Keeping Passion Alive

Keeping Passion Alive

I’ve often been described as a very passionate man, whether that comes to my work, my relationships, basically anything I do—provided of course that I care about it. I really care about the quality of Emily’s sex life. I cared about that for my previous partner as well. That sort of passion is something that always came easily for me, and the idea of men could be selfish in the bedroom was something I actually had to be introduced to later as an adult. That was down to my father, and some critical decisions he made in regards to my sexual education. Dad isn’t a particularly open man, at least, he can’t really do that directly, but what he did have was a sexuality section is his library and when I came of age he mentioned that he had books on the subject, and that I was free to read them. It didn’t escape my notice that of the five books he had on the art of sex, four of them were dedicated to a woman’s pleasure and only one to his own. That sort of set the stage for me with regards to expectations of what is meant to happen in the bedroom. In many very old and primitive cultures the inability to please a woman was seen as catastrophic enough to prevent conception itself. As for me, even before I started my reading, I didn’t see the point without making an emotional connection, and I assumed, quite correctly I might add, that the quality of each encounter would be directly related to the emotional purpose of it. I’m setting this scene up not to pat myself on the back or brag, but to give context to my perspective of a plight affecting many marriages. For many, some time after marriage, whether that’s years or immediately, there seems to be some sort of lost magic, and further still many couples defeatedly accept this fate as an expectation long before they tie the knot. What to do about that exactly requires explaining some deeper held meanings of what marriage is, so we’ll be taking the long way round.

Esther Perel calls this problem a lack of desire, the flame going out, and in her view this can only be solved by creating some sort of distance in the relationship. Apparently many people view the flame dying down as a necessary stage of marriage. I think that may have been the most shocking thing about reading Mating In Captivity. I wondered why that was such an accepted presupposition, the thought never even occurred to me that sexual desire would naturally wane over the course of a relationship, hell, I consider that a sign of a relationship that’s starting to fail. If anything, I consider the separation of sexual health from marital health to be an issue all on its own and it’s rare that I see the former fall apart without the latter following suit. Clearly though, there’s a problem with fires going out. I think I could even accept Esther’s position more readily, if I assume that the relationships she’s talking about are built on a foundation of pure Eros, or what we refer to as romantic love and lately even lust. To me, this would be akin to lighting the flame of a relationship, having no fuel available but pine straw. At the very beginning of Mating in Captivity, Esther talks about how there are actually couples that have no trouble keeping that flame alive, but she talks about them like they’re weirdos, and she certainly points out their rarity. Esther makes no further mention of these people, and is quick to point out her material isn’t directed at them. I have to assume this lack of ability to explain the perspective is borne out of the fact that she isn’t one of those weirdos. Well, Emily and I are those weirdos, and perhaps that’s some perspective I can and ought to give.

Perhaps if we kindled relationships with better types of fuel than pine straw we wouldn’t accept it as fate that fires would dwindle and extinguish over time. Have you ever tried to keep a fire going with nothing but kindling? It’s something to give a shot, even to just capture the symbolism with experience. You’ll find yourself expending energy, rushing around in a never ending panic to keep the fire fed. Any interruption, no matter how needful, and the fire dies down if not outright expends its fuel. Plato describes a situation wherein lovers are also friends. In Plato’s view this transforms Eros into something more substantial than romantic lust and keeps the passion of a romantic relationship perpetually fed. Eros and philia are transformed by one another, and feed one another, creating a positive feedback loop that endures time and hardship. This lines up a little more closely with my experience. Not to undermine the importance of Eros however, I find when that flame dies down the marriage soon follows. Perhaps it’s a mistake to view those things as separate. Those fires are one in the same. We do not replace Eros with philia, one modifies the other. We can even find some pointers towards this in biology. When you have sexual relations you release oxytocin. This neurotransmitter is responsible for a lot of things but the two we’re interested in at the moment is pair-bonding and trust. Mothers release a ton of the stuff when they give birth, and when they nurse. In fact, any stimulation of the nipples of women seems to release it. Oxytocin also regulates uterine contractions, it’s what’s in Petocin, and it’s why women close to term are encouraged to have regular sex (as it releases oxytocin and helps move labor along). Oh yeah, did I mention it promotes pair-bonding and trust?

