A girlfriend sends me this quote which reads: "Life is like a penis - simple, relaxed and hanging free. Women make it hard!"
This statement, amusing as it is accurate, finds corroboration in of all places the ancient scriptures. In the Srimad Bhagavatam section dealing with the creation of the universe we find the following passage, paraphrased in the interest of clarity:
"The first humans were saints, who, immediately upon being created, fell into deep meditation finding no interest whatsoever in the things of the world. Thus, through them, the Lord saw no possibility of propagation of the human species. While the Lord was meditating upon what course he should pursue, his own form divided himself; one half became man and the other half became woman; and from them have sprung all mankind."
You see, only when God created women did men take interest in the affairs of life! (If like most feminists you think the above quote would read better with the word "marriage" substituted for women, think again: since marriage lowers testosterone, the analogy falls as flat as a limp dick.)
Fast forward however many billions of years since the creation of the first couple (or thousands of years, if you take the Bible literally). What has come of these primordial unions? Marriage, an ancient institution with roots in our prehistoric past. Borne of the need to secure a safe environment in which to procreate, divide up property and protect bloodlines, and less about love and companionship, monogamous unions took shape in the 9th century, AD. In the 12th century the Roman Catholic Church defined marriage as a sacrament, sanctioned by God, and not contingent on producing offspring. But though the Church doesn't view procreation as a necessary part of all marriages, couples who can "go forth and multiply" are told they should, which means that the true purpose of conventional marriage has been childbearing and rearing, while the lure that brings couples together is that elusive creature called romantic love.
And what is romance anyway? The term gets passed around like a hot potato and conjures notions of walks on the beach at sunset, glasses of wine on picturesque patios, longing looks, sultry embraces, honey-tongued phrases and, of course, passionate sex. But whence did such a notion as romance arise? It turns out romance is an invention of the Middle Ages.
Specifically in 12th century Provence, France, where the troubadours or lyrical poets would travel around medieval Europe singing love's praises. Their view of love possibly evolved out of the feudal relationship between vassal and lord, one of friendship bordering on hero worship and which came to extend to the ladies of high society. These ladies were called midon by their lovers, which translates to "my lord."
Medieval courtship may have been a reaction to the oppressive influence of the Church, which decreed that sexual desire even within the confines of marriage was a sin. Or it may have been a response to the Roman poet Ovid, whose Art of Love, written coincidentally around the birth of Christ, was widely read throughout the first millennia. But Ovid wrote ironically of love, which is the oldest joke in the world, although his successors including you and me take ourselves so seriously. Ovid did not. If anything the Roman poet was mockingly serious about the emotion, and his book recommended conduct at once shameful and absurd, as a "comic confession of the depths to which this ridiculous appetite may bring a person," as C.S. Lewis writes in his examination of the subject, Allegory of Love. Courtly love as the love the troubadours later sang about came to be known as "Ovid misunderstood," for everything that Ovid recommended with a wink the courtly tradition took to heart. Or as we know it, and borrowing its name from the Roman poet's place of birth, romantic love.
This romantic love which has dominated the ages from the 12th century onward was at the outset characteristically humble, religious in its devotion, and incorrigibly adulterous (since marriages were for securing property, not for passion). Indeed love was excluded from the medieval unions, and even when spousal affection could be said to exist, how could this be called love since such a relationship was bound by duty and necessity? In other words you cannot love someone whom society, in the name of property and progeny, has compelled you to cohabit with. These idealists held that love must be a reward freely given, and since only one's superiors can reward, the object of a lover's affections could only be his superior. And she was to be beautiful, for the aim of love was (and still is) physical beauty, which was thus sought outside the confines of marriage. And adulterous affections survive today, and not just on websites such as Ashley Madison.
The influence of the romantic ideal has been felt in classic movies of the mid 19th century, many of them starring Elizabeth Taylor, all the way to the pop songs of Taylor Swift, which dominate the airwaves today. Romantic love was essentially invented or discovered by the French poets of the Middle Ages, who have bequeathed their lovelorn beckonings to the novelists and screenwriters and hopeless romantics of today. Whatever their influences were, these troubadours and the wandering minstrels they replaced "effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present," notes Lewis. Compared with the revolution of romantic love, the Renaissance, with its Miltons and Michelangelos, its Shakespeares and Spensers, is "a mere ripple on the surface of literature."
Speaking of Spenser. Edmund Spenser, 16th century English poet, he of Faerie Queen fame. And what is The Faerie Queen? you ask. An English epic poem which though unfinished has inspired and molded the romantic heart in the four centuries since its publication (in 1596) and whose influence though largely unrecognized is still palpable today. In writing the poem its author intended "to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline." How little or much he succeeded is a matter of contention. Lewis writes: "In the history of sentiment [Spenser] is the greatest among the founders of that romantic conception of marriage which is the basis of all our love literature from Shakespeare on." But the current feminist movement, coupled with eroticism in the arts and the explosion of psychoanalysis has "undermined that monogamic idealism about sex which served us" for so many centuries.
Leaving aside this "monogamic idealism" for a moment, we find that romantic love as conceived by the wandering poets of medieval France and later embellished by English allegorists is strikingly different from the classic love whose praises were sung by the Greeks long before Ovid and his Art of Love came on the scene. To imagine this world, we must conceive of a time bereft of the ideal of "happiness" as dependent upon successful romantic love. And this is not easy, since love stories are ingrained in our make-up and still dominate modern cinema and provide the motives for much popular fiction. But long before the current obsession with romantic infatuation, before even the time of Christ, Plato wrote of the ladder of love, where a man evolved from the love of another (typically another man) to the spiritual love of all beings. Aristotle conceded that the love between spouses could approach the excellence of friendship, which was the goal, but only on occasion. Rarely did classical love rise above merry sensuality or domestic comfort.
And yet we moderns have been mesmerized by the allure of love's promises. No wonder we're so confused. With so many disparate notions of what amorous union is meant to be - do we seek through matrimony some ineffable spiritual gratification, perpetuation of the species, or merely financial stability? - we are unsure exactly how to proceed. Is love to be characterized as romance, friendship, both or neither? One thing is for sure. Throughout history, marriage has been inextricably tied to mating, which is to say having children.
In the not too distant past, and in some places to this day, polygamy, or multiple simultaneous marriages, has been commonplace. Families have typically gone to such great lengths to maintain alliances that for much of history marriages between first and second cousins have been the rule. In fact, most marriages have been between relatives. The composer Bach married his second cousin. Darwin's wife was his first cousin. As were the wives of writers Edgar Allan Poe and H.G. Wells. Not to be outdone, Albert Einstein's wife was both his first cousin (through his mother) and his second cousin (through his father). Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson each married a third cousin. So it happens in America, too.
Mutual attraction, the hallmark of romantic love, didn't become a fixture of married life until the beginning of the 19th century. Before the Industrial Revolution, many people, males especially, were granted much latitude to engage in extramarital affairs. Within the last 50 years, marital equality has been a key feature of romantic unions, with partners free to hold similar jobs and earn similar salaries, and with a consequent breakdown of traditional roles. This has been courtesy of the women's movement, also known as women's lib or feminism. The movement began in America in the early 1950's with the publication of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and whose waves, which we feel today, have largely counteracted the patriarchal foundations of a male-driven culture. Instead of being about unique, gender-based roles, most present-day marriages, especially in the Western world, are characterized by flexible divisions of labor, companionship and mutual sexual attraction. In other words, by want instead of need.
Today we are witnessing the latest permutation in the wave called feminism. What are its consequences for our hallowed institution of marriage? Only twenty percent of Americans are wed by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. And the proportion of women who are married has recently dropped below fifty percent, which is to say there are more single ladies than spoken for. And as Rebecca Traister explains in her book All the Single Ladies, historically when women have options beyond early marriage, the results have been massive social change, which in the past have included abolition and secondary education. In 1960 women had to get their husbands' permission to apply for a credit card. When the birth control pill became available, women were still banned from participating in the Boston marathon. Now, in 2015, there are more female college students than male, and runners too. This year a woman will earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. President, and will likely win the election. Will having the first female Commander-in-Chief be the biggest result of today's women's movement, or just the most publicized? Will the revolution also carry over into romantic relationships, is the question. Relationships can only benefit by having two equal partners. Because friendship, the hallmark of a harmonious union, can't be based on anything but recognized equality.
