This section began several years ago when
I read a book of research on the differences between the sexes,
called Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and
Women. The authors go into detail about the differences between
male and female brains differences in the structure and
function of many different areas of the brain, in all mammals,
including humans. I had read this book before but I was reminded
once again that men aren't usually as interested in relationships
as women. This didn't cause a revelation. Ho hum. Yes, I've heard
it all before. Two-day-old girls gaze at a human face twice as
long as boys of the same age. Infant boys seem just as interested
in things as in faces.
If you haven't read this kind of research,
it is very interesting. Something about the different structures
of the brain and how they are impacted by the different levels
and kinds of hormones makes women more interested in relationships
than men. And the stronger interest in relationships then influences
the girls' development. They like different kinds of games. Much
of girls' play helps them learn more about relationships and
get better at it.
And because of their lack of interest in
relationships, boys learn very little about relationships as
they grow up. Boys just aren't as interested in the kinds of
games that would teach them about intimacy or love or domestic
life. So this original brain difference, extended over time,
continues to widen the gulf between the sexes the gap
in ability, the difference in relationship competence and emotional
more about sex differences.)
As soon as I was finished with Brain
Sex, the very next book I picked up was Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and
Health by Dean Ornish. Ornish has a program for people who
have already had a heart attack. Ornish's program is the first
one to document the reversal of heart disease. Up until
Ornish proved it with good scientific research, it was taken
for granted by the medical establishment that although you may
be able to slow the progression of heart disease, you could never
reverse it. Ornish proved you could, in fact, reverse
heart disease. One of the key elements in Ornish's program is
teaching these men (most of them are men) how to become closer
One of the chapters in Love and Survival gives brief descriptions
of studies of all kinds, in different countries, using different
methods, indicating clearly that being close to people is really
good for your health. Especially your heart. Love is great for
The patients who go through Ornish's program
are often successful men who have spent their lives working and
succeeding and not paying much attention to their relationships.
They have never been very interested. The men have come to the
clinic because their future looks pretty bleak. They've had one
heart attack. Statistically, they are likely to have another.
Statistically, their heart disease is going to continue to get
progressively worse. This is what their doctors have told these
men. And statistically, they will probably die of another heart
So when they come to Ornish, they are serious.
And they are very open to suggestion. Ornish basically tells
these guys, "Look, you need to learn to be close to your
wife or you're going to become a statistic." Besides changing
their diet and exercise, Ornish has a very clear and arresting
message: "Learn about intimacy or die!" And
only then, for the first time in their lives, do these men become
interested in relationships. The threat of death finally overcame
the natural lack of interest they were born with.
Of course, as they learn how to share themselves
more openly and listen more attentively, their lives become far
more satisfying. This
is also good for their spouses. These men come back to Ornish
a few years later and say they are happier than they have ever
been in their lives. Of course. Many of them consider themselves
lucky to have been forced into a new way of life.
Studies have been coming down the pike
in huge abundance for many years that one of the most important
causes of happiness is good relationships. Closeness. Happy people
are close to others. The more isolated or alienated a person
is no matter how wealthy he is or how much exercise he
does or how great his diet is the more likely he is to
be miserable. Happiness and closeness go together. Unhappiness
and isolation go together.
Something about reading these two books
in this particular order at this stage in my life struck a nerve.
It was like a one-two punch. The effect on me was literally transformational.
I read Brain
Sex in a detached way. "Interesting research,"
I was thinking, "Yeah, yeah, men aren't as interested in
relationships. I knew that already."
But then Love and Survival made it clear that if I
accept the default setting of my brain, I'm doomed.
I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge after the
three ghosts had their say. All of a sudden I realized I could
change and that I wanted to change. I could be interested
in closeness for the first time in my life. I wasn't doomed
to squirm for the rest of my life in the trap testosterone had
put me in.
Now you might be thinking, "What an
idiot! How can he not have known relationships are important?"
But the problem goes deeper than that. I had already recognized
that relationships and good relationship skills are useful. Treat
people well and your life will be more enjoyable. But that barely
scratches the surface.
Even though the most wonderful times I've
ever had were when I was really in love with my wife, Klassy,
and the most miserable times in my life have been when we were
angry with each other, and even though I've read plenty of true
adventure stories and accounts of war, and I've read that when
a man is dying, he usually has only one thing to say to his comrades:
"Tell my wife I love her," I still didn't have
a strong interest in learning about love or relationships. I
figured that stuff would just work out.
So it wasn't as simple as me being stupid.
I knew love makes the world go round but it didn't penetrate
my skull. I didn't really get it. Even as I read those
two books, it wasn't sinking in. It was still just so much interesting
research. But then something happened. A critical mass of understanding
occurred and suddenly closeness
took on enormous significance. I had been only blinded to it
GROPING IN THE DARK
I had never tried to cultivate closeness
before. I knew a lot about human nature and people skills and
psychology, but I'd never tried to be closer to others.
I had tried (and succeeded) to get along well with people, I
had learned to deal with conflict effectively, I knew how to
make people feel good about themselves, but I had never wanted
to cultivate closeness. I'd never even thought about it. Generally,
I have spent my energies trying to control what people feel rather
than finding out what they feel, so this was a new field
The only one I was really close to was
Klassy not because I did anything but because she
was able to get me to reveal myself (even against my will) and
she was able to make me listen, even when I didn't want to. I
enjoyed this strong bond only because she was strong enough to
make it happen against my will. I could keep all the rest of
my relationships tapered down to the minimum, and I did. Why?
Because I was too busy with my work. Relationships were too time
consuming. And because our modern culture works against closeness
in many ways.
I can imagine a small village a few hundred
years ago. What would it be like? I would imagine that a man
would be close to many people because a) he knows everybody in
the small village and everybody knows him, and b) his wife would
help him cultivate his connections with others. Read more about this.
I'm not too different from many modern
Westerners: My parents divorced. During my school years we moved
several times to new towns. Think about it: Ties were continually
being broken. I have always lived in fairly large towns or cities.
The kinds of bonds that would naturally form when everyone stayed
put cannot naturally form any more. Our mobility, our way of
life going to work, being away from each other all day,
working on computers, constant isolation works against
cultivating closeness. Especially among men, whose hormones predispose
him to independence. So in addition to my own personal reasons
to keep my relationships distant, the culture worked against
But all that has changed. I have awakened
to a new way of life. And as soon as I got it, I explored and
discovered and tried out ideas with my usual gusto. In this book,
you'll read what I've learned about getting closer to others.
Before we get to the meat of this subject,
I have a few points I'd like to make. First of all, cultivating
closeness is only one aspect of relationships. An important
one, to be sure. But only one. There are other important aspects:
commitment, trust, keeping your word, shared purpose, handling
conflict, looking out for each other, etc. I don't say much about
those here. They all benefit from increased closeness and cultivating
closeness will probably benefit them. But this section is only
Second, I know some people will drive you
crazy when you get closer to them. For some people, it'll cost
too much in pain to try to be close to them. So you must choose
your people wisely.
One last point before we get to it. You
should keep this in mind throughout this section: Closeness is
not all-or-nothing. You can be a little close to someone or you
can be very close, or you can be anywhere in between. As you
work to become closer to someone, do not be discouraged. It takes
time. You will gradually enjoy greater closeness with people
if you keep trying.
I have done my best here to include everything
that makes a difference and to leave out whatever is unessential
to closeness. What we have left are five fundamental principles.
Let's get to them.