Intimacy and Aging in Maturescence

Dr. Guillermo Julio Montero

There are different situations throughout the human life cycle that lead to an imbalance of intimacy that generates a greater demand for psychic work.


There are different situations throughout the human life cycle that lead to an imbalance of intimacy (understood here as the affective content of subjectivity) that generates a greater demand for psychic work. These situations may have very different sources (relationships, traumas, accidents, and so on), but two of them originate in the soma itself and occur during puberty and the climacteric. This paper theorizes about the origin and expression of human aging in intimacy. It considers that true aging starts when human beings are no longer somatically capable of reproducing, specifically, after the climacteric.
For this reason, as I have done in earlier works (Montero, 2009, 2013, 2015), I propose that we call maturescence that specific time during middle age when the characteristic psychological phenomena associated with the (peri)climacteric somatic process take place in men and women. These phenomena cause an imbalance in individuals’ intimacy and, as a result, create an urgent need for a new balance. I also suggest considering only the latent dimension of middle age, specifically, the period of maturescent processing, which I call the navel of maturescence, instead of the proverbial manifest dimensions (ultimately, expressions of “resistance”), since the latter allude to situations that are not necessarily universal (the so-called empty nest syndrome, the illness or death of one’s parents, the illness or death of one’s peers, and so on). Focusing on these situations leads to confusion. Instead, we should concentrate on the actual problem that characterizes maturescence.
Human beings’ two existences
 If we ponder, along with Freud (1914c), issues tied to aging, we may conclude that individuals have a dual existence. They are both an end in relation to themselves, and an end in relation to the species. Freud repeats this assertion at different times in his work (1915c, 1916-1917[1915-1917], 1920g, 1933a [1932]), even in his discussion of the various topographies. He claims that as an end in relation to themselves, individuals strive to obtain pleasure, while as an end in relation to the species, they must perform the task of transmitting life, that is, of reproduction. Such distinction also evidences the existence of two types of drives.
The first part of this statement refers to a purpose that diachronically encompasses the entire life cycle, while the purpose mentioned in the second part synchronically affects a single period, namely, the reproductive stage. This stage starts with puberty and ends with the female and male climacterics. Just as we call adolescence the specific psychic work triggered by puberty (that is, when the species’ “plan” indicates that individuals are ready to reproduce), I have suggested calling maturescence (Montero, 2013, 2015) the response to the demand for specific psychic work that appears when individuals cease to be necessary for that plan. It is then that they start an aging process that will lead to their death.
The tension between soma and body: Intimacy
Based on these considerations, we could think of the existence of a certain equivalence between the adolescent process, which starts when puberty brings with it the urgency to reproduce, and the maturescent process, which starts when the climacteric presents a different urgency – the urgency of death. It should be noted that both somatic processes (physiological, metabolic, hormonal, and so on) demand intense psychic work, which tends to happen when intimacy is threatened. This work can be represented by urgency (often expressed through episodes of acting out) or slowdown (in many cases, depression). Perhaps the (somatic, and hence psychological) magnitude of these processes is what led various civilizations to represent the revolution of puberty and the revolution of the climacteric as stages in the hero’s mythical cycle, in the first case, as a kind of call to adventure and conquest, and in the second, as a descent into hell.
Following Blos (1979), we could postulate that puberty is a predominantly biological act, and adolescence, its predominantly psychological consequence. Or, perhaps, we could suggest that puberty is an act ruled by phylogeny, and adolescence, a different act, ruled by ontogeny. This statement could be expanded to argue that the climacteric constitutes a largely biological phenomenon, and maturescence, a primarily psychological consequence, or that the male and female climacterics are tied to phylogeny, and maturescence, to ontogeny.
From this perspective, we could consider that the climacteric originates in the soma, and maturescence in the body (the soma invested with libido and aggression). In this way, we could tentatively define maturescence as a result of the tension between soma and body during the (peri)climacteric, an idea originally advanced by Ciancio[1]. Such tension gives rise to a transformation in the experience of intimacy, for this experience can be reassuring or threatening. In any case, it always promotes an increased demand for psychic work.
Blos proposes that “the onset of adolescence is coincidental with measurable somatic landmarks” (p. 327). We could extend this idea to the maturescent process, as it also coincides with measurable somatic landmarks linked to the (peri)climacteric, which sets in motion specific psychic processes. The revolution taking place in the soma during these two life stages is so significant that it generates a subjective imbalance that may provoke an extreme reaction due to the intensity of the psychic work it triggers. This work, in turn, can lead to the renewal of intimacy when individuals have the resources to transform it. Thus, just as we can understand adolescents by thoroughly examining the “explosion” of the body in front of the mirror, so can we understand maturescents by studying the “implosion” of the body in an identical pose of uncertainty and fear, caused, in this case, by the uncanny irruption of old age and death.
Sexuality and death
Yet, why do puberty and the climacteric generate such significant demand for psychic work if they are moments or processes typical of the human life cycle – if they have been happening to every human being since time immemorial? Can we not assume that what constitutes us as human beings should be experienced as natural instead of causing psychic turmoil of such magnitude?
