Just The Too Much Of Us
I wrote the chapter "How To Be A Good Houseguest" for The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do. At 611 words, it was 609 words too long. The best way to be a good houseguest? Two words: Stay home.
People who seek to share living quarters, even as guests, are people with illusions about people. I have none. My chapter opens with a helpful stomp on everybody's rose-colored glasses: "People are annoying. All people. Including you, me, Jennifer Aniston, and people living in dishwasher cartons on the street corner. Like the rest of us, you're loud, messy, demanding, and unsightly, with numerous irritating habits -- which degenerate from irritating to excruciating the longer you're around." On the bright side, "by acknowledging the ugly realities of human nature, you might not only retain your hosts as friends but find yourself invited back."
Where people in relationships go wrong is by assuming "fish and guests stink after three days" doesn't apply to anyone they're sleeping with regularly. Not only do you think you're exempt from this rule, you think moving in with somebody you love is the key to nonstop nookie. Why? Because he's always there? Denny's is always open, but you probably don't find yourself flailing around in bed in the middle of the night aching for a Grand Slam.
Desire runs on the economics of scarcity. That's why diamonds, not speckled gray pebbles, "are forever," and why special occasions are celebrated with champagne and caviar, not tap water and a scoop of tuna. You want what's rare, or seems rare, not what's there 24/7 gassing up your couch.
Biology is not on our side. In fact, recent research suggests people in relationships are chemically predisposed to come to find each other about as sexually compelling as yesterday's Cream of Wheat. Another one of nature's charming practical jokes? Actually, anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love, surmises sexual ennui was evolution's way of getting lovers to stop bouncing naked off the cave walls and raise their kids.
While, to the average person, a relationship seems to be one big crock pot of lust, attraction, and commitment, Fisher and other researchers see three distinct stages, each biochemically different. Lust, fueled by testosterone, gets you out in a short skirt looking for prey. In the attraction stage, you're drunk on a cocktail of dopamine and other excitors (the "love high"), still lusty, but laser-focused on one particular object of desire. Finally, there's the attachment stage, when the bonding chemicals vasopressin (in men) and oxytocin (in men and women) take over -- and getting off on each other tends to give way to nodding off on each other.
Sound familiar? Don't despair. Who says Mother Nature isn't ripe for a con? Helen Fisher suspects you can fool your biochemistry into believing you're still back in the chase phase. "Novel experiences drive up levels of dopamine in the brain," writes Fisher. This "can stimulate the release of testosterone, the hormone of sexual desire."
In other words, there's no security in security. Imagine, on the first date, if a guy ignored you to play Grand Theft Auto. Why is it any less a problem at the one-year mark? Clearly, you need to break up a little to have any hope of staying together. Move out and make like you're dating. Remember dates? They're special events where two people get all excited to see each other, put a lot of effort into looking and smelling seduction-friendly, pay close attention to each other, then, jump on each other instead of the Internet.
Fisher also cites experiments that suggest bringing an element of danger into a relationship can elevate a couple's dopamine. Perhaps you could relocate your boyfriend's lost libido while jumping out of an airplane or taunting mother bears. Or, if you aren't exactly a great outdoors type, just continue badgering him about whether he's attracted to you. Then again, while that might tempt him to throw himself off the nearest terrace, it probably isn't the kind of near-death experience Fisher had in mind.
Copyright ©2005, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.