Bonds of Love, Issue One

Nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more “right” or valid than another’s.

I’m at the Gorgeous Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue, writing a post called Why Yoga Part One. Quickly, I realized that the answer to “why yoga” should be a series of posts. An hour later, I realized that the first part of this series (just on the physical benefits!) is worth spending a few days to compose.

Pouty Face
But I wanna post something noooooooww!

Fret not, angel. Dig deep into your hard-drive. You know you have something quick and revolutionary to share with the world! See? Look:

Benjamin, J. (1988) The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination. Pantheon Books, New York.

Years ago, while reading an old grad-school textbook for fun (yes, really; why would anybody lie about that -_- ?), I read a passage that compelled me to look up the citation in the textbook’s index. There I saw the most attractive book title I’d ever seen: The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination, by Dr. J. Benjamin (1988). My life was already changed. I searched the public library catalog, and I knew that this book and I were meant to be together.

It was big, and old, but not crusty: just how I like ’em!* We spent weeks together; I probably renewed it the maximum number of times before I decided to just copy down the parts that resonated with me the most so I could share Dr. Benjamin’s insights with my friends, at least! I don’t think I ever planned to post them publicly, but I’m not getting paid for any of this and it’s cited everywhere, so… not plagiarism!

If you can keep up with the academic writing style, I highly suggest purchasing a copy of this book.  If you can afford two, can I have one? Or find it for free at your public or Local University library. For now, I’ll share what I’ve saved, and my thoughts on the material, one chapter at a time. Remember, these are just the parts that I thought were mostly-self-explanatory out of context! If you have any questions that aren’t answered in my discussion, please ask in the comments. I’d love to have a public dialogue about this stuff. 

The Bonds of Love examines interpersonal relationships from a psychoanalytic perspective. “Analytic” may sound like a synonym for “judgmental” ~ and I’d be lying if I didn’t give a shout-out to all the “analysts” who agree ~ but psychoanalysis is a science that was originally designed, like organic/physical medicine, to be as impersonal and universal as possible. Psychologists are just people who observe and record their observations about human emotions and behaviors the way botanists study plants. This is some of what Dr. Benjamin has observed. Enjoy!


The reciprocal relationship between self and other can be compared with the optical illusion in which the figure and ground are constantly changing their relation even as their outlines remain clearly distinct — as in Escher’s birds, which appear to fly in both directions. What makes his drawings visually difficult is a parallel to what makes the idea of self-other reciprocity conceptually difficult: the drawing asks us to look two ways simultaneously, quite in opposition to our usual sequential orientation. Since it is more difficult to think in terms of simultaneity than in terms of sequence, we begin to conceptualize the movement in terms of a directional trajectory. Then we must try to correct this inaccurate rendering of what we have seen by putting the parts back together in a conceptual whole which encompasses both directions. Although this requires a rather laborious intellectual reconstruction, intuitively, the paradoxical tension of this way and that way “feels right” (p. 25).

Psychoanalysts begin their study of behavior from when we are very young ~ like Rugrats™-young, or even Muppet Babies™-young. Even in infancy, you’re still a human being, with the same natural range of emotions and needs as an adult. For a while, your range of expression is limited to: you feel discomfort, and you cry about it. If you cry because you’re hungry, and if you’re fortunate enough to have attentive caregivers,** someone will eventually feed you. As a baby, psychoanalysts theorize, you assume this happens because you created the source of food.

Magic Baby BIG
Alakazaam, B!tche$!

Everybody knows babies are selfish assholes (literally! All they do is poop and inconvenience everyone around them and poop some more!), but do you ever think about their point of view? To be fair, they haven’t been alive long enough to know that there is a distinction between themselves and the world around them. When they cry, and somebody comes along to wipe their but, babies think “ahh, I did such a good job wiping my butt just now,” because they don’t yet understand that they share the world with other conscious beings.