But even before the feminist movement, marriage had begun shifting from the focus on property and procreation to a union based on love and equality, and for this we owe the Victorian Era (1837-1901). In the second half of the 19th century romantic love became the primary requirement for marriage, and courtship with its rituals became an artform. If interested in a young lady, a gentleman requested a formal introduction. He couldn't just accost her with cheesy one-liners like the rascals of today. If a gentleman wished to escort a lady home from a social function he would present his card for her to approve with an exchange of her own. The courtship would progress under the watchful eye of parents, usually at the girl's home. Only after the elders were convinced of the young man's pure intentions might the couple advance to the front porch. When the time came for dating, a chaperone would be present, and marriage proposals frequently took the form of handwritten letters. Now we have OK Cupid and Twitter and Tinder and texts, Snapchat and Skype, casual sex and surrogates, trial adoptions and test tube babies not to mention gay marriage, lest we forget, which takes us up to about the present.
But even in America multiple marriages do sometimes take place, as among the Mormons. And in ancient Greece wives were meant for bearing children and keeping house and little else. In Athens, men kept courtesans for pleasure, concubines for the daily care of their bodies (which is to say, more pleasure) and wives for domestic duties and the consolidation of wealth. Because spouses did not rely on each other for emotional support, men customarily took homosexual partnerships for the deeper fulfillment both of mind and body. I'll leave this to your imagination.
But cultural differences abound. Arranged marriages are the norm in many Eastern countries. Polygamy still exists, not just in Utah but also in many parts of Africa. In South Korea couples still marry en masse. Recently 3,000 couples from around the world were married at a single ceremony in South Korea, with 12,000 more couples participating online. The ceremony took place at the Unification Church, which has been the site of such gatherings for as long as there's been women's lib. Some of the brides and grooms met only a few days before. This probably increases the chances that the relationship will last. Arranged marriages are pretty successful.
Arranged marriages rarely occur in the U.S. In America over 90% of all men and women marry by age 50. And 43% of marriages end in divorce. Of divorcees, 3 in 4 remarry. And 60% divorce again. Star-crossed lovers promising love everlasting may be the most recent rendition of this age-old institution, but these statistics suggest marriage is in a sorry state. With so many cultures and customs, Americans today attempt to follow their heart and assert their independence, and if all else fails they do what their friends do, getting hitched on a whim only to split, and nearly as quickly. The average length of a failed marriage is 8 years.
But you already know this. You have friends you could list as examples under the heading "marriage is in utter disarray." Maybe you are one yourself. It's so well-known that half of all marriages end in divorce that it's practically a cliche; as is the fact that many couples who stay together do so out of fear, habit or convenience. I speak from personal experience. I am the fruit of a family tree whose branches on both sides have married and divorced. My three maternal aunts. My paternal aunt and uncle. My maternal grandparents. And my parents. All divorced. The only married relatives who stayed together, my father's parents, were constantly at each other's throats. Grandma Dave henpecked my Giddo (Lebanese for grandpa), and in retaliation he often threatened to flush her head down the toilet, and sometimes did. More than any other couple, Grandma and Giddo probably should have gotten a divorce or at least taken a holiday away from each other.
Something's gotta change, I hear you say. And you are not alone. We recognize the problem and wonder about how best to rectify it. Opponents of the push for reforming holy matrimony argue that marriage itself has remained a static institution that would be destroyed if redefined.
But I propose to redefine the relationship without tearing it down. Now I hear what you're thinking. What are your qualifications? Yes, you are a medical doctor (you say), we'll give you that. But you're no psychiatrist. You are correct. I am trained in family medicine. Ah (you say), what qualifies a person who treats heart failure and other physical ailments to discourse on the holiest of holies, romantic love?
Well, for starters, I've never been married (and therefore never divorced), though not for lack of trying or dearth of prospects. I've played the dating game, on both coasts and both American continents. I've cohabited. I've been engaged. I've done everything but marry and mate. And maybe I even would. It's just I've never found someone who plays by the rules. What rules? you ask. You know, the playbook. The rule book of love. There are rules for everything in life. How to drive. How to write. How to add and subtract. But in the realm of romantic love, the rule book has been hitherto unwritten. Or if it has been written, it's been roundly ignored. But that's about to change.
And marriage should be discussed by physicians, and not just by psychiatrists. Because your marriage has a huge impact on your health. After a divorce a woman has a 200 percent increase in the likelihood she'll have a heart attack compared to her happily married peers. Spouses who say more negative than positive things to each other have about a 10 percent increased risk for heart disease. And marriages that are on the rocks cause blood pressure spikes in both partners, high blood pressure itself being another risk factor for heart disease. Bickering couples have thicker carotid arteries, and blockages in those vessels, which lie on either side of your neck supplying your head with blood, increase the risk for strokes.
Proving that a lousy marriage can actually break your heart, and your head. But harmonious relationships take work, which can leave partners exhausted and prey to various pleasures, as indicated by the fact that even so-called "happily" married couples tend to weigh nearly 5 pounds more than single individuals.
So how to begin? If avoiding divorce is a priority, then entering into an arranged marriage would seem best, judging by the statistics. Because the lowest divorce rates in the world occur in cultures where such marriages are common. The Amish culture of United States boasts a divorce rate of about 1%; the Hindus of India and the Ultra-Orthodox Jews of Israel are at 3% and 7%, respectively. In other words a Hindu whose parents consult the local astrologer to find a suitable mate - that is, one whose stars align and who comes from a similar caste - is about 14 times less likely to divorce than someone in the U.S. who marries for love.
So why aren't we Westerners seeking out the advice written in the stars? Because we are progressive. And such a practice is passe. These "primitive" individuals marry for reasons we in the First World no longer do, reasons such as property and procreation that we left behind when we became "civilized." We have evolved. But have we? You can say we are evolving out of marriage by necessity and into a union by choice; but you can say we are also devolving since so many such consensual unions fail.
There are cultures where such practices as tugging one's mate along by the hair (if you believe caveman cartoons) and killing female offspring are still tolerated, and these are the same cultures where arranged marriages occur, as in Africa and China. We must understand that like human beings, which have risen above lower life forms, marriage is evolving. Humans no longer communicate by grunts and spend the day removing each other's lice, as do gorillas. We are guided by reason and imagination. Yes we have left some of our instinct behind, but the benefits of higher thought outweigh the detriment of not knowing what foods best suit our digestion, a confusion processed food preys on.
We need to ask ourselves, now that we breed not by necessity but by choice, and now that marriage no longer secures property, and there are no bloodlines to preserve in a humanity that has become a melting pot, or as some politicians like to say, a poster for United Colors of Benetton - we must wonder aloud at the necessity of mating for life. And if mating for life is not in the interest of the individual or of the species, then we should rethink whether getting married is prudent.
But even those who scoff at traditional practices such as marrying for security or to sire children must recognize that these factors continue to motivate us today. Browse a dating site and read the requirements men must fulfill to be considered by a woman and you will almost always find "gainfully employed." Gold diggers marry for money, not for love. And some women feel such a pressing urge to have children, and feel they cannot secure a mate without first getting married, that they tie the knot simply in order to be able to cut the cord nine months hence. This happens today and in such a progressive world as our own. What we really want is to have it all: passion, romance, security, children, with a lifelong partner who is also our best friend. Mirage? Pipe dream? Or really an option?
Because if having it all is not realistic, it is scary to think that you may not wind up finding a life partner with whom you raise replicas of yourself (so many Mini-mes) before growing old together gracefully like your grandparents did. This has been part of the American dream as bequeathed to us from prior generations. But like my grandparents, who did precisely this (marry, procreate, cohabitate for life, just not always gracefully) I find little of appeal. The dream and the harsh reality do not coincide.
And if like me you want something different than what your forebears settled for, something more, something refined and sublime, then you must allow for the likelihood that you will enter into a romantic union that may not be till death do you part, or else you may have to ditch the romance altogether.
