Enemies Within

Most of us float along on a sea of emotion. I like to think that I’m a logical and thought-driven person, but the truth is that I am at least as emotionally driven as anyone. I feel this way, I feel this way, this feels right, this feels wrong, I don’t know how I feel about the other thing; it’s an endless negotiation with what might be another person inside. In a sense, that’s sorta the way it is.

Logicating our way around emotional responses isn’t easy. Sure, we understand that the way we feel is a bio-chemical phenomenon. Every day we wake up in a different mood, we react slightly differently, nothing is ever quite the same as it was the day before, and so on. That’s our body chemistry at work.

Understanding, however, is not influence and it’s even a greater distance from control. Influencing our feelings requires conscious acts, at least for me. If I’m feeling sad, connect with friends; if angry, exercise; if frustrated, be constructive. No doubt you’re somewhere close to the same place.

Controlling emotions, though, is likely one of the most difficult quests one can undertake. Self-control is the filtering of emotions so that our acts have a logic or character input as well. That raises the point that we can’t really control the emotion itself, only the way we respond to it. By taking a metaphoric deep breath, we give ourselves a circuit-breaker in the process, a way to prevent the precipitous behavior that we often think of as being emotional.

If you’re good at this, you might even be able to pre-think ways around likely responses. Like plans for war, this probably won’t survive first contact with the enemy, but it’s worth a try nonetheless. Let me know how you go.

The relevance of all this to coupling is obvious, especially if you’ve made as many crappy emotional decisions as me. There’s no way to remove emotions from our lives, and in any case no-one is interested in an automaton. But a measure of self-control and detachment can help an awful lot, especially when we figure that time – even a small amount inserted into the middle of something – mellows many otherwise disastrous decisions.


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.


It manages to flummox me, the way I wake up each day in a slightly different mood. There appears no reason for the change from day to day, apart from, say, the weather. But to blame barometric pressure on one’s disposition appears to go a little too far.

Nevertheless, the ups and downs of our emotions are a fact. And our beloved co-couplers, sig others and spouses are the ones mostly at the front lines of seeing us at our best…and our worst. That, of course, is a mutual problem.

There are traffic cones for danger zones on highways. I wonder, is it time for bad mood cones for personal grumpy days?