Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bring Back That Loving Feeling

Perhaps it's a character flaw, but, normally, I would have ignored a book entitled: Stop Calling Him Honey and Start Having Sex: How Changing Your Everyday Habits Will Make You Hot for Each Other All Over Again.

Written by a journalist and a ballerina, its title smacked of frivolity; it was lacking in serious purpose. Besides, it explicitly addressed women, ergo...

I would have been wrong to ignore the book. Much of it is positively brilliant.

I ordered it because Dr. Helen Smith recommended it on her blog. She was intrigued by the book's concept and she made it sound intriguing to me. Better yet, when I read her post I thought that it was my kind of book. Link here.

The book's concept lies in its title. It is counterintuitive, to say the least. It does not make a lot of sense. As a rule, this is a good sign tht the book contains more than a few kernels of truth.

Better than that, following the advice in the book is free. So, you almost need a very good reason not to try it.

The book seems frivolous, even gimmicky, and besides, it was not written by accredited professionals.

As it happens, the best treatment program for addiction was not created by accredited professionals but by a couple of drunks whose sole criterion for success was whether or not it helped keep them off of alcohol.

I do not mean to disparage professionals, but we err if we ignore the opinions of lay people who are trying to find something that works.

The book has a limited scope, so let's limit our discussion to the specific instance it addresses: a once lusty marriage has lost that loving feeling.

The question is simple and direct. Others have addressed it in more pompous tones. In fact, there are industries dedicated to helping married couples bring back that loving feeling.

Our culture has industries devoted to helping you to recover your lust for your spouse. Often the solutions they prescribe are costly.

Maggie Arana and Julienne Davis have a solution that will cost you nothing. Therefore, just as AA threatened the psychiatric profession-- at least until it invented rehab-- this new approach to desire is likely to provoke a negative and dismissive reaction.

What does the culture advise? First, champagne, a bed of rose petals, chocolates, scented candles, lingerie, weekends in the Poconos... I could continue, but you get the picture.

Nothing is really wrong with this, though if you have a child or two or three running around the house, it is not likely that you will be able to turn your bedroom into a boudoir.

Beyond that, the approach lacks subtlety.  If a man comes home from work and finds a scene that screams sensuality, he might find himself slightly put off by the obviousness of it all.

Be that as it may, if this approach works, great.

Some advisers go to the other extreme and counsel spontaneity. They want you to have sex whenever and wherever the spirit moves you. They want you to be so filled with desire that you cannot even wait the two minutes it will take to retire to the bedroom.

So, they prescribe sex, right here, right now, on the kitchen counter, in a deserted baseball field, under the boardwalk, or in an airplane restroom.

As I say, if it works for you, great.

Psychotherapists have also worked at helping couples recover their lost desire. Freud began it, and he was the most pessimistic about it. Since he posited that we can only desire what is forbidden, he thought that marriage, where sex is not only not forbidden, but is prescribed, was the graveyard of desire.

Human experience would tend to contradict this theory, but Freud would have been undeterred. He would simply have told you to figure out how you can make your spouse a forbidden object of lust.

Later therapists have assumed that couples could improve their sex lives by practicing free and open communication, by breaking down of barriers between spouses.

In theory, it sounds good. In practice, it does not look quite so good.

Arana and Davis do not much concern themselves with theories. They try to examine the way these are translated into behaviors, as in: spouses watching each other perform intimate bathroom functions. Doesn't that meet the requirements of free and open communication, not keeping any secrets from each other, not hiding anything.

The author consider this to be a bad habit. If you want to bring back that loving feeling, they advise you to: "close the bathroom door." Intimacy has its limits; each person must have a zone of privacy, even secrets. You cannot feel sexual desire for someone after you have been watching them move their bowels.

It's possible to be too close, and if you are too close, you will want each other less.

The crux of the book, its central concept, the one that I am inclined to call brilliant, lies in the title. The authors declare that you should stop using terms of endearment and go back to calling your spouse by his or her proper name.

Arana and Davis do not recommend soulful conversations. They do not seem to believe that empathy is going to rekindle your lust. Their prescription: change one small, but critically important, habit.

Now, if you have spent too much time using terms of endearment, it may well be that calling people by their proper names might feel strange, even threatening. But it is still a great idea. That just means that you might have to work at it. Arana and Davis insist that the rewards are worth the pain.

Among the more common terms of endearment are: honey, sweetie, darling, dear, pumpkin, snookums, pookie, baby, and so on.

In French, commonly considered the language of love, the most common term of endearment is: mon chou. Which means: my cabbage.

When it comes to romance, you have to hand it to the French.

But why would proper names be so important, and why should this seemingly innocuous verbal action carry such an erotic charge.

As opposed to terms of endearment, proper names are not gender neutral. At the least, they make each spouse feel recognized as man or woman. Two neutered organisms are not very likely to feel lust for each other.

Proper names are more personal and unique than terms of endearment. As one of the commenters on Dr. Helen's site mentioned, when you call someone "honey" this protects you from exclaiming the wrong name at the wrong time.

However much a spouse will be appalled by your use of the wrong name-- which is something we all know-- wouldn't the same spouse be thrilled to be called by their own name?

