Sunday, August 02, 2009

The bond

I used to be sceptical about the depths of attachment some people claimed to feel for children, especially for children other than their own. I was dubious about the supposedly mystical power of newborns to compel the affection, devotion, loyalty of anyone around them. I've always been fond of children in general, but not of babies. Babies are ugly, noisy, leaky, and you can't have a conversation with them. I just didn't get the thing with babies.

But over this past decade I have experienced the phenomenon for myself. Twice. There are two babies that I have met, held in my arms, only a day or two after their birth: one a niece, the other a daughter of one of my oldest friends in China. And - years later, even though I have not seen nearly as much of them as I would have liked - I am still ridiculously gaga over these two kids. I am starting to be convinced that there is some kind of pheromone newborns give off that can cement your attachment to them long-term - permanently - even on quite brief exposure.

Of course, it may help that these two little girls are exceptionally pretty and vivacious, and precociously smart, and very affectionate towards me. But maybe they just naturally reciprocate my affection for them. And maybe I am inclined to overrate their virtues because of this strange, unconscious, chemically-driven imperative to adore them. Do they seem cuter to me than to most other people, to people they didn't enslave in their first days of life? These questions fascinate me.

It's also a cause of some awkwardness, some guilt for me. There are other children I would like to feel this intensity of affection for: my other niece, in particular; and the children of very good friends, some of whom I perhaps stand in a quasi-godparent relationship to (I have been asked to consider being a godfather a couple of times, but regretfully had to decline because of my godlessness). I am fond of these other children; but it's not the all-consuming, daffy, helpless soppiness that I feel about those two. (And I wonder what JES's latest Web-gizmo discovery would make of that last sentence?!)

It's a strange phenomenon.

(I'm intrigued also as to how this may relate to the concepts of 'falling in love' - and remaining in love! - with adults. I think there's only one of my exes - only one of my recent-ish exes, anyway - who still inspires this kind of spontaneous affection in me. What kind of pheromones did she blitz me with??)


JES said...

A long-time family friend -- a woman -- and I have had a conversation in which she confessed she knew nothing of the "maternal instinct" supposedly innate to all women. So there's opposite-gender confirmation for you.

And you may also be onto something with the pheromonal theory. Have recently read a book for review at MoonRat's BookBook site which provides more info; I'll give you a heads-up when the review posts.

Not sure about the connection to falling/remaining in love. A long time ago, someone convinced me that remaining in love isn't a feeling; it's a decision, which follows from the feeling(s) engendered during the falling-in-love phase. Which is what trips people up: they expect some new feeling to replace the exciting old one(s), and are bitterly disappointed (and easily distracted) when none is forthcoming.

So now the folks at We Feel Fine have even more confusing sentences (to say nothing of emotions) to try cataloguing.

Froog said...

I hope your lady friend was not talking about a lack of maternal instinct for her own children, JES. I always find that rather disturbing!

Interesting observations on the nature of love; though my own experience runs counter to your 'decision' theory. My experience of enduring love has, alas, not been within a stable and happy long-term relationship, but in failing relationships and post-relationship phases - where the feeling was pretty obviously a deep-rooted, instinctual kind of thing (even if less intense and dizzying than the first throes of infatuation), and was actually at odds with any conscious, rational 'decision' I was trying to make about the state of affairs.

I look forward to your further input on the pheromone question.