
If, however, I have to “identify” (which literally means “to equal / to equate” [Latin]!) myself with the other participants in community through communication, empathy and sympathy to establish mutual trust, this means that I have to be very friendly regarding myself in the fist place.
Because – to stick with our example of the “invisible” chair – I can only “let go” without execising control if I am convinced that the others are as friendly and reliable as I am.
And that’s why we won’t get around the author Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince” in this entry too: When the psychologists Cohen, Underwood and Gottlieb write in their opening quote that we need a feeling of understanding, validation and care to experience intimacy and closeness, the factor “time” inevitably comes into play. Time for what “Saint-Exupéry called “taming”, to “establish ties” (Chapter XXI).
In my opinion, the novella “The Little Prince” is so strangely touching and at the same time so disturbingly complicated because this “taming” always includes two components:
On one hand, the obvious, slow convergence and the getting-to-know-each-other of the main participants in the potentially emerging relationship.
But on the other hand, there is also the “Hero’s journey”, which each person has to do accomplish alone in order to explore own strengths and weaknesses (see also Entry 18).
Here the circle closes, as we encounter the importance of our “own self-conception” and the “awareness and appreciation for the core self” once again.
True trust has (only) been established when I perceive that others value me as the person, as the identity, as whom I also respect myself.
And at this moment we would have restored the beneficial coherence (context / consistency) of inner and outer experience as well, which our mind considers as the most desirable state of being (see also Entry 21).
In any case, coherence, which in turn can serve as a compass for all of our other relationship skills, which enables us to better contribute to a common balance of mutual well-being and personal happiness.
Is that (already) love? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In any case, in my opinion it is much more than just a good start.
* Wikipedia: Self-awareness; Know Thyself
¹ S. Cohen, L.G. Underwood and B.H. Gottlieb in “Social support measurement and intervention“ – A guide for health and social scientists“, Oxford University Press, 2000
² Georg Simmel, Soziologie(1908); Complete Edition, edt. by O. Rammstedt, Vol. 11, 1992
³ David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence, The Objectivist Center, 2002
Thanks to Kristopher Roller on Unsplash for the photo.