Two Models of Nurturance (Which One Are You?)

Of soup-friends and token-exchangers.

I’ve noticed a pattern. (surprise!)

It seems to me that two very different models exist of what people in our culture think we are doing when we nurture one another. This makes sense given that any modern culture is a complex swirl of ancestral inheritances only recently jumbled together and barely stirred, like marbled paper used in old book linings.

One world view is that nurturance is like tokens. In this world view when we take care of one another we pass tokens back and forth, with the assumption that getting nurturance is ‘receiving’ a token, and giving nurturance is ‘giving up’ a token.

In this model, while people may accept that at times tokens go more one way than the other for a while, overall, because we believe taking care of others ‘costs’ us something, it makes sense to keep a kind of count, to aim to have ‘tokens’ exchanged about 50/50 over time.

The other world view is that when we nurture one another, we are not exchanging tokens but are, rather, making soup. The pot is on the stove, and we gather around it. I put in a potato, you put in a pea. Over many many hours of care and interaction, the soup begins to  cook, and this nice home-cooked meal smell fills the house. You can imagine this is even the kind of soup that expands as it thickens. Because when we are sharing we have an abundance, friends come over and add some beef (or tofu, hey, your call) to the soup, and others come over and add some fresh picked garlic, or parsley and lemon from their yard – and presto, having taken this time to cook together we have a nice warm feeling for all of us in a home filled with deliciousness, our needs all get met, with those we trust around us to share in it.

In this second model, we do not ‘lose’ or ‘give away’ a token when we nurture others, because the act of nurturing itself feels good. The people in my soup-group are my soup-friends. To nurture a member of my soup-group creates closeness with them, creates emotional connection and intimacy, and over time of nurturing one another consistently, creates trust and safety between us. These feelings – this pot of shared soup – are what we seek.

It seems likely that this token-exchange world view of intimacy, whether between lovers, partners, or close friends is not coincidentally extremely widespread in the culture that invented capitalism and the commodification of, well, just about everything.

To those whose ancestors accumulated the most wealth this earth has ever seen, the world appears a scary vacuum waiting to take it all back. In this competitive, individualist world-fantasy it only makes sense to create tiny citadels-of-two within which nurturance is reciprocally exchanged. How else might you know if your tokens are going down or up?

On the other hand, to those who have nothing but each other and hopefully enough to eat, sharing everything is a no-brainer. The extra kick of abundance that sharing everything creates is the only way everyone survives.

The risk in this second model is when ‘soup-makers’ encounter ‘token-exchangers’ and do not realize the different assumptions underlying their acts of care. Because even very generous token exchangers naturally have a fear of giving and a desire to be receiving, because they conceptualize nurturing as ‘generosity’ or at the very least derive satisfaction in giving by feeling they have ‘done a good deed for another’ rather than in the experience of connection itself, this system creates a tendency to keep score, if only subconsciously and only over the long term. Because they don’t fully perceive the direct gain to themselves in nurturing others, aware only of what they think of as ‘giving’ or loss of tokens, they may not even be aware that a soup-maker who nurtures them is not ‘giving’ but is making soup.

If the token-user cannot see there is soup being made right in front of them, they may try to hoard potatoes, because they believe they and only they must always feed themselves.

We understand this economically: sharing material wealth creates abundance that is much greater than its parts.

Attachment Theory, coming out of a field traditionally rooted in the primacy of the individual and the family, has managed to understand this extends to the couple, but has gone no further. In Wired for Love this is called the Couple Bubble, and you are told that No One Would Ever Do For You What Your Partner Would Do, and Defend The Couple Bubble against all outside bonds.

But the truth is anyone can be soup-friends. All it entails is knowing you are doing this together, and then doing it, and sticking it out, over time. Sticking it out even when things get tough, and working things out, because you are in this together.

True friendship, just like partnership, is not 50-50. It’s not ‘give and take.’ It’s 100-100, all in for all.

