The Family Cycle: Euphoric and Dysphoric Phases in Marriage
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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The ancient institution of monogamous marriage is ill-suited to the exigencies of modern Western civilization. People of both genders live and work longer (which renders sexual exclusivity impracticable); travel far and away frequently; and are exposed to tempting romantic alternatives via social networking and in various workplace and social settings. As leisure time increases and physical survival is all but effortlessly guaranteed, recreation takes precedence over procreation.
Until the 1920s only women were expected to abide by a strict code of sexual exclusivity. Men, openly albeit discreetly, kept mistresses and patronized brothels to sate their exuberance. In many cultures, polygamous men maintained harems. As women’s lib and gender equality gradually took over, sexually emancipated women assumed many hitherto male behaviors. Alarmed by this turn of events, men suddenly became paragons of virtue, akin to women in erstwhile days. Men now vowed to adhere to a single sexual partner, thus attempting to force women to “revert to type”. This abrupt about-face wrought mayhem on the monogamous bond because it forcibly equated sexual exclusivity with love and bonding and regarded cheating as proof of their absence.
Contradictory expectations from one’s intimate partner are unrealistic. No single person can be a passionate, exciting lover; an empathic, patient friend; a stalwart companion; a good father/mother, cook, and handyperson; an intellectual equal; an adventurer; a stable breadwinner; and myriad other functions besides. Hence the need to outsource and the recurrence of emotional and sexual affairs, the disruptive outcomes of overwhelming, all-pervasive ennui.
Thus, even as social monogamy and pair commitment and bonding are still largely intact and more condoned than ever and even as infidelity is fervently condemned, sexual exclusivity (mislabelled “sexual monogamy”) is declining, especially among the young and the old. Monogamy is becoming one alternative of many lifestyles and marriage only one relationship among a few (sometimes, not even a privileged or unique relationship, as it competes for time and resources with work, same-sex friends, friends with benefits, and opposite-sex friends.) We may be heading towards a future of serial monogamy devoid of sexual exclusivity: emotional attachment and bonding within sexually open marriages or partnerships (whether its open nature is proclaimed and promulgated or tacitly accepted and overlooked).
The contractual aspects of marriage are more pronounced than ever with everything on the table: from extramarital sex (allowed or not) to pre-nuptial agreements. The commodification and preponderance of sex – premarital and extramarital - robbed it of its function as a conduit of specialness and intimacy and since childrearing is largely avoided (natality rates are precipitously plummeting everywhere) or outsourced, the family has lost both its raison d’etre and its nature as the venue for exclusive sexual and emotional interactions between adults.
Professed values and prevailing social mores and institutions have yet to catch up to this emerging multifarious reality. The consequences of these discrepancies are disastrous: about 40-50% of all first-time marriages end in divorce and the percentage is much higher for second and third attempts at connubial bliss. Open communication about one’s sexual needs is tantamount to self-ruination as one’s partner is likely to reflexively initiate a divorce. Dishonesty and cheating are definitely the rational choices in such an unforgiving and punitive environment.
Indeed, most surviving marriages have to do with perpetuating the partners’ convenience, their access to commonly-owned assets and future streams of income, and the welfare of third parties, most notably their kids. Erstwhile sexual exclusivity often degenerates into celibacy or abstinence on the one hand – or parallel lives with multiple sexual and emotional partners on the other hand.
One night stands for both genders are usually opportunistic. Extra-pair affairs are self-limiting, as emotional involvement and sexual attraction wane over time. Infidelity is, therefore, much less of a threat to the longevity of a dedicated couple than it is made out to be. Most of the damage is caused by culturally-conditioned, albeit deeply and traumatically felt, reactions to conduct that is almost universally decried as deceitful, dishonest, and in breach of vows and promises.
But the roots of the crumbling alliance between men and women go deeper and further in time. Long before divorce became a social norm, men and women grew into two disparate, incompatible, and warring subspecies. Traditionalist, conservative, and religious societies put in place behavioural safeguards against the inevitable wrenching torsion that monogamy entailed: no premarital sex (virginity); no multiple intimate partners; no cohabitation prior to tying the knot; no mobility, or equal rights for women; no mixing of the genders. We now know that each of these habits does, indeed, increase the chances for an ultimate divorce. As Jonathan Franzen elucidates in his literary masterpieces, it boils down to a choice between personal freedoms and the stability of the family: the former decisively preclude the latter.
During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, discreet affairs were an institution of marriage: sexual gratification and emotional intimacy were outsourced while all other domestic functions were shared in partnership. The Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, the backlash of the sexual revolution, belligerent feminism, and the advent of socially-atomizing and gender-equalizing transportation, information processing, and telecommunication technologies led inexorably to the hollowing out of family and hearth.
