Sunday, February 10, 2013


Bonding is an animal thing, which means that both humans and other animals can form lasting relationships that welcome each other and want to touch each other.  Like this:   (It’s the ad about the Budweiser Clydesdale.)

Not necessarily sexual, not necessarily verbal.  But humans, with their cerebral forebrains, are more complex -- even capable of what seems like contradiction or at least paradox.  One of them is expressed well in this quote:

What he was seeking was an opponent -- and I use the term in the literal sense of someone who is opposite -- who would draw from him the full exercise of all that was in him; one who would evoke him -- not push or compel him -- to an answering response of exertion beyond known limits.  The partners he liked usually defeated him.  Yet he chose them, because they invited him to actualize all his capacities -- his coordination, his split-second judgement, his footwork, his skill, his imagination, his planning . . . He sought a partner who would engage his whole being to full commitment.

--Dorothy Lee

This grappling approach to being close -- body against body -- is a kind of Jacob and the Angel scenario.   It’s fascinating to look at the many YouTube interpretations of the Biblical story.  There is even a body of classical music associated with Lent.  This idea of intimacy does not shrink away from the idea that to be so engaged can leave one with crippling damage, even though it may be unregretted if you accept the Jungian notion that a wound can be a source of wisdom.

This paradoxical form of bonding is particularly suited for people whom life has taught to keep their distance, to guard their intimacy.  It works well in an “epistolary relationship” -- that is, one maintained through letters, which is a lot easier with email, though the messages probably don’t maintain the high tone of “84 Charing Cross Road” and don’t necessarily produce anything worth “publishing,” whatever that might be these days.  No horses, not even Clydesdales, nor dogs can do it.  So if there is disagreement, a need for distance, how does this mysterious attachment stay?  Some people describe it as “magnetism” -- a warm, caring interest that persists in spite of possible differences so big as to physically separate people -- class, gender, income, education, even species -- all the things that don’t matter at all to a Clydesdale horse but seem to matter very much to society -- not to individuals who have somehow bonded.  

Pheromones? (Not on email!)  A common goal?  A strong association like having been in combat side-by-side together?  A history of interaction back and forth like education or sex?  The physical element seems so important -- how else to meet but in bars or church, watching eyes and shoulders?  Until the Internet came along and we began to know each other that way.  Someone was proposing on TV that 20% of marriages now begin by meeting via email.  But we don’t stay married.  And you can’t raise a child through the Internet.

Put that mystery aside.  Bonding happens in the “space between” people, regardless of whether it is physical or not.  It could happen between a writer and reader who never meet at all.  It can happen between actors on a stage which is felt by members of the audience.  One’s attention urgently follows along, tries to understand, “feels with” the other, even if that other is a puppet, a CGI sci-fi monster, or actively dangerous.  Even if one has been taught to avoid scary “races” or bad ugly people, all the stigmatized people, it’s still possible to bond.  No one is “un-bondable.”

And yet there are plenty of people whose ambivalence about intimacy is strong enough that they neither want to be revealed nor to remain attached for very long.  The sociopath, the TRUE sociopath, who cannot make a connection, will imitate the connection but be able to leave it without showing any emotion at all.  (That hip wound may be proof that one is not a sociopath -- nor an angel either.)  Other Ambivalents will pick a fight that could even escalate to violence.   They want to end the contact when they withdraw to protect themselves while making the other party responsible.  And the strange but literary idea may be that the only way the “other” can show real commitment to the relationship is to allow themselves to be destroyed.  (The old gazelle in the jaws of the lion syndrome.)

The true sociopath, who is cold to human attachment, has something missing in their brain function: a molecule that’s missing, no ability to bond.  They are pretty easy to manipulate if one doesn’t factor in emotion.  Play the game.   Ambivalents are more likely to have the capacity but to be resisting it, afraid of it somehow.  For some, this makes the Ambivalent very sticky, triggering a do-gooder desire to figure out the source of terror and remove it.  This is especially strong in those who make good parents.  But soon they may have a household of misfits, the bent and the needy.  Why doesn’t evolution eliminate that tendency?  Because sometimes it works and the broken child or PTSD veteran CAN be healed.  The “punishment” hip wound may be shared suffering in the struggle to heal.

But an attachment that won’t release can be problematic as well. Life is a process and if one tries to stay in the moment too long, it can be stifling.  Anyway, built into all healthy growing mammals is a desire to separate and find their own new place.  When we used to keep wild animals, acquiring them as babies and bottle-feeding them, sleeping with them in our beds, there always came a time when they wanted to leave.  The only way to prevent it was castration to stop maturation.  Domestication has mutated that out of most cats and dogs, but not all.  And not all humans.  Some are born to wander.  If you capture their bodies, their hearts and minds will travel.

Said Dorothy Lee, “They invited him to actualize all his capacities -- his coordination, his split-second judgement, his footwork, his skill, his imagination, his planning . . . He sought a partner who would engage his whole being to full commitment.”   Striving against an angel, lasting out the night, means earning something, not just buying it or falling into it by accident.  Breaking a horse -- that unfortunate verb -- is really a matter of confrontation that becomes understanding and consent to a common goal.  It’s a learning relationship that by-passes equality in favor of a kind of fusion -- not a bondage.

I like this YouTube video dance of wrestling, this clasping, upending, near flying, final synchrony.  Bring your own meaning, or just let it be what it is.  Joseph Mills & John-Mario Sevilla - Balthamos and Baruch or Jacob 

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