Many traits and cultural memes adopted by our forebears have been extinguished in the modern age, and some (like the aforementioned spousal abuse and child extermination) are thankfully on their way to becoming extinct. We must ask ourselves where the race is headed, and how to marry ourselves to behaviors that contribute to the welfare of the race as well as to our own personal prosperity. Mating is necessary for the preservation of people - without it you and I would not be here. But for those who do not choose to procreate, marriage may have outlived its function. If you feel called to perpetuate the species, the question is how to choose the most compatible partner and together create an environment most conducive to mutual satisfaction. And if you do not wish to become a parent, and yet wish to spend your days in the company of that special someone, then how best to ensure success "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health," loving and honoring all the days of your life, as the Catholics say, or as an "obedient and faithful wife, a faithful and helpful husband," if you are a Muslim. How best to "choose the person with whom I will spend my life," as the nondenominational says, "to love, to honor and to cherish," if you're a Conservative, or finally, to "provide for our household a nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious to healthy living, develop physical, mental and spiritual powers, increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use, acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust, be blessed with strong, virtuous and heroic children, have self-restraint and longevity, and remain true companions and lifelong partners by this wedlock," if you take the Seven Steps of the Hindu. Or you can write your own vows, or like many Jews take none whatsoever.
But whether your union be "till death do we part," or to put it positively, "as long as we both shall live," or just for the night, beware that humans are not designed to mate for life. I learned this fact as a college freshman when my biology professor, paraphrasing Darwin, told the class: "It is in the interest of the males of the species to be polygamous." Finding as many mates as possible enhances fitness because more babies born increases the number of offspring who will live to reproduce themselves. And though nature may not appear to care much for the individual, it definitely is interested in preserving the species. But now it is the case that the world's population (7 billion and counting) is too great. The world is overcrowded. If we want to maintain overcrowdedness, then yes, every one should mate and have 2.1 kids (the kids then replacing their parents and the .1 to account for accidents, homicides, suicides, and early death due to disease). But evolutionary biologists argue that the human population best suited to the Earth is about 1 billion, which is what it was around the start of the Industrial Age in 1800. In other words there are 7 times too many people on Earth as there should be in an ideal world. So to reduce the population to a level more conducive to the planet's welfare 1 in 7 couples should become parents.
It is in the interest of the species that we have fewer children, leaving alone personal preference. Of course people become parents because they want to, not because they have to, and wouldn't abstain from child rearing simply because you told them to rather than go forth and multiply simply be barren, so we cannot discount the sway of personal preference. What we can do is everything in our power to assure the romantic union is a strong and lasting one. A harmonious home life makes for stable children, and stable children more than large numbers of children are what the world needs today.
So if you do not choose to mate, which is to say have children, then as far as staying together forever, or even for the long term, all bets are off. So why even try to stay together? If you have kids by all means remain a family until the kids are adults themselves; that is, full-grown, emotionally mature, at least somewhat financially dependent, and possibly out of the house. For most kids this is between the ages of 18 and 21. (I'm twice that age and still don't fulfill all of adulthood's requirements.) Because let's not lose sight of the fact that bringing kids into the world is what romantic union is ultimately for. And divorces, which are often draining and drawn-out, seriously compromise a child's emotional well-being, setting kiddos up for romantic catastrophes of their own and perpetuating the vicious cycle. And we wonder why the world is such a crazy, messed up place! Or don't mate and be with your partner for as long or as short as suits you both.
But the marriages that survive kids, and the relationships without kids that endure, must have two things in common. The first is friendship. The other thing is independence.
Partners ask of their relationship what friends naturally seek in each other. We want someone with similar interests but a separate life, to hang out with us, hear our stories and laugh at our jokes. In the case of my parents, their interest revolved mainly around their kids, so when we were grown, they had less in common and so broke up. By contrast, the couple down the street are still together long after their kids have left the house. I've watched them for decades as they do their weekend thing. They love to eat and drink and watch sports, and they enjoy or at least tolerate one another's company enough to do this together rather than alone.
So before we go into these rules for playing the game of love, it is essential that you know precisely what type of game you wish to play. Do you want to have kids or no? Know the answer to this question with reasonable (75 percent or more) certainty. It is okay to be open to the matter, but child-rearing is such an all-consuming life-long commitment it is better to be sure where you stand. You need a resume and cover letter to apply for a job as a janitor but there are people who jump into parenthood without so much as three pumps or a second thought. You can quit collecting trash after a day if you like, but diapers need to be changed: parenthood lasts a lifetime. Once you assess yourself and know where you stand on this question of questions, things get easier. Do not associate with potential partners whose position on parenthood differs from yours. If you are staunchly opposed to planting your seed, don't shack up with a mother-to-be, unless you both agree to be merely notches on your respective belts.
After you are decided on this big question, look for a friend first and foremost. What do you wish for in a friend? A drinking buddy? Someone to shop with? Watch sports with? Exercise with? A reliable roommate? Someone you can count on? A companion? (If all you wish for is a loyal companion, consider getting a pet.) A fuck buddy or "friend with benefits," to use the euphemism? If so, be warned: the attraction in the sexual realm is for novelty, and with sameness, the passion quickly fades. Does your ideal partner need to fulfill all the aforementioned requirements? Then add to this physical attraction, without which you can be sure your special someone will never progress much farther beyond being "just" a friend. Perhaps you want "reciprocation," or "to be understood" or even someone who will add a new dimension to life. These were some of the answers made by young men to a recent questionnaire on the mating issue. Boys be reminded: men harbor, as one psychologist puts it, "a greater desire for sexual partner variety" than women, who name security as the most sought-after virtue in a mate. With priorities so different, how mating not to mention life-long commitment can ever take place is one of life's most fantastic marvels. But it does happen. Our task is to make it better.
Modern romantic pairings, at least within a given locale, say in my hometown of Los Angeles, may seem like carbon copies of each other; but indeed there are as many types of relationships as there are snowflakes. Which type are you? Will and Ariel Durant were married and wrote books together. The sage Ramakrishna and his wife lived in a platonic (nonsexual) union as brother and sister. The composer Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena, seemed to live to breed. They had 13 kids. How Bach managed to find time to write his music is anybody's guess.
And marriage can serve both parties, not just the female who has traditionally sought marriage for security and motherhood. Males may lose variety but they too benefit. Married men commit fewer crimes, earn more money, take better care of themselves; they feel happier and live longer than single guys. But only if they stay married. As we've touched on, divorce can be disastrous for one's health. A break-up can cause anxiety levels to shoot up. Metabolic syndrome, characterized by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat and high cholesterol is more common after a divorce, especially in women. After a marriage dissolves, many people feel like failures, and this funk can pervade all aspects of life. The greater risk of cardiovascular disease seen in unhappy marriages also occurs in cases where couples separate. In the wake of a split, many people find themselves becoming dependent on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs to cope with feeling lonely, anxious or depressed. Divorce is one of the major stressors in life, greater than the loss of a job or a move away from home, second only to the death of a spouse. Because separation is a sort of death. Sleep disruption and nightmares are more common in recent divorcees than in single or happily married partners, which makes it harder to eat well and exercise properly, compounding the risks to your health. And these consequences are not undone by getting remarried. As one sociologist puts it: "Losing a marriage or becoming widowed or divorced is extremely stressful. It's financially, sometimes, ruinous. It's socially extremely difficult. What's interesting is if people have remarried, we still see, in their health, the scars or marks - the damage that was done by this event. There's no erasure of the effects of divorce. You're not going back to your original set point."
A perfect partner is someone with whom life is better and sweeter than it ever could be alone. Together you and your "match made in heaven" should build a life that is an improvement on anything you could achieve with somebody else. How you define improvement is up to you. Nicer neighborhood, bigger apartment? Financial security? Emotional well-being? The family you could never raise on your own? A warm body? Reliable sex? Someone to do your laundry and cook and clean? If you're looking for a gal to serve this purpose, good luck finding her in this neo-feministic age, so learn to do these essentials yourself. Be self-sufficient and you'll have one less reason to need another. A state of needing is a state of vulnerability and inferiority. Again, be self-sufficient and you'll attract someone who brings you pleasure, not because you need him or her. What you need can be taken away, and you are left incomplete. What you want you can do without.
