The Love Life
( Originally Published 1920 )
It is not love in the sense of an affectionate relationship but in the sense of a physical attraction and stimulation which shall be discussed in this chapter. Affection is a very elastic term, in no way dependent upon sexuality. It may exist between master and dog; we may become attached to an old house, a piece of furniture or a suit of clothes, out of habit; for congenial people, we may experience, regard-less of their age or sex, a profound feeling in which interest, respect and confidence may blend.
Very different is the attraction which a human being may feel for, or exert upon, another human being of the opposite sex. I might suggest the word erotropism to designate that relation, a word coined on the model of heliotropism, the force which causes certain animals and plants to turn irresistibly toward the sun.
What causes a male or a female to go forth and seek a certain type with which to mate, a type which to others might perhaps appear unattractive, and to disregard entirely many other individuals who, to a third person, might seem infinitely more desirable?
Many sentimental explanations have been ventured by poets and psychologists, but they are, at best, expressions of personal feelings of the most deceptive sort.
Nietzsche, who has written an enormous amount of nonsense on the subject of women but who, in many respects, came "intuitively" to the same conclusions as the various analysts, wrote in 1878, long before Freud began his investigations, this Freudian statement:
"Every one bears within himself an image of woman, inherited from his mother; it determines his attitude toward women, whether to honour them, to despise them or to remain indifferent to them."
The study of the love life of neurotics has enabled psychoanalysts to give a positive answer often formulated in a naive way: What can she see in him, what can he see in her?
The neurotic only accentuates certain general human traits and tendencies and he makes them, thereby, easier to observe. It is an axiom of psychoanalysis that normal people are labouring under the same unconscious burdens which crush neurotics. Most of us, however, bear the burden without a visible strain; most of us, in other words, remain healthy "mentally" as most of us, in spite of our indiscretion in matters of diet, of working and housing conditions, manage to retain our "physical" health.
The neurosis simply acts as a magnifying glass.
In the male neurotic, the choice of a mate is absolutely conditioned by the mother-image, in the female neurotic by the father-image. The neurotic who is absolutely unconscious of his mother fixation, is likely to develop very little interest in any woman, until perhaps his mother dies, when he is likely to marry a woman resembling in many respects his mother as she was when he acquired his fixation, that is between his fifth and his fifteenth years.
If the male neurotic, on the other hand, is partly conscious of his fixation, he may in extreme cases avoid all women, whom he unconsciously identifies with his mother, or in less serious cases, seek a woman who in every possible respect is different from the mother-image.
The same applies to female neurotics affected by a father fixation.
The resemblance between the love-object and the parent-image is at times complete in every respect. It may bear upon one or several physical or mental characteristics or emphasize certain complicated situations. An old maid with a father fixation said to me once. "I have never married because I have never fallen in love with any man who was not married." Her love-object had to have a wife, like her father.
In certain cases the fixation bears rather on attitudes than on physical traits, for it has been observed that the child of a neurotic is likely to seek as his or her mate a neurotic in preference to a normal person.
Experimentation with animals has confirmed the great importance of the mother image in the selection of a mate.
Passenger pigeons have never been known to mate normally with ring doves. But let a ring dove hatch the eggs of a passenger pigeon 'and the young male passenger pigeons thus brought to life will readily mate with ring doves who represent the mother image; not only that, but they will refuse to mate with female passenger pigeons to which their "heredity" or their "instinct" should draw them, but which are too unlike the mother image.
It is probable that all human beings, like all animals brought up under normal conditions, are guided in their choice of a mate by the father or mother image which has obsessed their consciousness in childhood.
And this is probably a part of the great secret of the permanency of the species.
This observation enables us to understand the statement often made by laymen that propinquity is the best preparation for love. People who associate constantly and who are not, like brothers and sisters, separated by the incest taboo, may gradually discover in each other a likeness to the parent image which may be too faint to be noticed at first glance. This constitutes a rather good basis for a quiet form of married relationship, for the mere fact that the mates have shared the same environment predisposes them also to a more congenial relationship.
Love at first sight, on the other hand, is the result of a sudden and striking discovery of the parent type by one of the mates or both. This leads easily to uncontrollable outbursts of desire and passion but more rarely to a peaceful life in common.
