Sunday, May 18, 2014

On the Road of Celibacy - January 22, 2012 - Present

I ended my last intimate relationship when I came to the conclusion that the person I was with was not really capable of seeing me for who I was, let alone loving me or valuing me for who I was or for what I was able to offer to him in our relationship. We had been friends for over 10 years, lovers off-and-on over those 10 years, and housemates and lovers just prior to my starting to ride my bicycle across the U.S. in 2012.

There had been "perceptual problems" all along. Probably the most persistent was that he was convinced that either I had "fallen in love with him" or I would at some point in the future, regardless of the number of times I tried to explain to him that I just didn't do that anymore...because I understand the psychology of romantic love, as well as the mechanisms of anima and animus "projection". Nevertheless, it was an ongoing pattern in his communication with me, a warning of sorts, to "not fall in love with him" because he was definitely not "in love with me" even though we continued to be intimate with one another.

There were other misperceptions as well. When he admitted one particularly serious misinterpretation of some things I had said, that also involved a third party, it was then that I realized: if my friend could be so completely wrong about that, then there was probably Nothing I Could Say or do that he would not misinterpret, even grossly misinterpret in some way.

When you reach that conclusion with someone, no matter what the relationship, there's just really no place to go from there, no matter how much you might care about them.

I am somewhat perturbed to say this pattern has presented itself to me multiple times in my life. I think it may have something to do with my attraction to men with above average intelligence. I enjoy intellectual conversation. I enjoy a man who can express himself well, who has a certain "Dynamic Quality" to his character. More and more though, I fear some of that outward expressiveness is a distraction from certain deeper deficits and/or emotional/psychological shortcomings. Not surprisingly, given my own difficult childhood I am also drawn to be empathetic with other people, especially men, who have suffered various forms of child abuse, whether it was subtle or overt. Upon further consideration, though, that's actually a big demographic given the history of abusive child rearing in this culture. So rather than "drawing" these types of men towards me it may be more a matter of having difficulty avoiding them altogether, because there are just too many of them out there!

For my own part, I know that I have entered into many of these relationships with an intuition that the person I was with was having difficulty genuinely (and that's the key word) empathizing with me and with other people. I thought that if I exercised my capacity to empathize with them deeply and consistently enough, they would learn from that experience, they would learn from my example, my modeling in relationship with them. It wasn't until I was listening to one of Stefan Molyneux's Live Call-in Shows that I began to think differently about that...

Stefan used the analogy of speaking Japanese to someone who did not know the language. You could speak Japanese to them indefinitely and they were not going to learn Japanese simply by listening to you. He said that empathy is like that. It's something that people have to learn and they have to learn it as a part of their early childhood development. I have enough background in early childhood development to agree in general. However, there's a part of me that wants to hope that, under the right circumstances and given sufficient determination, anyone at any age can learn to genuinely empathize with others, in the same way that they could learn a new language - especially if they can appreciate the value of it. Nevertheless, I realize that this is another area of human life where the odds are stacked against such an outcome, which I find deeply, deeply, frustrating and disheartening.

Given the circumstances, it was really painful to come to this conclusion about my long-time "friend" as well. It was hard to accept the possibility that no matter how much I genuinely cared about him, he would never be able to receive that caring for exactly what it was. For whatever reasons, without a capacity for genuine empathy, he would not be able to feel my caring for him. And it was not enough for me to simply feel myself as a "caring person". I have shared this idea in another way: if I am going to offer "understanding" to someone, I want them to actually feel understood and I am willing to communicate until that level of understanding or mutual understanding is reached between us (of course that depends on the other person also having that same level of commitment).

Coming out of that relationship, I was presented with a new one, and in the context of that latter relationship I was offered a challenge "to be celibate for at least a year". Since I have been very transient for most of the last three years, that has actually helped me to meet that challenge and exceed it. Furthermore, it has given me an opportunity and time to think differently about physical intimacy.

First of all, reading another book available through Stefan Molyneux's website, The Origins of War in Child Abuse by Lloyd deMause, I learned that males are brain-wired to be even more emotionally sensitive than women, and yet many if not most human cultures have denied this reality and, in fact, seem bent on conditioning men to be just the opposite. If little boys do not receive the empathy they need and the respect they need for their emotional vulnerability as children, it is no wonder they have difficulty exercising those capacities for themselves and for others as adults.

Knowing this, and knowing how vulnerable people are and are made to feel in the midst of and aftermath of physical intimacy, I have decided to not take any of that for granted anymore. I'm not going to invite a man to be that vulnerable with me unless there is a much greater foundation of relationship and trust between us to Protect Him. And as far as I'm concerned, any man who comes to me denying his need for that kind of emotional respect, is not respecting his own emotional vulnerability enough, and will probably not respect my emotional vulnerability either.

Second, I have come to a much deeper knowledge of all of the biochemistry involved with different types of feelings associated with "love" and "desire". From this article I learned that feelings of "lust" are mediated primarily by testosterone and estrogen, feelings of "romantic love" are mediated by dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin (and note, adrenaline is there because you are having a stress response; it's the same chemical that enters your system when you are feeling fear), and finally, feelings of long-term attachment are mediated by oxytocin and vasopressin. (Interesting side note for vasopressin - as noted in this article - it's repressed by alcohol consumption!)

From my current point of view, I appreciate that the emotional/chemical cocktails associated with physical intimacy are going to be expressed no matter what we might be thinking about our partner at the time. And, on a biological level, our bodies are saying to one another variations of "I want to mate with you and make babies" and "I want to bond with you," again, whether that is actually true on a conscious mental level or not.