In a civilization centred on brainpower, Men have lost the relative edge that brawn used to provide. Monogamy is increasingly considered as past its expiry date: a historical aberration that reflects the economic and political realities of bygone eras. Moreover: the incidence of lifelong singlehood has skyrocketed as people hope for their potential or actual relationship-partners to provide for all their sexual, emotional, social, and economic needs – and then get sorely disappointed when they fail to meet these highly unrealistic expectations.
In an age of economic self-sufficiency, electronic entertainment, and self-gratification, the art of compromise in relationships is gone. Single motherhood (sometimes via IVF, with no identifiable partner involved) has become the norm in many countries. Even within marriages or committed relationships, solitary pursuits, such as separate vacations, or “girls’/boy’ nights out” have become the norm.
The 20th century was a monument to male fatuity: wars and ideologies almost decimated the species. Forced to acquire masculine skills and fill men’s shoes in factories and fields, women discovered militant self-autonomy, the superfluousness of men, and the untenability of the male claims to superiority over them.
In an age of malignant individualism, bordering on narcissism, men and women alike put themselves, their fantasies, and their needs first, all else – family included – be damned. And with 5 decades of uninterrupted prosperity, birth control, and feminism/ women’s lib most of the female denizens of the West have acquired the financial wherewithal to realize their dreams at the expense and to the detriment of collectives they ostensibly belong to (such as the nuclear family.) Feminism is a movement focused on negatives (obliterating women’s age-old bondage) but it offers few constructive ideas regarding women’s new roles. By casting men as the enemy, it also failed to educate them and convert them into useful allies.
Owing to the dramatic doubling of life expectancy, modern marriages seem to go through three phases: infatuation (honeymoon); procreation-accumulation (of assets, children, and shared experiences); and exhaustion-outsourcing (bonding with new emotional and sexual partners for rejuvenation or the fulfilment of long-repressed fantasies, needs, and wishes.) Divorces and breakups occur mostly at the seams, the periods of transition between these phases and especially between the stages of accumulation-procreation and exhaustion-outsourcing. This is where family units break down.
With marriage on the decline and infidelity on the rise, the reasonable solution would be swinging (swapping sexual partners) or polyamory (households with multiple partners of both genders all of whom are committed to one another for the long haul, romantically-involved, sexually-shared, and economically united.) Alas, while a perfectly rational development of the traditional marriage and one that is best-suited to modernity, it is an emotionally unstable arrangement, what with romantic jealousy ineluctably rearing its ugly head. Very few people are emotionally capable of sharing their life-partner with others.
Human psychology dictates that in any modern, adaptable variant of marriage monogamy must be preserved while allowing for emotional, sexual, and romantic diversity. How to square the circle? What virtual chastity belt can we conjure up to replace the spiked medieval original?
Enter “time-limited marriages” (TLM). These are marriage contracts with expiration dates: one to three years for childless couples and a minimum of seven years for those blessed with children (to allow the parents to provide a stable environment during the child’s formative years.) These contracts can be allowed to expire and then the parties are free to look elsewhere for the fulfilment of their sexual and romantic dreams and wishes; or they can be renewed and renegotiated.
The question is not why there
are so many divorces, but why so few. Surely, serial monogamy (in effect, a
tawdry variant of TLM) is far better, fairer, and more humane than adultery?
Couples stay together and tolerate straying owing to inertia; financial or
emotional dependence; insecurity (lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem);
fear of the unknown and the tedium of dating. Some couples persevere owing to
religious conviction of for the sake of appearances. Yet others make a smooth
transition to an alternative lifestyle (polyamory, swinging, or consensual
Indeed, what has changed is not the incidence of adultery, even among women. There are good grounds to assume that it has remained the same throughout human history. The phenomenon - quantitatively and qualitatively - has always been the same, merely underreported. What have changed are the social acceptability of extramarital sex both before and during marriage and the ease of obtaining divorce. People discuss adultery openly where before it was a taboo topic.
Another new development may be the rise of “selfish affairs” among women younger than 35 who are used to multiple sexual partners. “Selfish affairs” are acts of recreational adultery whose sole purpose is to satisfy sexual curiosity and the need for romantic diversity. The emotional component in these usually short-term affairs (one-night stands and the like) is muted. Among women older than 60, adultery has become the accepted way of seeking emotional connection and intimacy outside the marital bond. These are “outsourcing affairs.”
Within the TLM, partners would have little incentive to cheat: they could simply wait for the contract to lapse. The looming expiry would also keep the intimate partners on their toes and on their best behavior by generating a sempiternal environment of courtship and positive sexual tension. The periodically renegotiated marriage contracts would reflect changing economic realities, shifts in romantic sentiment, and other pertinent new data. Of course, TLM would eliminate the need for divorces (except in extreme, emergency cases.)
