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The Ying and Yang of Togetherness

Young lovers who kiss those unselfconscious kisses in public places often provoke either an amused eye, or a moralistic one. But, lovers' contentment with each other shields them against concerns about how others may judge them. Excluding the world is one of those things people in love tend to do.

There is a point, however, in even the most passionate relationships, where the need to be close runs into conflict with the need for privacy, separateness and individual growth. This is often a time when the partner who is most threatened by less togetherness may consider counseling. This person is, more often than not, female.

That does not mean that men are necessarily more independent creatures by nature. (The nature-nurture debate is hardly over.) There is enough to suggest that the gender roles we all learned so well (in spite of social movements that encourage our liberation) are still very much with us and continue to have an effect on our relationships. However, the really nasty stuff from these roles doesn't seem to rear its' head until people say "I do" or commit to living together. The urge to merge is, no doubt, in most of us. And, in spite of the special difficulties of being single in the 90's there are still plenty of brave souls out there looking for love. Many manage to find it. When that peak moment occurs and when they feel reasonably secure that they've found the "real thing," this is is the point that I think is worth our examining.

She wants a baby; he may not or isn't sure. He wants to keep having good times." She's ready to "settle down" and start acting “ like adults." He wants to keep hangin' out with his still-unattached buddies. Her friends are almost all couples and they are pregnant, or planning to be, buying a home or planning to buy one. She's ready to "get with the program." He wants to be with her but still do "the guy thing." (One witty woman suggested that what a man really wants is "to be really, really close to a woman who will leave him alone." None of the above scenarios are necessarily right or wrong. He may, for example, decide he does want a child, but later. She may begin to question whether she really does want one or whether she just never considered not having one. (The pressures on women regarding this issue, along with marriage, are sometimes enormous.) These dramas can have more to do with age, at times, than sex-roles. Many men reach a certain age (often it's their thirties) when they begin to get the bigger picture of life. They now know that partying and/or sports are much less important than they could ever have imagined. In the meantime, the young women in these relationships may have assumed that when they began their journey together, their agendas were the same. Discovering they are not, and accepting the fact, can be painfully hard to do. When you love someone, you want them with you. For a long time, a future was planned with two in mind.

Separation is almost always regarded as a negative. Far too many females consider it as a terrible personal failure, one they feel much guilt about. Sometimes, both people can come to the difficult, but reasonable decision that if they stay with one another, they will not only fall out of love, but they may begin to permanently harm the wonderful feelings that brought them together in the first place. The idea of separation to come together again may seem strange, but it is actually an old idea, an Eastern one. The gender roles we have learned work against our consideration /acceptance of this paradox. Females are often much too eager to commit, and males, in general, continue to have more trouble with this. Even men who love deeply and want to keep a relationship, may still need more time to mature so that they can appreciate its' specialness and are ready to invest themselves in a more wholehearted manner. Most of us have no idea what we're in for when we become committed to someone. Maybe ignorance is bliss, at least to some extent, because if we really did know, many more of us might not do it. The clich’ that relationships take work is too true. But what most of us want is less work and more magic. Unfortunately, the magic depends on the effort we put into it. The bond we make together is created by two distinct individuals. (That is true even when two people are a lot alike.) That salient point might be forgotten during the rosy honeymoon period but we become ourselves again sooner or later. We become our whole selves, not just the prince and princess we were able to be for at least a little while. And when we take a good look at who we got and who we are with less love-blinded eyes, we may notice that one or both of us hasn't finished growing up yet. This is when we start using expressions like "Men... (Women...), can't live with'em, can't live without 'em." It's also a time when one or both parties may feel tricked, if they're able to be honest with themselves. Romantic comedies are made of stuff such as this. During fights, each might feel like saying to the other, "Who are you, anyway?" "Where is that wonderful person I fell in love with?" Are we turning into, our parents? Depressing, isn't it?

Is togetherness dangerous for love? Well... yes, and no. We may thrive on closeness when attraction is new. But the healthiest relationships are made up of two mature, independent people. That's what's so exciting about those old Hepburn/Tracey, Hepburn/Bogart movies. A well--balanced relationship (even if it isn't always exactly so) has life in it and that makes it interesting and exciting. If we team how to allow each other to be different from us and don't stifle one another, we tend to grow. This also tends to prevent us from becoming boring, something that certainly helps us to want to learn from one another.

Becoming as uniquely ourselves as possible, however, will not guarantee us success in love. The not-so-magic love potion we need is a maturity that includes patience, honesty and open-mindedness. These are ingredients that can make the magic happen again. Listening, learning, understanding... these are the true aphrodisiacs. All the sexy nightgowns, lavish and expensive gifts pale by comparison. (There is a joke that the sexiest thing a man can say to a woman is "Honey, I've been thinking about something you said the other day.") Good humor adds the piece' de resistance to amour’. A round of witty repartee' goes a long way to deflate built-up resentments.

Learning how to accept our differences while we change what can be changed about ourselves and what needs to be changed is not just smart; it is wise. Both men and women need to learn a more accommodating blend of togetherness.

The fire of a love affair burns much brighter and longer when we can be free people within the bonds of our love for one another.

Good friends make the best and most lasting love.

Ms. Winchild is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Catonsville (Baltimore County). PATRICIA WINCHILD, LCSWC Psychotherapist Individuals/Couples/Families Women's Groups/ Addictions

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