You need to ask yourself why choose a mate in the first place. Celibacy is a real option, as is a life spent playing the field. But if you just want diversion and variety, life in the saddle can get pretty exhausting really quick. Trust someone who spent most of his 20s playing the dating game. I racked up a lot of conquests, sure, but it took a whole lot of effort. The courting, the pricey dinners, all those heady drinks, many of which were too sugary for me, and the empty conversations, all in the effort to just get laid. To shoot my load. To do what my own hand could accomplish in the privacy of my own bedroom in a few deft strokes. If you're in it merely for the fun, know that this gets old. And if it doesn't get old that's because it ends with a mate, who will also get old. But in the age where porn is free and ubiquitous, sex with another can be overrated. You cannot get herpes or chlamydia or HPV pleasing yourself. Penthouse magazine won't give you the clap. Something to consider if getting your rocks off is your aim.
But maybe you're just in it for the flirting. You like interacting with the opposite sex, trading compliments and friendly banter, socializing, getting to know someone, pricey dates and long drives on the 405 be damned. Maybe you practice the "catch and release" style of dating, where you reel in a potential lover and when it is on the verge of getting serious, even if you are about to "close the deal," you let go and move on. I've caught and released many times, and I'm a vegetarian. Fishing is fun, but can be frustrating. Think going on a new job interview every weekend. Putting your best foot forward all the time makes it easy to stumble and fall. If you fall in love, maybe it's okay.
Or are you afraid of being on your own, of dying alone? Is this what propels you in your search for that special someone? Because loneliness is a real concern, but the solution is not another warm body you don't necessarily have much in common with. Join a convent or a seminary. You'll be surrounded by earnest seekers. The benefits are good, and they bury their dead. The point is you need to know or have a good idea of what you're looking for and why before you go getting serious, because the answer doesn't necessarily pop up in the search. But let us take as a given that you want a life partner, that know where you stand on the procreation issue, and that you you have a good idea as to the whys involved. The solution is simple. A friend is what you need, and independence is key.
Why is having separate lives so important? Without it you can lose your identity, and familiarity breeds contempt. Out of college I moved in with my high school best friend, Pete. We didn't even share a room, though we crapped in the same toilet. After the year was up we had almost come to blows at least once, over either food or females, and at the end of our lease we were no longer on speaking terms. In fact we hardly exchanged a word in the year that followed. Why this strife between best buds? Can you say too close for comfort? Another example: Growing up I found it hard to share a bedroom with my younger brother, Justin. We had different sleep schedules, and he liked to leave his dirty clothes lying around. Besides, he snored. When another room in the house freed up I moved him in there and so solved that problem. I couldn't cohabitate even with my own flesh and blood. How can we really expect it to be smooth sailing when we share a room indefinitely with someone who not long before (years, months even weeks) was a total stranger, just because we call the person sweetheart?
If your wish is to have kids, ask yourself why? I've met people who told me their heart's desire has always been to have a child of their own. They didn't know where this urge came from, but there it was. These have always been women. It's called the maternal instinct and the urge is strong. I have met men too who have longed to raise "rugrats." The desire is to carry on the family name. The Greeks knew this. We desire immortality, the philosophers say, and we believe that perpetuating our bloodline brings us closer to our goal. The reality though is your name will outlive you, but if you are not around to see future generations, what good is the fact? Also, the Greeks believed that the immortal soul lives forever, so perpetuating one's lineage through biological children or giving birth to brain children (think sculptures, works of art, laws or books) that outlive their creator is really unnecessary. That is unless you do it for the joy of creating, and like art, sex is fun.
There are those who do not want kids yet nevertheless desire to get married. These traditionalists, as they have been called, prefer to enter into romantic union with the security of a contract, or for a variety of other reasons including habit (for the divorcees), convention and protecting assets. For example with a prenuptial, or because assets are not divvied up between merely "steadies," or because marriage earns you a tax break. But take note: While it is true that filing jointly provides a tax break for most couples because some deductions and credits are reduced or not available to married couples filing separate returns - this is called a marriage bonus and occurs in cases where couples with disparate incomes marry - there are cases where dual income homes, for example homes in which couples earn the same amount, filing jointly pay more than if each partner files a separate return. This is called a marriage penalty, appropriately enough.
If saving money on your taxes or securing your assets is your reason for getting married, take into account that the average cause of a U.S. wedding is $25,000. And because only marriages end in divorce, we must factor in $15,000, or the average cost of a contested divorce. Marriage may not be as cost-effective as you think, another reason not to do it. Or to do it for love.
Still, there are many reasons to pair off. Relationships teach you much about you. They help you grow. And in none other than intimacy can we get to know one another so fully and deeply. It is nice to be able to rely on someone.
In the century since love and marriage were brought together like a horse and carriage, we have romanticized love with songs and fairy tales, perhaps in an effort to lure lovers into the game, or simply because love sells. But likely more of the former. We have created contracts to ensure couples stay together, because historically a two-parent household has been in the best interests of the children who are allowed to grow up in a secure and stable home. But that time is passed, and things are a-changing.
The preponderance of books on the subject of intimacy and saving your marriage testifies to how unnatural the union has become. If the affair were not so broken, there would not be all these so-called experts stepping forward with proposals on how to fix it. And are such experts fit to discourse on love, or is it simply a case of "do as I say, not as I do"? It was twenty-five years ago that M. Scott Peck, MD sought with his bestseller The Road Less Traveled to "explore the very nature of loving relationships and lead us toward a new serenity and fullness of life." The book has sold seven million copies, been translated into twenty-three languages, and spent ten years on the New York Times bestseller list. And yet its psychiatrist author, who died in 2005, led a turbulent life: he was married multiple times, engaged in extramarital affairs and was estranged from two of his children. As written in his bestseller's description, Dr. Peck "never bullies his readers, but rather guides them gently through the hard and often painful process of change toward a higher level of self-understanding." Do as I say, not as I do. Maybe in the realm of romantic love a little tough love would do.
In any case, we need direction in our love affairs. And we flounder because romantic love does not come naturally. It is a learned behavior like riding a bicycle or conjugating a verb or doing long division. And unlike math or grammar, we are not taught how to get along in school, not explicitly. We all have natural mathematical abilities, and yet algebra is a required course in school to hone and direct those skills. Not so for relationships. Some go to segregated schools. I was one of these, for the first half of high school at least. How can you be expected to find your way in the company of the opposite sex if these individuals (girls) are not encountered on a daily basis? Still, it made me focus on my studies. Otherwise I might not have gone to college or written this little book. Aren't you lucky.
Books dispensing ground rules in the game that is love are emerging with greater frequency, and they have come not a moment too soon. But their value is debatable. Wayne Dyer wrote about relationships and was married three times. Other authors have been married all their adult lives to the same spouse, but their lack of dating history makes their work impenetrable to the average reader who is in the thick of playing the field. And so we continue to flounder, struggling desperately in the direction of peace and prosperity.
The term "square peg in a round hole" refers to the unique individualist who doesn't fit in with or conform to society. I have often used the term to describe myself. Which therefore makes me self-referential. In fact I've hardly fit in anywhere I've been, whether on the athletic field, on the wards, or at cocktail parties, which I don't attend because I'm a square. So I basically have opted out of most of life's traditional pursuits. Being alone is the only time I truly feel like myself. I am a legend in my own mind maybe. Running is free and invigorating, but running barefoot makes me once again an individualist. Can't run from who I am I guess.
But I think the expression - square peg, round hole - is perfectly suited to romantic relationships. The penis may or may not share the four corners characteristic of the square - though some do, and mine does, at least when engorged with blood - but the vagina's orifice is most definitely round, at least the ones I've been privileged to inspect, whether within the wards or without. And yet we spend our romantic lives trying to marry so many circles with so many squares. In other words, the one (square) tries to plug the other (circle) all the time. No wonder romantic coupling presents so many difficulties!
