Wilfried Nelles – Men, Women, and Love

Urania (named after the muse of astronomy in Greek mythology) is a cultural and educational event center in Berlin that is famous for its high-profile interdisciplinary lectures on innovations in science, technology, psychology, sociology, urban planning, medicine, and culture (a local version of TED Talks).  Founded in 1888 in Berlin, Urania is a registered association with 2.500 members and more than 80 partners and gets no financial institutional support from the city-state. Urania is also a well-known art-house cinema and one of the biggest venues during the international film festival Berlinale.

What makes me love you despite the reservations?
What do I see in your eyes
Besides my reflection hanging high? 
(Fleet Foxes, Sim Sala Bim, 2011)

Wilfried Nelles‘ talk, entitled “Men, women, and love. From childish entitlements to mature needs” addressed some pertinent problematics in today’s relationships: what are the implications when love is the sole element for relationships? What is a mature relationship?Why are there so many problems with relationships?

Nelles explained, “What is new in the history and development of relationships is that today we expect relationships to make us happy (sexually, spiritually, give us a sense of belonging, we expect them to stay exciting, and all that a life long), as opposed to enter into and maintain a marriage out of necessity, economic reasons, or tradition, and if a relationship doesn’t last, we are confronted with feelings of failure and guilt.”

“What we don’t realize going into a relationship is that two different worlds come together and expect to coexist peacefully and happily (until death do us part). After the initial period of mutual fascination, our differences come out in daily life. Ultimately, we need to learn to respect the differences of the other, and to accept that we don’t really understand each other, and to learn to live with the differences.”

“Love is usually unexpected. It messes up our plans, career trajectories, our geography, etc. Initially, what is different in the other is exciting to us and attracts us to that person. But once we’re in a relationship, we begin to steer things (and the other person) into our desired direction, which damages the relationship. But real love has to steer us. We have to follow where it takes us. The minute we begin to steer a relationship, the magic of love disappears. It is precisely fascinating because we didn’t plan it. We plan things we already know, but life becomes really interesting and exciting when we take it as something that comes from an open future towards us. And we usually experience that in love.”

“The problem is that most of us can’t stand to live in such openness. We can’t handle the openness of love and of life and try to take control over it, to restructure it, to change it. To stay open for the new requires that we accept the other just as they are, that we support them in the way they are, and not try to change them.”

“What usually happens in most relationships is that after a while the images we get from our respective families begin to get into conflict with the images that the partner brings into the relationship. We have to accept that we all come from different cultures, and have to accept our differences. It’s difficult for us to transcend these pre-programmed behaviours and images. After a while of common life together, each partner retreats into the original family dynamic, which shatters relationships.”

“To prevent that, we need to make a conscious effort to leave our respective home and parents and create something new (neither mine nor yours). Often, to step out of our own heritage family feel like a betrayal. The only thing that helps us to take that step is love, and the knowledge of being connected to the person we love.”

“Love does not mean: I like you because you are exactly how I imagined the love of my life to be. Rather, love means: I love you as you are, you should be the way you are, I respect you and confirm you and agree with you just as you are. And this has to be mutually acknowledged and celebrated.”

The talk was followed by a discussion period, where the members of the audience asked question, here is a summary of the more interesting ones:

Q: When it comes to raising children, how do we resist returning to the heritage family patterns?

A: We have to learn to respect that one partner acts differently with the children than the other. That way, the children also learn that there are differences. The essential approach is respect for being different. It’s anarchical, I admit.

Q: How do we overcome our childish needs and not demand from the partner to fulfill us?

A: The first experiences of intimacy everyone makes with the mother. We experience what closeness and love is in the relationship to our mother, later to our father, and siblings, in our family. For mothers, love is providing for us and our needs. For the child, love means: if I need you, you’re here. When we fall in love with a person, we apply that principle. And if the other is not there, we are disappointed and blame the other. But the other wants us to be there too, and has his or her own needs. And it comes to conflicts, fighting about and demanding to be given what we need. But we need to realize that the other person is not there to satisfy all our desires. Otherwise we remain children in relationships. We think if the other doesn’t give me what I need, I will die (if mothers don’t feed us, we will die). Growth in relationships means to learn to differentiate that. We have to understand that the partner is not there to satisfy our needs, nor is life, but that we are responsible for ourselves, that we have to serve life and love. That is the difference between a child and a grown-up. A child cannot support itself and its basic needs, but a mature person can. We need to learn to take care of ourselves.

Q: When I have no social needs, why would I be in a relationship?

A: There is a difference between having needs, social or personal needs, and expecting the partner to fufill and satisfy our needs. The pain of wanting something but not being able to have it from the partner means growth. In our society we expect that everyone is there to serve us.

Q: Does there have to be separation when one person is insightful and conscious of these issues, while the other isn’t?

We have to set the limits in our selves, not in the other person, not trying to teach them something. When we reproach the other person for wanting something from us, we isolate and lock them in their own world. But if we say: you may express your needs, you are justified in having those needs, but I reserve the right to say yes or no to you. That way, we draw the boundaries in a way that does not offend the other, and retain mutual respect.

One criticism of Nelles’ talk could be his insistence that men and women are categorically different (albeit he claims that each has a chance partake in the other part of life by connecting with the other in a relationship, and through mutual respect). Unlike Jung’s concept of archetypal anima and animus in each human being, which should allow us to relate and empathize with the other through critical consciousness, and also contrary to the feminist project of de-constructing established gender polarities, Nelles does not question the differences that cause conflicts between us, he accepts them, but at the same time calls on us to learn to live with these differences, with respect.

This was Nelles’ second talk at the Urania. His previous talk addressed ways of attaining a sense of closure with our pasts: “How do we get closure for personal events in the past? We can only get a sense of closure if we accept, say yes, to our past, then it can rest. If we say no to anything in our personal life, if we say something was wrong and should not have happened that way, it means we remain in an internal conflict with it. If we say my father was wrong, my mother was wrong, my childhood was wrong, we remain in conflict with our father, mother, and childhood. And it is this conflict that does not let us come to rest.”

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One Response to Wilfried Nelles – Men, Women, and Love

  1. Pingback: Love and Buddhism – Dr. Wilfried Reuter | Suites Culturelles

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