Trust has been fingered as a key predictor of divorce by Dr. John Gottman. In his book What Makes Love Last: How To Build Trust and Avoid Betrayalreviewed here—Dr. Gottman lays out his case and his research, showing that low levels of trust are a highly predictive indicator of a doomed relationship. He also goes over the behaviors outside of sex that build trust and behaviors that erode it. Extremes of either seem to be self-reinforcing. So let’s put that together a bit. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter released during sex that influences trust and pair-bonding. Low trust is a strongly predictive indicator of relationship failure. Behaviors outside of sex influence trust levels higher or lower. High enough trust begets itself, damaged trust begets mistrust. The idea that a romantic relationship reinforced by a genuine connection outside of its sexuality is stronger than one based purely on Eros is supported by modern scientific literature. Plato figured this out a long time ago. Relationships that merge Eros and philia feed each other sustainably and are the most durable.

If you’ve followed this far, you may be thinking I’m making the argument that the die is cast, that relationships started in the wrong way are doomed to failure and that there’s no helping it. You’re either doing things the way I did or you’re screwed. Nah. What I’m saying is that you have to be more than your spouses provider, or nanny, or babysitter, or any other major marital function you can think of. All of those functions after all are merely temporary, or at the very least, replaceable. Sexual satisfaction is likewise replaceable. A good marriage however, isn’t, it provides a critical function that I think is well summed up by a quote from Dr. Jordan Peterson in one of his recorded lectures. He says on marriage…well actually I was going to put a quote here but he’s damn wordy, but the expressiveness is useful, so I’m just going to leave a clip here.
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It’s often extolled in the virtuous theater of social media that a friend is someone who will support you but a true friend is someone who will tell you you’re screwing up and it’s your fault. This is a sentiment I agree with but in my experience no matter how much people talk about wanting one, most people can’t handle having a so-called true friend. I don’t think that’s an inherent flaw, I think that’s why we take marriage vows. This is the aged oak that is lit by the kindling of Eros. Oak burns hot, and it burns long, hot enough and long enough that you need not constantly rush about to refuel it the way you have to in a relationship built on pine straw. In this sort of fire, you may actually take a moment to enjoy the light it gives and the warmth it radiates before you have to give it more fuel. You may be in one of those pine straw relationships, and you may believe everything is fine, and hey maybe it is, but don’t be surprised when you find out just how much upkeep you’ve been doing on that fire when something else interrupts you; hardship, children, a new job that requires relocation, longer hours at work. I’ve been through all those things with Emily, and it was never the sex that kept us together, good as it is.

Now, that was the long way round to get to it, but I think all those details are important, because it is for those qualities of my marriage that I do not have to think about keeping our fire stoked—that is something that happens mostly on its own. Yes, there’s some effort involved here and there, the small reminders of physical affection, the occasional date night, and other romantic gestures, but it’s not something we fight with or struggle with. It’s what makes us those weirdos where the flame doesn’t just die on its own unless we create some sort of contrived distance between us or other strategy for tricking ourselves into being sexually attracted to each other again. I never fell into the trap of thinking of my wife as only a mother or only a caregiver or as adopting any other sort of single identity that reduces her sexual or romantic value to me because our relationship is deeper than her utility—which by the way, are the situations Esther Perel deals with in her book. If you want to call that ‘keeping distance’ you go right ahead, I call that proper togetherness. I call that knowing without a doubt, that come praise or criticism, the things Emily says to me and about me are coming from a position of my long term well being.

Hey, maybe that does actually make us weirdos. Maybe you take a look at the words I’ve written and say you couldn’t live your life that way. Totally valid. I can tell you one thing though, I don’t mind being in the position of looking at people who can’t seem to make the time for intimacy, or are in a marriage of utility, and can’t seem to wrap their heads around where all the magic and love has gone, and thinking that they’re the weirdos. I don’t mind that situation being alien to us. If that situation isn’t alien to you, perhaps it’s time to be a weirdo.

