By Jack Adam Weber L.Ac., Dipl. C.H.
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
When I was more naà¯ve, a wiser person once said to me: “You can fall in love with someone who is completely wrong for you”. This was shocking news to me, in large part because I thought that feeling in love was the sign that a relationship was right and would work out. I was wrong. In fact, I’ve come to see that the more head over heels we are – crazed, excited out of our skin, and blissed out – at the beginning of a relationship, the more this is a sign that we are headed for trouble.
Love is word we use to describe certain feelings. These feelings may or may not be matched by loving acts. Such “loving” feelings can occur during and after having pleasurable sex. But these momentary feelings are not enduring, abiding love, what I call “truer love.” We just most often use the word love or falling in love to describe sexual feelings of attachment, which sex and attraction foster. Truer love is something else.
In fact, just becoming excessively and carelessly emotionally attached in the honeymoon stage even without having sex can create blinding attachment. Because emotional bonding is the meat of relating, suspending sex, or significant sexual involvement, seems more reasonable and more sustainable than suspending emotional bonding. The degree to which we become emotionally attached in the early going, however, is something we should try to gauge and be aware of to the degree that it causes us to become blindly enamored. But, often we only see to what degree we let ourselves go in hindsight! We learn to be more balanced by learning lessons one relationship to the next. Balance, balance, balance as level-headedness comes with time!
Sex creates feelings of attachment and bonding via the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and vasopressin, as described in context here and here. This happens whether we want it to or not. Such bonding is evolution’s way to increase the chances of children being made and to keep partners together for their welfare. This neuropeptide-based bonding experience engenders feelings and thoughts of specialness, endearment, trust, and compassion towards our partner. This is endearment fostered by lust. It feels ecstatic but is not truer love.
For this discussion, then, truer love is defined as: respecting, honoring, sacrificing one’s immediate needs for, deeply enjoying the friendship of, having similar core values as, another person. Being sexually attracted can help truer love relationships but is not necessary. Add to this a sense of enchantment, awe, and fascination with the inner workings and worldview of another, and I think you get the idea of what truer love is.
So, when we base a relationship on sex, we often end up attached and thinking we are “in love” . . . until we discover the deeper values and personality of our partner. At this point, we might find ourselves attached, but not in love. Maybe we even have made promises to the other, made elaborate plans for the future, spent a lot money on lavish gifts, or had a child together. These can have further stressful repercussions. At this moment, we can clearly see that sex does not create truer love, and in fact, might obscure it, along with our long-term happiness.
When we realize that we are attached to someone we don’t really respect, or even like, we might try to change them into the person we should have discovered before getting so attached, which attachment sex strongly forges. Deep down we all know that attempts to change another don’t work (nor should they) and ultimately doesn’t feel good for anyone. Yet we might feel so attached that changing the situation to meet our personal needs seems more appealing than breaking up and facing the real work of finding and growing an enduring, truer love relationship. Had we refrained from sex and its blinding oxytocin-dopamine high, we could stand a better chance to be rational and discerning about our potential partner, which can save us the disappointment, stress, and heartbreak of realizing too late that we are in a doomed relationship. Deeper, truer love can then eventually reach into the world to create more real fun without the painful side-effects of lustful attachment.
Discovering we are attached to an incompatible partner, we face the heartbreak of breaking up. Depending on the level of attachment, we break our own hearts and likely that of our partner. So, the inherent bonding power of sexuality too often creates pain, nullifying the fun we thought we were having. The longer we build attachment, the more painful it is to separate. This pain redeems itself some when we learn the hard lessons of love and sex and dedicate ourselves to finding more self-fulfillment prior to embarking on our next relationship. This is the journey of developing of integrity.
