Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Finding True Intimacy

Don't be misled by mere infatuation- demand more from your romance!

In our sentimental society infatuation has become a common path to the altar.Contemplate the testimony of one newly married groom who met his future wife at a New Year's Eve party. He stayed up talking to her until dawn and became engaged three days later. After marrying a little more than a month later on the day before Valentine's Day, the new groom proclaimed, "Once I knew that this was the right person, that we were meant to be, there was no point in waiting" (de Turenne7).

Three days from meeting to engagement? Marriage in six weeks? It sounds rash, impetuous, youthful, even stupid. But responsible, mature, intelligent men and women are initiating such relationships every day across America. Consider multi-millionaire publisher Mort Zuckerman. The brilliant, suave confidant  and card playing pal of President Bill Clinton, among the most coveted of Sunday morning political talk show guests, married Marla Prather, the distinguished head of the Department of Twentieth Century Art at the National Gallery of Art. Said Prather, "We had a very short courtship, and then boom, we're pregnant. We're still getting to know each other and learning to be parents" (Artful 146).Even the finest, most mature products of our top academic institutions are committing to virtual strangers now, getting to know their mate later.

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We laugh when uneducated younger couples are practicing foolish courtship and marriage, like when heavy metal rock star Tommy Lee and Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson married after a four day courtship. When the marriage ended bitterly with charges of infidelity and physical abuse, we knowingly nod. What we have refused to acknowledge is that the same behavior is practiced by the leaders of our country in every walk of life.  Consider California Democratic Assemblywoman Diane Martinez, who wed a Portland Oregon history professor she met online. They exchanged messages for more than a month, sending their favorite poems to each other, before meeting in person. While we cluck our tongues at Tommy and Pam or Kim Kardashian and NBA star Kris Humphries, we ignore the fact that there are older and allegedly wiser couples behaving in similar fashion.

Many will argue that there is nothing wrong with an instant relationship, just add passion. And that's fine if you are willing to settle for that. But many young couples that have based their romance on infatuation have deluded themselves into thinking they are enjoying true intimacy. They are sadly mistaken. True intimacy, as defined by psychologist Harriet Lerner of the Menninger Clinic, is a "relationship where one can be one's self and provide space for someone else to do the same, where we deepen and redefine the truths we tell each other, where we hear each other and talk to each other about sensitive information" (Adler 8). 

 As opposed to a true intimate relationship,many couples are merely enjoying sexual intimacy with a stranger. How does this happen? For many men, approaching a woman is like making a sale.  They will do their best from the onset to take advantage of the initial physical attraction  and present themselves as they think the woman wants them to be, from Prince Charming to a Bad Boy, from an aloof cowboy to  a sensitive intellectual. Once they have sold themselves successfully and sealed the deal,  they remain committed to the role. Sadly,  many men  can never be themselves or the illusion of love will be shattered.

Many women are being counselled in books like the blockbuster "The Rules: Time Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right",  to withhold their true feelings and secrets until somewhere between the male suitor's open declaration of love and formal engagement. In other words, the lover should already be committed to the woman before he finds out what she is truly like.

It is thus impossible to have a mutally fulfilling companionate relationship of true intimacy when the foundation of the romance is based of infatuation between two strangers who are keeping it emotionally superficial. Yet millions of American couples are practicing it every day, making life-determing decisions based on a look, a laugh or the sparkle in a woman's eyes. There is no difference in result than the arranged marriages celebrated in the play "Fiddler On The Roof", the literature classic "Anna Karenina" or the store-bought spouses of a supposedly less enlightened era.

Consider the following excerpt from an essay written by a man of 45 and a woman of 33 who became engaged two months after meeting:

We met                                                                                                                                 We danced                                                                                                                            We fell in love...                                                                                                                      He makes me feel like a love song...(Gregory 8)

This is the groom's second marriage and the bride's third. With such discernment, is it any wonder? In a fraction of marriages a couple like this cheats the hangman and through dumb luck matches with someone compatible to each other's personality, with similar interests, values and goals. Reading about those who did find a modicum of happiness despite basing their future on a smile is like reading about state lottery winners: you know they exist, but there aren't any living on your block. More likely are the marriages that reach a crisis point and fall back into the old, unenlightened, non-intimate  patriarchal marriage notion of separate spheres for each mate working in concert regardless of feelings for the economic perpetuation of the family unit. Otherwise there is no reason for marriages between strangers based on infatuation to last longer than the thrill of the Honeymoon period of 1-2 years.

 

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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