Sunday, February 07, 2010


There’s been a challenge to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of dying which have been gospel dogma for decades. The heretics say that not everyone grieves in the same way and it depends upon the circumstance anyway and, in fact, once the original documents are investigated, it turns out she was talking about GRIEVING, not dying. This sort of thing happens all the time. A big strong theory, everyone signs up to it, courses are designed, it’s taken as fact, then some day someone looks at it closely or from a different angle and the whole thing falls apart. That’s Kuhn’s classic paradigm shift or something like it -- because Kuhn’s theory hasn’t come apart yet but it might.

So I thought I’d whip up some stages to think about, with the understanding that they’ll fall apart some day when the fatal flaw becomes apparent.

These are degrees of relationship from meeting to fusion.

0. There’s evidently a stage called “meet and greet” which means more or less random face-to-face contact. A handshake, if that. Maybe there’s such a thing as online “m&g” which would omit physical contact. In fact, one of the interesting questions is how much physical contact is involved at every stage. So I’m going to exclude physical stuff (sex) on grounds that it complicates everything and might have a whole set of stages of its own, though today’s young ‘uns seem to think of “hooking up” as a one-stage event. Maybe a one-event stage.

1. Affinity. This is the one that the dating services like. Some believe in sociology: class, education, ethnic affiliations, etc. An interesting but here ruled-out (because it’s physical) theory is that people can be sorted by their immune systems (what about “lack of”) or by pheromones. The first time I ran across this was as a teen when I read a story about an Italian “stallion” who kept a kerchief in his arm pit where it soaked up his natural perfume which overwhelmed women with desire. But it’s really more like the kind of coincidental similarities between myself and a new correspondent who is a small-congregation minister, lives where my grandparents homesteaded in the Twenties, took classes at the U of Chicago from the same profs who impressed me, uses object-relations psych theory, and loves writing as much as I do. He’s younger and married, so that’s not like me but quite like most of my other fav correspondents.

The stage theory that he likes was developed by a woman I’d never heard of: “Nel Noddings.” School is her church; the dinner table is her communion. She begins with the care she has received from others, which begins with attentiveness. Those who loved Carol Gilligan’s thought will like this. Those who run screaming when they think of the kind of bossy, possessive moms that Philip Wylie wrote about in the Fifties will leave the area. Me, too.

C.S. Lewis said that the best friends are those who disagree with you on the same subjects -- that is, same affinities, different takes. I like that.

2. Affection:
My big dirty dog theory leads us from Noddings to affection. The idea is that if there is a big old dirty dog hanging around and you feed it because it is starving and then it comes to you when it’s hungry, it stops being a generic dog and becomes “your” dog for which you have concern because you know it. I’ve always been struck by someone’s observation that goats “fall in love” with whomever nurses off them. Dunno if it’s true. But this is physical. To retreat back into my head, I will say that I develop considerable affection for some blogs and books, esp. if I benefit from them and visit regularly. Maybe this is the same as “attachment,” which can be approached as a psychological phenomenon.

3. Intimacy: I guess this is where the issue of reciprocity arises. Intimacy requires access and access must be granted. I would rule out a one-sided relationship in which only one person does all the disclosing and accommodating. The worst thing about gender inequality (maybe) is that a relationship of equal reciprocity is difficult if not impossible. Even if the stronger party is protective and adoring, it’s never going to be more than a parent/child relationship. But isn’t that intimate? I’m not convinced.

At the other extreme is the intense temporary intimacy of some situations, what we might call “trapped-in-the-elevator” or foxhole syndrome. I mean, a desperate common goal, strong understanding and cooperation, can lead to intimacy. But maybe this is because of adrenaline and therefore is physical. Some similarity to successful sex, we’re told. (NOT unsuccessful sex.)

4. Love: People have gotten so evasive about this that they use a heart: “I heart you.” Or they are so profligate that they use it as a one-size-fits-all term. "I love peas." So what term do you use when you don’t just admire or enjoy or want to be near, but really have a strong, abiding, protective, yearning, deep delight in someone not part of your family? Falling-in-love love. Romantic, sacrificial, completely faithful love?

5. Bonding: At some point two people become one. Both my grandparent sets were like this. Not my “parent set.” The grands were a team, never unfaithful, devoted, mindful. This may have had something to do with economics as well as parenting, their task in common. When one of the pair died, the other was nearly unhinged, lost, mapless. When my father died, we were relieved.

6. Inseparability:
Bonding seems to have a lot to do with being physically together as marital pairs have more usually been when both worked together. Now, many simply can’t afford to be inseparable, especially in upper classes where professions are practiced in such a peripatetic way. Even if the official home is in one place, one’s duties may be all over the planet.

But there still is such a thing as emotional inseparability and there are many ways of staying in contact so that one doesn’t drift away, changed by a different set of circumstances. It just takes intention and attention. I wonder what Nel Noddings, who rised ten children and was married for roughly fifty years, thinks of this. I'll have to read more. We may have useful differences in our attention to love.

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