Plato’s Symposium features Aristophanes giving a speech on the origins of human beings. He says every human was born with four legs, four arms, and two heads. They were ambitious and robust creatures. Zeus split the human race in half to lessen their fearsome abilities. Every human walks on two legs and looks for their other half. Plato said that “love” is the name of our search for wholeness and our desire to be complete.
This idea is still relevant after thousands of years.
When asked about Jean, Dill Carson, an inner-city Boston participant, said that Jean was his better half. Every evening, we have a glass of wine and sit down. It’s part of our daily ritual. With it, we feel like the day is complete. We discuss the feelings we are feeling and what’s happening. We will talk about arguments if we have them. We talk about plans and the children. It helps to round out the day and smoothens the edges. “If I could do it over again, I would marry the same woman without any doubt.”
My better half. This sentiment was shared by many Harvard Study participants when they were asked about their partners. Participants often felt a sense of unity and balance in their most intimate and positive relationships.
There is no magic formula that will lead to happy relationships, happy romances, and happy marriages. Two “halves,” or “halves,” might interact in many ways. This varies depending on the culture and from one relationship to another. The forms of relationships can change from one generation to the next, even between eras. For example, most of the Harvard Study participants were married at one time or another. This was partly because it was the most accepted expression of commitment at that time. The number of committed relationships is growing and formal marriages are becoming less common. The United States had 51 percent of households without married couples in 2020. This number was close to 20 percent in 1950. However, a change of form does not necessarily translate into a change of feeling. Human beings are the same. There can be many variations even within the “traditional” range of marriages. There are many types of love.
James Brewer is one of the Study’s college students. He was a young man from Indiana who arrived in Harvard as an intelligent, but still very young man. The Study asked him why he didn’t understand “heterosexuality.” He believed that everyone should have sex with one gender. Beauty was beauty and love was love. He felt attracted to both women and men. Shouldn’t everyone feel this way? He shared his thoughts with friends and classmates until he encountered resistance and significant prejudice. At that point, he started to hide his sexuality. He married Maryanne shortly after graduating college. They had children and lived a happy life. Maryanne, 57, died from breast cancer in 1978 after 31 years of marriage.
James wrote to the Study when he was asked why his marriage had been so successful.
“We survived because of the many things we shared. She was a good reader and she read me essential parts of great books. We spoke about castles and kings, cabbages, and many other topics. We took notes and looked at what we saw. . . . We had a great time eating and seeing the world together. . . . We created our most memorable parties for ourselves, sometimes as surprise parties for one another.
A Harvard Study interviewer visited James three years after Maryanne’s passing. James invited the interviewer to his home and asked him to join him in a room filled with birds. There were several cages, a few artificial trees, and rope lattices in the middle. As he opened the cells, the birds flew towards him and ate. He told the interviewer that they were his wife’s birds. He was still so grieving that he couldn’t even say her name. When asked about his current relationship status, he stated that he had been in brief relationships and that many people considered him gay. He also said that while he was not currently in a relationship with anyone, he didn’t give up on the possibility. He said, “I think eventually someone will come to touch my heart.”
Anyone who has ever loved someone knows that pursuing intimacy is dangerous. We can be hurt if we open ourselves up to the joy of being loved and loved. The closer we are to someone, the more vulnerable it makes us. We continue to take this risk.
This chapter focuses on the severe side of intimacy and how it affects well-being. We encourage you to look at the information on these pages through the prism of your experiences and discover the reasons behind your successes and challenges in intimate relationships. The Harvard Study participants’ lives show that understanding and acknowledging your emotions and how they affect your intimate partner (the Person right beside you) can have subtle but profound effects on your life.
INTIMACY AND ALLOWING US TO BE KNOWN
We asked Study participants as well as their partners questions about intimacy over many decades. We were able to trace the unique feelings of love, tension, and affection from the beginning to the end of a relationship. These relationships ranged from short and intense to long and restless, and everything in-between. Let’s take a look at one that falls somewhere in the middle.
Joseph Cichy married Olivia in 1948. Olivia died in 2007, just after their fifty-ninth anniversary. Their marriage is a great example of solid partnerships and how two people can support one another throughout a lifetime. Their partnership also represents a strong partnership, but it could have been better.
Joseph reported feeling happy about his life over the years. He was pleased with his career, had three children he loved, and enjoyed a peaceful relationship with his wife. We asked Lily, their daughter, to reflect on her childhood. She told us that her parents were as calm as any married couple. She can’t recall them ever arguing.
Joseph had shared a similar story to the Study over many years. At 46 years old, he told the Study that he was as easygoing as any person he had ever met. He loved Olivia as he was and would not change anything about her. He treated his children with the same respect as he would to any other person, giving guidance when needed, but not trying too hard to control them. He tried to be open to other perspectives in his business work before forming his own opinion. He stated that empathizing is the only way to persuade.
This philosophy was the foundation of Joseph’s life. He loved listening to others and learning from their stories. Joseph is an excellent example of how understanding others’ thoughts and feelings can benefit our relationships. Joseph was a close friend to many, but he had a problem. He was afraid to open himself up to people, even those he loved.
This included Olivia, his wife.
Joseph explained to the Study that conflict is not the greatest stress in a marriage. “It’s Olivia’s frustration at my inability to allow her inside me. She feels isolated.” She spoke up with Joseph about her concerns and Joseph shared his concern with the Study several times. He also revealed to Joseph that Olivia frequently told him how difficult it was for him to know. He said, “I’m self-sufficient.” “My greatest weakness is not to rely on anyone. “I’m just that way.”