Consider the gender differences. Women take a while to warm to the idea of lovemaking, to get "lubed up," to use a ludicrous expression. Whereas after a kiss or two men are rearing to go. Women are more tactile, where men tend to be more visual, which explains why porn does it for the latter but not for the former. Men like it from behind, "wham bam thank you ma'am," in the parlance of a high school friend, whereas women oftentimes wish for more feeling, face to face, in embrace. It is the females of our species who prefer epic sex sessions, or protracted bouts of passion, while most men at least most of the time say they favor the quickie. And I always do. Waiting until my partner, you know, has had her fill, which is to say of the experience, not my ejaculate, can be a lot of work, and time. Can't she have her fill at the same time I have mine? Mutual climax, whether truth or myth, I leave for you to decide.
And yet we do it all the time. Have sex, I mean. How much satisfaction we derive is another story. I mean ladies. Because with guys, it's easy to verify. There is no faking that.
How members of the opposite sex manage to stay together to raise kids is stupefying, how members of our species can even remain attached long enough to complete the coital act and beget them is also baffling. And our race is not alone as far as exotic sexual practices are concerned. We've all heard that the black widow murders its male mate once the deed is done. This is also true of the preying mantis, who bites off her lover's head. Once she has the precious cargo, she can dispense with the carrier. Not to be outdone by members of the fairer sex, the quoll, a type of rodent, grabs its female partner by the neck and drags her away so he can have his way. In the mating frenzy which ensues, and which involves biting, screeching and scratching, it is the female that is sometimes killed and eaten.
So which is it better to be, the male or female? Depends on the species. If you are the hermaphroditic flatworm, then you dance around with your potential partner, each attempting to stab the other. The one who is stabbed becomes mommy. And in the case of bees, males who mate with the queen die shortly after implanting their seed. In this game, the only winners are the children, who must grow up to become prey or predator themselves.
Many animals in the wild seem as though they are being raped when in fact they are in the throes of pleasure, and many reptiles bite each other when having sex. Seals crush each other's skull. Have you ever heard cats in heat? They sound like they are dying, or like women sound when bearing children without an epidural. All in the name of perpetuation of the species. Among some animals, necrophilia is a common practice.
Who is more weird, animals with their penchant for biting and screaming and bonking rather than burying their dead, or humans who adorn the animal act with red wine and roses and call it love? It's all in the name of propagation. Nature works not in the interest of human sentiment but for human perpetuity. Nature runs without rest to win the race against death. And death catches each of us, whether we run with or without shoes, but cannot reach the race as a whole. The human race wins the race. For the sake of the species, "Mother Nature is ever forging new coins to bear her eternal stamp." That's you and me. In this equation, saying I love you is optional. But squares and circles are oh so necessary.
Mating is the cosmic joke. It is possible to die laughing. But can animals laugh? We can. We should do it more often. Mate and laugh. Or at least masturbate.
Whether we'll reach our species' destination, whatever it may be, as a pair or as individuals remains to be seen, and you are both spectator and participant. What is key is to enjoy the experience. So I leave it to you to find a friend first and foremost who you are also physically attracted to and who shares your views on the mating question. Once you have found this fair friend, here is how to keep, please and tame him or her, whether or not you choose to mate. Because if you follow these simple steps, love will do the rest. That is, if there even is such a thing as love.
1. Speak not from opinion, but from fact.
In casual conversation opinions are endlessly traded. I think this, you think that. Agree to disagree, and never the twain shall meet. This is fine. Opinions color banter and imbue casual discussion with spark and verve. The problem is when chitchat turns serious and in the discussion that ensues opinions are mistaken for fact. Fact is truth, proven and verifiable either by you or some expert whom you trust. We know that the Earth is round and orbits the sun mainly because we trust the astronomers with their calculations. You could ignore established authorities and instead verify the fact yourself by traveling from your front door in any one direction and eventually arriving back at your starting point. This would take a while but it is feasible. In contrast, an opinion is not so sturdy. That it is 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside today is a fact. Whether it is warm or hot is a matter of individual preference and influenced by your choice in clothing and percentage of body fat, among other things.
Can you see the difference? It is imperative that you do. During serious discussions or when trying to prove a point, make stringent use of fact, and do not deviate from truth. If you are unsure of a given point, look it up. This is one of the benefits of having the Internet at your immediate disposal. If it's a piece of personal history, know that memory is often unreliable, or at least not 100 percent accurate. When in serious discussion you cannot make use of facts, when you venture onto a point of which you are unsure, understand that you have entered into the realm of conjecture and preface your opinions with "I think." Facts cannot be argued because they are true. Opinions can differ and often do.
To reiterate, if you can begin a statement by saying "I think," or "I believe," it is your opinion. If you can say "I know" it is a fact. Feelings are facts when they pertain to you. I feel sad when you are cruel to me. That you feel sad is a fact, that your lover is cruel is your opinion and subject to debate. One person's cruel is another's tough love.
Don't bring up the past, but when you do, be as accurate, meaning factual, as you possibly can. Again, if you are not sure of events or dates, if your memory is murky on any particular point, say so.
A corollary to speaking from facts is this: be precise. Don't exaggerate or understate unless you do it for effect, such as to be ironical. Irony, or meaning the opposite of what you say, is a great asset among best friends, proving you are both in on the joke, that you "get" each other. But it should be obvious both to you and your interlocutor that you are using hyperbole or sarcasm, as the case may be. If you say, for instance, that "everybody knows" such and such, you must recognize that in most cases you are generalizing, since there are few things that everybody knows. Even facts. To this day there may be many who "know" that the Earth is flat. They are to be pitied. Even to say such a thing as "most people" lacks precision. Have you met most people? While it is true that most people have eyes in their head is a fact, we can generalize from the individuals we have encountered in life. But to say that "most people are a little crazy," as a friend once said, makes two mistakes. It is imprecise, since in her dealings with others this friend has interacted with a minuscule fraction of the human race, certainly not most people. And it is also her opinion masquerading as truth. Define crazy. Do you mean psychotic, as in schizophrenic? One percent of people are schizophrenic. Certainly this is not most. Or do you mean crazy as not conforming to your own point of view? In this case, then everybody other than the speaker is crazy. And it's a lonely world we live in.
Speaking with precision means that you define your terms, especially when throwing around emotional phrases. Recently I found myself in a discussion concerning the current group of political candidates. The term "socialist" came up with respect to one candidate and because "nobody wants socialism," the candidate in question was roundly dismissed as having no chance at the presidency. That is, until I asked what my friend meant by socialism. He wasn't too sure. Maybe something close to Communism? If so, what is Communism about? It has something to do with Russia, and I hate Vladimir Putin because he's a bully. You see how discussions can spin out of control and loaded terms reveal prejudices. After we agreed on this, the candidate, who is a Jew, was then readmitted to the discussion, by a Jew, who feels justified in supporting a member of "the tribe." Another prejudice, sure, but at least it's an obvious one.
The French philosopher Voltaire once said that many if not most arguments result from failure to define our terms, and they evade resolution because people speak of different things but use the same name. The God topic is a fitting example. Atheists often say they don't believe in God, but when you ask them to define God what becomes immediately clear is they don't believe in the Christian version of God, as some being judging from on high. But if you define God differently - for example by asking what the atheist does believe in - the argument becomes a discussion that leaves both sides feeling satisfied with having come to a greater understanding of themselves, which is the purpose of a healthy relationship.
So, if you are unclear what your lover is talking about when he uses a particular term, do not hesitate to ask, "What exactly do you mean by that?" You may find that your definition of X differs very much from his.
A hobby of mine is to listen in on conversations, or observe friends, and note the frequent and flagrant violations of our cardinal rule, "speak not from opinion, but from fact." Recently I listened to a conversation about spiritualism, or the benefits of contacting deceased loved ones whose souls have survived bodily death (and the spiritualist believes they do). One friend, call her L, counseled the other (S), who wished to contact her husband's mother, whom she had never met in life, if only to get her mother-in-law's approval. L told S that seances were dangerous, that bringing powerful energy from beyond into the physical realm could have severe consequences, because L had seen the movie Ouija and look how the characters suffered when the board started moving on its own and demonic forces began haunting them, etc. So, don't, said L. Of course this was L's opinion, but she dispensed it with the authority of plain fact. S listened carefully to her older friend and promised to comply, since L seemed to know so much. I recalled the works of writer and medical doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes many know and love, or at least I do. Doyle wrote extensively on spiritualism, was a spiritualist himself, and attended countless seances. The result of his researches suggested that spirits do exist in an afterlife the nature of which is uncertain, that they are basically good, want to help the living, and should be contacted more frequently, not less. The result of such seances, as he saw it, would be an improvement in the lives of the living, not some sensational scene out of a B-type horror movie. Is Doyle's stance also an opinion? If so, it is based more strenuously on fact than was L's, for he wrote based on personal experience and extensive research. Watch carefully when others parade their opinions around as home truths, and especially take care to note instances when you do the same. In a word: don't.