Because if you are keeping score and believe that connection is 50/50, on some low-token day you may decide you just can’t care, because you have not comprehended the cost, and believe you must keep all your tokens for yourself.

Ironically, it is those who hoard potatoes for fear of famine who most often end up hungry and eating alone. We understand this economically, and yet strangely enough, some have not yet made the leap between the economic principle and the social one.

‘The miracle,’ said Leonard Nimoy, ‘is this: the more we share, the more we have.’ This is as true of nurturance as it is of potatoes. Because everyone gains from the warm limbic connection that comes of vulnerability and trust, ‘giving’ nurturance to those you are close to is giving to yourself.

An understanding of limbic connection and how it works not only for couples but for all interdependent bonds can help bridge the gap.


If this speaks to you or makes you think, please help out by sharing! thanks!

Read more: The Tricks of Shame and Hope

Read more: Nurturance is About More than ‘Tasks’

I love this Bay Area Transformative Justice pod mapping worksheet so much that big, dramatic, hyperbole feels called for. ie I wanna shout it from the rooftops and say it again and again: if you consider yourself a feminist man, or you allow others around you to let you walk around with this identity and you enjoy having that reputation, or if you find you get laid or get dates or partners because of this reputation, and if you have not yet mapped out your pod of people who you would want to call you on it when you act in abusive ways, then do this right now. like today. like right away. Because it is everything, it is wonderful:

ps I wrote a short post! Just for you.

Do you love speculative fiction and social justice? I’ve written a speculative fiction novella that explores the transformations our planet is undergoing and the undoing of cultures of domination. Cipher is currently exploring agents and publishers. Help it find its wings! Learn more about Cipher here.



11 thoughts on “Two Models of Nurturance (Which One Are You?)

  1. Beautifully put, thank you for this.
    Yes, let’s all get cooking together.
    The trick is how you let go of the fear that makes you keep your tokens, your scores, your arithmetics, how do you take the first step which would perhaps be allowing yourself to acknowledge that you have always been longing to take part in the shared cooking ritual, are you even able for this ? Our societies tend to laugh at the soup logic, it’s all tokens out there and not only that, sometimes they have lost all value by the time you take them out of your pocket…
    I’m definitely in the soup team.


  2. Hey Nora,

    Great ideas. You really made me think. I like how you have found patterns and created models from them. That’s what some of the best thinkers and investors in the world do. Will surely share your post.



    1. thank you, Dennis – that’s just how it feels. perceiving patterns and creating cognitive maps of them. hadn’t thought of it in quite this way lol, thank you for the interesting juxtaposition


  3. I hear your assessment of the “Couple Bubble” lacking an important faith in the rest of the community. Agreed. However in multiple interviews I’ve seen with Stan Tatkin, he refers to creating secure functioning friendships and family relationships as well. There are also secure functioning groups and of course counselor/client relationships. The focus in Attachment Theory has indeed been on the mainstream lifestyle of the ever increasing nuclear family model. I think you are speaking to the shift of that model all together. I love that. As I have been studying attachment theory within my alternative lifestyle of permaculture and primitive skills building, I realize that what is needed now are ‘secure functioning communities’. And within that: secure functioning families, couples, friends, lovers and groups. Building a securely attached community will take something. Given how difficult it can be to build a securely attached marriage or parent/child relationship within this insecure culture, creating that within a larger context of a group or community is another level of commitment because the token exchangers (just like avoidant attachers) will certainly be present amidst any community. My personal hope is the more exposure token exchangers have with soup-friends, and avoidants and anxious attachers have with secure attachers in a community, the easier it will become to increase our soup-friend securely attached community 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that is exactly how I feel about it. except add to it that there are cultural and ancestral assumptions about the normalcy of token exchange and a cultural vacuum of knowledge about human interdependency that is part of what western culture is going to have to transform if anything is going to get better


  4. This was interesting and got me thinking, thank you.

    I feel like too often “let’s not keep count” means “you do all the emotional work, and when you ask for reciprocity, I’ll accuse you of being petty and keeping score. ”

    Obviously that’s a toxic version of the soup model, but my point is: the soup model CAN be toxic, it’s not automatically healthier. Things you love doing (including making soup) still take time and energy, and those are finite. When finite things are treated as limitless, problems arise.