Joseph was able to see the problems of others and communicate them with them. However, he couldn’t get over a deep-rooted fear that is common: he didn’t want to feel burdened or be dependent. Joseph, despite his Harvard education, was a humble child who told the Harvard Study that he learned self-sufficiency on the family farm where he operated a horse-drawn plough for hours on end. Joseph’s mother and father were too busy to care for him. As an adult he believed he should handle any problems he encountered–emotional or otherwise–on his own. He saw nothing wrong with this.
His daughter Lily, now in her 50s, said to a Study interviewer that even though she was no longer bitter about this philosophy, it was still something she felt. She felt her father was there to help her in any way she needed. He helped her through some of the most difficult times in her life, as well as her marriage. She never felt she knew him well.
Joseph, 72 years old, answered questions about his marriage to his wife. However, he admitted that their relationship was stable but that they felt disconnected. He said that there was nothing pulling them apart, but they are not tied together.
As a young man, Joseph decided that two things were more important in his relationships than any other: maintaining peace and being self-sufficient. He valued stability above all else in his life and that of his family. His life was, in most ways, a happy one. He loved his family and was very loyal to them all. Joseph lived his life in a way that was safe and it worked. It is not bad to live in a marriage with little disagreement. Is it worth the cost of keeping peace? Joseph was denying Olivia and himself the benefits of intimate connections by being so protective of his inner experiences and selective about sharing them.
We all have someone like that in our lives. It’s not a sign they aren’t caring. At the very least, Olivia felt incompleteness. Intimacy is the feeling that you know someone and that you are well-known. In reality, intimacy is derived from Latin intimate: To make known. Although intimate knowledge of another person is an important part of romantic love, it’s also a more complex feature. It is a fundamental part of human existence. It begins before we kiss and continues long before we think about marriage.
INTIMATE ATACHMENT: THE STRANGE SITUATION
We seek out close relationships with other people from the moment we are born. As helpless creatures dependent on others to survive, we begin our lives as helpless beings. As infants, almost everything is new and potentially dangerous. It’s important to establish a strong relationship with at least one Person in your first few days. It is comforting to be close to our parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. As we get older, we are able to explore the world outside of our comfort zones knowing that there is a safe place for us to go when things get scary. It is easy to see the basic principles of human emotional connection through the simplicity and clarity of a young child’s life. These core truths are applicable to both children and adults.
Mary Ainsworth, psychologist, created a laboratory procedure in the 1970s to reveal how babies react to the world and those who depend on them most. It is known as the “Strange Situation” and has been used in research for more than 50 years. It works like this:
A primary caregiver takes a baby aged between 9 and 18 months to the room. After spending some time playing with the toys and interacting with the caregiver, a stranger comes in. The stranger initially seems to be oblivious to the baby’s needs, but then she tries to make contact with her. The caregiver then leaves the room.
The baby now finds herself in a foreign place with a stranger person and with no one she can feel close to. The baby may start to cry and show signs of discomfort.
The caregiver is back in short order.
The experiment’s key purpose is what happens next. The caregiver has now returned to the child after she has experienced stress and encountered a new situation. Researchers deliberately disturbed the infant’s senses of safety and connection, even though it was only a brief interruption. The child must reestablish those. How will she react? How does she respond?
A SECURE DATA BASE
Each Person has their own way of connecting to someone they need. These attachment styles can be used to understand early childhood and how to manage relationships throughout life.
Children are likely to be upset when their caregiver goes. This is normal and what a healthy child will do. The child will seek contact with the caregiver immediately after the caregiver returns. Once she has received it, she will calm down and then return to equilibrium. Because she sees her caregiver as a source for love and safety, the child will seek contact during “reunion”. She also feels entitled to that love. This type of attachment behavior is seen as secure attachment.
Infants who feel less secure attached deal with this insecurity in two ways. They either express anxiety or avoidance. Infants who are more anxious will be more likely to seek out caregivers when they return, but may have difficulty being soothed. On the other hand, avoidant children may not be concerned about caregivers’ presence. The caregiver may leave the room with little to no distress, but they may not seek comfort from the caregiver when they return. Sometimes, they will even turn their backs on the caregiver during the reunion. This could be taken by parents as a sign that the child isn’t caring. Sometimes appearances can be misleading in these cases. Researchers studying attachment theory believe that the avoidant children care for their caregivers even when they are gone, but have learned to not make too many demands of them. According to this theory, they do this because they know that their demands may not lead to love and could drive the caregiver away.
Children encounter the Strange Situation often in real life. For example, they are dropped off at daycare, then picked up at the end. Each of these encounters influences their future expectations. They form a perception of the likelihood that others will help them and a judgement about their worthiness for support.
In some fundamental ways, adult life is a complex, real-world version of the Strange Situation. Each child, like every other child, longs for security. This is what psychologists refer to as a secure attachment base. An adult might feel threatened by her mother’s absence, while a child may feel unsafe if she is alone.
Attachment security is not just for adults. Many of us don’t feel secure in our attachments. While some may be able to cling to others in times of stress, others may have trouble finding the comfort they seek. Joseph Cichy may avoid closeness as he fears that if he becomes a burden to others, he will drive them away. We may not believe we are loved fully. Yet, we need to be connected. Although life becomes more complicated as we age the benefits of having strong connections are there for all phases of our lives.