Any risk in bonding behaviors?

Submitted by B_2012 on
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Is there any risks in performing bonding behaviors - such as hand holding, hugs, eye contact, skin to skin contact?

In other words, if we do these types of behaviors with certain people and never see them again, or end our relationship is this a danger/problem?

Or doing bonding behaviors like skin to skin touch, eye contact, with a female partner, and then ending that partnership?

Or is this type of activity just beneficial to our well being and health with no potential side effects of withdrawal?

I've gone to some recent workshops that feature eye contact, physical touch etc. And have reconnected with a former female partner and experimented with what might be karezza with clothes on.

Thanks much

You may miss that kind of contact

when it is missing, but that's healthy, right? It's good to enjoy the company of your fellow humans.

So, no, I don't think it's a risk, even though you may have some longings afterward. Look to natural rewards to fill the gap: exercise, healthy food, accomplishment, socializing with other friends, flirting with potential mates, time in nature. More ideas here: ♦Solo Tools and ♦Tools to Connect.

Bumpiness

It can be bumpy when bonding options come into or depart from one's life. Be ready for that possibility by filling any gap with positive activities as Marnia suggests. Alternatively, be prepared to feel that missing bonding while not engaging in unhealthy dopamine seeking.

Danger is probably the wrong word

There are consequences to bonding behavior that a wise person will consider before engaging in them.

Do you want to pair-bond to someone you will not be with forever? If you do, be prepared for the consequences.

Many people engage in pair-bonding behavior with each other before assessing whether bonding with the person represents a wise decision. The chemical/biological attraction sweeps you off your feet, and soon you find yourself engaging in bonding behaviors. Then you begin to learn more about your partner only to discover that the two of you do not share common goals or values, or worse - that your partner has serious dysfunctions that require you to get out. Thus you have the "breakup."

The breakup is made exceedingly painful when you have engaged in bonding behaviors. Marnia and Freedom have mentioned "feelings of longing" and "bumpiness", which I think is a bit of an understatement for what most people experience after departing from a relationship where there was some significant emotional and physical investment. "I want to die!" is probably more common.

I believe much of this pain and heartbreak could be avoided if we did more discerning in first assessing potential mates for common goals, values, traits, histories, etc. BEFORE engaging in more intimate bonding behaviors. Unfortunately many of us jump right in to the "good stuff" (the exciting, stimulating, emotionally intense & sexual stuff), and THEN we discover who we've bonded to. It's like bonding to a foggy shadow of a person believing that you're seeing him/her for who they really are, and realizing your mistake once a clearer image of them further materializes.

In short, if you want to reduce risk of heartache, conduct pair bonding activities that are proportional to your knowledge about and commitment to the person with whom you are bonding. So for instance, if you've just started dating perhaps keep it at hugging & holding hands. A more established relationship that looks like it might become permanent could move to snuggling/kissing etc. And naked engagement/intercourse be reserved for once you have made a lifelong commitment. Personally I would not engage in the most intimate forms of pair bonding with someone unless I was ready to commit to them for life.

In this respect I think the Christians have it right with their preaching of abstinence, although not from a moralistic point of view ("God forbids it") which misses the point, but from a pragmatic and healthy one (boundaries are healthy).

You may also want to consider that genuine love always includes an element of altruism, and even if you don't feel you are at risk for heartache, consider your partner. Are you doing/saying things that would feel like betrayal if one day you walked away from this relationship?

Incidentally this is the fundamental problem I have with the contemporary "dating" model - two people who fall for each other and promise they will be exclusive and engage in intimate pair bonding behaviors...until one of them decides they don't want to keep that promise anymore. No wonder people are so hurt and angry when they break up. Surely there is a better way.

By bumpiness I meant the

By bumpiness I meant the neurochemical ripples, not emotional fallout. Yes, these may be connected. There’s risk in life. Sometimes it can be useful to embrace it to a manageable extent. While I don’t think you’re suggesting this, not relating for fear of a breakup seems silly.

