Reflections on the Meaning of Love

Romantic Love – Part II

An Alternative Theory on Crushes, Sex and Closeness

Let’s now shift more from the “nature” to the “nurture” side of romantic love by exploring some theory derived from a large peer counseling organization known as the International Re-Evaluation Counseling Communities.

As Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC) theory has noted, sex is both an instinctual drive and a means of cultivating closeness to another human being.  Similar to the triune brain theory discussed previously, higher-level intelligence (i.e., neocortical functioning) evolved later than basic instinctual drives.  So, while we can’t really “control” how we feel about other people, we can use our higher level of intelligence to make wise decisions about romantic relationships, including whether to enter them or not.

In an article entitled, “Human Connections and Sex,” (2010) Tim Jackins, leader of the RC organization, explains how most human beings do not receive adequate closeness and connection as young people, due to conditioning forces in society that get played out in families and passed on from one generation to the next.  For example, boys are typically taught from an early age to be “strong” or “tough,” and accordingly, they may not be given as much support and affection as they actually need while growing up.  This is one example of male conditioning that makes it difficult for many men to show their vulnerability.   Another example is how most people are discouraged from crying at a fairly early age, despite the fact that crying is one of the body’s natural ways of healing emotionally.   Accordingly, what mainstream society considers “normal,” is actually human behavior that is fairly shut down emotionally.  Open sharing of thoughts and feelings on a deep level tends to happen with a select few, if any.  This results in people living lives where they feel quite mentally isolated from others, despite outward appearances.

Tim goes on to explain that “it is in the context of having been pushed by distresses from our families and societies into feeling very separate and distinct from other humans that society presents sex as our last possibility for human connection.” (This is particularly pronounced for males, in comparison to females where, generally speaking, closeness with others is deemed more acceptable).

While sex in and of itself is natural and healthy, in the context of how most people have been conditioned, sex can end up being expressed in not-so-healthy ways. This can range from the more benign (e.g., not being fully present when sexually intimate) to the more pathologic (e.g., compulsive sex, pornography and sexual abuse).

RC theory explains that while human beings are sexual creatures, the forces of a not-fully-rational society have given most of us the message that sex, rather than being one of many means of closeness, is the primary way to connect with others on a deep level.  Both men and women get this conditioning, but in many respects, men get hit with it the hardest, which partially explains their greater involvement in compulsive sexual behavior in comparison to women.  Of course, every human being is different, with varying life and cultural experiences, but in general, the message in the western world is that sex = one of the chief means of deep closeness and connection.

So, the message here is twofold.  First, it’s important for people to look at the ways that life experiences (e.g., past conditioning) may be limiting one’s ability to have a positive, healthy relationship to sexuality.  The past conditioning can include things like what your parents taught you about sex and what you learned through religious influences, to more direct experiences, such as the sexual encounters you had that were either positive or negative.

The second message is that you can enrich your life and sense of wellbeing by expanding your repertoire of activities that foster deep connection to other human beings, beyond just sex.

When one is operating from a healthy position with anything, there is typically a decent amount of slack or ease felt within.  For example, if you feel extremely nervous around a person you find attractive, it’s a sign that something deeper is likely at play that could use some retooling (in contrast, a “healthier” model may involve feeling quite enthusiastic and curious about the person, but not so overwhelmed).

One caveat: I use terms like “healthy” with some reservation because this kind of labeling can feed our judgmental minds, which isn’t that helpful.  My intent here is to use “healthy” as a model, or ideal, for all of us to strive toward, recognizing this ideal as a state of being without the influences of negative conditioning.  While it’s likely that most people have had at least some negative conditioning (i.e., limiting influences) around sexuality and relationships, it’s also true that regardless of the extend of conditioning, it’s possible to “clean up” its’ impacts.

RC theory explains how a strong, instant attraction to another person — having a crush or infatuation — can be rooted in what’s known as a “frozen need.”  This is different from getting to know somebody over time and then noticing that you really like or love them.

A “frozen need” refers to “a rational need not met in childhood, that compels a person to keep trying to fill the need in the present” (RC Present Time, July 2002). For example, if a child doesn’t receive a substantial amount of affection or validation from their parents, then this need will persist into adulthood.  While the need for affection and validation is human and continues throughout life independent of what happened early, the difference is that with a frozen need, it’s not so much about the present, but more about that past.  It’s essentially a sign that something in the person is trying to be healed.   If there’s a quality of desperation or a feeling of never getting enough of it (affection, validation, etc.), then that can be a clue that it’s “old” rather than related to the present.

RC theorizes that a frozen need will never be filled by another person, despite the belief and hope that it will.  The only way to address a frozen need is to look at and heal the original hurt on an emotional level, by working through the impacts of lack of affection and validation early in life.   If this isn’t done, then people are prone to develop strong crushes where all their hopes are pinned on this one person, which makes it far more difficult to develop a broad, realistic perspective on the potential mate.

Working on these feelings, hopes, etc. is a liberating process, as it opens up more space in our minds to think more clearly and creatively about our lives and relationships in general.   The message isn’t to presume that you can’t have a relationship with your crush, but rather it’s to take the time to look at the underlying thoughts and feelings they remind you of from the past, so that you can think more clearly about the present.

One last important point made by RC is to keep in mind that as humans, our innate feelings toward any human being are those of love, which includes a desire to be close.  The difference between this loving state of being and that of a crush, however, is that the former is imbued with a sense of ease and openness about another, whereas with a crush or infatuation, there tends to be a more obsessive and highly charged quality to the associated thoughts and feelings.

While RC theory has not been validated through academic research, the model is based on many years of experience, involving thousands of participants throughout the world.  To learn more about RC, including the tools they use to foster change, you can go to their website: www.rc.org.

Next Section: Romantic Love – Part III: Buddhism and Desire


  1. Good to hear this here.

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