How We Met

How We Met

picture by: Ali Yahya

So a reader asked me a question the other day that sorta floored me. I could have sworn I had told the story of how I met Emily already, but I so haven’t. That’s something that needs fixin’.

I had just been evicted. I had been out of my parents house for about four years and hit a pretty bad snag, and was headed back. I had no job, no income at all, I was already living paycheck to paycheck prior to losing my job and even then just barely. I also had a reputation among friends and family of being the reliable one. I wasn’t feeling very reliable now. My brother had invited me to a night out to just chill somewhere. That was something I rarely got to do anymore, he’d offered to foot the bill. I would have normally said no, gotta keep that life going, gotta take care of the things I’m responsible for. A part of me felt like I should only be focusing on getting back on my feet, but I was feeling so low I didn’t even want to live up to my own expectations, so I said yes.

My entire value system was up for grabs at this point, all of me was on shaky ground. I took my beat up old truck, and what little gas I had left, and set out to just waste some time with my brother and his pals. I was thinking a few things, like that I’d never amount to anything or escape this place, but I tried to put those thoughts aside and have a good time. Things started getting weird pretty quick. See my brother and I have this dynamic, we just get silly with each other, and we were both pretty low on sugar and were acting pretty punchy as a result. Somehow we ended up in my brother’s friend’s recently rented out space he’d be using for a second hand book store. I was working again, as a volunteer, a jobless volunteer. Well, I guess that’s how you get known for being reliable. Anyway, as I was saying, my brother and I were being pretty silly. There were ancient computer parts, even by those standards, sitting in several boxes in this space and they had to be disposed of. We went through them one by one to make sure we weren’t tossing anything useful. My brother and I came across some old processors and stuck them in our foreheads until they stuck, and pretty soon we were throwing the expansion cards like ninja stars into the corrugated box, trying to get those to bury themselves in it. We’d shout “NINJA STAR!” as we did so.

As these stories often go, my brother’s friend had a girlfriend, and she’d always been a miserable person around us. See, our friend wasn’t that good at communication and would often schedule his dates on D&D night, and we ended up having to put up with an understandably pouty and bitchy person almost every session for a few weeks at this point. We did not like her, she did not like us, and she was coming over with her sister to introduce her to some guy. Good, I thought, she’ll be busy and out of our hair. The girlfriend really wasn’t my type and I really didn’t wanna deal with two of them. So as I was winding up another add-in board to toss into the now shredded cardboard box, the girlfriend walks in with sister in tow, and I stop dead in my tracks. How in the fuck were these two related?! She was petite, she was cute, and despite her very hot-topic get up I could tell she was gorgeous, and she was smiling at me. I had been straight up caught and I knew it, I could feel the obviousness in my expression and my arm was frozen mid-throw anyway, I did about the only thing I could think of and resumed the throw, “Ninja Star!”. Emily giggled. She fucking giggled. I hadn’t totally torpedoed myself! I recalled that she was here to meet someone, and I decided I was going to take their place. That was another one of my values up for grabs tonight. I was out looking for a one night stand for the first time in my life.

As luck would have it, Emily and her sister seemed more interested in helping with the bookstore than meeting that other dude. I caught his name in conversation, small town, I knew him, and he was a loser. Now I’m pulling double duty, I’ve gotta get in to this girl’s pants and at the very least I’ve gotta keep her away from that creep show. We’re trading glances regularly at this point and finding excuses to talk to each other. Now we were painting the walls. I gave zero fucks about all the unpaid work I was doing, it was more time to spend with Emily. Turns out her 18th birthday is in 2 days. Sweet, add cradle robbing to the night’s goals. I didn’t think the sister would be much of an obstacle, after all she was prepared to put her on a date with that guy, couldn’t be too concerned about me, but she stayed attached to her sister at the hip, obviously irritated that we were hitting it off.

