I love a hand that meets my own with a grasp that causes sensation. --SAMUEL OSGOOD
Dr. Shay, I can’t seem to find the right man for me. Look at me, I’m twenty-eight and still not married. I find someone and for about two years I think he is wonderful. But then something happens, and I just lose interest. I’ve finally figured out the problem must lie with me. Can you help me?”
Jane had the same difficulty that many women have had. She would find the perfect man, would remain with him for a time, but then the glow would begin to fade. She believed that, as soon as those exciting feelings wore off, it wasn’t love anymore. She had many questions. Did she pick men who really did change dramatically over a few years? Did she have major bonding problems?
And does bonding start and stop? Well, yes and no.
Attachment bonding can be related to certain behaviors that parents exhibit in bonding with their babies. This bonding sets the stage for better adjustment all through our lives. Studies show that 85 percent of our personality is set by age six, making good attachment bonding vitally important!
Parental engrossment describes the characteristics that occur when the parents are engrossed and begin to bond with their infant. Pay special attention to these behaviors and you will see that many of these same characteristics can be seen later during the courtship phase of intimacy.
1. Absorption, preoccupation and interest, including visual awareness and focusing on the beauty of the child.
2. Tactile awareness, focusing on holding, stroking, kissing.
3. Awareness of distinct positive physical characteristics.
4. Perception of the baby as “perfect.”
5. Development of a feeling of very strong attraction to the baby.
6. Experiencing a feeling of elation while with the baby.
7. Experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and self-esteem.
8. Increased blood pressure, pulse, and respiration while interacting with the baby.
While these intensive behaviors tend to wane as the child gets older, this early attachment gives the baby security. Good attachment early in life helps enable them to “break away” during later stages of development, when curiosity and gradual individuating from the parents is healthy and beneficial.1
Jane was a victim of serial infatuation. In the process of therapy it became evident that Jane was immature and possibly in love with the feelings of infatuation, but she was not able to move into the next healthy stage of adult attachment. In 1 Corinthians 13, we read all about the characteristics of love. In this same passage we also find that, as we grow into adulthood, we put away childish understandings and concepts.We move into unselfish maturity which brings us security, reduced anxiety, calmness, and greater love in our relationships.
The men Jane chose may have been able to go on to a more mature, steady relationship—but she wanted the “high” and immediate gratification of immature infatuation. As soon as the ecstatic feelings wore off she assumed that she didn’t love them anymore and moved on.When we identified and explored her past and I explained how God intended for bonding to work, she realized she may have broken up with some men who could have been very good for her.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher writes about infatuation in her book, The Anatomy of Love. I have paraphrased and condensed some of the stages of infatuation she describes. Flirting is the first stage of the infatuation process. Females generally start the flirting process by smiling at an admirer and then looking down and to the side. The female may then cover her face with her hands and giggle nervously. Unknowingly, she may then raise her shoulders and toss her hair in a sweeping motion.
Then staring begins. The couple may look intently into each other’s eyes for a few seconds and then look away. If the staring continues, the couple’s pupils dilate, signaling interest.
After the gaze, men typically smile back, in time walk over to the female, arch their back and thrust out their chests—probably without even realizing it. This may be the male’s way of beginning the “courting dance.”
So it may not be the heart that signals the beginning of romance, says Fisher, but the eye. Perhaps this is why the Bible urges us to watch out for the “lust of the eye” (1 John 2:16).
Next in the flirting process come talking, mild affection, and body synchrony. Synchrony is when one person mirrors another. Both people swivel their bodies until their shoulders are aligned and their bodies are face-to-face. If the woman smoothes her hair, the man will also smooth his hair; when he crosses his arms, she will cross hers as well. They begin to move in perfect rhythm while they gaze at each other. Total body synchrony signals the end of the flirting process and the beginning of infatuation, when the partner takes on special meaning.
Other senses come into play. A woman may state that she likes the way he smells. Since we have millions of olfactory (sense of smell) nerves at the bases of our brains, and women perceive smells much more than men, smell becomes a big factor in romance. The olfactory nerves connect to the limbic system, which contains the seat of long-term memory, so a person can remember odors years after smelling them. Just as old songs bring back memories, so do familiar smells. My grandmother (now deceased) wore a certain face powder that, when I smell it now, I’m right back with her.
Sight and hearing perceptions can fade much more quickly than smell or olfactory perceptions.
Fisher tells us that Napoleon reportedly sent a letter to his love stating, “I will be in Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.”While Napoleon liked the odor of his unwashed lover, today many of the complaints I hear from women about their husbands is that they don’t wash enough. Poor hygiene is one of the top ten turnoffs women list regarding lovemaking.
Whenever my husband and I counsel a couple we always mention the extra ability of females to perceive odors and explain why cleanliness is so important to most women as a prelude to sex. Men will tell us, “I get turned on by her when she’s sweaty,” and we have to tell them that the reverse is rarely true for women. Some women also tell me they like to be clean themselves before intimacy and feel uncomfortable if they haven’t showered. They feel as if their normal body smells are offensive to their husbands.
