Babies and youngsters are often described as little bundles of love and joy. Even the most jaded and hard-bitten of us who have had a baby placed in our arms have watched in awe as our defenses melt and a mystical and magical aura envelopes us. We somehow know that we are in the presence of a love that is limitless and supernatural. We are humbled to be in the company of an absolutely egoless, non-judgmental being, a “little buddha”, one whose heart is fully open, whose mind is still and whose beauty and worth is unquestionable. Babies and youngsters are examples of the magnificent head start we all get at being human.
Yet even today few children or adolescents make it through their formative years and enter adulthood knowing, trusting and being able to fully give themselves over to love. And, as a result, our adult love lives become problematic, dysfunctional and even destructive. The heartbreak, cynicism and withdrawal from life that result from broken relationships can shape or moreover tragically misshape many lives.
To be able to survive our formative years with an undiminished and unsullied capacity for true and lasting intimacy with another to remain intact, we had to have four emotional conditions met by our caregivers. In childhood – the most defenseless, vulnerable and dependent time of our lives – we had to feel reliably and consistently safe, loved, valued and known. Let’s examine these fundamental ingredients more closely now, because their presence or absence in our developing consciousness has determined our Love Code, the subject of this blog, and the critical (yet almost totally unconscious) factor in what determines our love lives.
Safe – Growing up you had to feel safe in every imaginable definition of that term. You had to feel physically safe. You had to feel sexually safe. You had to feel emotionally safe to even develop the awareness and learn to communicate your authentic feelings, needs and wants to your trusted caregivers.
Loved – You had to feel understood, accepted and loved for simply being here and for being just who you are. You had to know and experience that your intrinsic worth and beauty were not tied into any external or worldly measures of success – grades, looks, athletic performance, intelligence or popularity contests. You had to have at least one parent who was always there for you, who protected you, who had “your back”.
Valued – Every child has an intrinsic emotional and spiritual dependency need to be the object of rejoicing. To be celebrated and honored as a gift of inestimable value by their parents and family. To be loved not for what they are but for that they are.
Known – All of us, perhaps even more so children, are constantly feeling and going through one thing or another. Did someone pick on you today at school? Did your “best friend” elect to play with someone new instead of you? Did your teacher or classmate say a mean thing to you or someone else? The need to have at least one parent able and willing to non-judgmentally enter your inner world, understand it and support you through it was indispensable to your sense of security in the world.
Now let’s move to an examination of how your key experiences as a child in these areas form your Love Code, the unconscious template and matrix of beliefs that you, as an adult, unknowingly use to define love, select a partner and participate in a relationship.
For illustrative purposes, let’s be extremely generous and favorable in assessing how often in your childhood you felt totally safe, loved, valued and known by your caregivers. Let’s say that you experienced this kind of individual attention and care 5 moments out of every 10. That is to say 5 moments out of every 10 your fundamental dependency needs were met, while 5 moments out of 10 they were not. This becomes what you know love to be – a benevolent force or presence in your life that is characterized by its erratic and confusing lack of dependability.
Let’s flash ahead twenty years. You are now an attractive and charismatic young adult at a party, open to romance. Behind and beneath the chemistry and interest you are developing for someone at that party, you will be attracted to someone who has the capacity to make you feel safe, loved, valued and known 5 moments out of every 10. Someone who could offer this to you 8 or 9 or 10 moments out of every 10 you will find boring, dull, not quite “your type”. But someone with a little edge, someone who is more dramatic, someone who could and will vehemently accept and reject you down the road will be your perfect “cup of tea”. Why? Because they can and will love you 5 moments out of every 10 and this ratio is your comfort zone or Love Code.
One other restrictive aspect of your Love Code really seals the deal. Even if you are drawn to someone who has the capacity and desire to love you 10 moments out of every 10, you will only be able to allow love in 5 moments out of every 10. Unconsciously you will have developed walls and barriers within yourself that will reduce the full torrent of love’s presence to a small trickle because it is what you know best and are most comfortable with. Inevitably your partner will be blamed for the restrictive and intermittent love that you are experiencing and you will decide that you must move on to find someone new who could love you more (while taking your identical Love Code with you). Can you see the hidden roots of how repetitively maddening and exasperating our relationships can be?
Conventional wisdom often suggests that men marry some version of their mothers and women some version of their fathers. More penetrating observers begin to see that even if we don’t marry some version of our mothers or fathers, we turn them into these emotional replicas. Behind and beneath the appearance of all this, what we are really marrying is some version of our Love Code.
One final question at this point begs to be answered from disillusioned and disheartened lovers everywhere: Can you change your Love Code? The answer is a definite “Yes”. Inner work, the path of individual emotional and spiritual healing, is one way to do that. I will have more to say about this therapeutic undertaking and possibility in a future blog.