Until recently, couples formed around promises of emotional exclusivity and sexual fidelity, uniqueness in each other’s mind and life, and (more common until the 1940s) virginity. Marriage was also a partnership: economic, or related to childrearing, or companionship. It was based on the partners’ past and background and geared towards a shared future.
As Betty Friedan noted in her celebrated tome, “The Feminine Mystique”, women in the 1950s reverted to traditional gender roles as housewives, undoing most of the educational and vocational accomplishments of their mothers and grandmothers (see this excerpt). It took the rebellion and contumacious disillusionment of the 1960s to emancipate women to think and act like men. The pendulum had swung too far, though: women now largely emulate and adopt behaviors which were once the preserve of psychopathic or narcissistic men.
Nowadays, couples coalesce around the twin undertakings of continuity (“I will ALWAYS be there for you”) and availability (“I will always BE there for you.”) Issues of exclusivity, uniqueness, and virginity have been relegated to the back-burner. It is no longer practical to demand of one’s spouse to have nothing to do with the opposite sex, not to spend the bulk of his or her time outside the marriage, not to take separate vacations, and, more generally, to be joined at the hip. Affairs, for instance – both emotional and sexual – are sad certainties in the life of every couple.
Members of the couple are supposed to make themselves continuously available to each other and to provide emotional sustenance and support in an atmosphere of sharing, companionship, and friendship. All the traditional functions of the family can now be – and often are – outsourced, including even sex and emotional intimacy. But, contrary to marriage, outsourcing is frequently haphazard and unpredictable, dependent as it is on outsiders who are committed elsewhere as well. Hence the relative durability of marriage, in its conservative and less-conventional forms alike: it is a convenient and highly practicable arrangement.
Divorce or other forms of marital breakup are not new phenomena. But their precipitants have undergone a revolutionary shift. In the past, families fell apart owing to a breach of exclusivity, mainly in the forms of emotional or sexual infidelity; a deficiency of uniqueness and primacy: divorced women, for instance, were considered “damaged goods” because they used to “belong” to another man and, therefore, could offer neither primacy nor uniqueness; or an egregious violation of the terms of partnership (for example: sloth, dysfunctional childrearing, infertility).
Nowadays, intimate partners bail out when the continuous availability of their significant others is disrupted: sexually, emotionally, or as friends and companions. Marriages are about the present and are being put to the test on a daily basis. Partners who are dissatisfied opt out and team up with other, more promising providers. Children are serially reared by multiple parents and in multiple households.
Still, despite all the fashionable theories of marriage, the narratives and the feminists, the reasons to get married largely remain the same. True, there have been role reversals and new stereotypes have cropped up. But biological, physiological and biochemical facts are less amenable to modern criticisms of culture. Men are still men and women are still women.
Men and women marry to form:
The Sexual Dyad – Intended to gratify the partners' sexual attraction and secure a stable, consistent and available source of sexual gratification.
The Economic Dyad – The couple is a functioning economic unit within which the economic activities of the members of the dyad and of additional entrants are carried out. The economic unit generates more wealth than it consumes and the synergy between its members is likely to lead to gains in production and in productivity relative to individual efforts and investments.
The Social Dyad – The members of the couple bond as a result of implicit or explicit, direct, or indirect social pressures. Such pressure can manifest itself in numerous forms. In Judaism, a person cannot hold some religious posts unless he is married. This is a form of economic pressure.
In most human societies, avowed bachelors are considered to be socially deviant and abnormal. They are condemned by society, ridiculed, shunned and isolated, effectively ex-communicated. Partly to avoid these sanctions and partly to enjoy the emotional glow that comes with conformity and acceptance, couples get married.
Today, myriad lifestyles are on offer. The old fashioned, nuclear family is one of many variants. Children are reared by single parents. Homosexual couples bind and abound. But a pattern is discernible all the same: almost 95% of the adult population get married ultimately. They settle into a two-member arrangement, whether formalized and sanctioned religiously or legally – or not.
The Companionship Dyad – Formed by adults in search of sources of long-term and stable support, emotional warmth, empathy, care, good advice and intimacy. The members of these couples tend to define themselves as each other's best friends.
Folk wisdom tells us that the first three dyads are unstable.
Sexual attraction wanes and is replaced by sexual attrition in most cases. This could lead to the adoption of non-conventional sexual behavior patterns (sexual abstinence, group sex, couple swapping, etc.) – or to recurrent marital infidelity.
Pecuniary concerns are insufficient grounds for a lasting relationship, either. In today's world, both partners are potentially financially independent. This new found autonomy gnaws at the roots of traditional patriarchal-domineering-disciplinarian relationships. Marriage is becoming a more balanced, business like, arrangement with children and the couple's welfare and life standard as its products.