Once we develop more integrity, we can forge more enduring, fulfilling, meaningful relationships replete with values that go beyond the “fun” of sex. Self-work like this is not your ordinary of fun, but paradoxically, it allows us to have more enduring fun and less heartbreak. It requires self-love, hard work on oneself, the postponement of immediate gratification, being realistic and honest, facing one’s loneliness, emptiness and shadow, and using one’s power of discernment. Incidentally, the popular New-Age meme of non-judgment can dissuade us from appropriately judging – which in this case is to discern – the truth of a potential mate, to our own detriment. In any event, many don’t choose the hard work of becoming a person of integrity. This is why many relationships fail and why heartbreak is so rampant. To my mind, it also explains the pervasiveness of addiction and why so much narcissism abounds. Such collective selfishness – as a failure to regard other – also underlies the destruction of the natural world.
Sex can also become an addiction, just like sugar, because it makes us feel good and gets us wanting more. But, like all addictions, sex’s dark side is just as powerful as its light side. Who fails to appreciate life’s light and dark side falls prey to sex’s darkness either through pain, struggle, confusion, and heartbreaking attachment, or by becoming a superficial and numb person who tries only to enjoy sex’s light side and shut down feelings of painful detachment. But, we know that sensual pleasure does not exist without pain, and the more we shut out pain, the more we shut out pleasure.
The trick is to welcome both painful and pleasurable emotions while becoming wiser and more skillful at avoiding painful experiences. When we learn how to protect and trust ourselves to make tough decisions before they become much tougher, we can minimize our fear and remain capable of reasonable risk, freedom, and adventure.
This is my definition of “conscious and evolved” relating. Such mind-body-heart integration, as a refinement of our integrity, is actually a beautiful, rewarding, stimulating, and exciting adventure (i.e., via the self-work described in the preceding paragraph) that engages all aspects of what I consider the most redeeming and honorable human qualities—what makes us “divine” creatures rather than the monsters of addiction, greed, and apathy.
Detachment might seem a good way to avoid the pain of sex’s dark side, but detachment as denial of our true feelings has more pitfalls than I care to mention, not the least of which is to limit our compassion and empathy. To deny pain leads to not caring as much about others. It also precludes one from cultivating skillful means for how to be attached and suffer less pain while remaining connected to oneself and the world. Personally, I am wary of people who detach when pain surfaces in them. And you should too if you want a meaningful, truly loving relationship.
A man recently commented on one of my posts about easy sex. He said, “Sex for the sake of sex is an amazing elixir. It produces smiles and good times. Sometime you just got to do it just for the fuck of it. And live a little.” I replied, “I agree, to a degree, as long as a) we let the other know that we are engaging with casual intent, and especially if they ask and b) we can harmoniously end the connection before significant attachment sets in.” With this said, many of us find it difficult to be so honest and to end a casual sexual relationship before it gets entrenched and causes pain. In fact, the bonding power of sex is so strong that many find themselves hooked and deeply affected after one session.
Knowledge Before Nooky
If you are interested in a deep, more meaningful, enduring, truly loving relationship, and are tired of superficiality, heartbreak, and confusion, get to know your potential partner first. On average, it takes at least a year to begin to really get to know someone and to get to know yourself in relationship with them. Avoid sex for as long as you can while you get to know them so you are less emotionally attached and stand a better chance to make level-headed decisions, such as pulling away from a bad or “inappropriate” situation before getting more involved. This is why it is advised to “become friends before lovers.” Yes, this requires restraint, sacrifice, wisdom, and true care, particularly when we are not friends already and are attracted. These are small prices to pay for happiness and avoiding heartbreak, no?
With this said, just because we can be friends with someone and get to better sense of their deeper values through friendship, this does not mean a truer love partnership will work. Becoming friends and learning about another is just the first checkpoint. Many aspects emerge from us when we become romantically intimate; these are triggers and expressions of our psyche that friendship typically does not elicit. Among these are our childhood wounds (and indeed we can seek relationship itself as result of these wounds). So, just because you are friends does not mean you can let down your guard and exist carefree in a relationship. It just means you better know what you are getting into and have a foundation for navigating the joys and challenges ahead.