Another example comes to mind, this one closer to home. A few years ago a friend found out that doctors had found a lump on her mother's breast. When she shared the news with me I grew deeply concerned. My mother having had breast cancer and undergone radiation and chemotherapy, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that my friend's mother's condition was extremely serious and that she would certainly experience the same fate. I spoke with conviction and watched as my friend's face grew ever more concerned. The luncheon date terminated prematurely. We didn't even get to have dessert. Looking back my ignorance astounds me! Many lumps are noncancerous. Often they are associated with hormonal changes and pose no health risks. And those that do are sometimes watched, no additional treatment necessary. Lumps requiring treatment are often removed without chemo-radiation. I very well could have worried my friend unnecessarily. If nothing else, sharing my opinion with the authority of one who dispenses fact, I certainly made an ass of myself. I learned this after medical training exposed my rash ignorance. We never spoke again. And so I live and learn from my mistakes, and you should too.
Even in the most harmonious of pairings, disagreements will arise, and they increase in direct proportion to the intensity of your association. Familiarity can breed contempt. So, talk. Without raising your voice, or exploding in tears, or firing off profanities, talk like the civil and rational human beings that you are. There is a lot to be said for thinking like a shrink. Even though you may believe you can read your partner like the back of your hand does not mean you are being perfectly objective. Observations are almost always refracted through your own biases, and biases can get stronger the closer the two of you become. Even first impressions, which being intuitions are rooted in the gut, are not infallible. You are under their influence, but can use them to yours. Reading broadly and observing incisively can help you think objectively and apply this to your relationship. Step outside of yourself and view the dynamic as a therapist would view you. Then see how right you feel you are. And those things your partner does that drive you bonkers are less offensive when you remember a time that you've done the same yourself. "I wouldn't put it past me" is not just an empty cliche. So don't be a repeat offender. Just because you butt heads with your partner doesn't make him or her a butt-head. It takes two to tango.
And because we say what we ourselves often need to hear, listen carefully to what you say, because you're almost always trying to convince yourself of what you're in denial about. Understand why you say what you say will help you understand your partner's words, too. Make a convincing case for your partner, arguing in his shoes. This will help you understand his point of view. Because one thing common to the holders of all points is this: they all believe their stance is the correct one. Loaded terms such as good and bad are value judgments. Few things if anything are all good or bad. Become more descriptive in your use of terms. Telling your partner that he is wrong is almost never right in the world of opinions, is itself often an opinion, unless we are discussing facts. We are trying to pull ourselves kicking and screaming into the realm of facts and to spend all our time there. Even "character traits" like stubborn or steady reflect value judgments, an inability to distinguish fact from opinion, which is what we're trying to do or not to do, as the case may be.
If you must give your opinion, say something nice or say nothing at all. And while we are on the subject of saying nothing, spend a day communing with your partner in silence. Make like animals. There is a world rife with gestures and expressions for you to explore. Words are weak. Let silence speak.
2. When you and your partner disagree, assume you are to blame most of the time.
Every altercation can be traced to the same feeling, and that feeling can be phrased thusly: "You just don't get me." Often each partner feels this about the other on almost any given point. So start with your partner's point of view and work your way to a position you both can agree on. This is called common ground. Such compliance teaches humility and surrender. One of my pet phrases about intimacy is this: "I promise to put you before me till I becomes we." By prioritizing your lover's feelings and perspective, you demolish your own self-righteousness and become more understanding, empathetic and simply better fit to love and be loved. As my college professor used to say, everybody enjoys being told they are right. Whether this is a fact or opinion I leave for you to decide.
3. Enjoy common pursuits, like cooking, but not reading or running.
Solitary pursuits are best done alone. Use these pursuits to enjoy alone time and work on yourself. Whenever a relationship has been strained or is on the outs (I wonder if there's a difference) I pick up a book as an excuse not to interact. If you and your partner are reading side by side you may be physically together but spiritually you are worlds apart. Be alone while you're together when you sleep not while awake. If the things you most enjoy doing are best done on their own, ask yourself again why you wish for a partner. Is it just so you won't be that weirdo going to see movies alone? Take it from one such weirdo, at half the price, such tickets are twice the fun: you get spared the sound of popcorn being munched in your ear. That is unless the theater is crowded. If so, go see the matinee. I thought you wanted a bargain! Theoretically running or bike riding can be a fun joint venture, but engage in these pursuits sparingly. Rare is the pair that has the same pace and so one is always lagging behind and struggling to keep up, while the other is waiting around up ahead, which makes for frustration on both parts.
As for eating, when I waited tables in college I'd see couples come into the restaurant, order their food, eat their meals and all the while hardly exchange a word. Sometimes one (usually the male) would read the newspaper! It was as if each was dining alone. They were usually older couples, it is true. Had they run out of things to say? I always thought this somewhat sad. Somebody could sure use a holiday, I'd hear myself mutter. If this sounds like you, go back to rule number two. And stick to cooking. The couple that cooks together almost always stays together, and they have at least one thing to talk about over dinner: compliments to the chefs. Of course, there is an exception to most every rule. Just ask my ex. It was fun while it lasted though.
4. Relish alone time.
This has to do with the independence we mentioned earlier on. But if you relish it too much you may be better off on your own. Among the signs you're headed for a split are often included things like a fall-off in frequency of intimacy, spending a lot of time on the computer (alone) and being "distant." So balancing shared experiences with time alone is where the art of relationships come in, and you are the artist so go make magic.
5. Respect each other's need for space.
A companion to alone time, space extends into the realm of geographic location. If you are on the "date for one year live together for one year get married" plan, and you live in a big city, then cohabitation means a cramped apartment that is the equivalent of living on top of each other like canned sardines. After a while, it begins to smell. If it is a one bedroom, then when at home together make use of the living area separately, so as to afford the illusion that you have a bigger place. Or even better, get a bigger place. One of the perks to pairing up is your life is an improvement on anything you could achieve on your own, remember. This means better digs. Now go get 'em, preferably with a public park in walking distance.
6. "Just keep him wild as long as you can."
That's a quote from one of my favorite movies, Two Moon Junction. The main character's grandma tells her this regarding her frat boy fiance. And it applies to everyone, regardless of sex.
I know what you're thinking, that the title of this piece is How to Tame Your Mate, and wild is the opposite of tame; but I use tame as a synonym for please or keep, and because it has all the same letters as mate, only in a different order. Tame and mate are anagrams, so I couldn't resist using them in the same sentence. And mate also means partner or best friend, so having kids (mating) is optional.
You can tame a domestic animal simply by feeding it regularly, as I have with several cats. Even when the door is wide open and they can escape into the woods at any time, they choose to remain right with their reliable meal. These cats are still wild, in that they have claws and do go outdoors and climb trees and catch birds sometimes, and still have their male and female parts (don't call animal services on me), but my furry little friends know that what they can find inside is better than anything they can get in the wild. The same goes for a lover. Rugged individuality, an independent spirit, these are highly attractive qualities or can be. Don't damper them with your insecurities. Don't castrate and then strap a leash on your mate, henpecking and nitpicking and the like. If you are the best lover in town your beloved will always come back to you. Because there's nothing like a home cooked meal.
7. Don't overshare - no diarrhea of the mouth.
Many of us have dreams that our ideal mate is someone who at the end of a hard day we can come home and dump all our proverbial crap on. Who will patiently listen to all our problems, nod sympathetically, perhaps offer a word or two of kind yet neutral advice, but always take our sides. As if that were even possible. Reality is not so rose-colored. Your partner has problems of his own, and most likely didn't enter into a relationship to return home from getting crapped on by his boss only to get crapped on by you. Even the best listeners mull over their anxieties while pretending to give their partner their undivided ear. Sharing is great, and when done it should be reciprocal. I hear you and help you, now you do the same for me. But even when you do share, keep in mind that nobody likes a person who routinely brings her problems home with her. So don't be a Debbie Downer. Deal with your crap by addressing its cause, not dwelling on it aloud and ad nauseum as your partner prepares dinner. Shut up and help out!
