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About mother love & the desire for it

No child sees their mother as a person. They see their mother as a role. We’re not women, not people with significant (or insignificant) aspirations to our children: we’re their mothers.

What children expect from parents is love, unconditional love. They expect perfect maternal love -- and they are never going to get it because perfect love has to be given by perfect people, and there are no perfect people. There are women who are juggling work & family & expectations & the usual fear, trying to tough it out and do their best.

I knew, going in, that I was never going to be perfect. I could possibly manage perfect behaviour for eight hours a day - but I was going to be a parent for 24/7, and I swear to god babies need way less sleep, no matter what experts say, than I did. I was going to have bad days. I was going to be frayed by stress & every other thing in life going wrong, because some weeks, that’s what happens.

I needed my children to understand only one thing: I was their mother, regardless, I loved them, regardless, and my frustration was not their fault - because children are natural solipsists. Everything in the world revolves around them. If I was unhappy or grouchy or angry or in tears, the natural, default assumption on their part was that it was about them. I needed them to understand, at as young an age as possible, that this was not true.

So I made it clear, early and often, that I was not perfect. That I had some of the same fears and insecurities that were, on some days, their entire lives. I made it clear that when I’d lost it - and I hasten to say that this did not involve violence, because I do consider that a different class of difficulty - that it was a breach of behavioral rules on my part. I would time myself out in my room; the rule in the house was that if you could not be civil in public spaces, you were roomed until you were calm or in control enough that you could.

But even so, my children did not see me as a person; they saw me as a mother. I think they felt, for the most part, that I loved them. And as they grew and developed, and their ability to perceive changed, they changed, their understanding grew.

Some people’s understanding does not.

They can be twenty, and still, at heart, that very young child. They see love, and understand it viscerally, as the thing they expected from their mother. They can look at other adults, and when they want love from them - what they want is what they wanted from their mothers. The women they didn’t and couldn’t see as people. The women who fulfilled a role.

Let me go a bit further. They feel entitled to that love, because on a visceral level, they were entitled to that love from their mothers. Who they were, and who they are, doesn’t viscerally matter to them - they expect to be loved “for themselves“; children are, after all, loved by their parents. They don’t actually see themselves clearly - because children don’t. They are materially, emotionally, caught in that state. Who they actually are - what they like, what they dislike, what they feel responsible for (and frequently, in the end, they feel responsible for very, very little because toddlers just don’t) is irrelevant to them.

They look at what other people are getting - and they feel that they should be getting it, too. Because of course, the actual other people are irrelevant. They don’t evaluate what the other person offers, because, again, toddlers don’t. They know what they want. They know what they need. And they know they deserve it, and maybe someone else is getting it instead -- but that’s the sum total of their self-awareness. There’s a lot of insecurity there.

They try to be “good boys” or “good girls” because that’s often a condition laid down by parents. But it’s a dependent condition at best - they are being “good children” because they expect the reward for this is “love”. Which is to say: their behaviour is not rooted in any sense of self-respect. It is dependent; it is fragile; it is an external behaviour that has no internal compass. It doesn’t come from them; it’s a form of barter. An inflexible form of barter.

This is the mind-set at the heart of “But I’m a nice guy/girl! Why don’t girls/guys notice me!” It is a visceral, incredibly pernicious mindset, and it is entirely and completely natural to them because it is the mindset they have known for their entire lives. At two or three years of age, they could be loved in this fashion, if imperfectly.

But if the understanding doesn’t grow, they are left wanting and demanding the same thing for the rest of their adult lives. They can’t actually see the difference between mother-love and love.

I’ve written about this before in a different context. Adult women do not love adult men as if those men were their children. They don’t give time & affection - and tolerance and patience - to other adults the way they would, and can, to children - because these people are not their children.

When we look at our mothers as small children, we want. Our sense of love is almost indivisible from our sense of need. Love = need, in that mindset. What they want, the fact that they want it, is considered love in their own mind.

But what adults want from each other is not that kind of dependency. At best, it’s uncomfortable. At best. When we approach someone else with the visceral sense of need, with the idea that we need to be loved to be complete, there’s nothing else there. We are not offering anything of ourselves except our need and our sense of desperation. There’s no there, there. There’s nothing but a void, waiting to be filled.