We took a break from working to grab some food. We ended up going to this cheap local pizza buffet. My brother said he would cover me, but he wasn’t exactly made out of cash, so this seemed efficient. Emily complained about the quality of the pizza, so I directed her to the desert pizza bar, which was actually pretty damn good. I walked up there with her, told her what my favorites were, and she dutifully piled everything I was pointing out into her plate. Old episodes of Pokemon were on the televisions, the place was primarily targeted to parents after all, and Emily obviously enjoyed it. We talked about it together, I got super nerdy about it—shocker I know—and started talking about all the math involved in the game if you actually wanted to tell the difference between good and bad Pokemon. She actually enjoyed that conversation, this deal just kept getting sweeter all the time, but I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance with her alone tonight, not at the rate things were going.

Painting resumed and we kept making conversation, she mentioned a very bad experience with D&D at her high-school with boys who seemed primarily in sexualizing her, actually attacking her in the game if she had a problem with their gross behavior. She was craving coffee but was a messy painter and would have to do significant washing to get her own, so I offered to get her coffee. This used bookstore was kinda nestled in a hippy commune, there was some damn good coffee that was just free to take, piping hot. The guy that ran the cafe just liked it that way. I got her coffee black, having neglected to ask her how she took it. I figured that if she took it black and I put cream in it I couldn’t undo that, but that if she wanted those things, I could always go back and add them. Sure enough, she didn’t take her coffee black.

“Well why don’t you come with me, since you’re so messy and tell me how to do it, I can’t recall everything that’s available over there.”

So she followed me back to the coffee nook and showed me how to make her coffee the way she liked it. I wondered aloud why she tolerated that behavior she talked about earlier, neither of us really remember the answer aside from the fact that she lamented not having the books again because she’d like to use the inspiration in her own art work. She really fancied the artwork in those books. Of all the nights not to have those in tow. So I just straight up offered to go get them from the house, a good 25 minute drive one-way, and she accepted. I thought that was perfect, at the very least if she’s a decent person and plans on returning this property that guarantees a second encounter, worth the gas in my estimation. Off I went.

On the way back I sorta wondered about the possibility that her sister took the opportunity to scram and take Emily with her; I was kinda kicking myself for not getting her number or discussing that possibility. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find her still painting, though they were packing it in for the night. I showed her the book and she squealed with delight and we just wouldn’t shut up about it. She mentioned that she’d be back at this place in 2 days, it’s where they were celebrating her birthday. No need to ask for a number now, I thought. I’ll see Emily in 2 days, that’s when I’m going to make my move, they’ll be staying the night.

I attempted to say goodbye, but Emily walked me back to my truck and I had zero problems with that. Just before I asked her myself, her sister, hanging back a good 20 feet blurted out, “Hey Emily, you going home with him tonight?!” in a mocking tone. Emily was clearly and visibly embarassed, and stammering. I just smiled at her. She shuffled sheepishly back towards her sister and we said our goodbyes.


I was nervous on Saturday. I had no idea what kind of party this would be or how it would go. There sure were a lot of guys here, guys I knew, these were my friends. Huh. I hadn’t thought about it prior, but Emily was celebrating her birthday with just her sister and her sister’s social circle. None of Emily’s friends were to be found tonight, and honestly, sitting here typing this, I’m only beginning to realize how odd that sounds. My brother was here too, for his friends sake, because Emily’s sister would be there with her boyfriend.

A television was set up and there was a giant half-circle of couch around it. I parked my butt next to her butt and she didn’t seem to mind. We smiled at each other. It seemed the night was already going well. We watched some anime and some Invader Zim, and we cuddled. As luck would have it, I actually did enjoy those things, and we were able to keep ourselves entertained while the rest of the “guests” got bored. Eventually her sister stood up and reminded her of the next activity on the docket, which was cake. I thought that was harmless and I really wanted to wish her a happy birthday too. Apparently this was timed at her actual birth hour. I wasn’t prepared for after-cake though, neither was Emily.