Thus, marriages motivated solely by economic considerations are as likely to unravel as any other joint venture. Admittedly, social pressures help maintain family cohesiveness and stability. But – being thus enforced from the outside – such marriages resemble detention rather than a voluntary, joyful collaboration.
Moreover, social norms, peer pressure, and social conformity cannot be relied upon to fulfil the roles of stabilizer and shock absorber indefinitely. Norms change and peer pressure can backfire ("If all my friends are divorced and apparently content, why shouldn't I try it, too ?").
Only the companionship dyad seems to be durable. Friendships deepen with time. While sex loses its initial, biochemically-induced, lustre, economic motives are reversed or voided, and social norms are fickle – companionship, like wine, improves with time.
Even when planted on the most desolate land, under the most difficult and insidious circumstances, the obdurate seed of companionship sprouts and blossoms.
"Matchmaking is made in heaven" goes the old Jewish adage but Jewish matchmakers in centuries past were not averse to lending the divine a hand. After closely scrutinizing the background of both candidates – male and female – a marriage was pronounced. In other cultures, marriages are still being arranged by prospective or actual fathers without asking for the embryos or the toddlers' consent.
The surprising fact is that arranged marriages last much longer than those which are the happy outcomes of romantic love. Moreover: the longer a couple cohabitates prior to their marriage, the higher the likelihood of divorce. Counterintuitively, romantic love and cohabitation ("getting to know each other better") are negative precursors and predictors of marital longevity.
Companionship grows out of friction and interaction within an irreversible formal arrangement (no "escape clauses"). In many marriages where divorce is not an option (legally, or due to prohibitive economic or social costs), companionship grudgingly develops and with it contentment, if not happiness.
Companionship is the offspring of pity and empathy. It is based on and shared events and fears and common suffering. It reflects the wish to protect and to shield each other from the hardships of life. It is habit forming. If lustful sex is fire – companionship is old slippers: comfortable, static, useful, warm, and secure.
Experiments and experience show that people in constant touch get attached to one another very quickly and very thoroughly. This is a reflex that has to do with survival. As infants, we get attached to other mothers and our mothers get attached to us. In the absence of social interactions, we die younger. We need to bond and to make others depend on us in order to survive.
The mating (and, later, marital) cycle is full of euphorias and dysphorias. These "mood swings" generate the dynamics of seeking mates, copulating, coupling (marrying) and reproducing.
The source of these changing dispositions can be found in the meaning that we attach to marriage which is perceived as the real, irrevocable, irreversible and serious entry into adult society. Previous rites of passage (like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, the Christian Communion and more exotic rites elsewhere) prepare us only partially to the shocking realization that we are about to emulate our parents.
During the first years of our lives, we tend to view our parents as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent demigods. Our perception of them, of ourselves and of the world is magical. All entities - we and our caregivers included - are entangled, constantly interacting, and identity interchanging ("shape shifting").
At first, therefore, our parents are idealized. Then, as we get disillusioned, they are internalized to become the first and most important among the inner voices that guide our lives. As we grow up (adolescence) we rebel against our parents (in the final phases of identity formation) and then learn to accept them and to resort to them in times of need.
But the primordial gods of our infancy never die, nor do they lie dormant. They lurk in our superego, engaged in incessant dialogue with the other structures of our personality. They constantly criticize and analyze, make suggestions and reproach. The hiss of these voices is the background radiation of our personal big bang.
Thus, to decide to get married (to imitate our parents), is to challenge and tempt the gods, to commit sacrilege, to negate the very existence of our progenitors, to defile the inner sanctum of our formative years. This is a rebellion so momentous, so all encompassing, that it touches upon the very foundation of our personality.
Inevitably, we (unconsciously) shudder in anticipation of the imminent and, no doubt, horrible punishment that awaits us for this iconoclastic presumptuousness. This is the first dysphoria, which accompanies our mental preparations prior to getting wed. Getting ready to get hitched carries a price tag: the activation of a host of primitive and hitherto dormant defence mechanisms - denial, regression, repression, projection.
This self-induced panic is the result of an inner conflict. On the one hand, we know that it is unhealthy to live as recluses (both biologically and psychologically). With the passage of time, we are urgently propelled to find a mate. On the other hand, there is the above-described feeling of impending doom.
Having overcome the initial anxiety, having triumphed over our inner tyrants (or guides, depending on the character of the primary objects, their parents), we go through a short euphoric phase, celebrating their rediscovered individuation and separation. Reinvigorated, we feel ready to court and woo prospective mates.
But our conflicts are never really put to rest. They merely lie dormant.
Married life is a terrifying rite of passage. Many react to it by limiting themselves to familiar, knee-jerk behavior patterns and reactions and by ignoring or dimming their true emotions. Gradually, these marriages are hollowed out and wither.
