Hanging out with our offspring’s toddlers has made me realise how dependant parents are on calming their children’s anxieties by offering them something to eat. Usually, a raw carrot doesn’t do the trick, whereas a spoonful of honey does. This must be repeated so many times during a child’s life it’s hardly surprising as adults we have a strange relationship between our own anxiety and distress and the trip to the biscuit barrel or ice cream tub. I’ve read and heard many times that it would be advisable to resist this impulse and lay ourselves open to the underlying pain; but how much pain can we bear? And should we really need or want to bear it? It seems to me that if the pain is not something we would like our own children to have to endure, why should we subject our inner selves to it?
Sex is second only to food in the hierarchy of our appetites. I don’t remember from my own childhood, or from that of our own children, quite how mood relates to desire for sexual pleasure; but I suspect, boredom rather than anxiety is the main motivator. Children endlessly fiddle with their genitals, from which they presumably derive a pleasure that heightens otherwise somewhat dull periods of their lives.
So it seems to be with adults; and again I find myself wondering whether it is appropriate to deny ourselves this pastime, as an antidote to boredom or dissatisfaction with the present moment, on the grounds that sexual pleasure should be something that is sought for nobler reasons than to feel momentarily more alive.
Children also like cuddles, of course. All those delightful bonding behaviours! My wife and I were breezing along delightfully, choosing our daily activities and seemingly getting more and more fond of each other. Then, a hiccup occurred. We had visitors for three weeks; and then we went on a walking trip which always had one other person besides ourselves in attendance. During this time, we abandoned our ’choices’ regime. It was just too difficult to keep up. I think this was because it seemed impolite to be engaging primarily as a couple when other people were around; and were so busy we had very little time when we were alone together.
The downside of being busy and polite was that kissing, cuddling, complimenting each other, making love, etc, etc, took a back seat; and now we’re on our own again, it’s proving a big of a slog to restart the sparkle. It’s like we’re partial strangers.
It strikes me that the intimate bond between a couple is very reliant on that couple spending time together in a cocoon away from the world. We all know how tactile parents and young children are; and how young lovers replicate this. However, Marnia’s list of bonding behaviours includes mostly things that can only be done in privacy - unless you’re a parent with a young child, or a pair of besotted young lovers. I trust I’m not the only person who would find older couples tongue kissing or whispering sweet nothings when in company slightly off putting. Maybe this is something I need to get over; but, at the moment, seeing friends and relations, in middle age, who have started new relationships, behaving like teenagers, is not nearly as endearing as it would be if they were in the first flush of youth.
It’s been something of an eye-opener for me to recognise what is cause and what is effect. If I hadn’t been aware of the theoretical importance of bonding behaviours, and their likely result - learned from Marnia - I would have tended to think, as I have in the past, that our cuddling had dried up because we’d temporarily ‘gone off’ each other, rather than the other way around. This wouldn’t have been particularly worrying, in itself. We’ve been married ages, and we’ve had loads of ups and downs. This would have just seemed like another minor bump in the road. In fact, I used to believe ups and downs were as inevitable in marriage as in any other sphere; and that the only way round them was to wait for the bottom to occur, and enjoy the passage to the top again. Now, I’m not so sure, since it‘s become clear to me that ’going off’ one another is the result, rather than the cause, of a dearth of cuddling.
Lack of cuddling eventually leads to lack of desire to cuddle, whether through laziness, habit, resentment or indifference. Cuddling (all bonding behaviours included) causes the desire for more cuddles. It is a beneficent biofeedback machine, just as the absence of bonding behaviours seems to be the opposite. Everyone will be familiar with young lovers not seeming able to get near enough to each other. Well, we’ve experienced the same, repeatedly, as a result of initially scheduling bonding behaviour and watching it snowball.
If serial cuddling doesn’t come naturally (ie, a couple isn’t made up of a parent and child, or are an inseparable pair of young lovers) it seems absolutely critical to make time to schedule bonding behaviours. It’s as critical as an exercise regime, should a person have decided they like the outcome of exercise. In this case, assuming a couple likes the idea of feeling as close and as in love as parent and child or star crossed teenagers, time and effort have to be employed.
Actually, it’s hardly any effort at all. The effort is in remembering to do it, and in overcoming any underlying resentment that might make that ‘remembering’ more difficult. Initially, the bonding behaviour schedule need only be one activity a day; and that activity needn’t last longer than a minute, though it could, of course, last a lot longer. I think it needs to last at least as long as a minute, as, in our experience, that’s enough to start the snowballing effect. Bonding behaviours then become automatic and seem to replicate themselves in abundance. It’s not so much that they become a habit, like brushing teeth; they are more like a drink that we develop a liking, and then a recurring thirst, for, not because of the obvious beneficial effect, both short and long term, but because the taste becomes inherently irresistible.
My wife and I are useless at sticking to schedules in most areas of life; and once we drop a routine, it tends to stay out of sight for a long time, to be forgotten, until one day it gets resurrected, before being dropped again. Luckily, the fallout from our enforced stopping of intimate choices is so obviously non-beneficial, it’s woken us up far more immediately than, say, the exercise regime we were also doing at the same time and that also got interrupted but that, frankly, both of us could happily take or leave. We may get round to exercising again one day; but we’re in the process of resurrecting our bonding behaviour schedule, now.