A reader wrote in to say my prior article, "People Who Can't Control Themselves Control The People Around Them" (Part 2) sounded like a great aphorism (available here). He wanted examples in behavior and not just talk. Apparently he thought advocating emotional autonomy was an idealistic plea with no practical application. Or, given human nature, people never put this into practice. But this is a legitimate request for details and I plan to fulfill it in spades.
This and following articles flesh out the elegant, difficult and potentially productive problems of emotionally committed relationships. Many scientists are awe-struck by the incredible elegance and mind-boggling complexity of Nature. Whether it's microscopic fractals, galactic black holes, dark matter, epigenitics controlling gene expression, or chaos theory explaining sewer water flow, the utter simplicity has a beauty and intelligence that dwarfs the designs of mere mortals.
That's the way I feel about emotionally-committed relationships. Writing Intimacy and Desire let me share my appreciation. I wrote down my favorite observations on the ecology of love relationships. Adult love relationships have their own ecological rules just like world ecology. Both are self-organizing systems. Both have rules all their own, which pre-exist us.
Emotionally committed relationships are people-growing machines. Their natural ecology seems designed to develop your "self." It's amazing this happens. It's instructive how it comes about. Understanding the drive wheels at work within your marriage helps you handle what's going on. (In Intimacy & Desire, I describe the evolutionary biology and psychology behind co-evolution of the human brain, human sexual desire, and emergence of the human self. This easy-to-read self-help book focuses on sexual desire problems, but if you want the science behind this it's all there.)
Einstein said complex ideas should be explained simply without over-simplifying them. Crucial and profound aspects of relationships can be said concisely and memorably. Boiling differentiation processes down to single phrases helps you develop mental maps of relationships. Unfortunately, we are so jaded by "soundbyte psychology" that when we hear something catchy, we anticipate drivil rather than insight.
Another of my favorite phrases might have made Einstein smile: "Sexual relationships always consist of leftovers." It encapsulates four complex processes in a single sentence. These are:
- How normal sexual relationships start.
- How this sets into motion the dynamics that govern them later.
- How people develop into sexually mature adults.
- How sexual relationships develop depth, flexibilty, intimacy and meaningfulness.
Why sex gets boring
Virtually all couples strugle with sexual boredom. Why? Every day we're deluged with "tips" on how to put zest back in your love life. Why don't these tips work? Are we too stupid or lazy to put experts' sage suggestions into practice? How come experts have the same problems you and I do if they're so smart? It's because sexual boredom doesn't happen for lack of ideas. Lots of married people with lousy sex lives spend their days fantasizing or "getting new ideas" looking at porno on the Web. How come these ideas aren't brought back into our relationships? It all has to do with how sexual relationships start out.
Why sex always consists of "leftovers"
Understanding how normal sexual relationship develop is like watching three scenes in a very short comedy.
- You decide what you don't want to do.
- Your partner gets to chose what he or she doesn't want to do.
- Ther two of you do what ever is left over.
After you and your partner eliminate sexual options that make you uncomfortable, or you just don't want to do, what's left? Leftovers! This is how normal sexual relationships start. It's that simple and profound. This happens spontaneously. Many couples never say a word. Some know what's going on, other's don't have a clue. But, in retrospect, everyone usually recognizes going through this.
Sexual boredom is built into normal sexual relationships
Subsequent impacts are equally far reaching. Just "eat leftovers" every time you have sex for the next five years (much less time for some people). Guaranteed, you and your partner will be bored out of your minds! Particularly if there aren't that many leftovers to start with.
Sexual boredom is built into normal sexual relationships. That's why some of us avoid monogamy like the plague. We think committment kills sex, but we don't really understand why. Forget simple explanations like "same partner all the time," or abstract notions like "monotony." Look at the methodology: The fact that you and your partner are normal people having a normal sexual relationship drives your love life into the ground. After all, you're normal, aren't you? Didn't you and your partner go through this process?
Some readers are jumping up and down right now, thinking this proves their thesis "monogamy isn't natural." I'm not saying that at all. In fact, I'm saying the exact opposite. It's going to take several articles to make it clear how and why this is so. If you approach this in an open-minded way, you'll be amazed what you can learn about sex and relationships.
"Sex always consist of leftovers" is our departure point for a phenomenal illustration of "People who can't control themselves control the people around them." Next time I'll take you behind the scenes while couples are making "leftovers," so you can see why this sets up what happens years later in the relationship.
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