Some seek solace in resorting to other frames of reference - the terra cognita of one's neighbourhood, country, language, race, culture, language, background, profession, social stratum, or education. Belonging to these groups imbues them with feelings of security and firmness.
Many combine both solutions. More than 80% of marriages take place among members of the same social class, profession, race, creed and breed. This is not a chance statistic. It reflects choices, conscious and (more often) unconscious.
The next anti-climatic dysphoric phase transpires when our attempts to secure (the consent of) a mate are met with success. Daydreaming is easier and more gratifying than the dreariness of realized goals. Mundane routine is the enemy of love and of optimism. Where dreams end, harsh reality intrudes with its uncompromising demands.
Securing the consent of one's future spouse forces one to tread an irreversible and increasingly challenging path. One's imminent marriage requires not only emotional investment - but also economic and social ones. Many people fear commitment and feel trapped, shackled, or even threatened. Marriage suddenly seems like a dead end. Even those eager to get married entertain occasional and nagging doubts.
The strength of these negative emotions depends, to a very large extent, on the parental role models and on the kind of family life experienced. The more dysfunctional the family of origin - the earlier (and usually only) available example – the more overpowering the sense of entrapment and the resulting paranoia and backlash.
But most people overcome this stage fright and proceed to formalize their relationship by getting married. This decision, this leap of faith is the corridor which leads to the palatial hall of post-nuptial euphoria.
This time the euphoria is mostly a social reaction. The newly conferred status (of "just married") bears a cornucopia of social rewards and incentives, some of them enshrined in legislation. Economic benefits, social approval, familial support, the envious reactions of others, the expectations and joys of marriage (freely available sex, having children, lack of parental or societal control, and newly experienced freedoms) foster another magical bout of feeling omnipotent.
It feels good and empowering to control one's newfound "lebensraum", one's spouse, and one's life. It fosters self-confidence, self esteem and helps regulate one's sense of self-worth. It is a manic phase. Everything seems possible, now that one is left to one's own devices and is supported by one's mate.
With luck and the right partner, this frame of mind can be prolonged. However, as life's disappointments accumulate, obstacles mount, the possible sorted out from the improbable and time passes inexorably, this euphoria abates. The reserves of energy and determination dwindle. Gradually, one slides into an all-pervasive dysphoric (even anhedonic or depressed) mood.
The routines of life, its mundane attributes, the contrast between fantasy and reality, erode the first burst of exuberance. Life looks more like a life sentence. This anxiety sours the relationship. One tends to blame one's spouse for one's atrophy. People with alloplastic defences (external locus of control) blame others for their defeats and failures.
Thoughts of breaking free, of going back to the parental nest, of revoking the marriage become more frequent. It is, at the same time, a frightening and exhilarating prospect. Again, panic sets it. Conflict rears its ugly head. Cognitive dissonance abounds. Inner turmoil leads to irresponsible, self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours. A lot of marriages end here in what is known as the "seven year itch".
Next awaits parenthood. Many marriages survive only because of the presence of common offspring.
One cannot become a parent unless and until one eradicates the internal traces of one's own parents. This necessary patricide and unavoidable matricide are painful and cause great trepidation. But the completion of this crucial phase is rewarding all the same and it leads to feelings of renewed vigour, new-found optimism, a sensation of omnipotence and the reawakening of other traces of magical thinking.
In the quest for an outlet, a way to relieve anxiety and boredom, both members of the couple (providing they still possess the wish to "save" the marriage) hit upon the same idea but from different directions.
The woman (partly because of social and cultural conditioning during the socialization process) finds bringing children to the world an attractive and efficient way of securing the bond, cementing the relationship and transforming it into a long-term commitment. Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are perceived as the ultimate manifestations of her femininity.
The male reaction to childrearing is more compounded. At first, he perceives the child (at least unconsciously) as another restraint, likely to only "drag him deeper" into the quagmire. His dysphoria deepens and matures into full-fledged panic. It then subsides and gives way to a sense of awe and wonder. A psychedelic feeling of being part parent (to the child) and part child (to his own parents) ensues. The birth of the child and his first stages of development only serve to entrench this "time warp" impression.
Raising children is a difficult task. It is time and energy consuming. It is emotionally taxing. It denies the parent his or her privacy, intimacy, and needs. The newborn represents a full-blown traumatic crisis with potentially devastating consequences. The strain on the relationship is enormous. It either completely breaks down – or is revived by the novel challenges and hardships.
An euphoric period of collaboration and reciprocity, of mutual support and increasing love follows. Everything else pales beside the little miracle. The child becomes the centre of narcissistic projections, hopes and fears. So much is vested and invested in the infant and, initially, the child gives so much in return that it blots away the daily problems, tedious routines, failures, disappointments and aggravations of every normal relationship.