Her sister reminded her of something else she’d agreed to do. See, before she had really thought about me being there, or before she knew I was a thing, Emily had told her sister she wanted to see what was inside of a sex shop. I went white on the inside, and did my best not to show it. Emily definitely went visibly pale. Well this was going to be awkward, but it wouldn’t be my first time in a place like that, maybe I could actually make this more comfortable for her than the first time I set foot in one of those places. Clearly though, she was now nervous about her own idea.

When we arrived we were sorta doing everything as one large group. The store clerk seemed somewhat annoyed at us, already knowing why we were there. I suppose they saw the birthday groups a lot, they never buy anything. I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy anything. Emily knew I was single and I was not about to put my intentions on the table in such an obvious and crude fashion, she seemed damned innocent. Emily seemed into me enough as it was so adding unnecessary risk with a move like that felt dumb. Her sister was going out of her way to embarrass her in the store. We got to the novelty section with the life sized forearm and fist. I actually had to avoid eye contact because I didn’t want to show I was into that sort of thing. We had been dodging each others eyes the whole time in there, and it was obvious because of how much they were meeting prior. I decided to break from the group and just stare into the wall of porn with a hundred yard gaze. Somehow, Emily managed to duck out of the group in a few minutes and joined me. She of course, asked what I was looking at. At this point, I’d like to thank my grandfather for teaching me how to heckle newscasters, because those skills were just about to come in handy. I looked over the porn wall, “oh, I’m just looking at all these ridiculous names, here, take a look at…”. I forget the punchlines, so did she, but I started relentlessly making fun of all of the titles of the porn on the wall, and the tension eased. I even think I recall us making it to the leggings/skimpy outfit section—Amazon didn’t exist for that yet—and she told me how much she liked the idea of a corset. Even then Emily knew how to get to me, just this time I’m pretty sure it was unintentional. At some point, that wrapped up, the details of this memory get fuzzy in places, but I know we left the store both thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t managed to scare the other off.

I got Emily more coffee from the cafe, and we settled in for some more Zim marathon. No one could say shit, birthday girl’s party. Almost everyone else had fallen asleep, it was just us, and her sister. We were staring into each others eyes something heavy, and after a few minutes her sister had to get Emily’s sleeping place ready. They hadn’t had the good sense to do that prior. I asked for a kiss while we were briefly alone and she shrank back and squeaked out a yes. There was so much I wanted to do with, and to Emily but she clearly wasn’t ready. I think that’s when I set aside my expectations for sex. I would later learn that there was also a lot she wanted to do to me but was too chicken. 8 years later I would learn that I hadn’t been concealing that boner as well as I thought. But man, that was a great kiss. Soft, slow, romantic. We were well finished by the time her sister returned, but seeing her sister return put a Cheshire grin on Emily’s face. I think she thought she got away with murder.

That was a restless night for me. Just prior to Emily being escorted to her makeshift bed her sister gave me all but a speech on how closely that room would be watched and how locked it was. Please, that’s an interior door and there’s no way I couldn’t get past it, and I wanted to say that so bad. I spent until 3am trying to figure out if I was going to get past it. At one point, I even walked up with the thought to knock. It was 0130 and I stopped for a few reasons. It was late and I didn’t want to annoy her—though it turns out she was awake—and I also didn’t want to risk waking her sister. I could definitely get past that rudimentary lock, but that seemed kinda….very aggressive, but knowing I could presented a temptation. Years later, Emily would remark it was a good thing I hadn’t, because I probably would have gotten exactly what I wanted if I had.

Despite not getting to sleep until 3, I was the first one awake that morning. Shortly afterwards Emily was out and about. It was roughly 6:30 in the morning. Naturally, I got us both coffee. I found the computer the cafe owner had briefly played music from the night before, pulled up YouTube and found Desperado. I sang it to her. She had no idea how much that song applied to me in that moment, but she loved that I was singing it to her. A bit after that, everyone else started waking up. I hadn’t gotten my second kiss yet, she was too embarrassed that someone might find out the extent that she’d already fallen. She was the only one in the dark though, and that became a meme later. I still tease her about how long it took her to figure out that we were dating.