This may come as a surprise to some - and actually, surprisingly it does - but this is not remotely attractive. Offering someone the sum of our insecurities and demanding the attention & affection (or even sex) that will make the insecurities go away for a while makes, of the other person, a type of serotonin dispenser. It’s not about the other person. The other person doesn’t exist except as a role, a daydream, or an obsession. It is a role that is meant to be filled, just the way Mother was filled, and the anger and pain and hurt are as extreme as if all these cold and distant women are their mothers. But, with the extra squick of sex thrown in.

What the other person does or does not want is irrelevant to the sense of aggrieved entitlement, because in the end, what our mothers want is invisible when we are that developmental age. The response is exactly, again, the response of an angry, resentful child. They are feeling hurt. They are feeling hurt in the way that toddlers do and can.

But toddlers can’t buy guns.

When toddlers lose it - and they do - they can’t cause untold damage to other people.

Toddlers can’t stab three people to death. Toddlers can’t get in their expensive cars and go gunning for people. Toddlers can’t see the incredibly, hideous irony in the fact that their rage, fueled by a sense of rejection, is exactly why people do not choose to come near; it’s exactly the thing that twigs unconscious distrust, dislike, and lack of attraction. We’re not stupid. That “Nice Guy” thing is generally a veneer over some pretty ugly social assumptions, objectification, and solipsism. At its most extreme, this is what it leads to.

ETA: The assumptions and solipsism that are natural in toddlers are acceptable because: toddlers in a developmental stage. But they’re not meant to form the emotional basis for a reasonable or rational adult life.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2014 03:13 am (UTC)
When you're right, you're right.
May. 26th, 2014 03:32 am (UTC)
The thing is, I have some sympathy for the pain - but it‘s mitigated because people who are in that kind of pain lash out like toddlers can. When toddlers explode, they really don’t have a sense of consequence or a sense of proportion. They are hurt. They frequently feel that the world has ended. They blame their parents because clearly their parents are at the heart of that world. But - we’re parents. We’re used to being the death of fun when its necessary, and we know it will pass.

But when an ostensible adult has these reactions, it doesn’t pass, and there’s no one who stands as a gate between them and the rest of the world until they calm down.

And I don’t honestly understand when or where the transition between the toddler state and the adult state - which we all struggle with - occurs. If I could see the mechanism clearly, I could write about how it does change. But even my oldest, who thinks a lot about things like this, can’t clearly see the demarcation between the earlier state and the current one.

And I’m over fifty, and I don’t clearly, viscerally, remember how, either. I don’t remember feeling entitled to be loved in this fashion - and I know that I, like anyone alive, must have felt it, because it really does seem to be a natural part of the human condition.
May. 26th, 2014 04:33 am (UTC)
*nod* I'm sorry my comments are such brief uncritical agreement, but well, I agree with your thoughts and emotions, your confusions and conclusions, and the whole situation has me so heartsick I can barely string words together anyway.
May. 26th, 2014 03:44 am (UTC)
There was an article featuring some of his misogynsitic self involved rantings in our local paper today, and the first thing I thought was "women avoid you because you are an unpleasant person to be around"

Clearly he had issues but they should have been recognised and dealt with, rather than ignored or even (god forbid) encouraged.

Nice unrant - very perceptive and as ever, well written!
May. 26th, 2014 05:20 am (UTC)
Thank you for this! This so very clearly describes a male ex-friend of mine. He destroyed our friendship with that self-entitled desperation and ended up so creepy I had to end our 20+ year friendship. It was too uncomfortable to be around him.

It would be real interesting to find out why some people end up like this and others grow up.

May. 27th, 2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
I always find this heartbreaking and difficult, because I do understand that if this is what you’ve always known, if this is what you’ve always accepted as love, seeing past it doesn’t easily (or sometimes ever) occur.

But for the people on the other end of this - the emotional, maternal stand-in - it’s hugely uncomfortable.
May. 27th, 2014 04:10 pm (UTC)
It is heartbreaking. I regret having to end our friendship but it wasn't really friendship anymore by that point. Just my discomfort and his increasing desperation.
May. 27th, 2014 04:12 pm (UTC)
I’ve been there as well. And it was so difficult - but, I was honestly tired of the passive aggressive guilt trip that the friendship had become; it was suffocating. So you have my absolute sympathy & understanding here.
May. 26th, 2014 06:34 am (UTC)
That's pretty insightful, Michelle.
May. 27th, 2014 03:27 pm (UTC)
One of my novels is trying to kill me. I may be more willing to focus on things that are not quite that book...
May. 26th, 2014 11:28 am (UTC)
Well put and thank you.