But the child's role is temporary. The more autonomous s/he becomes, the more knowledgeable, the less innocent – the less rewarding and the more frustrating s/he is. As toddlers become adolescents, many couples fall apart, their members having grown apart, developed separately and are estranged.
The stage is set for the next major dysphoria: the midlife crisis.
This, essentially, is a crisis of reckoning, of inventory taking, disillusionment, the realization of one's mortality. We look back to find how little we had accomplished, how short the time we have left, how unrealistic our expectations have been, how alienated we have become, how ill-equipped we are to cope, and how irrelevant and unhelpful our marriages are.
To the disenchanted midlifer, his life is a fake, a Potemkin village, a facade behind which rot and corruption have consumed his vitality. This seems to be the last chance to recover lost ground, to strike one more time. Invigorated by other people's youth (a young lover, one's students or colleagues, one's own children), one tries to recreate one's life in a vain attempt to make amends, and to avoid the same mistakes.
This crisis is exacerbated by the "empty nest" syndrome (as children grow up and leave the parents' home). A major topic of consensus and a catalyst of interaction thus disappear. The vacuity of the relationship engendered by the termites of a thousand marital discords is revealed.
This hollowness can be filled with empathy and mutual support. It rarely is, however. Most couples discover that they lost faith in their powers of rejuvenation and that their togetherness is buried under a mountain of grudges, regrets and sorrows.
They both want out. And out they go. The majority of those who do remain married revert to cohabitation rather than to love, to co-existence rather to experimentation, to arrangements of convenience rather to an emotional revival. It is a sad sight. As biological decay sets in, the couple heads into the ultimate dysphoria: ageing and death.
Sex in a Committed Relationship
There are four cardinal ways to regulate sex
within committed relationships, each with its own explicit or implicit
1. Sexual exclusivity
Contract: the intimate partners engage in all forms of sex acts as well as flirting and dating only with each other. Any sexual, romantic, or emotional interaction with someone outside the relationship is considered cheating and a betrayal of the intimate partner.
2. Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)
Contract: the intimate partner in a DADT relationship turns a blind eye to, ignores, or denies the facts about his/her partner's infidelity. He/she implicitly allows his/her partner to date others, flirt with them, and have all manner of sex acts outside the relationship. But they have to be discreet about their affairs, to eliminate all the evidence, and to continue to love their partners and share a life with them exclusively.
Falling in love outside the relationship or setting up a parallel life are considered not only cheating - but a betrayal of the intimate partner.
3. Open relationship
Exactly the same as DADT only the partners know about each other's sexual involvement with others and approve of such escapades.
Falling in love outside the relationship or setting up a parallel life are considered not only cheating - but a betrayal of the intimate partner.
The partners are allowed to date, flirt, fall in love, maintain full-fledged relationships, and, of course, have sex with others. There is no concept of cheating or betrayal although the partners are expected to not neglect or abandon each other in favor of their other lovers.
Sexless relationships have acquired pandemic
proportions. Legions of sex-starved women roam the streets, foraging for the
ever-dwindling numbers of sexually active men. These few remnants of virility
end up with ravenous harems whose morally conflicted inmates reluctantly seek
extramarital intimacy and romance. Most men now prefer porn and its solitary
aftermath to the dubious pleasure of modern female company. How have we come to
Modern Man is a narcissistic, porn-addicted misfit. Women have banished men from their lives: they raise their children alone; they educate their offspring on their own (90% of teachers are female); they are way more accomplished academically and they are breaching all the remaining glass ceilings forcefully. Men are on the retreat, hiding in cyber caves, self-medicating perilously, assiduously avoiding the dual threats of intimacy and sex with women, their newfound nemesis. It is War and all sides are losing it.
Women in sexless, loveless marriages often behave like single women (go out alone, travel alone, drink alone in bars, associate with single women). I call this kind of women ‘virtual singles’. They send out signals (broadcasts) which are identical to the signals of single women. Men pick up on these signals and respond to them powerfully by aggressively courting the virtual single, by sexualising her behavior, and by reducing her to a sex object ("doll").
Additionally, other women react to virtual singles with resentment and fear because they consider them to be predatory. Every woman in the company of a virtual single is afraid that the virtual single will seduce her husband and abscond or elope with him (steal him away from her). All the men around the virtual single assume that she is available for sex, a "whore".
The majority of women in the world still live
in male-dominated patriarchal societies replete with sex aversion, male
chauvinism and misogyny.
Such a societal mindset is the effluence of backward religiosity, oppressive economic & legal circumstances, and, in some parts of the globe, a numerical surplus of women over men.
Women in such environments encounter the same problems as women everywhere: loveless & sexless marriages, pay gaps, glass ceilings, sexual harassment, & economic hardship. They react in largely the same ways: they resort to lovers, for example. Or they enter the workforce. Or they focus on their offspring.
