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Amorous Growth

( Originally Published 1957 )

In the usual instance, sexual attraction and sexual love are distinguished from each other. Although "falling in love" suggests a sudden event, the process is widely regarded as one of growth. This growth is, according to Hirschfeld, an essential feature of the way a fetish "operates." Repeated exposure to the action of a fetish causes its effect to increase. The emotional longing that sets in with a period of absence may reflect, he suggests, a condition of the nervous system like that under-lying the desire for a narcotic. The effects of separation the familiar "aching emptiness" of emotional hunger are strikingly similar to those of the withdrawal of a drug. This feature of amorous experience is, he thinks, "one real difference" between sexual love and sexual lust.

Willard Waller, too, thinks that the victims of romantic attachment may behave like the drug addict; even with the knowledge that their courtship is futile, and that "the thing within them grows stronger with every contact," they will persist in seeking such contacts. They "plead piteously for just one more engagement"; they suffer and sacrifice, are tortured with suspense and jealous suspicion. As fervently as the "junker" they may want to be free of the longing, but are unable to break the enslaving bond. There is a hint of the same idea in Stekel's statement that "the earliest erotic impressions of childhood have the peculiarity that they persist and perennially crave repetition; it is a property of theirs that they build up the individual's likes and dislikes in matters of love."

Another proposal is that the endocrine glands are the source of amorous feelings. Revesz has suggested two possibilities: these organs may be aroused by the presence of a particular person, or, again, they may become spontaneously active, and in this case love will be felt for any person who happens to be encountered at the time. (60) Against the notion of a physiological change as the cause of amorous arousal, Stekel cites the phenomenon of immediate strong attraction. (67) "Love at first sight" is too sudden, he thinks, to be related to the more gradual processes of body activity. Whatever such speculations are worth, the idea of a change in the nervous system or other organs, brought about by repeating the attraction-stimulus and creating an "urge for more," is at least of interest as a development of Binet's treatment.

There is another way of accounting for the increasing strength of an attraction. Binet stressed the extraordinary effect of a single trait, but obviously there can be several or many. Folsom has described this feature of amorous interest in terms of areas of attraction. "The focal . . . area may be structured with items of greatest potency at the center, and somewhat less essential items towards the periphery. We may speak of the focus of a person's love as the area or group of characteristics . . . which has greatest potency to arouse his love feelings." Other areas may be "indifferent," and some may arouse aversion.' A very rich variety of attractive traits and qualities is described in the literature of fetishism. Those that are specific and fairly conspicuous make the best illustrations of fetishlike attraction, of course. Beyond this, how-ever, is the possibility of a field of traits of a less visible, more subtle and subdued, more occasional kind, and requiring a longer and more intimate acquaintance to emerge and to register their effects. Little by little, with the discovery of new points and varieties of appeal, the first attraction would be supported by others, and "falling in love" would take on the appearance of a growth process.

There is no need to go, with Binet, all the way to the extreme position that to be completely normal means to be equally affected by every feature and quality of the person who attracts us. Doubtless this would make a nice "scheme," with every sexual attraction blended in an unaccented whole, at one end, and with all details but one reduced to indifference at the other. The alternative is that "there is a constant ingredient of fetish-ism in the most regular love affair," and that, typically, one or a few traits are dominant, and make the essential stimulus of sexual love.

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