Though I do think society is full of hidden (and not so hidden) attitudes that encourage these toddler-adults to believe that they're entitled to be loved as a child is loved. This is not a purely internal thing, in my opinion; I think it is also being encouraged from outside. Then we're surprised when its logical conclusion flowers in violence and blood.
May. 26th, 2014 12:39 pm (UTC)
Having seen relatives' and friends' marriages end in divorce that could be directly attributed to one side's lack of emotional maturity, I wonder how deep this actually runs.
May. 27th, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think we all struggle with this from time to time, fwiw.

And people in pain - which, divorce implies - will find it much, much more difficult, because not saints. It’s easy for people to see their own pain - and when they lash out, in pain, it’s two things. It’s an expression of hurt, and it’s the anger and the need to strike back.

Because for many people, feeling hurt somehow means that the hurt was deliberate. “I’m upset about this” becomes “You did this to upset me”, which is fundamentally different.

Even when aware of this, it’s difficult. If I’m very upset or very hurt, I have to pull back and go for a long damn walk because I need to sort out my reactions. I don’t always have the reaction I feel I should have, up front.
May. 26th, 2014 01:48 pm (UTC)
Here via aliettedb's tweet, and the thing I most strongly latch onto is what you're saying about the perniciousness and all-consumingness of the need. There's no room for love, because the need is there. It's all self-focused--the other party is merely a dispenser of the thing that's felt to be needed.
May. 27th, 2014 03:53 pm (UTC)
I think, though, that’s the point: for toddlers, need is love. Desire is love. Wanting attention, wanting to be held, wanting to be comforted, etc - that’s what love means to them.

We wanted those things, viscerally, from our parents. The people we didn’t see fully as people.

When we fall in love, hormonally, in puberty - of course we’re falling back on that model. It’s the most intimate model for love we know. It’s just - not a workable model. And very, very few people are balanced enough to do the growing up necessary to keep adolescent relationships together. I certainly wasn’t.

When I write about these things, I’m writing from my own observations, both of my children, the people around me, and myself. I remember being that teenager. I remember the focus, and the need. I remember when I understood what I was actually doing, instead of seeing the pain I was feeling. (It’s the engineer in me - I want to know what went wrong, and how, so it will not happen again.)

And yes, I think that’s why it’s when people give up on finding a Significant Other and get on with their lives that they finally do: they have taken responsibility for their own lives and for getting things done in it. They are done with waiting around for love - they are comfortable in themselves and in their working lives.

They are not, therefore, throwing their palpable need - the emotionality of a child - into the universe.

Edited at 2014-05-27 03:54 pm (UTC)
May. 28th, 2014 02:05 am (UTC)
You have described a couple of my exes and former dates perfectly. And I've seen girls do it as well to boys. In all of my instances, it seemed like the obsessed boy was more into the idea of having a relationship and the role of a girlfriend filling all those needs rather than being in love with me for myself. What was hard I. Those relationships is not only the extra work I had to do to maintain them, but that I found I was defined by it and limited by it. I couldn't grow. It was not fun. And no matter what age we we are, we are always growing.
May. 28th, 2014 04:38 pm (UTC)
I think one of the defining things - for me - in my positive adult relationships is:

The other person sees *me*. Or, the other person hears *me*. Not the me that is part phantasm of desire, but me-as-I-actually-am. And, you know, likes me anyway.

But...I’m aware that my adolescent crushes were, in fact, very much in the same pattern: I equated want/need with love. The fact that I wanted/needed meant that I was in love to me. I really think that this is an entirely natural progression, because, again, it’s what we know. It is our most significant formed-attachment model.

I don’t even think that I could have been talked out of it because if someone had sat me down and said, “this is NOT love”, it wouldn’t have made any sense to my younger self. I don’t think it would have made sense to any of us at that age (I’m thinking of 13, here, but).

Growing out of it, seeing it different, is a kind of slow continuum of self-evaluation, but also of fully accepting that everyone around is an individual with wants, needs, and terrible days that are in some ways similar to our own internal landscape.
May. 28th, 2014 04:40 pm (UTC)
Oh - and yes, absolutely women do this, too. I started to try to be gender neutral because I think wanting to be loved, and wanting our parents to love us, is gender neutral. But - I was thinking of the specific instance as well.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 10:13 pm (UTC)

We all have those turning point moments in our lives. I was 13, walking down a grey school corridor, when I realised that my friends weren't obliged to be my friends and there was nothing wrong with this I suddenly gained a lot more friends and the ongoing puzzle that not everyone seems to know this.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )