Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Best Form of Foreplay

Is an empty dishwasher."

I'm not sure where I came across the phrase, but I think it embodies an important point. Most talk about sex in our society assumes the context of seduction, one night stands, affairs, short term relationships of one sort or another. Much, I suspect most, sex actually occurs in long term relationships, marriage or the near equivalent.

I gather that a lot of writing about how to make a flagging marriage work takes it for granted that the objective is to get back to the intense feelings of courtship, to "rekindle the passion." I doubt it works. A long married couple that wants to recapture the intense emotions of their courtship would be better advised to have children; they will discover that the parental focus on a child has the same intensity, the same insane illusion that the object of love, this time parental rather than erotic, is the most important being in the universe.

In a long term relationship, success has more to do with love, less to do with lust—which is not to say that the two do not correlate. Doing something for your spouse that she (or he) would otherwise have to do for her (or him) self is one way of encouraging it.

(Thoughts in part provoked by a silly and self-indulgent article in the Atlantic whose author, having had an affair and ended a long-term marriage, was moved not to apologize to husband and children but to pontificate in satirical mode on the problems of modern marriage.)


Pax Dickinson said...

I believe this is the aforementioned Atlantic article.

It really is as silly and self-indulgent as described.

Randall Randall said...

Nevertheless, the book she mentions, _Marraige-Go-Round_, is actually really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Half of all marriages end in divorce? Maybe it's time to embrace the Marxist notion of "free love". I mean, if half of all car trips resulted in the car being trashed and the occupants injured or killed wouldn't the rational thing to do be to stop driving?

Gray Woodland said...

It happens that I write a good few fairy-tales just at present - partly with an eye to publication, but at least as much for my young nieces. This post has made me reflect on my usual instinct to show some of the 'happy ever after' that comes when the stars have stopped shooting, and the love still remains. I suspect that, to the extent I succeed, this may one day be of some small service to them.

As to the anonymous comment decrying marriage, it is forgetting to consider the casualty rates of other modes of transport. Mileage, lad, mileage!

Anonymous said...

Reading the same article with empathy gives a different point of view. Breaking up a family is not something any of the characters in the article, including the author, took lightly.

Do dishes? Have babies to replace the lost emotion in your marriage? Lucky you to be content in a long-term marriage with this kind of advice guiding you.

Unknown said...

I guess most of people assume that sex is the necessary condition for the well-being of marriages. And that is only partly true. I can't imagine first period of livin' together without lust, sex, etc. But this is only a period, relatively different for different couple, but still a period. It can't last 'till the end of their days. The wise thing to do here is to realize the sense of being together. That sense lays not in having good sex, but in - what David wrote - love. Love undestood as a strong psychological relation based on trust, helping each other, appreciating your partner's successes and copin' with failures, but it fundamentally leads to shape the ability to have children. A loving marriage with no danger of divorce because of sex troubles is the best environment for kids to grow. That makes a society. Children and parents. Not marriages and sex.

So to sum up - all those who think marriage isn't worth much when there's no sex - imagine your partner injured in car accident the way that there's no chance to have sex with him anymore, but he/she can easily live with only a little help of others. The injury includes mainly his/her genitals. It is possible and probably happen from time to time. Would you get divorced because of lack of sex? If sex is - as some claim - the necessary(!) condition for long-term relationship then in all cases the divorce would be the only way out of this situation.

Hammerhead said...

As we age many things in life change. But, staying physically fit can help keep the mind sharp and the sex life good. That's not a bad thing. Sebastian's example is a good one; I'd find it far more tragic if my spouse's mind were irrevocably damaged through injury or disease, than other anatomical parts. And, I'd just add, that long-term familiarity with a partner need not lead to monotony. Knowing someone very well can add to the pleasure in the way a pianist or violinist develops artistic facility with a well-known, well-love instrument. :-)

Aurelia Masterson said...

I like the quote, I think it expresses life together with another person well. There's much more meaning in the sex and depth in the relationship, joy in the little things. Ultimately, it's pretty self-destructive to perpetuate these ideas on sex and love.

Joe said...

Half of all marriages end in divorce?

This figure isn't as big as it sounds; it includes second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. marriages.

A few bad egg serial divorcees inflate the % of "all marriages" that end in divorce.

Granite26 said...

A few bad egg serial divorcees inflate the % of "all marriages" that end in divorce.

Read: For every Hollywood Starlet, there are 4 or 5 people living happily ever after in the Midwest.

Anonymous said...

Couples usually have insane sex for a period - a few months, a year, a couple of years, depending on the couple - and then it tails off. The problem is when the parties concerned construe this as some kind of loss of attraction, or diminishing of love or something; or start some desperate attempt to "spice things up" and recapture the initial lust. But it's not a loss of love or attraction in the non-sexual senses, it's just that the chemical, pheremonal or hormonal drivers of behaviour lose their influence after a certain period of time.

I think lust has more to do with chemicals and biology than anything conscious, or even "unconscious" (in the Freudian sense). People who observe their own sexual proclivities carefully will note that very often one can be horny for a partner who doesn't necessarily tick all the boxes - they may not even be "pretty" as the person understands their own aesthetic preferences, but the sexual attraction is instant and fiery.

What prevents us from understanding this clearly is the concept of "romantic love". I think the concept of "romantic love" did well in destroying the death grip Christism had on Western society in mediaeval times, but ultimately it's nothing more than a good story, told by mediaeval troubadors, that bears little relation to how sexual life or relationships actually works.

We are designed for "free love" based on unspoken chemical attraction, but outside our ancestral environment, in a social situation with several property and poor contraception (as we had from, say, the Neolithic until recent times), that urge is, to say the least, socially troublesome.

Brian N. said...

Mr. Friedman, you've inspired in me all kinds of wonderful thoughts about human relationships. Yours is one of a few blogs I read and usually end up smiling over. Thank you.

Broken Barn Industries said...

Well said- and I think I read that article or at least an excerpt of it. Silly AND selfish, if I'm thinking of the same writer.

WhatDoIKnow said...

One metaphor for the initial, highly-sexed period of a relationship is the hunger resulting from prolonged underfeeding. (This assumes that one was celibate for a long time before the relationship.)

One summer during my college years, I traveled cheaply and ate irregularly for many weeks. When I returned to a place where I could eat tasty food freely and regularly, I ate an unusually large first meal with unusual intensity and enjoyment. Even though I ate to fullness, I felt strong hunger again in a few hours and again ate an unusually large meal with unusual enjoyment. These experiences continued with lessening intensity for nearly a week until they tailed off into my ordinary eating habits, in which I feel some hunger by mealtimes and enjoy eating but not to the same degree as in that first week after my long trip. Eating has not become less important; I just no longer am recovering from deprivation.