But there are major differences, too: women in patriarchal societies are fierce supporters and defenders of the social order and its attendant values of male superiority. Men are expected to be the primary providers, the sole decision-makers, the leaders. Women are eminences grise: the power behind the throne and behind the scenes. Western mores and solutions to inter-gender problems are frowned upon as both decadent and unworkable, destructive & dangerous.
In traditionalist cultures, women channel their rebellion and are passive-aggressive and manipulative rather than being openly defiant. In such societies men initiate divorces, not women. By comparison, in the West most divorces are the initiative of disgruntled & disheartened women.
Even women who maintain long-term extramarital affairs will bear children only to their estranged, alienated, hateful, and hated husbands. Most businesses are family owned. The family - however dysfunctional - is sacred, an organizing principle, and renders life itself meaningful.
So, most women in these backward communities lead double lives. They have a hidden, occult inner world to which they retreat. They are unhealthily and incestuously obsessed with their children. Homo-eroticism between women is rife and rampant. Some of these women find love with other men but never as viable options or substitutes to husband or family. They lead compartmentalized, sad - indeed, tragic - lives.
Various Observations on Marriage, Dating, Sex, and Family
We tend to think of the mores and conventions of our times as eternal.
Nothing is further from the truth. Even extreme practices such as incest were
once condoned and codified (for example: in Ancient Egypt). Homosexuality was
an integral part of the education of young men in the Greek world.
Similarly, adultery was the bon ton in the high Middle Ages, especially in southern France and Sicily. It was called "amour courtois" (courtly love): knight errants (troubadours) would court married noblewomen and dedicate to them acts of chivalry and reams of romantic and explicitly erotic poetry. The affairs did not remain Platonic but were always public.
Between the 17th and the 19th centuries in places like France and Russia, having a lover was as natural as having a husband or a wife.
Plus ca change.
Why did butt-ugly, far from intelligent, and septuagenarian
Trump end up with drop dead gorgeous considerably younger Melania? Because he
There are two major lies in modern education: 1. If you only put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything (not true: most people are between retards and average); and 2. There are no leagues and, therefore, no one is out of your league.
News flash: there are leagues and you are likely to end up being married to someone who is as ugly and impoverished and ignorant as you are. Your children will wind up even worse off. Social class and status are uncompromisingly harsh and rigid cross-generational realities.
This is known as the matching hypothesis: people end up in committed relationships with partners who are equally socially desirable - or undesirable. This politically incorrect tenet of social psychology has been around since 1966.
The whole phenomenon is natural (read: genetic). It is called assortative mating. Like mate with like: the rich, powerful, and well-educated tend to intermarry. Look up homogamy.
So, if she is a traffic-stopping beauty, has money, and her shoes cost more than your annual income - don't bother. You may end up banging her as her entertainment du jour - but it will never amount to anything more serious. And she will dump you the second you ask for more - or begin to bore her. Toys and pets should never aspire to usurp their owners. Know your place, boy!
Marriages are never damaged by a love affair. Love affairs are frequently
damaged by marriages.
For a love affair to have occurred, the marriage must have already been in serious trouble. The affair, the act of cheating, only brings the rot to light.
So, a love affair rarely harms a marriage more than it is already hurting.
But marriages do put an end to love affairs. Surprisingly few cheaters actually divorce. When forced to choose between their lover and their spouse, the overwhelming majority choose the spouse, regardless of how dysfunctional, dead, and acrimonious the marriage is.
Moreover: even on the rare occasions that an affair leads to a divorce, it is even rarer for the illicit liaison to survive the divorce. The erstwhile paramours drift apart and find new partners, untainted by memories of deceit and heartbreak.
So: extramarital dalliances are nothing but symptoms of an already dying marriage. But even a dying marriage has the power to decimate the most exciting and happy dalliance.
Contrary to appearances, sapiosexuals - people who are sexually turned on by
intelligence - are a dying breed.
In the 1950s, Albert Einstein was a rock star and a sex symbol. Nowadays, these roles are reserved to brawny footballers, not brainiac nerds.
The very word "sapiosexual" reflects the malaise of our age: it is a pretentious molestation of a Latin verb. It is about poseur nescient appearance, not true substance or erudition.
Why is sapiosexuality going extinct? Three reasons.
Malignant egalitarianism and truthiness imply that everyone is at least as intelligent, capable, and knowledgeable as everyone else about every subject under the sun;
A soundbite, 144 characters only skimming and browsing mentality resulted in the amputated truncation of our attention span. We have no time for true learning because it requires more than 10 seconds and the suspension of both dichotomous thinking and grandiose fantasies of omniscience.
Finally, in a hookup and celebrity culture, emphasis shifted to looks: the only information instantly accessible as the foundation for sexual decision-making. Narcissistic and histrionic preoccupation with image and appearances precludes the deep dives which are a prerequisite to appreciating the mind in all its splendid complexity - and attractiveness.
Why do second and third marriages end in a divorce much more often than
Because, beyond a certain age (35-45 would be my guess), women and men are irreparably damaged goods. They carry with them baggage from previous relationships that renders them incapable of maintaining functional new ones.
Hurts, abuse, grievances, lack of closure, fears, unresolved conflicts, and the narcissistic defenses that they elicit are the scarred residues and festering detritus of previous botched marriages and painful liaisons.
Hampered by such emotional mayhem, men and women crave long-term intimacy, companionship, and love. But disabled as they are by their past, they settle for hurried sex and fleeting flings strewn across the arid Sahara that their lives become.
Before capitalism, in the pre-industrial world, one's
survival depended on the extended family, clan, friends, and community. Social
skills - team work, communication, empathy, reciprocity, altruism, and
integrative networking - determined one's outcomes in life and one's happiness.
By shifting the emphasis to one's job and money, we made survival contingent on the technologically-empowered individual in an atomized, lonely world. Relative positioning became the goal of life and its meaning. Social media reify this shift in emphases.
This breakdown in collaborative coexistence bodes ill as far as our species goes: everything - from procreation to recreation and from production to reproduction - depends on reverting to communal modes of interaction. Yet we seem incapable of reversing the deleterious trends that are tearing us apart and pitting us against each other.
“By the end of the nineteen-fifties, the average marriage age of women in America dropped to 20, and was still dropping, into the teens. Fourteen million girls were engaged by 17. The proportion of women attending college in comparison with men dropped from 47 per cent in 1920 to 35 per cent in 1958. A century earlier, women had fought for higher education; now girls went to college to get a husband. By the mid-fifties, 60 per cent dropped out of college to marry, or because they were afraid too much education would be a marriage bar. Colleges built dormitories for 'married students,' but the students were almost always the husbands. A new degree was instituted for the wives -- 'Ph.T.' (Putting Husband Through).
Then American girls began getting married in high school. And the women's magazines, deploring the unhappy statistics about these young marriages, urged that courses on marriage, and marriage counselors, be installed in the high schools. Girls started going steady at twelve and thirteen, in junior high. Manufacturers put out brassieres with false bosoms of foam rubber for little girls of ten. And an advertisement for a child's dress, sizes 3-6x, in the New York Times in the fall of 1960, said: 'She Too Can Join the Man-Trap Set.'
By the end of the fifties, the United States birthrate was overtaking India's. The birth-control movement, renamed Planned Parenthood, was asked to find a method whereby women who had been advised that a third or fourth baby would be born dead or defective might have it anyhow. Statisticians were especially astounded at the fantastic increase in the number of babies among college women. Where once they had two children, now they had four, five, six. Women who had once wanted careers were now making careers out of having babies. So rejoiced Life magazine in a 1956 paean to the movement of American women back to the home.
In a New York hospital, a woman had a nervous breakdown when she found she could not breastfeed her baby. In other hospitals, women dying of cancer refused a drug which research had proved might save their lives: its side effects were said to be unfeminine. 'If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde,' a larger-than-life-sized picture of a pretty, vacuous woman proclaimed from newspaper, magazine, and drugstore ads. And across America, three out of every ten women dyed their hair blonde. They ate a chalk called Metrecal, instead of food, to shrink to the size of the thin young models. Department-store buyers reported that American women, since 1939, had become three and four sizes smaller. 'Women are out to fit the clothes, instead of vice-versa,' one buyer said.
Interior decorators were designing kitchens with mosaic murals and original paintings, for kitchens were once again the center of women's lives. Home sewing became a million-dollar industry. Many women no longer left their homes, except to shop, chauffeur their children, or attend a social engagement with their husbands. Girls were growing up in America without ever having jobs outside the home. In the late fifties, a sociological phenomenon was suddenly remarked: a third of American women now worked, but most were no longer young and very few were pursuing careers. They were married women who held part-time jobs, selling or secretarial, to put their husbands through school, their sons through college, or to help pay the mortgage. Or they were widows supporting families. Fewer and fewer women were entering professional work. The shortages in the nursing, social work, and teaching professions caused crises in almost every American city. Concerned over the Soviet Union's lead in the space race, scientists noted that America's greatest source of unused brainpower was women. But girls would not study physics: it was 'unfeminine.' A girl refused a science fellowship at Johns Hopkins to take a job in a real-estate office. All she wanted, she said, was what every other American girl wanted -- to get married, have four children and live in a nice house in a nice suburb.
The suburban housewife -- she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife -- freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of.
"In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their stationwagonsful of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: 'Occupation: housewife.'"
(The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, Norton 1997, pp. 2-5)
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