Everyone had breakfast, and Emily’s sister reminded her it was time to go. Her parents were expecting her back soon and they were reluctant (rightly so it turns out!) to have her spend her birthday that way in the first place. We were in the middle of another conversation about nothing as we headed out of the complex, she basically demanded a hug goodbye, where she promptly decided to take a deep sniff of my hair. I think she thought she was being sneaky, but I wasn’t going to say anything, I was content to let her think she wasn’t noticed. Her sister however, guffawed, “Oh Emily did you just smell his hair!?”.

Emily turned red. I just smiled and said my goodbyes. 13 years later, it’s been a hell of a one night stand.

The Fantasy List

The Fantasy List

Communicating about sex isn’t always easy. Emily and I come from different backgrounds, had different levels of sexual experience when we met, and we have vastly different communication skills and styles. Given how unique individual lives are, I imagine there are more couples like us than not. Then you have the mind-reader syndrome, where couples that have been together a while start assuming their minds are being read.

“We’ve been together X years you should know this about me by now!”, a common refrain.

Sure, there were things Emily and I learned about each other through osmosis. You are going to learn things about your spouse simply by being with them, but as I like to remind Emily, there was a time before I met her and before she met me. That little fact seems so easy to forget after the years pile on. Not only do you become unable to imagine a future without them, you become unable to imagine anything without them, including your past, and you can forget that there was a life before your spouse.

So at 8 years into the marriage, having known each other for 11, we decided to get down and seriously talk about sex. I was starting to feel a bit caged, not for a lack of some other fancy woman that I imagined existed somewhere but because I didn’t feel free to express all of my sexual desires within’ the marriage. Emily isn’t the greatest at opening up, and I was her first and remain her only sexual partner. She had no prior experience to compare ‘us’ to so everything seemed normal, it was all she had. Not to put all the blame on her, I avoided communicating certain things because I had tastes outside of what I thought she’d consider acceptable. Guilty as charged in the sandbagging department.

I suggested an exercise, where we write down all of our sexual fantasies and preferences (at a 10,000 foot level) where we couldn’t observe each other and then swap sheets at the same time. We were to mark off the ones the relationship was fulfilling, and also mark any we felt were fantasy only as they’d wreck the marriage. My list had 28 items, hers had 8. A few things about this stuck out to me. One, I had suspected that she lacked the sexual vocabulary and experience to really consider her own wants. Due to me being her one and only, everything we did was so normal it escaped her notice. Two, she was absolutely flabbergasted at the number of things I had on my list, and more still at how few of them had check marks.

I remarked to her as I read her sheet. “I thought you were also into….” and she’d respond “That felt so normal I didn’t consider that a preference”. We eventually got her list up to 13 and finally it seemed to describe her, and all of her boxes had check marks. More than half of mine did not. Emily actually shed a tear or two, I encouraged her not to, to no avail. I actually wasn’t all that upset about the check mark count, I had realized long before the exercise that It was my job to communicate these things and I hadn’t done so. Emily however, had misplaced feelings of dereliction of duty, especially in light of the fact that a lot of those empty check boxes struck her as a lot of fun. We went over the list, willing to try, not willing to try, marking them as we went, and much to my astonishment, most of them she was willing to try, even the ones regarding exhibitionism (I thought there was no way in hell).

And the rest was history, so they say. I regret waiting until so far into ours to figure out how to get all my sexual skeletons into the open and out of the closet, even in my own marriage. I’m not advocating a specific method, the one we used is very us, but if it sounds like it would work for you by all means crib it, but I wanted to remind you all today that sexuality is something you need to figure out how to talk about and discuss openly, even if you need a few mental tricks to get you there. How scary is a ‘no’ to something you’re already not doing anyway?

Until next time.

Featured Photo by Jay on Unsplash

She Needs to Feel Sexy

I used a word as strong as need intentionally. We’ll get to that in a second.