If you have a fulfilling, meaningful, inspired, and pleasurable life to begin with, refraining from sex is easier because you stand to lose more from the drama of a bad relationship. It also can make it easier to refrain because you already have pleasure, creativity, and inspiration flowing through your veins, meeting your need for these psycho-spiritual qualities, which we more lazily and selfishly often try to meet with sex. But, because sex alone is easy and severely underequipped to meet these deeper needs (especially, for example, being of service to the world), we often end up not only band-aiding our lives but creating more problems to sift through before getting to our core purpose and meaning in life.
All this is why some say that a relationship should be the coming together of two full selves, not two halves. If you feel empty, confused, unduly pained, and without purpose for your life, sex and companionship can seem a way to meet all these needs. But they are not; they are often a way to avoid healing these conditions, unless relationship points you to working deeply on yourself. This is why there is so much sex addiction, and addiction of all kinds. People are afraid to face themselves and do hands-on inner emotional shadow work, which brings more true, deep, enduring light and joy into the world.
In sum, I maintain that sex has little to nothing to do with truer love because it has little to do with a truer, deeper, more meaning full life centered around finding and following our callings to the world, healing our core wounds, and cultivating a sense of wholeness that can offer something beautiful, unique, healing, and creative to the world. This takes time and is often the wisdom I hear from others emerging from heartbreak. It is “finding oneself”, or the process of individuation as Jung called it. It is the building of integrity.
Sexual attachment at the onset of relationship, as characteristic of the honeymoon phase, in fact obscures our discernment for choosing a meaningful, harmonious relationship. Sex before discernment too often fosters heartbreak through its attachment-making powers, which attachment is not enduring and leads to emotional swings and confusion, as well as very rude awakenings. The other choices we make while “in lustful attachment” (giving of money, property, lofty promises, elaborate plans, making children, etc.) can further cause us undue pain and hardship.
There does not need to be so much confusion when we a) stop conflating sexual attachment/endearment/adoration with the truer love of respect, honor, compassion, and selfless regard b) respect the bonding and attachment power inherent to pleasurable sex (especially if you are a sensitive person who feels your feelings) c) become mature and wise enough to refrain from sex and sexuality before getting to know if we share similar core values with our potential partner d) understand via critical thinking the interactions and reasons for feelings of attachment and the deeper values of true respect, integrity, honor, and time-tested trust that create more loving and honoring relationships e) realize that cultivating the more difficult, full-bodied integrity of true care and wholeness (often reflected in how one treats others to which he/she is not sexually attached) is not only the way to personal fulfillment, but also the path to choosing and maintaining a meaningful, fulfilling relationship that is also of service to the world.
Merely feeling in love is not enough to determine or develop enduring, truer love. We always want to feel in love with our partner, but we need a lot more than just feeling to decide that a relationship will endure. We need more than just to “come from the heart.” We need a good mind to help us discern, a wise disposition, and self-discipline to navigate and integrate relationship’s many physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects. When we acknowledge the bonding and blinding attachment that pleasurable sexual interaction forges we can moderate our sexual activity in service of our emotional and spiritual wellness and not sacrifice these finer parts of ourselves for temporary pleasure. This way we maximize long-term wellness and minimize pain.
The Nourish Practice
Jack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and mythological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort.
The Nourish Practice “resets your nervous system” and fosters a rich inner life. You can purchase The Nourish Practice as a CD or Digital Download here.
Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:
- Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave
- Emotional Work
- Choosing a Partner – How to Avoid Relationship Suicide
- Re-Thinking Love: Why Our Hearts Must Also Be Minded
- Spirituality – Reality Check
- 11 Crucial Tips for Better Digestive Health
- Shadow Work: Becoming a Sustainable Light Worker (Part 1)
- Oneness in Action: The GMO Eradication Movement
- After the Hurricane: Lessons from the Heart of Nature
- Relationships: How They Can Make Us Happier
- Heartbreak – Loving Ourselves Through Difficult Times
About the author:
Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.