Almost everyone can remember the feelings of infatuation—the euphoria, the daydreaming about a special someone.While sitting in a boring high school class, I would often write my name as Mrs. Shay _________, and then insert my boyfriend’s last name. I tended to long for my next date, stay by the phone hoping he’d call, be ecstatic if he did and totally dejected if he didn’t. These were all signs of the beginning euphoria of infatuation. Then when I would see my boyfriend, my heart would beat faster, my palms would sweat, and I would feel giddy or silly, talking until dawn; and I would have limitless energy and become oblivious to all others.
As infatuation progresses, a woman can have continued thoughts of the loved one that almost becomes obsessive. Hoping the relationship will go somewhere, yet feeling unsure of whether it will or not, often causes us to struggle. Replaying any positive thing the other said builds the case for the former. Games like “he loves me, he loves me not” go on in the mind as the partners vacillate back and forth on the other’s intentions.2
It almost seems as if these feelings are not under voluntary control. As we will discuss later in this chapter, God-ordained biochemistry plays a big part in the plethora of emotions, whims, and actions that accompany infatuation.
Besides infatuation, what else dictates the reason a woman may choose John over Joe? For years, psychologists have used the old adage that we marry our mother, father, sibling or some combination of them.We tend to be attracted to the personality or physical traits of someone in our early lives. Sexologist John Money coined the phrase “lovemap” in his book Lovemaps. He contends that very early in life, between ages five and eight, we develop mental maps or patterns in response to family or friends or a combination thereof.3
This unconscious template may take shape and form because of the way your mother listened to you or rocked you, or the way your father smelled or walked or acted. Certain personality traits were positive for you, others negative for you, but the lovemap was formed from negatives and positives of these first people you fell in love with. Years before Mr. Right or Mr.Wrong walked up to you at a party, you had already developed some vital elements of your model man.
However, at times the lovemap can have mostly negative characteristics and this may be the reason some people continue to make the same poor choice for a mate two, three, or even four times. First, infatuation may blur our view of the person. Perhaps that is why we say “love is blind” and that we “wear rose-colored glasses” while in love.We pick partners with the negative characteristics in our lovemap, but we don’t see them as negative until after the marriage. Again, it may not always be the heart, but the mind’s eye following our lovemaps.
Of course without the awareness of where this compulsion comes from to pick these types of people, the woman simply believes that she is making better choices each time. I believe that awareness of why we do things can protect us from being in denial about the character of other people. Otherwise, we continue to choose negative and even destructive relationships.
Again, this madness of infatuation has an amazing link to our biochemistry. An area in our brain known as the limbic system governs our basic emotions—Fear, Love, Anger, Sadness, and Happiness. If you use the acronym FLASH, you can remember the first letter of each of these five basic emotions.When we experience these feelings, parts of the limbic system are producing electrical and chemical reactions.
In 1983, psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz of the New York State Psychiatric Institute suggested that the exhilaration of romantic attraction is due to a brain bath of one or more natural stimulants, among them PEA (short for phenylethylamine), dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. In the right doses, dopamine and norepinephrine give one feelings of euphoria and exhilaration.4
It is believed that during infatuation our neurons in the limbic system become saturated or sensitized by these powerful brain chemicals and stimulate our brain. It’s not hard to see why we can stay up all night talking, be so energetic, feel extra happy, and be lively. When we are infatuated, we’re “high” on God’s natural amphetamines, geared to bond us to each other. So in part, the feeling of infatuation may come from a dose of PEA and other chemicals that act as natural stimulants, which transform our senses and alter our perceptions of reality.5
Scientists suspect that brain chemistry is also responsible for the end of infatuation. Infatuation tends to last from about eighteen months to three years. Theories maintain that the brain cannot eternally create that state of bliss. Either the nerve endings become habituated to the chemicals or levels of PEA and other chemicals begin to drop.6
It appears that God uses certain brain chemicals to allow us to bond to someone—but how does he keep us bonded? Leibowitz, author of The Chemistry of Love, contends that as infatuation wanes adult attachment takes over. A new group of brain chemicals, the endorphins, or endogenous morphines, are produced. Unlike the high of PEA, the endorphins calm us, reduce anxiety, and fill us with safety.While the bonding process is exciting, adult attachment is more warm, comfortable, and secure. This stage grows deeper and richer with care and cultivation of the relationship.7
I’m awed by the immense detail God has incorporated to enable us to enjoy our world. He has crafted our bodies and minds with exquisite detail to help us bond and have intimacy. Psalm 8:3, 4 expresses it well:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made!
1. Bonding begins with infatuation and the particular behaviors associated with it.
2. Scientists believe certain brain chemicals that are secreted during infatuation and adult attachment contribute to the bonding process.
3. Besides infatuation, lovemaps dictate how we choose a mate.
4. A lovemap is made up of characteristics from the first people we fall in love with—our early caregivers.
5. A lovemap can have characteristics which are positive, negative, or a blend of both.