I and Thou

Close Relationships

Mating Behaviors

Mating behaviors and gender specific roles appear to have emerged in animals early in the course of evolution. Human behavior seems to be an eclectic mix of mating behaviors common in all mammals. We can empathize with the distraught male dog, longing for contact with the bitch in heat down the street. Birds provide colorful examples of mating behaviors; nest building, pair bonding and child rearing that are touchingly similar to our own efforts. Human mating rituals are everywhere apparent. You do not need an evolutionary psychologist to tell you what's going on in general terms, but real and deep insight into the human condition requires understanding our animal heritage.

The natural play of attraction and sexual bonding is really intended for teenagers. On the pristine path, puberty initiates sexual activity, babies are born to teenage mothers and the whole community participates in childcare. Currently, teenage pregnancies are considered to be undesirable and young women may use contraception to delay pregnancy one or two decades.

With the prolongation of life, and extended reproductive potential, sexual attraction and mating behaviors operate for many more years than was originally intended.

An idealized story of sex and gender in my community is that girls and boys are distinct sexes who are attracted to each other, fall in love, marry, have children, sacrifice personal and selfish desires in favor of the success of the family and live happily ever after. Teenagers are nurtured in a highly structured subculture and most avoid the vices of hanging out in non-productive groups and are not routinely waylaid by alcoholism, drug addiction, pregnancy, infection or crime. In the best case, teenagers date and form relationships, graduate from high school and go on to jobs or advanced education. A well-structured and enabling community steers adolescents into relationships suitable for long-term commitment and family. Local newspapers feature engagement and marriage announcements with pictures of young smiling couples on their wedding day. Sometimes, the heterosexual marriage story comes true, more or less. Each component of this ideal story is a complex of interacting determinants and the results are variable. Each component of the story identifies only an average or middle group in any larger population and the rest of the population expresses different possibilities that range from mild deviation, to gender and role reversals, to illness, addiction and occasional tragic outcomes. In other parts of the world, gender differences are emphasized, exaggerated and fixed in traditions and laws that tend to give males more power and females an inferior socioeconomic status. Marriages are often arranged and the fidelity of married couples is enforced by strict laws. Punishments for infidelity range from social ostracism to death.

Parties, Clubs, Sexual Frenzy

Humans gather to celebrate with music, dance and drugs. The celebration often involve displays of sexuality and attempts to meet a sexually receptive partner. Dance is rhythmic body movements that express emotion, display sexuality and enhance group cohesion. Birds and animals dance, often in courtship rituals, sometimes in ritualized aggressive-defensive displays. In the 20th century couple dancing emerged in many styles. Broadways shows and Hollywood movies featured dance music and some dancer couples became famous such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Popular tunes in the 1950's (Motown) became the new dance music intended for young audiences. Rock and Roll emerged as frantic dance music. Disco emerged with radio and recorded music. DJ's appeared in dance halls, spinning their disc collections into collages of danceable tunes. Discos became commercial dance, nightclubs, singles meeting places. Discos and bars merged into the new nightclubs where noise, alcohol and cigarette smoke dominated and often prevented the meeting place opportunities that patrons sought. By the 1980's electronic dance music proliferated in several styles – techno, trance, house, jungle, and electro dance are examples. Raves featured trance dancing with the addition of ecstasy and other drugs. After many years living outside of urban centers, I returned to Vancouver and explored a variety of discotheques. The essentials were a dance floor, beer and liquor, drugs, big speakers and loud sound. Often A DJ presided over the deafening festivities. The electronic music that became popular was also heard in the aerobics classes in fitness centers. By the late 1970s many major US cities had thriving disco club scenes which were centered around discothèques, nightclubs, and private loft parties where DJs would play disco hits through powerful PA systems for the dancers. Some of the most prestigious clubs had elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the beat of the music. The notion of romantic, skillful couples dancing was lost in the noise, confusion and intoxication of late 20th century dance venues.


  • The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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