Monday, September 13, 2010

Who have you turned into?

(Note: to read more about the MHC-Major Histocompatibility Complex, that mechanism I mentioned in my last post by which you can "smell" whether a potential mate is genetically compatible, see teamawesomesquared's post here. It is one of her specialty areas... cool huh?)

Because we really haven't delved deep enough into relationships...

Even if a delectable smell and perfect body proportions are enough to initially incite your passions, not all pairings lead to a long-term relationship and/or marriage. There are complex reasons why we choose the mates we choose.

I know, in a way, over-analyzing love this way is not romantic. You will not find a fairy tale definition of love in my musings. It is all pheromones and your mother, here.

... and maybe a little astrology, I have told you that my husband and I are the 3rd generation of the Taurus-Virgo combination, right? Coincidence? Self-fulfilling prophecy? (My sister-in-law also married a Virgo, her husband's birthday is the same as mine and he and I have some interesting similarities... it makes you wonder... no?)

The psychology (caveat: I am clearly not a psychologist) behind choosing a mate, sub-consciously searching for certain characteristics and establishing a kind of relationship dynamic is a tangled but fascinating web.

My husband and I were watching a movie or a TV show the other evening and one guy made the observation that at some point in your marriage you discover that you are (or have turned into) either your partner's mother or father.

I turned to my husband and said: "Who am I babe? Your mother or father?"

Then I gasped and said: "Oh my god! I am your father..."

He kind of turned to me, with this odd look in his eye, a recognition, almost like shock. Then he said: "What about me?"

But, that is a tougher question. He is definitely not my mom, and the knowledge I have of my father is patchy. I know him, but haven't had much contact with him since my teen years. My husband is only like my father in the sense that he is not very communicative about his feelings, it has to be beaten out of him, but it seems like a lot of men are like that, so it would be hard to say I chose my father.

Clearly, if you both come from a very healthy dynamic, none of this is a concern. If the relationship models you both saw in your parents were loving and kind, none of these sub-conscious mechanisms will make you fearful.

Perhaps all I can say of my own parents is that they had an awful relationship. They were married for 13 years, had seven children and then divorced. Post-divorce they were just as hateful toward each other. My husband's parents were married over 35 years until his mother's death a few years ago, but they also had a bitter, painful, rancorous relationship.

The funny thing is that I have had two fears as a married woman: turning into my own mother (sorry, mom, you know it is complicated) and turning into my husband's mom.

I can't quite make sense of it all; there are these wheels constantly turning giving me a feeling that at some level we are recreating and reliving some set of patterns, that I can just sense but are beyond my complete grasp. Do you ever feel that way?

I am like my mother in some ways. It is odd how you seem to choose a mate who will allow you to turn into your mother (or your father), isn't it?

I am also like my mother-in-law, in some ways. After we were married I started seeing some of the parallels. My husband is similar to his father in the way he relates to me, and I in turn react much like his mother reacted. We have tried to be conscious of it, to work on creating a healthier dynamic. I guess in the end that is all you can do, take it a few steps farther, make it a little better than what you saw in your models.

But I honestly hadn't seen the ways that I had taken the role of his father, that one took me by surprise. I knew that we had some similarities in our upbringing: coming from chaos we have both become driven-we push ourselves. Yet, I hadn't considered the ways that we are both, not just driven, but drivers.

I don't believe that there is only one person we can be with. I think there are lots of possibilities for most of us. But in some ways it is absolutely uncanny that I would travel to the end of the world and happen to find the man with the perfect smell, who fits all of my safe requirements (if you remember my toleration post) and that together we happen to fulfill all the wierd psychological roles that need to be filled.

What's your story? Who have you turned into?


teamawesomesquared said...

Omg I could really talk about this subject area for hours. Like, for instance, a research proposal I wrote on the possible physiological effects of semen on female behavior. :D

As for "choosing our parents", consider this possibility: we *inherit our parent's mate preferences*. In sexual selection, a trait and the preference for the trait are often paired for this reason.

Choosing a parent-like mate also increases the chances that your genes will be passed on to future generations.

It would also be useful for coping with the environment, which in all likelihood is probably fairly similar to the one with which your parents dealt.

I've watered it down a bit. Just some food for thought. :)

Danielle said...

While I love to read you musings on every subject, I don't really have any valuable in-put :( I do strive to be more like my mother-in-law on purpose though because she is an amazing woman. Does that count?

Annje said...

Danielle-maybe I should clarify--it's not that I don't want to be like my mother or mother-in-law in any regard, they both have great qualities too. My MIL, for example was very generous and accepting, but she was miserable in her relationship, and that is what I fear. and yes, your MIL is awesome!

Maggie May said...

This is such a well documented and true phenomena...have you read Giving the Love That Heals? the whole book is based on the premise that in a healthy marriage, you can work through the unresolved issues of your childhood with your partner and they with you, and this is a big part of true emotional maturity. it's just as true that many people instead repeat unhealthy dynamics from their childhood over and over in their marriage. that was my last relationship before i married.

teamawesomesquared said...

Hey!! Thanks for the shout out at the top of your post. :D

mosey said...

I've been musing on this one all week. And while I don't identify specifically with one parent or in-law in particular, I definitely see my relationship falling into patterns familiar from my own parents marriage. And also from my in-laws.

That's all I'll say because it's sort of depressing me and I think I need to sit with it further. But you made me think, and that can't be bad.

sarabeck said...

Yikes. Let's just say I hope this is not true! I would rather not be either one of them.

anymommy said...

I wouldn't mind being like some aspects of my mother and mother in law, but my father in law? Shudder. I identified w/Mosey's comment. I see patterns from my parents' marriage. I would bet that Matt sees patterns from his parents' marriage. And I have NO doubt that parenting repeats itself (a whole nother topic). I know my parents reactions to certain things are very ingrained in me.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Sheesh. You've really got me going here. You just said an awful lot. Not sure what to think. I don't want to turn into anyone. I just want to be myself. But I guess we can all draw parallels between ourselves and others we know, especially our parents. But my husband's parents? I'll have to ponder this one for a while...

Annje said...

Maybe turning into, or even identifying with are too strong of terms... I guess there are just relationship patterns I have noticed over the years and then the ways in that you see different roles being filled in different ways. Seeing some of the patterns is depressing to me too, but thinking about the complex ways that we choose a mate is so interesting.

And yes on the repeated parenting patterns! grr!

Phoenix said...

This is a very gray area we are talking about here. What usually happens is that at some point in a relationship, quite naturally and interchangeably, we parent our partners while they become the child and at other times our partners parent us while we are the children. This part is healthy because we are nurtured and nurturing. What becomes unhealthy is taking on specific characteristics from each others' parental figures. This one is avoidable, thank God, but it's hard to convey that to people who are terrified of becoming their own mother-in-law or father-in-law.

So: nurturing, good, repeating patterns, bad.

Margaret said...

Ouch... some touchy stuff here, so let me just avoid the who am I issue and twist something else around and throw it out there...
You talk about what happens with people who grow up with parents in a difficult relationship. My case was actually the opposite--my parents had an incredible relationship--now for the kicker... And I'm completely serious--they made it look too easy.
I think every one of my siblings (myself included) has had issues with not knowing how to argue and resolve problems because the model we grew up with was that in true love there are no problems. As an adult, I realize that of course they had their ups and downs, but they had a pact to never let it show. All issues were resolved privately.
I'm not saying I would have preferred a lamp-throwing row, but I would have been better prepared to live with others had I known up front that you can argue with and even be truly angry with someone you love...
How's THAT for irony?