Overlook

Odd creatures, we are.

You might imagine that a two-legged mammal with a large brain and opposable thumbs might not be that tricky to figure out. We’re omnivores because we don’t have speed or claws, social because we have a long gestation and tribal because we have language. What’s not to understand?

Here’s a thing. When we first meet people, we often overlook stuff. We’ll make an instant judgment based on a few superficial cues, and if the person sneaks past that stringent test we are inclined to give them the benefit of any doubt. From that point onwards, we’ll spin their behavior positively, often with unwitting blindness to reality.

The reverse is true, too. If we take an instant dislike to someone, that’s the way we tend to continue. We can call it emotional momentum if you like. Once that initial split-second thumbs-up or thumbs-down decision is made, that’s the way our outlook continues.

Dating is this way. On meeting someone new, that first five-second determination will predispose us for some time to come. Think of how well we remember first meetings of almost anyone in our lives – with possible (or actual) romantic involvement, the path so chosen is remarkably long-lasting.

Seems to me that the longing for coupling, for a mate, is so strong that we’ll overlook unbelievable faults in people. We so want to be together with someone, we’re prepared to overlook crazy incompatibilities for the chance at a happy togetherness.

Which is why we need to exert an enormous effort to be less carried away by this emotional foolishness. Peripheral qualities are the least important and most transient in anyone’s character. Disregarding that first impression is a start – a sober, realistic, practical and thoroughly critical investigation of this stranger will save us from disaster.

I can write all this because of the horrific mistakes I made. Optimism based on a first meeting is admirable. Hope based on wanting someone to be something other than who they are is life-destroying.

Baltic Dry

The stories all have the same flavor. I hear them on call-in radio shows, others know of them first hand and something called the HuffPo thrives on them. These are the inside tales of marriages in which previously well-balanced couples turn into proverbial ships in the night; passing silently and without noticing.

It appears to work like this: a nice couple date for a while, and then marry. A child arrives, possibly a second and a third. Everyone’s super busy handling their own stuff – plus the kids, plus the household – at which point something’s gotta give. Sex, it seems, is first. She’s too tired. We can’t do it with the kids around. It’s just another chore. Please don’t touch me.

There are good reasons for her reluctance. Men are (in general) mostly useless at figuring out how to help, domestically. Cleaning, organizing, washing, ironing, folding, airing the mattress, polishing the silver, dusting the light fittings, auditing the pantry for out-of-date prunes…these are the minutiae clogging a woman/mother’s mind.

On the other hand, he feels that his needs are neglected. She’s become cold on what used to be a peachy sex life. And he can’t figure it out because he hasn’t changed, so it must be her. Tried and true approaches don’t work, she no longer responds in the way she used to.

To be clear, I blame both of these people equally for their dissolving couplehood. And I don’t believe that these problems arise after marriage either, they’re latent and predictable well before that. They become visible only under the stress of marriage and parenthood.

In the first place, wise people spend time previewing these details before they marry. That’s why marrying for love alone is a foolish notion. Marriage is a day-to-day domestic matter, and needs an approach based on more than feelings. I maintain we are better marrying someone who loads the dishwasher in a way acceptable to us rather than indulging a visceral reaction to, say, their body.

Secondly, sex should be a high priority for both parties. This is because men find affirmation of their woman’s love in making love, hence the name. And women need the feeling of, as it is described to me, “closeness” that regular sex provides. That’s why women talk about intimacy and men do not. But both results are equally critical to maintaining health.

Thirdly, men need to observe and listen to their wives. They will tell you what they want, and mostly it’s for you to get off your butt and vacuum the carpet.

Fourthly, women in this position are often in danger of morphing into professional-grade scolds. Men react poorly to scolds.

Fifth, and most important, figuring out the character and suitability of your potential wife or husband is what dating is for. Dating is not for the both of you to live in a lustful fantasy, but rather to judge what this person in front of you does and how they behave day to day.

So, you say, avoiding a situation that exists today isn’t much help. True, but knowing that the source code for your unsatisfactory life emanates from you might help you to explain to your children how they can avoid it. Modeling and communication might set them on a better path. Note that this is a very long-term goal, and doesn’t directly help you.

And so back to the sex. If you are too tired for sex, you’re doing too much. If you’re not getting sex, it’s because your spouse has other priorities. Because sex is critical caulking in any watertight marriage, it must re-appear on the ToDo list…even if that’s what it takes.

Reduce the workload (or share it more equitably); plan to create time for togetherness; give up the least important stuff to make that happen; de-clutter your schedule; and most important, agree that an orgasm a day really isn’t such a burden after all.