This is the axis of Bonds of Love, which analyzes interpersonal relationships from infancy through adulthood. Relationships are “interpersonal” because they involve two-or-more people, whether they acknowledge each-other’s person-hood (like you and your friends) or not (like you and your newborn or my ex and me, loljknr). If you’ve ever felt invisible or dehumanized during an interaction, it might be because the other person or people do not see you as your own distinct-but-equally-human self.

Sadly, this is not uncommon. Many people, often without realizing it, never feel a “close” connection to others because, like infants, they only see other people as extensions of themselves that carry out their wishes, not as fellow conscious, autonomous human beings. We all know people like that. Heck, one of them is the president of These United States of America! Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery? I digress, but only a little.

How do people get this way? Well, according to Dr. Benjamin, these profoundly isolated individuals (imagine for just a moment that you were the only “real” person in the world!) do not experience what she calls “self-other reciprocity.” Benjamin uses the image of MC Escher’s Two Birds (No. 18) to describe how challenging, yet rewarding it can be to place equal emphasis on two perspectives at once.

The painting shows two interlocking flocks of birds, flying in opposite directions. Like much of Escher’s work, the piece invites our eyes to dance. Our focus hops from blue-to-white-to-left-to-right until we get comfortable seeing both flocks at once. It’s like changing one’s mind from “only one of these is the right answer” to “these are just two different answers,” much like the drawing where the picture is both a duck and a rabbit. To me, “self-other reciprocity” just means seeing the whole picture for what it is: nobody’s subjective point of view, no one person’s humanity, is more valid than another’s.

Unfortunately, a deep, unconscious belief that other people are things can be as lucrative as it is lonely. Remember slavery?

As the book goes on, Dr. Benjamin and I will go into how this truth, which I like to call intersubjectivity, is learned, partially-learned, or missed in early childhood. Intersubjectivity just means that every story has more than one main character. To be subjective means to have your own point of view; to be intersubjective is to acknowledge that everyone else does, too. There really is room on the planet for multiple POVs, people. Diversity only becomes a “problem” when some folks’ perspective is devalued or ignored in favor of someone else’s.

As The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (Benjamin, 1988) continues, we’ll discuss how men are traditionally raised (not necessarily on purpose) to value their subjectivity and not others’ (not even other men’s, really), while women are traditionally raised to place others’ subjectivity over their own. It’s gonna be good, y’all! Thanks for reading all of this, Truly. The intro will be shorter in the future, but the passages might be longer. What do you think? Please share below; I’d love to read your thoughts! Namaste, y’all.


* I like crusty books, too. And new books. And skinny books and long books. And short books and fat books. And fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, historical-fiction, novellas, short-stories, autobiographies, graphic-novels, how-to-do-stuff books, how-to-talk-to-people books, psychology books (lol, ya think?), yoga books, racial books, art books, picture books, poetry books, Spanish poetry books, children’s books, young-adult fiction, folk tales, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Toni Morrisson, Audre Lorde, PHEW! Okay I should stop now…. But the old ones do smell the best ^_^

If you’ve read this far and you have any book recommendations, whether they fit into the far-from-exhausted list above or not, please share them below! 

** For other babies, there are several outcomes. One is that the absence of someone to meet their needs is still initially interpreted as the baby’s own failure. Another is that these babies understand too soon that their existence depends on entities outside of themselves. The scarcity or unreliability of care makes “ANXIOUS” the poor child’s “default” setting, which explains why trust issues may persist into adulthood.

If you forget everything else, and never visit my website again, please know this: every person is unique, and there is no “A + B = C” formula for how any of us turn out. More importantly, if you don’t like the way you’ve turned out, you have the power and the opportunity to change with every breath you take. Try listening to love songs as if you wrote them to yourself, see how that feels. Let me know how it works, or doesn’t, for you. Peace!

This song is actually LESS creepy now, lol! They won’t all work out that way, trust me.