I have decided that the next time I choose to be intimate with someone it will be because (at least in my case), I am consciously choosing to communicate with them, "I want to bond with you." Furthermore, I would prefer a much more established expression of oxytocin and vasopressin in our relating, through friendly association/companionship and "getting to know one another" over a long period of time, before adding in dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin.

From my current point of view, people who are addicted to the "rush" of "falling in love" (as I once was) are really no different from people who are addicted to the "rush" of jumping out of an airplane or off of a cliff. (It's all about adrenaline in each case.) Thing is...people who do that jumping/falling thing in their intimate relationships often don't even pack a parachute! Is it any wonder then that so many of those relationships eventually end up dashed on the rocks?! Again, from my current point of view, the bonds of trust and friendship, that have been sewn together over time and reinforced biochemically with oxytocin and vasopressin form the "parachute" a couple can use for a much more safe and successful experience of "falling in love", where you can completely enjoy the fall and still land on your feet!

Third, I have begun to suspect that there are so many other things that make us think we are "in love" with another person, other things that drive us to want to be with them, to want to be intimate with them. As referred to earlier, "anima and animus projections" almost invariably result in our wanting to reclaim/remain associated with the part of ourselves we have projected onto the other person. So that can be one unconscious force driving us towards "wanting to be with the other person".

Another factor I have had to take into consideration is the role that simple curiosity plays in our seeking to be physically intimate with another person. There have been times when I have indulged myself in fantasies of being intimate with someone, thinking I was doing that because I really cared about them. But when I took a closer look at my motives, I realized part of what was underlying those "caring" feelings was simply curiosity about how it might feel like, physically, to be with that person. In that moment, I also had to acknowledge that sexual curiosity is certainly not unique to human beings, as pretty much every other animal on the planet is sexually curious once they've reached puberty, if not sooner.

And that led to another consideration: Can I kiss someone with compassion? Where, for me, compassion means having empathy for what a person has suffered in their lives and respect for how they have handled it. In order for that feeling of compassion to be genuine, I have to have in-depth knowledge of the other person. Consequently, after taking the time to gain that in-depth knowledge, can I feel so compassionate towards another person that making love becomes an expression of that compassion? In that case, is making love the right thing to do when the depth of empathy and respect for that other person can no longer be expressed in words or other actions? And furthermore, where the seeking of curiosity can eventually be satisfied, can being genuinely compassionate ever have such limitations?

Finally, over the past several months I have become increasingly knowledgeable and sensitive to the interesting dynamic between the limbic brain and the frontal cortex. From my current point of view and understanding, the limbic brain as a seat of emotion and intuition and some very old evolutionary wiring, can be quite "self-serving" and by that I mean, serving the almost exclusively biological motives of our human nature; i.e. individual survival and reproduction. If we were creatures who simply reproduced and died, there would be no problem with that. However, that is not the way human beings operate. We build communities and cultures and not unlike the Volvox algae, we have learned that there are benefits to mediating some of our individual biological drives and motives in order to be part of a community.

And that is where the frontal cortex comes in as an evolutionary advance over the limbic brain. It is in the frontal cortex that we develop networks of neurons that encode what we learn from society about the contexts in which we may express our biological drives, the drives programmed into the limbic brain. Furthermore, we engage that learning process from infancy to age 25 or so, meaning, there is a long, long, time for our living and relational circumstances to influence how our frontal cortex develops.

Yes, all human beings are wired for aggression, but it is society that teaches us in which contexts aggression is appropriate. For example, it is okay to tackle someone on the football field and steal a football from them, it is not okay to tackle a woman on the street and steal her purse from her. For decades, sexual intimacy was only considered appropriate within the context of marriage, now, for many, any context is appropriate if two people are even remotely attracted to one another. Whatever the expectations, for greater or lessor control, it is the frontal cortex that is going to "record" those messages, for better or worse.

As I look at the journey of my own life, from the very isolating and controlling environment in which I grew up, to the freedom of being completely on my own starting in my early 20's (and in a relatively sexually liberated time of the 1980's prior to the horror and threat of AIDS), I have decided that having all that sexual freedom did not necessarily result in my being more emotionally or sexually satisfied in my relationships. Furthermore, my early isolation certainly did not prepare me to deal with the intricacies of social relations, and the emotional self-regulation that is so often important to maintaining those relations. However, especially since the mid to late 90's, I have been doing a lot more "homework" in this area, and if anything, my current choices are a culmination of that life experience and "practice".

Furthermore, I want to be clear that my celibacy is not based on a "fear of being hurt" (again). I've been disappointed, hurt, frustrated, etc., many times in my relationships and I have learned to heal from those experiences over and over again. Reading the book, Women Who Run with the Wolves taught me how to live as a "wise innocent".

Instead, my choosing celibacy at this point in my life is an acknowledgement that there are ways to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering and to avoid causing unnecessary pain and suffering in others if we do more emotional/biochemical self-regulation with our frontal cortex rather than leaving the limbic brain to run the show! And to be perfectly honest, I am much more satisfied with the person I have become and with the level of genuine empathy and respect I can now bring to my relationships, than I have ever been before.

I'm also appreciating the opportunity I have now to patiently "sew together" friendships with the men and women I have in my life, so that we all have better "parachutes" for the times we do choose to "take the plunge". Thanks to one of those friendships, I now know about the work of Esther Perel, and I have really come to appreciate what she has to say about the "villages" that have gone absent from modern human civilization and the important role they have played in helping each of us meet our love and belonging needs through multiple relationships, rather than being so overly focused and dependent on that one, all-consuming, "romantic relationship".

The bottom line: I'm looking to experience myself and others in a very different way, and, for now, celibacy has opened a door to that possibility for myself and for the men who choose to become friends with me...

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