We should recall here the metaphor used by Bergler (1954) —perhaps the first one among analytic thinkers to define middle age, yet sadly forgotten— when he claims that psychic manifestations of middle age may be understood as a “revolt against biology.” The psychic aspect of extended biology requires a readjustment because human beings seem to be conditioned by two great moratoria. Erikson (1951) called the first one the adolescent moratorium, and we could call the second one the maturescent moratorium. These human moratoria are the ones that would generate individuals’ singular psychic life, both during adolescence and during maturescence.
Such an approach leads us to view these moratoria as anti-natural because, while humans may have originally reproduced when they were ready to do so and died when the reproductive cycle was over (like all other species), in contemporary Western society, the adolescent moratorium forces humans to postpone procreation, even if the biological mandate compels them to engage in it peremptorily. The frustration of this post-pubertal demand is what generates the above-mentioned psychic work, thus triggering adolescence as a psychic phenomenon.
Something similar would occur with the climacteric, because it also activates a moratorium that postpones the biological demand, that is, death. Maturescents are no longer useful to nature’s plan because they cannot continue to procreate. Yet they refuse to die by “inventing” aging, an almost unknown phenomenon among other species. The maturescent moratorium that defers death, a consequence of the instinct imbalance typical of the climacteric, is what generates the measure of psychic work characteristic of maturescence.
We should note here another aspect of human nature connected with these moratoria; neither of them constitutes a mere delay in obeying the mandate of the species because being human is not just procreating and dying. During the adolescent moratorium, individuals decide to start their sexual life without having children (generally speaking, society’s injunction bans procreation among adolescents). During the maturescent moratorium, instead of surrendering to death, individuals decide to prolong their lives as much as possible. They decide to continue having an active sexual life despite the fact that the biological mandate no longer involves reproduction, which would not be physiologically possible. They are thus chronically beset by a sense of uncertainty, which floods their intimacy with renewed experiences that span a continuum ranging from satisfaction and plenitude to dissatisfaction and emptiness. Two of the most significant paradoxes created by human life, these two moratorium periods correspond to life stages where true growth and transcendent subjective change may take place. In addition, subjects may find (subjective and relational) authenticity, which is tied to the renewal of intimacy.
It is worth mentioning here a recurrent criticism formulated against this approach. In the male climacteric there is no abrupt ending to the ability to reproduce, as there is in the female climacteric. It is true that the male climacteric does not prevent procreation until many years later. Yet natural biology, and etological studies in particular, has shown that in more advanced species, and especially in the human species, the risk of malformations or survival difficulties exponentially increases among the offspring of older males. So, while the expression of the climacteric is essentially different for each gender, the two climacterics are functionally equivalent.
From the climacteric to maturescence, starting with Freud
It is my contention that phylogeny transforms into ontogeny during the male and female climacterics, which would lead to postulate a series of layers that are part of the work of maturescence. Phylogenetic (instinctual) demands coming from the soma trigger a decoding work that highlight both the species’ program and the onset of the aging process. The specific ongoing transformation of instincts into drives that occurs during the climacteric is what we might call the navel of maturescence, which I mentioned earlier.
This whole theorization about maturescent processing and its implications regarding intimacy stems from Freud’s concepts about the drive increase typical of puberty and, more specifically, of the climacteric. Freud alludes to this second increase in four opportunities, and in one of them he also refers to the male climacteric. Although current scientific research had not defined it as such, Freud inferred the existence of an equivalent male process from clinical practice. He thus refers to an energetic thrust of the libido that takes place in men who are around fifty years old (1910c), as well as to certain biological processes that increase the amount of libido in the psychic economy.
These processes are linked to the regulation of puberty and menopause (1912c); to the influence of pubertal and menopausal processes, associated with a libidinal increase, on anxiety disorders (1916-17 [1915-1917]); and to the failure to master the drives when a reinforcement occurs during puberty and menopause (1937c). In every case, Freud argues that it should not be surprising if these individuals suddenly became neurotic because of the drive surge they experience. In this way, he provides us with a metapsychological foundation to ponder what happens when the pressure of nature (which, in this case, originates in the soma) results in the drive increase typical of the second moratorium. Such increase may lead to very different results, a maturescent transition or a maturescent crisis, with the ramifications regarding intimacy that both types of processing may have.
Based on these considerations, we may find maturescent behaviors that involve an attempt to deny the passage of time, such as seeking younger intimate partners, undergoing plastic surgery, and competing with young people. All these actions are aimed toward “retrieving one’s youth.” Of course, psychoanalysis does not study these examples from the outside in. In other words, these instances per se are not enough to suggest anything about anybody. Rather, they may acquire the value of a disavowal depending on the type of investment they have (when we explore them from the inside out). For instance, who could object to a surgical touchup in a woman if this touchup is not invested as a disavowal of the passage of time? Something similar might happen with some maturescent depressions, for they may be characteristic either of a process of psychic change or of a process that preannounces chronic stagnation.
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[1] Ciancio, A. M., personal communication.

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