So I was reading through some posts on Ashley Danielle’s page and she had something up about picking a sexy dress out for Vegas. As she was communicating her desire to feel sexy—which in itself is the emotion of feeling sexually desirable—I recalled moments when my wife expressed the same thing.

The thing I remembered in particular was when Emily was having body image issues after our third child. Yes, some things happened to her body that she felt were less attractive, but she was focusing on those to the point she couldn’t see the beautiful woman that she still is. My attempts to convince her otherwise weren’t working. In our case we did something a bit drastic, risky, but something I was real confident about. Emily is a stunning woman, pregnancy battle scars included, and she was not only succumbing to a negative internal image but her photoshop detector wasn’t working properly either. She couldn’t really perceive the laughably harsh soft filtering on pictures of models and insta. I just happened to be learning photoshop at the time.

So I did two things. One, and this is admittedly extreme, I got her to throw her image out to the harsh judgement of the internet, something I assured her would be positive despite its reputation, and I was right. The next thing I did was take a picture of her, and photoshopped it until it looked like what I was seeing through my husband goggles. For some reason, that maneuver really punched through, though the first thing also did its job very well. Emily started to feel confident and sexy again.

I think that’s an emotional need that often isn’t treated as seriously as say, the need to be loved. There’s a little insecurity in accepting praise at face value from your spouse. How can your wife be assured that you aren’t just trying to avoid the couch after all? By seeking the honest validation of strangers she can be assured that your praise is not a white lie. A little black dress is more than an outfit, it’s a reminder with each noticed sideways glance that your desire for her may be based on something more tangible than just aiming to please, it will let her accept the idea that you actually desire her, the way a stranger might. I guarantee you, that will make her feel better about her body, and it will turn her on. She needs to feel sexy because she wants to know you want her. Deny yourself the benefits at your own peril.

The Many Faces of Valentine’s Day

The Many Faces of Valentine’s Day

So naturally, what would a couple’s blog be without a post about Valentine’s day? It’s easy to forget the many faces this day wears for so many people as you focus in on your partner and their happiness.

Is this the Valentine’s day you’re going to propose?

Is it the first one you’ve spent with someone that really matters?

Is your 7 year-old learning the super wrong kid friendly version in school they’ll have to unlearn in a few years?

Is this the dozenth Valentines day, are you struggling to make it special?

Is it the twenty-fourth and you’ve not missed a beat on any Valentine’s day?

Are you at the supermarket rushing around wondering how it is you keep forgetting?

Did you break her heart today?

Did your man make the other girls at the office jealous?

Did you do something that she’ll never forget? Did you set the bar too high?

Is today the day you say yes?

Is it her first time? Is it yours?

Did you put in an extra tip for the hotel staff?

Did you phone it in?

Did you make it everything you could?

Most importantly, did you make it yours?

Happy Valentine’s Day Emily. You’re the reason I keep going. Happy Valentine’s Day to my only daughter. I hope when you’re old enough to appreciate them, they’re all good memories. Happy Valentine’s day to the person who inspired me to actually start this project, you know who you are.

I love you all.

Don’t Stop Dating

Your road through marriage can come with a lot of new identities: parent, spouse, Home Depot junkies, just to name a few. You’ll run a household together, manage finances together, become your own handymen and landscapers (even if you delegate those jobs you’ll have to have instructions and vision), raise children, reprimand teachers and other care givers when they step out of line, deal with in-laws, and handle end of life care for your parents.

You may not think, doing all of these things and dealing with the punches life throws at you, that you have the time or bandwidth to tend to the tasks that brought you together in the first place. You may vanish as regulars to your favorite bar or restaurant, your friends may see less of you, you may see less of each other. Some of this is bound to happen, you just aren’t getting out for dates as much when you’re say, sleep training an infant. But I implore you not to let ‘phases’ become new norms.

When there is a genuine need to put the nights out on the back burner, do so, you have a family to take care of, but don’t give up on dating forever. Love is not something that you achieve and then put in a trophy case, it requires constant reinforcement and reaffirmation and I find a lot of couples discard dating as soon as they tie the knot. They seem to think of dating as this courtship phase that has a hard end when they get married, they don’t recognize their dates as the series of love and trust deepening behaviors that got them to the marriage finish line in the first place. On that note, the act of marriage isn’t the finish line at all, it’s the starting line.

