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The Fear of Attachment

There was a whole lot happening for me emotionally before we did that first ride!So wait! We need to back up.

Seeing the tandem racing bike for the first time made my heart beat faster. Everything about it looked like a racer even if it was 10 years old. The custom hubs, the Ultegra gearing, and lightweight everything spoke of “speed”, the one word that most men can’t get enough of!

Perhaps even more impressive than the machine itself was the story attached to it.  The couple we were buying it from rode this machine on the Climb to Kaiser. This is a 155 mile 13,500 ft. climb race that is known as one of the ten most difficult rides in America. This is the stuff of local legend. It is difficult enough to do that kind of climbing on a single bike.

On a tandem, climbing, not to mention the challenges of teamwork, is much more difficult. I felt like I was being handed the trophy that so many hours were spent on doing the training to accomplish this remarkable feat.

So I knew that I was purchasing a piece of equipment that would handle anything we could throw at it. The question was, could we ride it? The time clipping into the pedals is scary for most solo riders. On a tandem the scariness increases especially for the stoker (the person in the back seat) since they totally have to trust the captain (the person in the front seat) to launch, steer, brake and be the first one to bring it to a safe stop by unclipping and putting his feet down first.

I remembered the first time I crashed on my solo carbon racer. It happened so fast. I was simply slowing down for a stop sign. I, like so many new riders, forgot that I was clipped in. As I slowed I became a little unbalanced and instinctively put on the brakes and tried to put a foot down. But wait! My foot wouldn’t come straight out of the peddle, and before I knew it boom! I was on the ground watching the cars pass me by.

Now I was going to attach my beloved Paula to the same machine I was attached to. This paula-2Btandemcould either be a lot of fun or a whole lot of sorrow. Will she have the trust that will tolerate my steering, braking and her being out of control? Will I remember to do everything I need to remember to protect us from the peril of eating the pavement?

The fear and the anticipation of the fun while attached to this bike is not unlike what every couple feels when contemplating their vow to attach person and provision together for life. Why is marriage so different than dating or even living together? The whole idea of the inescapable connection of destinies for better or worse is indeed what separates marriage from all other relationships.

If Paula and I were to do marriage well, the emotional demands that mounting that machine could give us some clues about our potential for unity.  The crazy thing about the tandem bike is that it creates a forced union that you must cooperate with if you want to stay safe. From talking with other riders I knew that even having Paula expectantly lean when I am trying to keep its front tire in a 6 inch margin on the side of the road could throw us into the gravel.

So yes, she would have to trust me and I would have to trust her. Crashing while clipped in hurts. A lot! Ending a marriage hurts more than most people who have never been divorced can imagine! The pain of never being friends again with someone you have attached to for 10, 20 or 30 years is pretty unbearable. I have both felt it and have sat with so many people in my practice who tell me that death would be easier than divorce.

So attaching without crashing is a very risky venture in the world of modern marriage where half of the couples destruct.

The risks of attaching for life are extremely high which is perhaps why so many modern couples are living together rather than getting married. They want to ride on top of the peddles so that they can have an easy escape if the going gets tough. In some ways you can’t blame anyone from saying I cannot tie my heart and my provision to another person when the causality rate is so high!

But what is the best way of attaching without crashing! Is it better to supposedly play it safe by keeping some distance? Or is burning your bridges and unconditionally surrendering your heart the better way to go? While the answer to this question was in the past left to theologians, science is now giving us direction about the most safe and fulfilling way to attach for life.

As a psychologist and marital therapist I had no idea that buying this red racing machine would teach Paula and I so much about the very primitive fears and the peak experiences associated with attaching for life. But attaching for life is indeed what would happen the first time we both clipped in and had to balance together on one inch of rubber at speeds up to 40 miles an hour!

The fear of attachment is the experience of imagined danger that is real. I knew that there was a real risk of putting Paula on the tandem racer with me. I also knew that riding alone would result in hours of separation from the person that I longed to be with. Riding solo which I had done so many times in my first marriage created loneliness, and reactive cycles of arguing which was fatal to our relationship!


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