My intro on facebook lately is “processing bonding cues creatively while Rome burns.” It came about when I was looking at something about autism online, months ago. The term “bonding cues” really stood out to me.
Yes, the things people do to indicate closeness or distance, privately and in a group–thrilling. I love bonding cues. Fist bump, handshake, hugging, a kiss, eye contact, much language, a card, a gift, an invitation, a wedding ring.
Originally my intro said “processing bonding cues incorrectly,” but it felt kinder to change that to “creatively.” And Rome burning–well, many people throughout time have thought they were at the end of the world, and they were wrong. Is Rome burning? I can smell it!
But who knows what will be next. Hopefully something better.
I was talking to my good friend about conflict she has with her relative. She explained an argument / intense conversation they were having, and some long-standing issues.
I was hearing clearly: what seemed like a good idea in relationship was very different, for my friend vs for her relative. For example, the relative wanted my friend to stop by, but my friend doesn’t like to just drop in on people. Their ideas of what constitutes a good relationship seemed very different. Having several differences like that led to misunderstanding and pain.
That’s a good example of how “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would only work if we were all the same and had the same needs. What a world that would be, with mass uniformity. We really are different.
- what we feel
- how we spend our time
- what motivates us
- our values
- what we’re used to
- where we come from
- what we really want
- food and drink needs
- amount of rest we need
- how loud / quiet we are
- physical capabilities
- sexual preferences
- how vulnerable we are
- how honest we are
I started thinking about bonding cues, and how the same behavior can be understood very differently by different people. For example, I would say, “I love you,” to someone I loved very much and wanted to be close to, who I live in community with. Rather than responding with warmth, this friend seemed apprehensive. She seemed not to like it.
I was like–does she really not like it? Does she seem not to like it, but in private, she remembers and feels happy? Sometimes when I get praise, I can react badly in person, like panic, not knowing how to respond. But when I’m in bed later by myself, I’ll roll it over in my mind and feel cared for and happy, that someone thought a good thing about me.
I decided no, she really doesn’t like it when I say I love you. She seems genuinely sketched. For one thing, she has to decide whether to say it back. But the big issue is that many people have used her in horrible ways, and language was part of that. So some years ago, before I showed up, “I love you,” became a sentence that means something very different to her than it does to me.
For me, it’s the opposite–when someone says “I love you” to me, I feel like–ah, I can relax. This person cares enough about me to say this vulnerable thing. I don’t need to worry about this relationship–I’m safe.
Of course I’m not always really safe–I love you has been used to manipulate me also, especially by my brother. He would do fucked up things to me, and I’d feel like–wow, that seemed really wrong. But he says he loves me. Aw, how sweet! What a nice brother. I guess I misunderstood!
Wow, so naive of me. A few years ago, I realized that my brother thinks all women exist to support, serve, and pleasure him, one way or another. Once I saw how he manipulates women with “I love you,” I learned to dodge him and his harm by not believing it.
That mentality of using people permeates his life, and I’m afraid of him. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone, and can dupe everyone by distracting us from his bad behavior with bonding cues. But I won’t fall for that anymore.
When I was a kid, some girls would have a best friend–maybe they lived far apart, or for some reason they felt a need to proclaim their best-friend-ness. So they would have these necklaces, with a broken heart, and each would wear half of the heart on a thin gold chain, as a necklace.
That was an explicit bonding cue. Some years ago, I was at a store that sells jewelry for teenagers, as my second niece loved that store, and my mom was buying a present for her. I saw those broken heart necklaces for sale, and I felt a pang of pain.
No girl ever wanted to do that with me, the half-necklace thing. I’d had close friends and best friends. But we were not that kind of best friend. The necklace thing seemed cheap and sentimental. But part of me had wanted it anyway, to be loved that way, by someone who wanted to proclaim it.
I like the title of best friend. The title of spouse is nice too. Dear one, roommate, daughter, brother from another mother. Co-worker, community member, neighbor. I wish there were way more titles. The society I live in, we don’t get very many.
I was wishing the other day that in our society, we called elders “grandparent.” That would feel very sweet, to me. If I could say to a stranger who was old, “Good morning, grandparent,” that would be wonderful, to me.
When the man I love came to visit, he told me about the friend who gave him a ride to the airport. His friend asked him, “Why are you flying to the desert?”
The man I love quoted himself as telling his friend, “I’m going to visit my homegirl Nest!”
Wow, I was his homegirl. What the fuck does that mean? Not a girlfriend–not a relative. Not even a friend! Friend could be misconstrued as significant. Not his treasured collaborator–not his bestie, soul sibling, empress, Cat Queen, dear one, or Poetry Priestess. I wasn’t the lady who invited him to be part of her family, or the lady who was in love with him.
Still wondering months later if homegirl was an accurate reflection of what I meant to him. To me a homegirl would be like a homie–someone who comes from my homeland, who I feel a close bond with, as we know the same foods, trees, animals, roads, parks, slang, power relations, weather, landforms, biomes. We deeply understand one another’s culture, forever bonded by where we come from.
This man comes from Ohio. I’ve never even been to Ohio! This dude has never been to my homeland, that I know of. He doesn’t know shit about my people or my home.
But I was his homegirl–way to be vague. I see now, how he would evade truth so he could leave his options open and get all he could get, without needing clarity or to be held accountable for any fucking thing. Whatever’s clever, indeed.
Yep, that was his deal. He was not my homeboy–he was the dearest treasure of my heart, my inspiration, a huge reason to live.
I’m crying again this morning. But it feels right to give myself time to feel my feelings and work it all through. If I pretend I’m done hurting before I’m really done, it’s just going to get stuck.
Bonding cues can indicate what we want from one another. I want to learn how to read bonding cues skillfully and use them for a good life. Not fooled by charmers, or making painful mistakes. I don’t want people to be uncomfortable if I say or do things that will be misconstrued. Ideally, my cues would match how I feel, and be joyfully received in the spirit they’re offered.
Love to the people who want truth, and who risk our hearts by bonding at all.