    I also think you’re misperceiving things when you say token exchangers want to receive, and don’t want to give. In my experience most (non-toxic) token exchangers want to be on the giving side, and really struggle to receive nurturing. We have to remind ourselves that people LIKE to give (which we know, because we like it) and that to receive is a gift in itself, because it lets people do the giving.

    People hate to feel in emotional debt, and being in debt is having received more than you’ve given. So i think you have that particular angle exactly backwards, even while agreeing that thinking of it in terms of debt at all can be a problem


  5. This seems very true, very important, and very incomplete.

    In particular, some people in some contexts aren’t modeling the relevant reciprocity, but are instead just modeling the rate at which you pay out tokens. You might call this behavior “token-farming.” If I’m farming potatoes, I’m not trying to abuse the potatoes, I just behave in the way that generates the maximum yield. Likewise I move towards people who make my life better.

    When I make what feels like a large initial outlay (say, because it seems like they’re having a hard time and need support), this is treated as an investment of trust if and only if I and the other person know that I’md doing that. But often, I’m actually giving the other person the wrong idea – they aren’t modeling me as a strategic actor, so they’re assuming that whatever rate I’m paying out tokens at is my baseline, sustainable rate.

    My current working solution is to actually try to demonstrate that I’m a strategic actor, both with words (being open about it when you’re doing more than is long-run sustainable for me) and actions (not entering into relationships that are up-front bad investments for me, and instead easing gradually into soup-making relationships by building up verified mutual trust).

    If you have defenses or filters to avoid avoid being farmed for tokens, then within the context of having those defenses, your dichotomy might be a complete account. But those initial defenses are very important. Even if everyone were proceeding in good faith, people don’t necessarily know which things are costly for you to do! So they might be token-farming you without knowing it or meaning to.


  6. I love this piece! The soup-vs-token metaphor is just genius ❤

    It's funny, because I have seen a lot of friends (and myself) start out in real good faith, trusting in the "genuine innocence" of the other person. So "giving" isn't really giving – the "joy of natural giving" as Rosenberg calls it is almost like "receiving" or at least, it is a lot more sacred and a lot less transactional than either of the two words imply! Cue soup-making..

    E.g. if I give a partner a back rub, that *could* be seen as me "giving" to him. But I don't see it that way..because it also fills me with glee, delight, love, gives me connection, touch and lots of other things. In fact, I don't register any of these things consciously, as discrete entities (or items to be measured in a Cost-Benefit Analysis) in the moment. The conversation might go something like, "Hey babe, how's your back?" as I massage it playfully. He says, "Been okay." I go, "Would you like a back rub?" And it's giggles and joy from there – for both of us.

    All these things sort of "just happen" in the beginning. They're spontaneous, unplanned, nobody keeps score (the entire idea feels ludicrous), and its all just about connecting.

    But when the connection starts feeling shaky and there's not enough adequate repair, it's hard not to switch into token model, even if subtly. If I've voiced a concern and he hasn't heard, dismissed it, said I'm crazy, bolted at the first sign of feelings…and suddenly I'm feeling silenced, invisible and possibly gaslit, then – as Dan Wile also writes – I might suddenly find myself resenting having listened to him for hours and for showing up every time he needs me to, but not getting that back in return.

    I find myself having a great deal of empathy for this situation too, as it's *understandable* that when people feel dismissed, dropped, unimportant, they suddenly – for no obvious reason – find themselves resenting something they did out of pure joy and love in the first place.

