Who is the 21st century male role model – Rambo or Romeo? Let’s assume Rambo is not the Jewish mother’s dream come true mate for her princess. Yet, if you talk to today’s parents and young adults, most of them say the major goal is independence (with the exception of a few diehard Jewish mothers who want their Bubbala around them forever). Besides being financially independent with a job and a nice career path to follow upon, the ultimate goal is to become emotionally independent. To no longer need my parents as a cushion, not in my bank account and not in my emotional account either, is the objective. If I can handle things on my own, take life’s challenges head on, and hold myself up against the bumpy road of existence with my head held up high, I’ve made it. Now that’s an emotionally mature and stable person! And that’s the ideal way to get through life, taking on all the elements and coming out strong all by myself. Maybe not Rambo’s brawn, but his independence is commendable. Right? Isn’t that the ideal?
In the mid-20th century, psychiatrist John Bowlby began to show the world that the human psyche is fueled by the life-blood of what he termed, “Attachment.” Attachment is the need to feel loved, cared for, secure, and connected. According to Bowlby, attachment is an innate drive that guides our every decision. When a child cries for his mother, he is longing for his attachment needs more than his need to nurse. As sadly documented by Rene Spitz when orphans were given all of their physical needs without the tender love and care of a motherly figure, they were mentally and physically stunted, unable to thrive and develop properly. Harry Harlow’s famed studies of primates showed how baby monkeys would prefer a cheese cloth mother without any milk over a metal bottle they were unable to cuddle with.
This phenomenon has only recently been studied and proven to be found within adults as well. Attachment needs, the necessity to feel loved, cared for, secure, and connected, are just as present in the mature adult as they are within the infant. And when an adult doesn’t have his or her attachment needs met, they freak out! Just as a child will cry when they feel their “attachment figure,” the one who provides their love and security, is missing, an adult will also become frantically distraught when in fear of losing their attachment figure as well. The most stable of people have been proven to be the ones with the strongest attachment relationships, someone they can count on and feel supported by. According to this, attachment needs are not something we can ever mature out of nor should we. Rather, they are an inborn reality we must come to recognize. According to this, Rambo does not just qualify as an Action Film, it also qualifies as a Fantasy. The human being is not able to function at optimal capacity alone. Despite all of our efforts to raise healthy “independent children,” it’s not going to happen. Emotional independence is not humanly healthy. Hopefully, they will find financial independence, but there is no such thing as emotional independence.
So then what does happen? People just remain kids for all their lives, needing Mommy and Daddy for every emotional bump that comes up? No. There is a transfer of dependence. And it is of utmost importance to realize that there is a maturing process that comes through the transfer of dependence. The maturity comes in the newfound attachment relationship where it is a shared dependence, often colloquially termed “marriage.” It is not independence, and it is not parental dependence, rather it is interdependence. The true maturity of an emotionally developed human being is to reach a point of providing and receiving the affection, security, and connection of an attachment relationship, a loving relationship. John Rambo was physically invincible, but emotionally he was a dud.
We actually have known this concept of interdependence from our heritage of over three millennium. The book of Genesis says, “Man will leave his mother and father, and he will attach to his wife.” It is telling us something profound. It is proclaiming an innate need of mankind. Yes, we are supposed to move out of the parental nest and blossom (Sorry, Bubbes!). But it is not to reach a point of autonomy and separation from connection. That would be a stunted false sense of maturity. Rather, it is the need to have that special someone to attach to, to create a loving bond of safety, security, and connection to provide and receive with another. Man will leave his mother and father, but it is not to become independent. Emotional independence is not the flagship of adulthood. Rather, leaving childhood is the process of maturing into a relationship that goes beyond the parent-child rapport of giver-receiver. Emotional maturity is when a man and woman become a giver and receiver with their choice giver and receiver to share and mature in a lifetime of emotional closeness and wellness.