8. Always orally gratify first - except during a quickie.
I have never met a guy or a girl who has not really loved oral sex, receiving it I mean. Giving it not so much, or only sometimes. Just like sharing problems, trade sexual favors. Guys, go down on your girls. It lubricates their girlie parts and warms them up to the act of sex. Girls, if your guy suffers from feeble erections or doesn't seem as interested in tapping that ass as he once was, or as other lovers have been, or as your ideal mate should be, start sucking. You'll both perk up real fast.
9. Try new things. Be open to discovery.
I'm talking sex again. There is a "whole new world" out there, as Aladdin sang, but our version is R rated. Open all holes. That means at least trying anal, even if you're Amy Schumer. Let him put it in your ear or nostril, if this is what he digs. All in the name of adventure. And guys, don't be afraid of a pinkie finger in your rectum, especially when on the verge of ejaculation. It's quite an experience. One of the perks of intimacy is getting to share a partner's body. It's knowing him the way nobody else does, better even than he knows himself. And just by peeking where the sun don't shine, you'll see a side of him with which not even he himself is too familiar, unless he's a hemorrhoid sufferer. In which case, save tossing salads for between outbreaks.
After a lovemaking session you should know what it is like to be a member of the opposite sex. Know his body. And let him know yours. Kinkiness allows for the opportunity to share new experiences, to be explorers of the flesh. If you shut yourself off to fringe experiences, you do this to the detriment of your relationship. In other words: know your lover, don't no him.
10. Don't be complicated.
This deserves reiterating so I'll say it another way: keep it simple.
Watch girls or guys during their respective nights out, for example at bars. You see a lot of light banter. No head games or drama. Simply buddies getting together in a highly supportive, mutually enjoyable, judgement-free environment. Now do the same with your better half, whether at home or on the town.
11. If you have a child, be prepared to redefine roles and responsibilities.
Either of you can take out the trash, but only one can breastfeed - though you both may have tits. Man boobs are now the fashion. Divide up what needs to be done by doing that which you are best suited to do, or which you most enjoy doing. If you hate to clean but your partner derives peace from scrubbing the toilet, offer to organize the closet. That is, if you're neat, and there is a difference between neat and clean. More on this later.
12. Think before you speak.
These words of wisdom come courtesy of my brother Justin, now deceased. Justin spoke very little. Does this mean he thought little or was it perhaps that he thought too much? I never got the chance to ask. But if you are laconic, reticent, taciturn - three more words than are necessary to say quiet - you will have few regrets for putting your foot in your mouth, because it won't happen. Something to say? Do it the old fashioned way and write a letter. Read it twice before handing it over. That way nobody can accuse you of not being well thought out or being a poor speller. There is enough noise pollution as it is, and silence is a form of mystery, which is sexy.
13. Practice unconditional love.
You choose your mate, or fate does if you prefer. The poetic-minded say destiny. Regardless, your feelings about the person you're with say more about you than they do about him. As my father likes to say, point the finger of blame at a person and three fingers point back at you. When your lover gets your goat, first ask yourself what you may have done to bring such a condition about. Another way of saying we are each of us our own worst enemy.
14. Leave the past in the past.
It's death to continually bring it up. Don't harbor resentment. It weighs you down and sullies love. If you can't let bygones be bygones, then be gone yourself.
15. If spice is necessary, invite a third party into the bedroom, but don't make this a habit. And be prepared that your threesome could blow up in your face.
I'll tell you a little story. Back in college my best friend asked if I'd join him and his girlfriend for a romp in the hay. It wasn't a case of homosexual tendencies in need of fulfillment. He and the gal in question had been together for a time, he was still very much attracted to her but their private life had become a bit stale. He also hoped that if he brought another guy into their bedroom, his galpal might agree to let one of her girlfriends make the third corner of the triangle at some point in the future, and would I take one for the team? My friend trusted me, and I had no feelings for the girl. But after two nights of hanky panky I was writing her love poetry; secrets and lies that the two of them had kept from each other were hitting the fan like shit. Two months later they were no longer together and our friendship was never the same. You could argue that they had a lot of problems, and my love tool was the stick that broke the camel's back. Or that I wasn't a trustworthy friend. Or that a guy who wants to have a threesome with his girl is a guy who shouldn't be going steady. Or that their relationship was in trouble the moment his thoughts started wandering to the possibility of another girl. Any way it was a lot of fun, and we can laugh about it in retrospect. I've known couples that have become closer after such a threesome. So it can go either way. The question is, which way will it go for you?
16. Trust absolutely.
Your lover earned your trust the moment you fell in love, because love in its truest definition is synonymous with trust. You should not mistrust unless given a reason to, and if your lover gives you cause for suspicion it may already be too late and the situation unsalvageable. Otherwise the slightest hint of doubt or suspicion chips away at the castle you're trying to build. And it's such a lovely castle!
17. Own your body, and then discover his.
Do his toes, let him wax your behind. Sit on each other's lap while on the toilet. But:
18. Retain mystery.
This is tricky. How often to let your lover see your naked body? As often as he wishes to, is the safe bet. I had a girlfriend who was so self-conscious she'd never let me see her without clothes on, except when we had sex, and usually she'd pull the covers up to our shoulders. I felt like something was missing, so I started watching porn, which she said killed the intimacy. Needless to say we're no longer together. So open you heart and your love parts wide. Just save the farts for same sex friends and private time.
The power behind the throne carries the real weight. It's fun to play love slave. Remember: "I put you before me till I becomes we."
20. Be a couple, but don't lose yourselves in each other.
Retain your own identity. Kahlil Gibran expresses it perfectly in his popular book, The Prophet. Be like two trees growing side by side whose branches do not intertwine.
21. Be clean and neat.
Do you know the difference? I learned it in my late 20s, when my then girlfriend Shannon came over to my apartment and after giving it the once over said, "You're neat, but not clean." In other words, the place was tidy, my clothes were folded and put away, but I hadn't dusted or mopped or really scrubbed anything since moving in. So she did it for me. Power behind the throne. I was her love slave in other ways, until I wasn't.
22. Laugh together.
The one commonality across all of my best friendships has been this: we have been able to share a hearty laugh. Not just a chuckle, but the side-splitting, bladder-spilling belly laugh that leaves you teary-eyed, red-faced and hoarse. If you do not have these laughs at least on occasion with your lifemate to be, trust that it will not last. And there is no way to fake such laughter. If it doesn't come from way down deep it's not legit. So, cackle like crazy. Be a hyena. Some people never lose control. If you're this person you're probably not much fun. And senses of humor can differ. Either yours coincide or they do not. An indication of how well you match up is your taste in funny books and films. I brought home a bunch of comedies including Weird Science and Dumb and Dumber to my then girlfriend, Gillian, who scoffed and said the slapstick buddy-type movies didn't interest her. A couple months later she didn't interest me.
A curious thing happens in laughter. The mind goes blank, the muscles relax, the defenses are down and the slate is wiped clean. It is the refresh button you can hit on a daily basis. I've had relationships where we never laughed together. With one girlfriend I only laughed once, and it was at her expense, I'm ashamed to admit. But then I heard her cackle with her friends, and I knew she had it in her, just not with me. Laughterless relationships are tedious and draining. That they last as long as they do (longer than a day even) is still a mystery to me. But we are raised to do what we hate to do (it's called work) and so are groomed for marital discord.
23. Never apologize.
Love means never having to say you're sorry. This is a line from the hit film Love Story. But its meaning requires explanation. Rather than license to commit atrocities with impunity and remorselessness, never having to apologize to your mate means being so present in the relationship that you have nothing to be sorry for. Your intentions are pure, you try your best, you know what you're doing, and you have your partner's best interest always in mind. When things go awry, sure you may have to justify yourself a little, explain where you were coming from, but sorry is only for mistakes, accidents, purposeful wrongdoing, or the like, and has no place in a relationship in which you are perfectly aware. Accidents do happen, but the more present you are, the less they occur. This is also called kundalini yoga. Or mindfulness. Or just common sense.
