Eating as a Substitute for Intimacy
Did you know our love affair with coffee, chocolate and all things sweet are symbolic substitutes for oral intimacy?
We humans are ingenious comfort-addicted creatures and we must get our dose of intimacy in some disguised form.
So says Desmond Morris, zoologist and author of “Intimate Behaviour”, as well as dozens of other books on the observations of life, humans and animals.
“A great deal of the nibblings and food-sucking we do is primarily concerned with symbolic and oral intimacies rather than true adult food intake”.
The world of Dummies, as he refers to it, includes eating and drinking and is a powerful form of symbolic intimacy where an inanimate object is used as a substitute for a real intimacy with another human being.
“The oral intimacies of infancy remain an important part of our adult lives. Having something between the lips is a comforting experience and spells reassuring contact with the primary protector, the Mother.”
Let’s start with a dummy itself: or a “milk-less super nipple” that has traditionally been used for its dramatic calming effects on a distressed infant. It has been proven that even without actively sucking, the dummy still provides the calming effect. The dummy has great tactile qualities very similar to the real thing.
Chewing gum – symbolically nothing short of a “rubbery detachable nipple”. Chewing gum used to be promoted as a way to ‘calm your nerves and help you concentrate’ but the sweetness lasts much longer than chewing lollies and chocolates.
Sucking chocolates and lollies – “disguised breast feeding substitutes”. They may rot the teeth but they help to replace the lost comfort. Desmond calls a box of chocolate a “comforting gift box of assorted chocolate nipples”. Although these food objects do not last as long as nipples, they do have the important qualities of softness and sweetness to help them in their symbolic role.
Cigarettes – “a tobacco nipple”. The object feels soft between the lips and the smoke warms it, which makes it even more like the genuine mothers milk than a rubbery dummy. The warm inhaled smoke equals mother’s warm milk. Variations on this include the “business mans super nipple”, the cigar.
“It is not surprising that adults employ a variety of warm, sweet drinks to soothe themselves at moments of tension or boredom. The millions of gallons of tea, coffee and drinking chocolate that are consumed annually have little to do with real demands of thirst but again thirst is there to provide the vital official excuse.
The cups and mugs from which we sip these milk-substitutes so eagerly also provide a pleasant smooth, slippery surface to press against our comfort-seeking lips”.
“There are many other types of cold, sweet drinks that we employ as comforters. They are nearly always advertised as thirst-quenchers, but in this respect they fall far short of simple, plain water. They do, however provide that vital sweet taste, and the increasingly acceptable habit of drinking them straight from the bottle helps to improve their symbolic value.
The bottles in question have shrunk in size from the traditional dimensions down to something remarkably close to that of the baby’s bottle”.
If we are denied something we badly want or need, our resourcefulness soon urges us on to find a substitute to replace it.
The solution Desmond suggests is “we must stop attacking the symptoms and take a closer look instead at the causes of the problem. If only we can become more intimate with our ‘intimates’ then we should need less and less in the way of substitutes for intimacy. In the meantime, almost any dummy touch is better than no touch”.
Again and again, it appears that practising understanding and kindness to ourselves is the answer we’ve been searching for.
© Copyright 2016 Karla Cameron