The parent type may be found in a person who socially, intellectually and morally is not adapted to a certain ideal of family and community life. Nature, however, only considers the race and makes no preparations for intellectual achievements, be-sides striving to produce the best possible organisms and nervous systems.
The failure of many unions due to such outbursts is not an argument against their biological value.
Marriage being, not an ideal state, but a compromise between what the human, animal would like to do and what it can actually do at the present time, in a given state of civilization and culture, has to take into account the reactions of the environment to any phenomenon taking place in that environment.
Family and community peace are better served by a union in which the intellectual agreement will be perfect than by one in which the physical adaptation leaves nothing to be desired. Our associates do not share our sexual life, but they expect to share our social activities, and hence make more demands as far as these are concerned.
It can be easily understood why unions in which one of the mates is a neurotic are not likely to prove very successful. The normal man is "guided" by the mother image in his search for a mate, and he realizes that marriage is a compromise. The neurotic is absolutely "determined" in his selection by an obsessional image and the neurotic temperament is essentially averse to compromises.
The neurotic who has married a woman solely because she corresponded to the mother image, is likely to annoy her whenever she deviates in her speech or conduct from her prototype.
"Mother would do this thing differently,"
"You should see the way mother would manage this, etc., and many other nagging phrases make up the woof of the neurotic's conversation with his wife.
The wife who has been selected on account of her dissimilarity to the neurotic's mother is perhaps in a worse plight yet. She will be daily taunted for being so different from her husband's mother and we have seen how this sort of treatment accorded to an unfortunate young woman was one of the contributing factors of her severe mental upset.
The desire to dominate one's life partner, a typically neurotic and negative trait, is found to a certain extent in every normal human being. Ardent love is seldom observed unaccompanied by an effort to encroach upon the freedom and personality of the love object.
Jealousy is one of the most common manifestations of the will-to-power in the love life. In the normal man,. jealousy is an angry fear of losing something which to the human organism is the strongest stimulus known. The stronger and the more pleasurable the stimulus was the more violent jealousy may be.
In the neurotic type, jealousy contains more anger than fear. The neurotic burdened with a feeling of inferiority resents the fact that one human being, heretofore subjected to his will, is freeing himself from that bondage and subjecting himself to some one else's will. Careful analysis of the neurotic's jealousy shows that the painful element in that emotion is not so much sex as ego. The visualization of the love object in some one else's embrace which, to the normal individual is the most torturing thought, is in the neurotic's mind secondary to the thought of the power which some one else will yield upon the love object.
In fact several forms of pernicious neuroses are characterized at their onset by attacks of absolutely unjustified jealousy, whose absurd or exaggerated form causes the patient to inquire into his own sanity. A patient treated by a well known New York psychiatrist imagined that his wife was deceiving him with a man who entered the house through a door which he knew never existed and which was suddenly opened in a wall which he knew to be absolutely solid.
Apart from the sexual gratification vouchsafed by love, lovers derive many non-sexual forms of comfort from their relationship.
Some of those verge slightly upon a regression to a primitive Ievel. Ardent courtship admitting no third party is a sort of introversion and withdrawal from the world, physically and sentimentally, into privacy and romance.
The introversion is quite marked in the conversations of lovers who derive an immense unconscious satisfaction from the fact that they themselves are almost the exclusive topic of conversation. They never tire of telling each other what they think of each other and of themselves and such statements encounter little if any opposition.
The regression appears also in the holding of hands, a childlike gesture symbolizing a craving for reassurance and safety in the parent's keep, and in the baby talk which is not infrequent among lovers.
Infantile caresses and baby talk are quite symbolical of a resumption of life with the mother or father represented by their image in our love mate, of our searching for almost the same comfort we derived as infants and children from our parents.
That apparent regression, however, is neither neurotic nor negative. The constant search for precedents to every action is a negative trait and a factor of stagnation. Constant disregard of precedents, on the other hand, would be destructive and in the field of science a cause for complete and hopeless regression.
Love, being the origin and source of life and the moulder of the species, has to be conservative if the species is to retain the characters it has acquired in the slow course of evolution.
Another form of pleasure which lovers derive from each other's company may be understood when we recall the experiments made on fishes. If the environment of a living being can exert on that living being such a thoroughgoing modification that colours or objects seen by the eye can be reproduced on the surface of the body, the sight of a loved environment is likely to produce a deep impression on the lover.
