Archives for Love
Keeping keep passion alive over the long haul is the greatest challenge to monogamy. After you’ve rolled around together a few thousand times, sex can become rote, which is, to use the technical term, a bummer. People in long-term relationships do all kinds of things to try to keep the passion alive—dressing in costumes, role playing, bringing gizmos and gadgets into the bedroom. Or they could try just talking, suggests a study titled "Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction." Not any old talking, but the kind of talk that advances intimacy. That is, self-disclosure; telling your partner stuff he or she didn’t know about you. Of course, this only works when your partner responds with warmth and sympathy. And vice versa. The researchers theorize that one reason passion is so high in budding relationships is because couples are learning about each other, and each sympathetically received self-disclosure causes passion to flare. Over time, however, the revelations slow, the new information dries up, intimacy reaches a plateau, and sex hits the doldrums.
The punchline to the question posed in the title of this post is “Who cares?” Yes, it’s a joke, a guy joke that actually makes me laugh because it’s really about how loutish some men are about jokes and sex. Also, it's funny because it's true. The Psych Central news hounds pointed me towards an article titled “Women, Men, and the Bedroom: Methodological and Conceptual Insights That Narrow, Reframe, and Eliminate Gender Differences in Sexuality.” I wanted to learn more, so I dug up the original paper, which pulled together a number of studies debunking or reframing some of the things we know to be true (or do we?) about men, women, and sex. Two in particular amused me, in a loutish female way.
My newspaper this morning contained a terrible story about a local man who drowned two of his children. As usual, it appears he was getting revenge on a woman who was trying to extricate herself from an abusive relationship. She was trying…but not hard. It seems she still wasn't sure. The man has a history of family violence. He has drug problems, though he had just completed rehab and been declared ready to be a "pro-social and productive member of society." He has violated his probation. In one incident, he choked the woman, dragged her by her hair, and threatened to get a gun. He then dragged her back to the car where he held her for three hours, threatening to kill her. Police intervened but she refused to cooperate with them. And in July 2010, when the man (and I use the term loosely) was picked up for probation violation, the woman blamed authorities, posting on her Facebook page, “Im <sic> upset because my family has been forcefully broken. Its just the MAN trying to keep us down.” Wow. Just yesterday I read about research out of Ohio State University in which recorded jailhouse phone calls were analyzed in order to try and understand why women recant on felony charges of domestic violence. (Washington state routinely records inmates' phone calls, and these may be released for research.)
I’ve never been a fan of the guilt trip. My mother could fit a lifetime of disappointment and regret into a barely audible sigh. It was her way of letting her loved ones know we had failed her. (It was then up to us to guess how.) My mother learned this skill from her mother, whose sighs were a melodic downward trill concluding with a muttered Oy, Gutenu (Oh God, in Yiddish). This early and frequent exposure to guilt trips has had the curious effect of making me both less and more susceptible to guilt. I can spot a guilt trip a mile away and I've developed a deflection shield. On the other hand, I also walk around carrying a vague sense that it’s all my fault and I should do better. Either way, guilt doesn’t feel like my friend. But in a recent study by cardiologists at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, 65 of 100 heart patients reported that they were motivated by guilt to make healthy lifestyle changes; having kids had a lot to do with this. The researchers suggest that guilt could be a good motivational tool to get recalcitrant heart patients to clean up their acts. Honestly, this was the first time it had ever occurred to me that guilt trips could be used for good.
“Why do women like bad boys?” is the frustrated refrain of nice guys everywhere. I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question, though I do have my own pet theory: That being “bad” requires self-confidence and that’s what women are attracted to, not the “badness” per se. Whatever the reason, a study in press for the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, titled "Effects of popularity and gender on peers’ perceptions of prosocial, antisocial, and jealousy-eliciting behaviors" found that even girls as young as 12 and 13 have a soft spot for bad boys.
Love is a beautiful thing except when it isn’t. Most people, when they realize a relationship isn’t working, go through a period of mourning and move on. Then there are the torch carriers—people who pine long past the point of good sense. People who can’t let go even after they’ve been rejected. I know about them. I’ve been there and I've done some casual research on the subject that I'll share with you. Torch carrying feels like OCD—in fact, researchers have found that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, addiction, OCD…and the first thrilling, obsessive stage of love. Is torch carrying a plunge of serotonin that gets stuck, like a toilet tank that won’t refill, causing that endless, irritating sound of rushing water? And addiction sounds right, too--which is why cold turkey is probably the best way for torch carriers to end a relationship. It works for smoking, drinking, and drugs. Being friends is probably just methadone; you have to kick that eventually, too.