I think you could be reasonably confused about that. Society certainly is. Young couples overwhelmingly choose cohabitation over marriage as their preferred lifestyle. According to a study by Sharon Sassler at Cornell University, this largely comes from a fear of divorce. Sassler has further found that a good portion of these people are primarily worried over the emotional turmoil from the split.

So let’s simplify that thinking for a little bit just so when can put it in perspective and consider the implications. A significant group of young people, are living together for as long as they can, and having and raising children, instead of getting ‘married’ in order to avoid the psychological pain of splitting up. I am left wondering what the word marriage must mean to these couples. It wasn’t that long ago, from a historical perspective, that living together this way made you married, and I don’t mean de facto married, I don’t mean as good as married, I mean married married. Hell, there are still 15 states in the United States, 16 if you include D.C., that recognize some form of common law marriage. A lot of these have caveats but there are a few that don’t including Alabama, Colorado, D.C., Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

Whatever causes this line of thinking, it’s clear there’s at least one thing going on. Marriage has become some sort of magical divider that separates us from our pre and post dating state, but having children does not. Sure, there’s not having to go through divorce, but the moment you split there’s going to be a custody fight and child support to pay. You’re not ‘getting away clean’ here, and you may end up just as in court as you would have been in a divorce. The evidence is clear, many of us are convinced that our entire emotional state regarding our relationship should change on our wedding day.

That’s rubbish.

Emphasizing your new identities as spouses and parents to the exclusion of your old identities as a romantic dating couple can cause you to become entirely consumed by these identities, and that often leads to long term unhappiness in your marriage. A wife consumed by her identity as a mother may have trouble with mustering the raw feelings of desire she needs for sex. A father consumed in his role as a provider may have trouble prioritizing the emotional needs of the rest of his family and ironically fail in that exact role. Either parent, consumed by their roles as such, my absorb themselves in their children to such a degree that their partner may feel unappreciated and unloved. Balance of our myriad identities matters. Maybe I could spend a lot more words trying to convince you of that, but I think Esther Perel does a much better job and I don’t wish to duplicate her research or experience. Just go read Mating In Captivity if you’re skeptical, then get back to me.

For the rest of us, remember that continuing your courtship behaviors helps you balance your new identities with your old ones. Emily and I recently had our tenth anniversary and we spent it doing something I think you may find interesting.

Emily and I dumped our kids off with relatives, and generally when we do that it’s so we can have some of the kinkier sex that would be too noisy and require too much assurances it wouldn’t be interrupted than we can manage when they’re in the house. That day however, we had a different goal in mind. We were going to just have a good old fashioned mall crawl. We arrived when the doors opened, and were immediately hit in the face with the smells of Cinnabon. We hadn’t had breakfast yet and Emily exclaimed something to the effect of, “that would be good”. Emphasis on the would. I chuckled a bit and corrected her. That’s going to be good.

Emily realized at that moment, it finally hit her after about an hour and a half, that she was free to act without children, that she could be a little selfish, that she could enjoy herself, she didn’t have to buy extra cinnamon rolls or share one with sugar craving piranhas, that, for the moment, for this day, we were just the 2 of us again. She got so happy she nearly cried, and we spent the next five hours or so going through makeup, clothes, video games, candles, and whatever the hell we felt like doing.

I explained the day to a coworker, 11 years married and he exclaimed, “Yeah, we spent our tenth pretty much the same way, we had a Home Depot date and spent most the day casually building the kitchen island we have now and it was fantastic”.

We certainly have dates more frequently than just our anniversary date, but we don’t get to do these things as often as I’d like, granted, perhaps should. We could strive to do our date nights a little more, tone it down on the sex and up on the sushi bar. I understand the concept of having superior obligations too, like bills and house maintenance, but take it from me, take it from my co-worker, it’s worth it. Don’t stop dating.