And we must bear in mind that the discovery relative to the influence of vision may be supplemented some day by other observations on the influence of our innumerable sense organs, of which new ones are constantly being catalogued.
Herein we may find the explanation of a fact often mentioned by laymen, that a man and a woman, after years of constant association, may grow to look alike; if a fish looking at a pattern on the sides or bottom of its aquarium can, after a lapse of time, reproduce its environment, look like that environment, what difficulty is there in grasping the reason why life mates, after looking at each other for years, reproduce each other's appearance and look alike?
Scientific literature and fiction alike have emphasized the healthy and buoyant look of the happy lover; fiction in particular has never tired of depicting sympathetically the opposite type, the disappointed lover, pale, feverish, depressed, bereft of his appetite and of all ambition.
Those lists of symptoms are confirmed by a glance, even superficial, at a map of the autonomic nervous system.
Happiness in love means the- perfect functioning of the cranial and sacral divisions of the autonomic system, which upbuild the individual and the race, assure a good digestion, regular metabolism, calm and powerful heart beats, the normal elimination of waste matter.
Unhappiness in love or sorrow due to the loss of the love object means a stoppage or reversion of the gastric and intestinal peristalsis, palpitations, constipation, etc.
Study of the autonomic system reveals how closely ego, sex and nutrition activities are related to one another and it is worth while mentioning that the vocabulary of all races reveals that relationship.
The girl we love is "sweet," so sweet we could "eat her up" and "devour" her with kisses; we are "hungry" for her caresses, and confectioners of all nations have some dainty or other which is called "kisses."
The very gestures of the lover are vaguely reminiscent of those made by some marine creatures which throw their tentacles around their victim and after immobilizing it apply their mouths to it and absorb it.
The part played by the parent image in the genesis of love should be recalled when we wish to answer the question: why does love die?
As the love object changes with age, its appearance may not correspond any longer to the parent image which was originally responsible for the erotropism culminating in a permanent union. The organic "reasons" the love subject had for "loving" the love object no longer exist. The white haired and stout wife no longer reminds her husband's unconscious of his blonde and slender mother, nor does the bald and portly husband represent any longer to his wife the father image which captivated her.
And in this connection, I would suggest a more systematic study of a phenomenon designated as fetichism and which in certain cases is the basis of a sexual perversion.
Certain parts of the body wield a stronger physical attraction than others on certain individuals.
They create memory images of such compelling power that inanimate objects symbolizing them are often cherished greatly by lovers. (A lock of hair may bring back the memory of beautiful tresses, a glove, that of a loved hand.)
Every human being is unavoidably attracted by some part of the love object's body and that part varies with every human being.
Starting with the theory of parent fixation as a basis for attraction we may assume that the part or parts constituting the fixation played a special rôle in the life and activities of the present image.
In its perverse form, fetichism shows the absolute domination of one part of the body or of its symbol, in acute cases being even more potent than the part it represents.
In Mirbeau's novel, "Memoirs of a Chamber-maid," we have a pervert, whose sexuality can only' be aroused by the sight or feel of women's foot-wear. The case is taken from real life and is not an unusual one.
All human beings are fetichists to a certain degree and between Mirbeau's neurotic and the young man who gazes fondly at his sweetheart's picture, there is a difference of degree, not of kind.
As a matter of practical conduct it would be most useful to determine the amount of fetichism which enters into the make-up of every case of erotropism. If each mate could determine accurately what parts of his person determined the erotropism of his partner, a conscious effort might be made to retain as completely as possible the part made attractive by fetichism, and thus to prolong the affective duration of the partner's love.
The discarded love object very unjustly charges the lover who has grown indifferent with being fickle, changing, faithless.
The truth is that the victim of that fickleness is the one who has changed, who no longer recalls to his or her mate's unconscious the parent image, and hence cannot any longer determine his or her erotropism.
I might compare the "victim" to a dead battery which no longer produces any current. If the fickle one fails to receive a "thrill" it is not because he is no longer a good conductor but because there is no longer any current he could conduct.
It goes without saying that there are men and women of the so-called "indifferent" type, who are never aroused very deeply because their autonomic system, being perfectly poised, has a tendency to re-establish constantly the balance of the secretions of the vagus system and those of the sympathetic system, together with the emotions and attitudes which correspond to them. That type is eminently suited for the life struggle, as it "recovers" quickly, never remains long under the sway of any emotion and is ready to record new emotions, accurately but briefly. Such people do not remain in love very long and are likely to be berated soundly for their coldness.
The reproaches addressed to them are both just and unjust: they are built organically so as to resist a too complete subjugation by any love object and their attitude is unconsciously 'determined. On the other hand in the case of a union which should be permanent, they could, by using their will power, place themselves in mental and physical attitudes representing, dramatizing, so to speak, the feelings they wish to experience. A good actor, representing a certain feeling on the stage, causes the audience to experience that feeling for a certain time. We can, by acting certain feelings, produce in our-selves the secretions which correspond to them.
Attitudes can be acquired and, in the case of marriage relations, when complete submission to our unconscious urges is asocial and cruel, a simple rule of behaviour can be offered.
As will power on the other hand is probably the resultant effect of a keen awareness of the various possible choices and of a perfect understanding of their consequences, that assumption of a beneficial attitude is not within every one's reach. And in this case, as in many others, praise or vituperation is out of place.
This must be always remembered when we deal for instance with love's perversions. The word perversion is generally fraught in the layman's mind with loathsome connotations.
A perversion is, to many, due to "low," "animal," "filthy," "criminal" instincts. Perversions may be filthy and appear low and animal, but there is nothing "criminal" nor "instinctive" about them. The pervert certainly does not wish to break any law, nor is he impelled by an "instinct." He is a pitiable type whose education and training has made him the imperfect human specimen he is.
Psychoanalysts are all agreed on the genesis of passive male homosexualism. The passive male homosexual is in every case the son of a widow or divorced mother, separated from her husband by death, desertion or legal proceedings soon after the boy's birth.
The boy, compelled to imitate some one in order to have a standard of behaviour, copies his mother's attitude of physical indifference to women and physical interest in men.
In every respect but in the anatomical respect he becomes a woman, and later in life will conceive of sexual gratification as woman would. Possession by a man will become his love goal.
Experiments made on pigeons show that the process is the same among those birds. A young male pigeon raised among males in the absence of any female will, when reaching adulthood, be attracted by males only whom he will treat at mating time as though they were females. A male pigeon raised among females only will at mating time play the part of a female.
A pigeon raised in complete isolation from any males or females will try to mate with any inanimate object found in his cage, or with the hand of the person feeding him, and if placed in a cage with a female will pay absolutely no attention to her at mating time.
Here as in the case of passenger pigeons mating with ring doves, instinct proves to be at times infinitely weaker than training.
The study and treatment of sexual perversions are still in their infancy. Men and women practising their perversions are deriving therefrom a minimum of gratification which generally saves them from a well-marked form of neurosis and hence they do not seek the advice of a psychologist.
Those who repress their desire for abnormal intercourse and merge into a neurosis are dangerous patients to handle, for they suffer from many delusions of invariably the same content: that is that they receive sexual advances from people of their own sex. Those delusions are likely to apply to the psychiatrist handling their case and unless they are confined in an institution, may very easily start a train of gossip likely to wreck their adviser's reputation.
The perversions known as sadism and masochism, the first being a craving to inflict suffering upon human beings, the latter a craving to torture ourselves or to suffer pain at the hands of another person, may he due in: their mild form to the child's lack of understanding of the relationship existing between, for instance, a strong, athletic father and a delicate, slight mother. The playful imitations of violence, the playful and contented pretence at suffering indulged in by the man and the woman when fondling each other in their children's presence, may lead one child to commit in reality cruelties which his father only shammed, another child to seek suffering which his mother seemed to feel.
Acute cases, when a man or a woman experiences no sexual gratification unless they can inflict suffering on their mate or be subjected by their mate to cruel treatment, are justly attributed by Freud to the witnessing by young children of their parents' embracing, who misunderstanding the nature of the act identify themselves either with the apparently cruel father or the apparently abused mother.
Like all other maladjustments, the various maladjustments of the love life, perverse or not, call, not for censure or punishment but for understanding and psychological treatment. When for instance the nature of homosexualism, its involuntary character and the fact that it is forced on the "pervert" by his wrong training, and not acquired by him for purposes of gratification, is better known to the general public, psychiatrists and analysts may be able to effect many cures of that "perversion" as well as of sadism and masochism.