Now, Jack and Jill are people. Honey is a condiment. Do you really want to make love to a condiment? If you are concerned about the man who mistook his wife for a hat, wouldn't you be just a little worried about the wife who mistook her husband for a condiment? How do you think he feels about it?

In fact, using proper names is great advice in many other situations, especially if you want to build your friendships and mange your relationships.

It is common knowledge among people who work in sales and customer relations that you should always address your clients by their names-- first or last, depending on THEIR stated preference.

Whether you are addressing her as Jill or Ms. Jones, you will find that if you use names in talking to people your interactions will be smoothed out. People will be happier to talk with you, to work with you, and to be friends with you, if you respect them enough to call them by their names.

And if you do not respect other people, I promise you that they will not respect you, and that you will end up not respecting yourself.

If you do not use names, people will assume that they are not very important. Otherwise how could you have forgotten their names.

Meantime, as I was reading this book, I started thinking about one of the most puzzling aspects of the hookup culture: the anonymity of initial hookup.

Of course, if you do not know the other person's name, you also do not really know who they are, they do not know who you are, and neither of you knows who is doing what to whom?

I know that it's controversial, but random, anonymous sexual encounters, no matter how pleasurable, will always feel somewhat empty... because you cannot know who is doing what to whom.

Actually, I was reminded of a passage from Tom Wolfe's book: Hooking Up, published ten years ago.

Recalling that American teenagers often resort to baseball terminology to talk about their sexual exploits, Wolfe mentions that first base used to mean kissing and that home run was "conception-based intercourse."

Next, Wolfe describes the way the metaphor has changed to accommodate the hookup culture: "... in the era of hooking-up, 'first base' meant deep kissing..., groping, and fondling; 'second base' meant oral sex; 'third base' meant going all the way; and 'home plate' meant learning each other's names."

You name identifies you. It says who you are. It is all that stands between you and anonymity, that is, between you and social oblivion.

One should never underestimate how much people are motivated by the idea of having and keeping a good name. And one should never underestimate the fact that if they will sometimes prefer infamy over  anonymity.

Names are special for another reason. They are the only parts of language that are not translated. Whether they are the names of people or places, they remain the same across linguistic barriers.

Hong is Hong Kong in Hong Kong. And it is called Hong Kong in New York and London, even if the correct translation of the Chinese terms would render it: fragrant harbor.

When someone calls you by your name, it touches you in a way that honey, sweetie, biscuit, and toodle-puss do not. And if you want to bring back that loving feeling, to reach out and touch your spouse, first try the touching gesture of calling him or her by his or her proper name.

One final note. The topic of proper naming has largely been neglected by psychology. Philosophers have done a better job of framing and issues surrounding the functioning of proper names in language and in life.

Opinions on the role of proper names are clearly divided, and very, very interesting. Unfortunately, the debate is very difficult to follow. Take that as a warning, but, for what it's worth, my favorite philosophical book on the topic is Saul Kripke's: Naming and Necessity.

[A warm welcome to those of you who have found this post via Instapundit or Dr. Helen. As always, I am grateful to Prof. Glenn Reynolds and Dr. Helen Smith for linking me.]


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: Heh

Want him to treat you more like a woman?

Treat him more like a man.


[Who can find a virtuous woman? Her worth is greater than rubies. -- Proverbs 31]

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post, Stuart. It puts me in the mind of something:

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum -
Names that never belong to more than one cat.

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover -
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

--TS Eliot

Substitute "woman", quite reasonably, for "cat" and we arrive at the doorstep of wisdom.

Perhaps a slight difference: My wife does have three names; her name I use in public and with my family; Her name that only I and her family calls her; and her name known only to her and I.

In this nomenclature, I only have one name used by all.


wv: bless. Indeed....

D said...

I think the deep seated problem is the speed at which this naming convention falls. In Japan, what name you use indicates your familiarity and intimacy with the person... amongst their other honorifics. Calling someone by their given name and nothing else indicates you are close family, or partners. But if a woman calls a man anatah... it is VERY intimate, indicating that they are partners, and only she will call him that.

There arelots and lots of nuiances, of course, but this strikes me. When I call a woman by a very specific name, only I will ever call her that, and I will come to fists if ever another man would if we were partners. Why would I use a name just anyone uses? IF we are that close. Then I will call her by a name that only I would use, and she will only hear it from me... This feeds in a bit to what Anony said before me as well.

Names have nothing to do with levels of intimacy, but they may be indicative. If thinking about the name is enough to think about the relationship to the named person instead of taking it for granted, then great. But you have to know what is in your own heart, and the reason why you call them a thing.

If my partner suddenly began being more formal with me, it would be a huge red flag that something bad was about to happen.

M. Simon said...

I grew up with Saul. Used to see him every Saturday on the way to schul. He was a strange bird. He seemed kind of autistic and walked by bouncing on the balls of his feet. We all used to think. "Poor boy." and "His poor parents." Little did we know.

I met a woman some years back in the Knoxville Airport who worked for his company. We traded stories. BTW he is a multi-millionaire. Little did we know.

Steven said...

