Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships. X. Forming a Relationship
We were fortunate to find two partners to interview (Patrick and Mary Ann) who were still very much in the throes of early love. In a short period of time, Patrick and Mary Anne have established a wonderful pattern of communication that keeps their relationship vital and alive. Though they have not yet made a commitment to marriage, Patrick and Mary Anne regularly talk, like many young couples, for two to three hours on the phone. Patrick writes Mary Anne open letters which she can read and reflect on when she is in the mood.
At the early stage in almost any intimate relationships there seems to be much about which a couple can talk! Many of the couples we interviewed wistfully recounted how they had so much to say to each other in these early days and months.. Yet, they also noted that they had to be guarded about some of their most important thoughts and feelings, especially those related to the person they now loved.
Ironically, the forming stage in a relationship is a time of both intense communication and profound guardedness. It is a time for great hope and expectations, and a time for intense fear and vulnerability. Like most peak experiences in life, the process of falling in love involves a subtle balance between challenge and support. Early love swells in a distinctive threshold (called the “flow experience by Cziksentmihali) that is to be found in the threshold between intense anxiety, on the one hand, and stupifying boredom, on the other hand. Given that Patrick, is 22 years old and Mary Anne is 18, they are able to use this intense relationship to explore their own identity, while also helping their loved one explore his or her sense of self.
In The Art of Loving, Fromm suggested that one cannot love another person until he or she loves himself. In a later book, Soul Mates, Thomas Moore similarly speaks of the love for self (soul work) as a condition for the love of another person. Such a model is certainly in keeping with the masculine notion that self-identity must be forged before one can be intimate with other people. However, later studies of a more feminist orientation (e.g. Chodorow, Gilligan, Belenky and other), and some long-ignored insights from therapists (e.g. Sullivan) suggest that self-identity and self-love tend to build simultaneously with the establishment of intimate relationships. Patrick and Mary Anne have much to talk about because they are not only busy building their mutual relationship but are also building their own senses of self and their own love of self, particularly in relationship with one another.