Cutting off Doesn’t Cut Off Patterns
We’ve been looking at the effect of a specific multigenerational pattern (extreme fundamentalist religiosity) in one family (mine). Today I’ll share how that pattern translated into a dating relationship failure…unless you consider that sometimes failure is success (see “Dating Wisely 1.4”).
When I emerged into young adulthood, I cut-off from the family system physically and emotionally by attending a college in another state. I didn’t have the courage to cut-off from the religious denomination of my youth, however, so I found the same denomination within 20 miles of my college. As bad luck would have it, that was the very church where my parents met and married 25 years before.
And as uncanny as the multigenerational transmission process can be, it was at that very church–400 miles away from where I grew up–that I, too, met the man who became my husband.
My Exceptionally Immature Dating Criteria
I was attracted to Scott because he didn’t come from this denomination, so I thought he might be more open-minded. Furthermore, he had a small dancing part in the Nutcracker Ballet, and dancing seemed so…sinful! He’s not only a bad-boy, but a progressive one! I thought. That’s the thinking of an extremely sheltered, 18-year-old abuse survivor.
If only I had known myself a little better; if only I had known that the self that emerged into young adulthood wasn’t nearly as self-defined as I thought I was; if only I had realized that the conditioning of multiple generations on both sides of the family as far back as the eye could see had seeped under my skin, into my pores and lived in my cells, I might have identified the reactivity of my thinking. But I thought I was mature, reasonable, wise, a critical-thinker, and compared to those around me, perhaps I was some some of those things. But the rest of my family was operating in the lowest quarter of the scale of differentiation, too, so they were hardly a solid standard to compare to.
Scott’s Exceptionally Immature Dating Criteria
But notice my shallow, flimsy, naive criteria for mate selection. I look back on this now and cringe. What was I thinking?! And remember, we select mates at the same level of our own differentiation, so what was Scott thinking? His dating criteria were certainly no more sophisticated or differentiated than mine, or he would have dropped me like a hot potato. Given his own multigenerational patterns, his poor choice of a mate was predictable.
“The two spouses begin a marriage with life-style patterns and levels of differentiation developed in their families of origin. Mating, marriage, and reproduction are governed to a significant degree by emotional-instinctual forces. The way the spouses handle them in dating and courtship and in timing and planning the marriage provides one of the best views of the level of differentiation of the spouses. The lower the level of differentiation, the greater the potential problems for the future. People pick spouses who have the same levels of differentiation” (Bowen, in Theory in the Practice of Psychotherapy, p. 79)
Our Exceptionally Immature Mating Criteria
Boy, did Scott and I handle that poorly! Our shallow criteria for date selection was only the beginning. You’d think that as tumultuous as our courtship was, we wouldn’t have selected each other as mates. But I thought our conflict would diminish when I had the title of “wife,” and Scott thought he was going to have regular sex when he had the title of “husband.” Admittedly these are abysmal reasons to marry, but marry we did a year-and-a-half after we started dating.
And if you’ve been following this blog, you know the end of that story.
Tomorrow, we’ll begin to look at how sibling position plays an important role in dating wisely.