    The only frustration here is that society deems this "bad" rather than just looking at it nonjudgmentally as in, "This is what is happening right now, wow, isn't it so fascinating that I'm reacting this way?!"

    In other words, society says, "If you find yourself suddenly resenting having done something after the fact, then you CANNOT HAVE DONE IT FROM A PLACE OF LOVE IN THE FIRST PLACE. You must have been selfish all along. You're a parasite. You only give in order to get."

    Like Wile, I might go, "Well, if partners suddenly feel shaky, their might be a hidden validity in their momentary resentment, frustration and sense of unfairness – it's pointing to a need for mutuality and connectedness." If I focus on how it's suddenly turned from soup-making to token-exchanging and how bad that is, I could miss the forest for the trees – that is to say, I miss the opportunity to use the resentment as a useful clue to underlying feelings and needs. It's not about how much of a "bad person" my inexplicable flash of resentment makes me: it's about not feeling securely attached.

    Of course, this then gets really complex when my partner – who has an extreme sensitivity to, say, "being used" / "being controlled" (perhaps like many men? but also many women?) – then mistakes my resentment for the "final" feeling here and my call for reciprocity as the "final" need, so it then comes across to him as if I'm saying, "I'm doing all this for you. You are not doing your piece. That feels unfair. Straighten up." I.e. it comes across as a demand. He then winds up with this icky feeling, somewhat shame, that he's "not good enough" so "hasn't done his fair share" and then makes up the fucked up assumption that "It is UNSAFE TO RECEIVE BECAUSE AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE I WILL HAVE TO GIVE. I CANNOT TRUST THE INITIAL THING I WAS GIFTED WAS IN GOOD FAITH AND FROM A PLACE OF GENUINE LOVE / THE JOY OF NATURAL GIVING. BECAUSE LATER SOMEONE MIGHT RESENT I HAVEN'T DONE MY PIECE."

    The logic of this makes no real sense but I've heard this is how many men are brought up. Rosenberg's own wife used to say to him, "You could read demands into a rock." He could see tokens where none existed.

    So then it becomes easy for the Dismissive Avoidant man, say, to go, "Well, it's unsafe to receive (because it necessitates future obligation) therefore, from now on, I meet my needs, you meet your needs. Problem solved." That obviously makes their partner crazy for wanting reliability, reassurance, empathy and, well, just to feel the basic ground of connection is secure, which only makes them more frustrated and resentful (possibly), which only compounds the problem more since now both she cannot get her needs for connection met, but neither can he (as he has now become opposed to receiving) – so he winds up feeling shaky too, and distances more.

    Crazy to imagine the loop this creates!

    And finally, it's important to mention that for me anyway, in the beginning, giving and receiving are rather "de-coupled" so to speak – like most soup-makers' givings/receivings are. In effect, nobody gives to another BECAUSE they received, and vice versa – they do it just because. Because it's fun, feels like love, feels like connecting, whatever.

    The only issue arises when CONNECTION is shaky and that needs some restoration. At that point *I* might only be asking for the connection to feel safe, and only feel resentful about what I make an effort to do to keep that safe (turning towards, naming feelings and needs, giving space) but not get anything back. I'm not resentful for the back rubs I gave, the soups I made etc etc – the other stuff is TOTALLY irrelevant. In that moment of trigger, I'm not asking for those "other acts of service" to be "repaid" (that would feel like an absurd idea). Just for a restoration of connection. Doubly challenging when the power dynamic at play leaves the balance of power falling in the hands of the Dismissive Avoidant – one finds they're just about tearing their hair out when they keep meeting their partner's need for space but not getting a need for connection met too (and traumatised by weeks and months and years of uncertainty, waiting, non-responsiveness and undefined absences).

    So I guess what I'm saying is that soup people can start to look like token people when needs go unmet for too long, but we could also look at that kindly…

    I wrote about some of these things in an earlier blog – "When Permaculture Costs the Earth" (disguised as a post about permaculture but really about relationships, men, women, giving and receiving):


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