Mon chou is short for Mon petite chou a la crème Chantilly, literally "My little cabbage with whipped creme", and meaning "My creampuff". Much more delicious, don't you think?.

FL Mom said...

D at #3: You bring up a good contrast to underscore the impact of names. I think this book isn't arguing against special nicknames but against generic terms of endearment. The type of naming in your own example is special to each couple whereas 'honey' and so forth are words that everyone else uses for not only spouses but other family members, friends, and some even address strangers that way. I think that's what the authors might be trying to get at (more than simply using a person's own name): quit using these tired words to refer to the most special person in your life.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the comments. On the largest point I think that the book offers a new and original way to think about the way couples treat each other. I like the idea that some of you are presenting cross cultural practices and considering other issues that I did not address: nicknames, for example. Or the question of the significance of being called by the same name that everyone calls you.

I think that all of this contributes to our further understanding of the importance of using names.

I would mention that when you hear your lover pronounce your proper name it does not feel the same as when you hear some third person pronounce it. And I suspect that when you hear a person who is in love, for example, refer to his beloved with a proper name, the tonality differs from the way he pronounces the name of someone toward whom he does not have those feelings.

D said...

"I would mention that when you hear your lover pronounce your proper name it does not feel the same as when you hear some third person pronounce it." -Stuart

This is too true, of course. The other side is true as well... I have basically changed the name that I prefer to be called, due to the sound of my name as my shrieking ex-wife would shout it at me. Even now when I have to deal with her, and she uses my given name it's like nails on a blackboard. Kinda like when your mom uses your given and middle name, you recoil, because you know you are in trouble...

Heh, there are a number of sides to what we call each other... But I certainly agree that thinking about the actual relationship, and how you relate to a person, is important. An absent minded or taken for granted pet name, certainly doesn't keep you in the moment with that person...

Marsh said...

My grandmother told me that my grandfather never called her by her name, in 45 years of marriage. She said that he didn't want to call her Lydia b/c that was his sister's name. She said he called her, "Hey, you".

There was absolutely zero love in their marriage.

globalman100 said...

Hi Stuart,
I counselled a LOT of people on relationships, mostly marriages in the second half of the 90s. It all distilled down to one sentence:

"Ask you husband/wife what it is you can do for them that would have them be happy and then do it if you can."

Note. Not it you 'will' but if you can. Of all the people (about and even mix of men and women, sometimes together sometimes apart) I talked to ALL those where BOTH agreed to give this a go reported near miraculous results. I have had men married 20+ years crying on my shoulder hugging me for giving them that sentence. What really astounded me at the time was ALL men I said this to were willing to give it a go. NEVER did one say no. I reckon that was 100+ guys I had this 'heart to heart' with. Conversely when it was women coming to me and asking me to talk to them, or more often 'fix up my husband', only about 1 in 10 actually gave this a go.

Women would come to me and ask and I would say this works and then I would start hearing all the excuses: "What if he asks me for something I won't want to give him?" You know the list. I asked my wife this every week for 12 years. Sometimes many times in a week. Yeah, I know. I was a beta-loser. So of course I was forever doing ever more for her. I pointed out to her on a regular basis that a marriage is a reciprocating arrangement and I expected her to ask me the same question. Nope. Beta loser. When we were divorcing she finally asked and I was happy for a few hours. I asked her later "Why is that the first time you have asked me that question in 12 years." Her answer was. "I knew what you wanted and I didn't want to give it to you." If that does not sum up 'the modern western wife'? I'll eat my keyboard. Thousands of guys in the man-o-sphere report similar.

globalman100 said...

PS. Dale Carneige put it best in 'how to win friends and influence people'.
Ask the person what they like to be called, and call them that.
Many years ago I met a Polish guy in Australia. There were very few back then. He had a name that looked like the alphabet mixed up only no vowels. He asked me to call him some short form. I asked if that is what he prefers or if he's just doing that for us dumb smuck australians. He admitted he preferred his real name but no australians could pronounce it. So I took him aside and asked him to write his name in my notebook (yes, a paper one) and teach me how to pronounce it.
A week later I was calling on him again (yes I was in sales as a systems engineer). I walked into his office shook hands and greeted him in my best effort using his real polish name. To my astonishment he immediately burst into tears in the middle of his office. I had no idea what I had done. After he settled he told me that I was the first person in Australia to take the trouble to learn how to say his name. Dale Carneige was right. Men, at least, like to be called by our names.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

That's a very moving story. I hope that more people take it to heart. I am very happy that many of you are contributing ideas and anecdotes that help us to understand the question.

Susan Walsh said...

Stuart, what an interesting post. It's surprising that such a small thing could make such a difference in a way, but it strikes me as a very important small thing. I have always believed in protecting a bit of mystery in marriage - and I think what I was really protecting was a bit of privacy.

Proud Hindus said...

It always amazes me how Americans are so obsessed with trying to recreate the lustful hormones of their youth or the romance and excitement of their honeymoon.

Eastern cultures know that marriage is about children, family and passing on your culture/heritage.

They don't get their panties in a bunch over the decline of libidos, which is the natural course of aging.

They accept it with grace.