This is something I am an expert on. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect it is a common condition. And an unrecognized one, because recognizing it is painful – and who wants more pain in their lives? Not me.
But as I said last time, I got the bright idea of becoming better acquainted with myself – and after considerable stumbling in the dark, came across this unexpected discovery. Which, now I have some time to think about it, feels like something I have known all along.
It reminded me of my first therapist – a cousin of mine. Yes, you got that right; he and I grew up together, our families lived only about a mile apart on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois. Our extended family was extremely religious, and this religiosity was a fundamental part of our upbringing – which was more like our downbringing.
There was no love in our family, this was entirely unknown – as I suspect is common in situations like this, where religion is a form of mass insanity. But as I started to say, this was my childhood – and the childhood of my cousin, whose mother was my mother’s sister. Their mother (my maternal grandmother) lived part way between their house and ours, on the river that was part of our lives. She was also religious, to an extreme degree – and thought of little else. Got the picture?
My cousin went to college, became a psychologist, and I became his first patient. I had become an electronic engineer with a traveling job, and spent many of my weekends traveling to see my therapist – where we spends hours at a time working on my problems.
This was a form of love – which the therapeutic situation is supposed to include. But our love, due to our family involvement, was – I hate to say it – incestuous. I case you are wondering, I hasten to add that there was nothing sexual about it. It is hard to explain, but it was exclusive.
When I became involved with Beth, and then married her, he felt I had betrayed him – and broke off our relationship. I didn’t see him again for many years, at a family reunion – where he was a charming as he could be (one of his special talents).
This brings to mind Thomas Jefferson, of all people! He could also be charming – but as Abigail Adams did not hesitate to say: deceitful, devious, and power-grasping. And also, for the purposes of this discussion - unacquainted with love. He idealized his wife (always a bad sign) who died young.
He promptly found a replacement in one of his slaves , who was a half-sister to his departed wife (a not uncommon practice in his social class), and had a number of children by her. This was unnoticed by his family, and everyone else, for many years. Historians, comparing the dates of her births, with his presidential activities, could only conclude that Jefferson must have made many hurried trips back to Monticello to visit her.
However, hypocrisy is very much part of the American tradition. George Washington has been rightly idealized as the Father of his Country, but he had no children of his own, even though his wife had several children by a previous marriage. It was been suggested that he married her for her money, which makes sense. In any case, it is clear that he permitted no familiarity from anyone (including his wife, evidently) – and was famous for this. But let me return to my lowly self.
In my family there was no love either, as the most casual observer could, and still can, see. It is considered optional, and not necessary. And, I suspect, not even desirable, to judge by our behavior. I know I have fended it off, successfully, whenever it threatened.
My ex, whose family also belonged to the same church, were even more religious. As our marriage progressed, she became violent, interpreting my advances as physical threats. And, despite my best efforts, drove me off – and later killed herself. I should add that for awhile we were extremely sexual – perhaps hoping to cover up our animosity. And I have been suspicious ever since of sexual advances, interpreting them (sometimes accurately, I am sure) as manipulative behavior.
Psychologists (and novelists and playwrights) have pointed out, over and over, that sex can be associated with almost any motivation – and love is only one of these motivations. And in many social situations, such as the middle-class Midwest I grew up in, it was rare. My parents disliked each other – but that was so common it was not noticed, and not considered important. They were respectable, and that was all that mattered.