Breakups can be painful regardless of the level of bonding proposed in your stratified model. I’m not convinced that physical bonding trumps emotional bonding. Depending upon how someone is wired, it may not reflect the level of emotional or other bonding. Arguably, breakups are made more painful by models insisting on lifelong commitment. Unless you plan on dying together, one of you will inevitably be separated from the other. There’s no obligation to make covert contracts in relating. You could choose to be explicit and otherwise to assume nothing.

Taking it slow is a good idea. A problem with a ridged model, often stemming from religion, is that people vary and are at different places in their lives. Seniors for example have different needs than younger folks. What worked in a world where people died at a much younger age might not work now. Some of the current dating model evolved from the collective religious framework. How that may reflect on that framework is up to the individual to decide.

to clarify

I agree not relating for fear of breakup is not only silly but extremely unhealthy. The other end of the spectrum is giving yourselve completely to someone you do not know, which is also silly and unhealthy, although easy to do especially when we feel vulnerable or seek fulfillment in misguided ways.

You make an excellent point about physical vs emotional bonding. In my 20's I came across the term "emotional abstinence" by an author who felt that focusing on sexual abstinence alone missed the point. In other words, use caution before giving of your complete self to someone, either physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Many people are more careful about who they lend their car to vs who they give themselves to emotionally/physically. There is wisdom in being discerning about who we let into the deepest parts of our being.

I'm not sure what you mean about breakups being more painful due to the model of lifelong commitment. Perhaps you mean that breakups could be less painful if people understood there was no commitment to begin with. In other words, the key to reducing risk of pain is to just not make the commitment. I think this is a risky approach, as the heart and our neurology (which tells me I am hooked on this person) often does not listen to our brains (which tells us there is no commitment). It seems that usually what happens in these no-commitment relationships that someone ends up getting hurt. This in spite of the mutual agreement of no commitment. This tells me that it is not the relationship model being followed that causes the pain, it is the breaking of bonds that have been generated by emotional and physical bonding behaviors.

You are right, there is no rigid model (my suggestions were only an example of the type of thinking that may be helpful.). If I'm 90 years old and alone in a retirement home and I meet someone I'm attracted to, I'm not going to take it slow. WTF would I do that for. Live in the now, baby! Carpe diem! But I think a 15 year old kid should be very careful and probably keep it in his pants. A 40 year old might move pretty quick, but he/she knows what she wants and could assess a potential mate fairly accurately in short order, assuming they have learned the fundamentals of healthy relationships and are ensuring the right discussions are taking place. Going slow in itself is generally good, but a more refined approach would be to move at a pace that allows you to assess the worthiness/compatibility of your mate before overcommitting on the bonding behaviors. It may look or feel like going slow, but only because we westerners have a propensity for rushing into bonding activities with people we later decide we don't want to be bonded to.

And really that's what I'm getting at - don't form those deepest bonds with people you aren't certain you're ready to stay bonded with for life. Of course once one of you dies the bond is broken. That is a cost that all pair bonders must pay, unless they are so "lucky" as to die simultaneously. But this does not mean that we should unecessarily expose ourselves to further grief and heartache by pairbonding with others carelessly.

The gap between perception

The gap between perception and reality can be proportional to the potential for a rough breakup. Many people date expecting commitment and assuming all sorts of things about what intimacy might mean and lead to. They paint a future that no one can predict or guarantee. They are not in the present or if they are, they use it as road sign to the future. Staying present minded does not mean no commitment. Commitment might not be about how one will behave tomorrow as much as how one will behave today. When today becomes tomorrow, commitment can become apparent. Commitment involves the present unfolding into the future, not the future absorbing the present.

It’s easy to get lost in lingo. What about the many folks who committed and were relating for some long period of time before they decided to end things? Some of these people feel that there was never real love and perhaps not even commitment. If so, was it wise to go for commitment only to have long periods of unpleasantness? Or would less commitment and more love and committing have been a better approach? I’m not sure. Would anyone with these sorts of experiences care to chime in?

Back the original question, it might be better to focus on the positives of bonding rather than the dangers of having to end bonding. Not bonding with one means one can bond with another. Things don’t have to be forever to serve a mutual purpose. One can choose to see some positive side to breakups.

Thanks, Freedom. I found

Thanks, Freedom. I found your post very.... well, freeing.

