Love. L-O-V-E. That little four-letter word that’s so ambiguous, always a mystery, no matter how potent its impact on our lives. It lurks constantly in the background, like a dormant virus waiting to strike, and, as modern science has shown, falling in love is much like a viral assault, with the immune system kicking into high gear to fend off any would-be offenders. I’ve actually covered this quite in-depth in my story How Falling in Love Physically Changes Our Genes, which can be found here.
Love in Stages
But as Helen Fisher has shown with her work, this isn’t the whole story, but rather, just the beginning. You see someone, your seemingly magnetized to them, then you spend a little time together and you’re like two subatomic particles which have just attained super-symmetry, then, BANG, next thing you know, everything is back to normal again. You noticed things about them that are different, that you would have noticed about any friend or coworker, things you might have overlooked while you were riding the wave, and suddenly, it almost feels like you’re with a completely different person — the real them. According to Fisher, all three of these stages, lust, attraction, attachment, have their own corresponding sets of hormones in our brains that facilitate the feelings of each. The attachment phase of this process is what this story is about.
What’s to Love about Attachment?
As we grow to attachment it’s like finding a sweet gentleness, a beautiful calm body of water that we can peacefully bathe in, and if we allow ourselves to tap into the subtlety, we can harness an awesome power for happiness in our lives. “The comfortable phase,” as I like to call it, is personally my favorite phase of any relationship — the moment the two of you are just raw together, naked, intimate, vulnerable — the chaotic atoms of the energetically charged relationship slow down and begin to form something a little more concrete as time goes on. This is the point where we get the privilege of experiencing our partner for who they truly are, in all of their cute little quirks and incidental uniqueness. We get to finally see the part of them that’s tucked away from the world, that part that, if we nurture it and provide enough support and security, will shine brightly, much to our amazement.
As we begin our journey with a newfound lover, everything is turbulent, or, as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek put it, “a permanent state of emergency.” When this chaos turns to calm, all-too-often people find it wanting — as if they were cheated out of something extraordinary. But that’s not the whole story; Slavoj Žižek mentions that this state of emergency, “ruins all small pleasures,” pointing out a shift in focus away from the little, everyday things in life, to the monumental. A return to the enjoyment of the small things, like our independence, our hobbies, our friends, and all of the things we’ve likely neglected, or even altogether avoided while focusing so intently on our partners is not at all a bad thing.
And this shift in focus from the slow sculpting of a chaotic passion into a monumental achievement, towards a more sustainable life with the monumental achievement that we’ve actually already built, is a testament to how far we’ve progressed with our love interest. We can still enjoy the rich, rewarding moments of chaos with our special someone, but we do it on our own terms. It’s controlled chaos, much like stunt actors perform stunts in a controlled environment where their safety isn’t unnecessarily jeopardized, we too can tap into those chaotic moments as we choose to with a little bit of conscious effort.
Once a relationship slows down and becomes more relaxed, we find a new security we hadn’t had before. Like a statue ready to endure the elements, so too do we fuse ourselves with another human being and prepare ourselves for the long haul — together. When a relationship enters the attachment phase, it’s time to change our expectations in order to see the true value in something enduring rather than fleeting. The powerful subtlety which we can harness lies in the joint project, our mutually shared goals, aspirations, dreams, and of course the mutual sharing of the enjoyment of each of those things becoming a reality in our lives. I constantly tell my friends, “Celebrate your friends’ victories — ALWAYS.” There is something to be said in sharing a joy one party is feeling with another, and on a deep level, celebrating in mutual victories touches us on a deeply human level, as a social species. No place is this connection and mutual enjoyment of success in life more prominent than in our love lives.
Beyond this, we have now finally scaled back our “emergency” and can now simply enjoy the small things in life, a sunset, a breeze, a good book, our overall personal inner-world of experience, which in turn experiences the richness of the universe, the lush outer world which bombards our consciousness at all times — and we finally have someone to share this beauty and splendor with. That’s the real power — having someone to share the very fundamental fabric of your existence with and getting to know them on that very same deep, intimate level as they experience you.
© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved