Doctor Debug and the logo are trademarks of Seattle Psychiatrist, Ron Sterling M.D.
Doctor Debug was published in the Seattle magazine Tekbug
Now published in Montana's Natural Life News and Directory
Published in January/February 2004 Edition
Dear Dr. Debug:
I just turned 27, and I am confused and very hurt right now. My boyfriend of three years broke up with me a month ago. I am still grieving. I found out he started seeing someone else many months ago. We still talk, but I don't understand his explanations. He says we weren't spending enough time together and he often felt lonely. I guess I underestimated his ability to be strong and loyal. I am not looking forward to Valentine's Day this year! Can't human beings use their brains a little more when it comes to staying together? -- Signed: Feeling Betrayed in Bozeman.
Dear Feeling Betrayed:
Thank you for writing. I can sympathize with your circumstances. Breaks-ups, especially of the unexpected kind, can really hurt. Without more information, I cannot help you very much in figuring out what may have led to this break up and whether there are "lessons" to be learned. However, with respect to your question -- "Can't humans use their brains a little more?" -- the answer is "yes, they can!"
The word "love" can mean anything from "to like a lot" to "I will die for you." One anthropologist, Helen Fisher, divides love relationships into stages: lust, romantic love, and attachment. She can tell you all about research regarding neurotransmitters and hormones involved in attraction, infatuation, lust, and attachment. You can find most of that information by typing the words "the chemistry of love" into any major Internet search engine. What ever happened to "nurturing"? You know, caring for one another?
Evolution or some other force has given human brains a huge data-processing area called the neocortex. Our enhanced thinking abilities allow us to "rise above" what are the more programmed biological responses of less-complex animals. Thus, for better or worse, we are uniquely equipped to experience conflicts between our thinking selves and our biology. Nowhere else do these conflicts arise more often than in the realm of "love." And, no holiday symbolizes these conflicts more than Valentine's Day.
Unlike Christmas and Easter, Valentine's Day is all about imperfect love. Love found, love lost, love built, love burned, love scraped together, love spurned, love restored, love ruined, saved by love, mortally wounded by love. The list of experiences with love is endless. V-Day can drive people nuts. That's because most people have suffered from love lost.
However, I think we need to make Valentine's Day even more serious than it already is. We need a non-working day to celebrate, honor and get really earnest about love. At the very least, it should be a day on which free relationship clinics would be available throughout the nation. We need this more than we need to venerate a bunch of dead presidents on February 18.
Is our interest in human love just not serious enough to warrant a true holiday? Or, maybe, is it the fact that men still control which holidays become the non-working ones? Think about it. Just how many heterosexual guys (or Congressmen) do you know who could handle such sentimentality for a whole day?
The current conventional wisdom is "Women give sex to get nurturing. Men give nurturing to get sex." Guys generally know more about lust than nurturing. Women expect them to. So, they live "down" to women's expectations. Then women get disappointed. It is a time-tested truth: "you get what you expect."
Women generally know more about nurturing than do men. They have dealt with the reality of pregnancy, given birth to a child or they have contemplated it and all its meanings. It gives them an edge. Men, no matter how close they have been to the birthing process, are still handicapped. They haven't done it. So, it takes much more work for men to truly understand and exercise nurturing. Much more work. So much more work, frankly, that it is easier to just ignore it.
Should we offer classes in nurturing? I think so. Many parents don't do a good job of teaching it because many parents haven't learned it themselves. To break up a legacy, you have to intervene. Poor nurturing skills won't go away on their own.
When business leaders were asked 15 years ago about how much parental leave time a man should take, the answer from 63 percent of them was "none." We don't know for sure if those attitudes have changed much, but the behavior of bosses everywhere has been transformed due to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act which mandates parental leave for fathers as well as mothers.
No one disputes what constitutes nurturing. Everyone disputes what constitutes love. "I love you" should mean "I will nurture you, care for you, be your haven from misuse, misunderstanding and abuse, your refuge from the insults of day-to-day life, your sanctuary." True love is quite simply this: providing shelter from life's storms for someone other than yourself. -- Best wishes, and take care this Valentine's Day, Dr. Debug.
Ron Sterling, M.D. (Dr. Debug) is an award-winning psychiatrist in Seattle, Washington. He has been writing for newspapers and magazines since 1998 on subjects ranging from good manners to senior mental health. He hosts and maintains the well-known Internet mental health center, DearShrink.com. The Doctor Debug column is dedicated to assisting with the "debugging of malfunctioning elements in our own personal programming."
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