I really like your perspective on this. We have the power to put our attention on what we choose, and that governs our experience. I've put my attention on fear, on worst case scenarios in some ways. So instead, I can see the bright, lighter side of things, the joy of life, love and bonding, and enjoy my bonding experiences wherever they lead me.

Much appreciation -
B

I agree with Jman

I engaged in bonding activities with a man I already liked emotionally but hadn't explored well enough yet as far as possible life partnership. Clothes on, but lots of snuggling, kissing, stroking, hand holding and foot rubs to die for. i was flooded with bonding chemicals far beyond anything I had previously emotionally felt about that person, and felt a huge pain when I discovered we weren't compatible.

Now I don't touch single guys beyond a quick hug or handshake for both our sakes. God knows they've tried. I found myself actually feeling aversion from their attempts at sneaking in physical affection even though I liked them in a platonic way. I'm not sure why. And I'm not saying I'm handling it correctly now but at least I'm not making that first mistake again.

Lots of wisdom here

I guess I feel like I'm talking to the hook-up generation, and that they're better off experimenting with bonding behaviors than casual sex without them.

That said, ritualized courtship probably made a lot of good sense. Gradual is best.

Ha - I would not consider

Ha - I would not consider myself part of the hookup generation. I lost my virginity when I was 29, believe it or not!

Regardless, yes to bonding behaviors for me. Bring on the oxytocin!!

Btw - some call oxytocin the "Bonding" chemical/hormone/whatever. Is "love" or "cuddle" hormone more accurate in your opinion? Perhaps this is an academic question. :p

There's dopamine generated

There's dopamine generated during bonding too. Perhaps the withdrawal of that dopamine is partially responsible for the bumpiness during the transition.

What will we humans ponder when have all these answers?

Perhaps model this using a

Perhaps model this using a logarithmic scale. The reward circuitry is always in play as long as we're alive. So if looking at dopamine alone, bonding is say a 10, orgasm a 100, and porn a 1000. The more dopamine generated, the more the circuitry becomes overloaded. With bonding, oxytocin is also generated. That oxytocin can provide some balance to say a 10 and even a 100 now and again, but not a 1000. So the point is to avoid the 1000, not seek the 100 because seeking might nudge that 100 toward say 500, and to generate ample oxytocin to help balance any inherent moodiness from our aliveness. Moods tend to be fluctuating states no matter how hard we try to keep things constant.

Rule of thumb

[quote=freedom]So the point is to avoid the 1000, not seek the 100 because seeking might nudge that 100 toward say 500, and to generate ample oxytocin to help balance any inherent moodiness from our aliveness. [/quote]

I like this. But what about dopamine from other areas of life? Sport, business, cars, chain saws ... is excitement (often intense) generated these ways an issue?

I don't think we know enough

I don't think we know enough to say with much certainty. Reward linked to bonding and orgasm is tied to procreative biology, which perhaps makes it different in the levels of dopamine generated. Yet, dopamine is still dopamine. Too much of it without some balance brought on by other aspects of the same or another activity might not be good. At a minimum, it could be worth being aware of these ideas and applying them to how one lives.

Gary, have you found anything that deals with bonding and sexuality reward neurochemicals differently than those generated by other aspects of life?

possibly

I think in general, doing activities you enjoy does not elevate dopamine to those crushing levels where the crash has noticeable negative effects. (If playing with a chain saw (indeed fun) generates the same level of high for you as an orgasm, I'd like to hear more about that!)

However, you do hear of other activities sometimes generating very high levels of dopamine. Consider performing artists like musicians who experience incredible high's while on stage with thousands of adoring fans screaming at them and invigorating music. It feels god-like; I imagine there are extremely high levels of dopamine firing. Then there's the post-show crash, the depression etc. Presumably that's part of the reason why so many musicians, celebrities etc. turn to drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors - in order to deal with the post "orgasmic" crash of intense emotional experiences.

Confused

[quote=Jman]If playing with a chain saw (indeed fun) generates the same level of high for you as an orgasm, I'd like to hear more about that!.[/quote]

Maybe it's adrenalin rather than dopamine. I've never bungee jumped but chainsawing, and driving in heavy traffic, seem like drawn out versions of dicing with death in a relatively safe way. I find both more draining than orgasm, but then they last a lot longer.

perhaps

...dopamine generated during bonding has different neurological effects than the blast of dopamine "injected" during orgasm.

