Love vs. Individuality

By | 30/05/2016

Children experience a major developmental leap in their second year: they learn how to walk and speak, and hone their motor skills. Up to that point, they had been happiest being held by their mothers, in a peace and comfort such as they lost at birth, feeling for their mothers what we call love. Now, they also enjoy toddling around, exploring their environment and trying to understand what objects are for and how they work. They put almost everything they can reach into their mouths, touch them and watch what happens when the object is dropped to the floor. Toddlers seem to be thrilled by every discovery they make; they are discovering their individuality—and delighting in it.

All these adventures happen within their mother’s sight, because if they can’t see her, the toddler will immediately drop whatever they are doing and run after their mom. The same will happen if they fall down: they’ll run back to their mother’s arms, in tears. They feel vulnerable, when faced with physical pain or the imminence of an unacceptable distance from their mother, and must feel her proximity again.

So, clearly, the toddler’s preferences waver. If all is well, what they want is to enjoy their growing individuality; at the least ache, however, they’ll seek comfort in their mother’s arms, or better yet, her love, which is the cure for all that ails them.

There is no way we can’t see a resemblance between the pattern I just described and supposedly adult behavior: people want to exert their individuality with total freedom, but then come home and find their romantic partner waiting for them. They can bear to stay away from their loved ones for a while, but, mainly, what they want is the comfort of the presence of their beloved. In their absence, they feel saudade (an untranslatable word in Portuguese describing a longing that mixes forlornness with the memory of the warmth of that person’s company). It helps that we not only have a rich imagination but also, these days, technology helps us communicate. People can feel the warmth and comfort their loved one provides, even when separated by long distances, through the exchange of words and pledges of love.

In intimate relationships, it seems that what people really want is to find a formula that will help them reconcile the love they feel and their individuality. They want to watch the TV show they enjoy, with their beloved by their side. Hopefully, while cuddling. Their partner is interested in the cuddling and might try to enjoy their partner’s show or game; if they don’t actually like whatever is on, that’s where the problem starts. They’ll walk away and look for something they actually like to do, and their partner will feel rejected, abandoned and unloved, and might try to pressure them to come back. The person who didn’t like the chosen activity will get rightly angry, and an argument (a so-called “normal couple’s fight”) will be unavoidable.

Men and women are, simultaneously, child and mother. They want to enjoy their individuality, as long as they’re not too far apart. They’ll struggle for power, to establish who will define the rythm and schedule of the relationship. No matter how compatible a couple is, there will always be some activities that only one of them is interested in, and the old ways, in which men set the rules and women obeyed are, thankfully, not how it goes anymore.

What can be done, then? There is only one answer: emotional growth, so the co-dependence typical of childish love decreases, allowing both to exert their individuality, and free their partners to do the same.

Tradução: Amanda Morris