24. Always say "thank you."
For the little things like when your partner opens the door for you, or the big things like when she pays off your student loans or helps you raise the next line of divorcees. Because she is by far the best thing that has ever happened to you, since you chose her freely. Practice gratitude. My opportunity to say thanks for reading. But I'm not finished. So hear me when I say that listening is such an integral part of a healthy relationship that it should not even need to be stated. No one likes to have to tell her partner a hundred times to leave the toilet seat down and on the 101st time find it's still up. This is a sign of blatant disregard, total absent-mindedness, or hearing loss, all of which are serious conditions that can hamper your harmony. Unless your partner spews banalities, in which not being able to hear is a good thing.
25. Don't stereotype or put your sweetheart into a box.
It's nice to know someone, but hasty expectations rule out the possibility of surprise, and surprise keeps things fresh. If things get stale, you'll need a threesome. Refer to number 15. And beware.
26. Hit the refresh button/take a time out.
Laugh some more. Go on a date and meet there as though you're strangers, as did Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan in When a Man Loves a Woman. This won't be all that necessary if you're really harmonious, and if you've practiced independence and respected each other's space as I've been preaching. If all else fails, sleep in separate rooms. Spend the night out. Especially valuable if you live together, even more so if your space is small. And didn't I tell you to get a bigger place? Nobody likes living on top of another all the time, no matter how much you think you love the person. And when it is time to be on top of each other, take turns riding. He that dominates must also submit. It's part of the far-trade agreement you figuratively signed when you agreed to shack up.
27. Be confident.
He chose you, likely because he loves you, and not because you were merely the best he could scrounge up. Take a good look in the mirror, and with ruthless honesty evaluate yourself. Are you the person that your mate fell in love with. Are you the person you've been waiting for?
28. Have a slumber party after sleeping in separate rooms.
You'll have the best sex ever.
29. Avoid gossip.
Gossip is loosely defined as talking about someone who is not present to hear what you're saying and if necessary defend himself. That means your other half. When you must discuss your private affairs, use strict discretion in choosing your confidants, and beware their intentions. This is why we pay shrinks all we do. To assure they are objective, have no vested interests and will observe confidentiality.
30. Friendship first.
When all else fades, and it will, friends stick together. Just a reminder. How many high school friends do you still keep in touch with? How many exes? I bet the former number is greater than the latter.
31. Acknowledge differences.
Opposites do attract, but birds of a feather tend to stay together more frequently. Ask your partner where she'll be in 25 years. The right answer is "with you."
Go all in - or as far as you can go. Commit. Is a joint bank account too close? A shared bathroom? You'll have to decide. But once you've chosen "the one" go the distance or die trying. Yet...
32. Don't go changin'.
And don't compromise. Don't try to change the one you're with. Love him just the way he is. If he loves you as he says, he'll want to change for you. And if you seek a middle road off your respective paths, you can be sure that neither one of you gets your way, and you both wind up disappointed. It's better that your desires and needs coincide - birds of a feather, remember? - or that you take turns giving in completely. As in surrender. Love is ultimately about surrender. And about truth. So,
33. Always tell the truth.
First and foremost, be honest with yourself. Only then can you be honest with your lover. And remember lies of omission are more insidious than outright falsehoods, and like the cancer that goes undetected, can be the death of your sweet romance.
Don't deny, dissimulate, ignore or sugarcoat. Be blatantly honest, ruthlessly so if need be. It will do you both so much good. If you come from love that's all the sugarcoating your words require.
But keep in mind that the truth as you see it may not be Truth in the absolute sense. There is fact and there is your opinion - remember rule number one? - and opinions are like assholes: everyone has one (and they usually stink). But expressing yours will sure make for some fun discussion, not to mention all sorts of relating, some sweatier than others. And relating is after all what relationships are about.
*In the movie Rocky III the eponymous protagonist faces his greatest challenge yet, the brutish force of nature known as Clubber Lang. Played by the mohawked Mr. T of A-Team fame (though the hit series came after the blockbuster boxing film), Clubber is asked just before the fight against champion Rocky Balboa to give his prediction of the outcome. A man of few words if many grunts, he sneers at the camera and with spine-tingling intimidation delivers his pat reply: "Pain."
One of the first things an athlete learns is to distinguish between the two types of pain. There is good pain, and there is bad pain. The former visits the competitor when in the course of your effort you reach a limit beyond which you seemingly cannot go. Because your lungs burn, and your heart is about to explode, and your legs feel like leaden weights. In training athletes are taught to push beyond this limit, so that in the heat of the battle, be it bout or ballet or whatever else you do for sweat-drenched fun, you can reach new limits, set personal records, maybe even win. Contrast this with the bad pain in which you ignore the body's signals and compete longer than you should, jeopardizing your health, maybe even killing yourself. Which is what happened in the next Rocky film, when Apollo Creed, losing catastrophically to Ivan Drago, orders Rocky not to throw in the towel. Such bravado is his death sentence. The image of Apollo's dying body convulsing on the ground still gives me the heebie jeebies.
Runners know the difference between good and bad pain just as well as boxers, though they heed it about as often, which is to say not often enough. I've run laps around the track till my lungs were scorched in an effort to set a personal best in the half marathon, which I did, though I didn't win (still, placing 8th in a field of 8000 is not bad). Each lap I ignored the pain, the monotony, the desire to quit, because the cause was worth it, and no pain no gain right? I've also run so many miles in preparation for a marathon that I developed a stress fracture in my foot, and running the last mile home on a broken bone likely made my foot worse. I'm lucky I didn't need surgery. In this case it would have done my body good had I heeded the pain signals, and my desire to quit, and stopped.
Often in life we are confronted by this choice, whether to ignore the pain, meaning to fight through it, or to throw in the towel, call it quits, walk. Especially in the realm of relationships. I was talking with a family friend the other day who brought up the self-help speaker and writer Marianne Williamson, among whose many best-selling books is Illuminata, which my parents owned. My friend loosely quoted the writer when she said that relationships teach you a lot about yourself, and if you think you have it figured out, get involved, "and see how fucked up you really are" seemed to be what was implied. And having been in many romantic relationships myself I can say that relationships are about growth, if the term growing pains has any real relevance - because love, at least as expressed in the traditional coupling, is hard work. But there is also the pain that you should not ignore, that is not for your growth. This bad pain is a sign that things are not working out, not the way they should be; that you are not meant for each other, that "sometimes love just ain't enough," to quote a popular song (by Patty Smyth); that, if you cannot change things, you should "just walk away," (Road Warrior, the original) because some things aren't worth the pain.
Every day around the world spouses face this very dilemma, and partners everywhere must decide "should I stay or should I go?" An already complicated situation is compounded when kids are in the mix. There are conflicting reports about which harms a child more, parents who stay married but are miserable (and whose misery the child feels, perhaps more than either parent knows) or the unhappily married pair who gets a divorce and now is faced with the task of somehow dividing child rearing not just between schedules that differ but over new geographical distances, which compound the personality differences the parents already face. I've studied both sides of this argument, and I'm still on the fence.
I suppose if you can't amicably coparent as a pair, then an amicable divorce would be the next best thing. But who am I to say, having never been married. Probably because I knew deep down that like many I'd divorce and find it devastating. Fight the good fight is a way of approaching athletic training. I prefer the train hard, race easy mentality. What is the amorous analog, I wonder?
Suffice it to say that as for conscious coupling and co-parenting or whatever variation for "married with kids" you choose to call yourself, you have to know when to say when. The ultimate question is: Will it be forever? Which is to say, for life, or till death. One of life's greatest mysteries, and its most alluring topics for sure, and one which most of us have at least considered, maybe more than once. Three out of four divorcees remarry.
Rocky went on to experience a lot of pain in his two-round hammering at the hands of Mr. T's Clubber, but trained by Apollo he returned to the ring to defeat the champion-for-a-day in what was perhaps the slickest fight in the Rocky franchise. We miss you Apollo. And you too Carl Weathers, wherever you may be.