I think of sugar as perhaps a suitable analogy. I took almost all refined sugars out of my diet a few years ago, but occasionally I enjoy them. When I do, I notice it. For instance, when I eat a Mars bar I feel the sugar spike start in as little as 30 seconds. Within a few minutes I feel the full scale blast, similar to a caffeine buzz (incidentally I never noticed this until I stopped for a while and then reintroduced it). Fruit in an otherwise sugar-free protein shake has sugar too, but the sugar is not as refined and concentrated, and is combined with proteins that slow down the metabolism of the sugars. I feel virtually no buzz-crash effects from that, presumably because the sugar is delivered to the body in a more level manner.

By the same token it could be possible that dopamine generation during orgasm is like a Mars bar (sudden "Shot" of high concentration dopamine), whereas dopamine generation during bonding is like the protein shake (lower level delivered over greater period of time). The crash/volatility of dopamine post-event could be inversely proportional to the intensity of the shot.

I'm talking out of my ass here, but that seems plausible to me.

I'm enjoying the discussion!

I'm enjoying the discussion! Thanks all for chiming in. Glad to see there are some opinions on this area.

"I agree not relating for fear of breakup is not only silly but extremely unhealthy." - interesting, I believe I've been operating under this for many years. Having a sense that "oh, this probably won't work out" so I shouldn't even try / enjoy it now. Meaning, I've avoided dating / relationships / socializing, perhaps in part due to fear of breaking up later. Fear of the other person being upset. Which is not a great way to go. Especially because it keeps me from creating relationships of any kind. And right now, I think it's important for me to cultivate relationships and friendships - since I've decided (for now) to give up porn and ejaculating. And with that has come more energy and a yearning for connecting with people and physical touch.

I'm going to give myself some leeway and enjoy bonding activities even if I'm not in relationship with them the rest of my life. The oxytocin is good for me, and as long as I am honest and sincere, I'm willing to explore physical interaction. Keep in mind, to me, goal oriented orgasm (ejaculation sex) to me has a different energy to it. It feels more of a selfish thing - "I need to get off now!" and "I want to use you so I can get off!" As opposed to 'let's explore and enjoy connecting'.

And yes, good to be mindful of how our brain chemistry affects us with dopamine and oxytocin. This is all new for me, good and exciting, and I remind myself to be kind with myself.

I've primarily been operating in my relationships from a place of fear - so I get to practice having faith that everything will work out for the best.

good for you

for giving up PMO and deciding to practice vulnerability and engage in real relationships with real people. That takes courage!

I would just encourage you to not turn off your mind while following your heart. Engaging in serious bonding behaviors with people on faith that "everything will work out for the best" will probably lead to unecessary heartache for one or both of you. Otherwise bonding behaviors just become another form of "this feels good now so I'll do it, and damn the consequences" behavior, which has generally not served humans well.

As has been said a few times in this post, take it slow. Even Marnia has said traditional ritualized courtship models make a lot of sense, where the emotional/physical bonding behaviors engaged in are proportional to the stage of the relationship and generally quite conservative especially in the early stages.

Living in fear is living in a prison. But so is living indiscriminately, as we become slaves damaging and limiting choices, and spend much of our life energy trying to free ourselves from their shackles. Using discretion and prudence in how you decide to bond and to whom will give you the greatest freedom of all.

Whoa, sounds like you have

Whoa, sounds like you have some history, Jman. Reading your post I'm wondering if you've experienced some serious heartache in relationship in the past. I like hearing other people's experiences, and I get to make my own choices. :)

Best wishes,
B

My take on this . . .

My take on this . . .

is that bonding, cuddling, physical affection and the like are good. The difficulty come if the feelings are asymmetric. One person might see it as bonding with a platonic friend, the other might see it as building towards an intimate relationship; that can be problematic. As long as both parties are on the same page, and as long as they stay on the same page it will be good. Nonetheless, it's not surprising if an affection based relationship grows into something more. Every romantic relationship of my life started with a kiss, a hug, or simply holding hands.