Saturday, September 9, 2017

Still Crushing After All These Years

She thinks that she is Stuck in High School. After fifteen years of marriage she is still crushing on a guy she crushed on in high school. The crush was not requited when the two were in high school but they did manage to have what we normally call a one night stand shortly after they graduated from college. That was it. Up to now that is it. And yet, SIHS still crushes on the one that got away.

Naturally, therapist Lori Gottlieb buries the problem in a mountain of psychobabble, but perhaps it is not as difficult as it seems.

First, allow SIHS to describe her marriage:

My husband and I have been happily married for 15 years, although we dated for about five years before getting married. We met in graduate school and have, in essence, been together our entire adult lives. We also have two little kids.

My life and my marriage are really great. We both work in an intellectually stimulating and high-paying profession. My husband is a truly equal partner. He is a smart, funny, loving man and an engaged father. I love spending time with him. Our sex life has been dull at times, but we have worked together to spice things up in the last year. I truly have no “big ticket” complaints about my husband. He is my partner, my person.

I suspect, without any further evidence at hand, that SIHS has failed to read the studies suggesting that marrying an equal partner does not spark the fires of lust. When you marry  someone who is a “true equal partner” you have contracted a type of arranged marriage, one that is based on ideological commitment rather than on family ties. In human history cultures that have practiced arranged marriage have always left a place for adultery... for both partners.

Come to think of it, how would a man feel knowing that he is his wife's "person?" How much more neutered can you get?

Evidently, her marriage leaves something to be desired. Gottlieb mentions this possibility in passing, but, to my mind, it is much easier than she makes it out to be. In truth, SIHS is not treating her husband like a man and she finds that she is not attracted to his neutered persona.

As for the hookup between SIHS and HSG, here’s what happened:

Anyway, after high school, I didn’t really think about HSG all that much. I dated a few guys in college. HSG met his wife in college and got engaged shortly before college graduation. Everything between me and HSG seemed to be over. Then, one night, after we had graduated from college — when HSG was engaged and I had just started dating my husband — HSG and I were both out at a bar with high-school friends. He followed me back to my house, confessed that he had always been in love with me, and we slept together. And, that was it. HSG married his fiancĂ©e. They had kids and are still married. I married my husband, had kids, and am still married.

So, it feels like he is the one who got away. True enough,lights go on when she hears that he always loved her. Lights go off when we imagine the possibility that he is just saying it because he knows she wants to hear it and because he knows that saying it will provide him with an erotic reward.

If you don’t think that men ever lie about being in love, you have not lived very long.

All things considered, if HSG really wanted her, he would have made more than one drunken move on her. Now, the two have run into each other again and HSG does not make any moves on her. Not then, not at the coffee date they arrange.

All things considered, he is just not that into her. Perhaps she is the kind of woman who is looking to marry an equal partner and perhaps he is the kind of man who does not want a woman who wants to make him into an equal partner.

Doubtless, she has been having sexual thoughts because she does not like to be a one-night hookup. It is not flattering. It does not make her feel desirable. It makes her feel used. Naturally, she wants to feel desired. Unfortunately, she does not feel it from her husband or from HSG. But, at least she can dream:

To be clear, I love my husband very much and cannot imagine my life without him. But I have been having a lot of sexual thoughts about HSG since we caught up. I’m left wondering, how do I deal with these thoughts? What do they mean? Is this just a common phase that occurs in a marriage after getting through the most intense of the early-childhood years?


Sam L. said...

HSG is a bad boy. Women, I hear, are attracted to bad boys.

Ares Olympus said...

Wow, this is what marriage is like? Happy but not fulfilled?

This opinion piece from NYT is more interesting, spouse as life coach? Does anyone want to live with their coach? I'll go with the opinion that the opposite sex wasn't made to fix anything in us, even if their perplexing nature can keep us humble.
At the heart of the American ideal of marriage lurks a potential conflict. We expect our spouse to make us feel loved and valued, while also expecting him or her to help us discover and actualize our best self.... The problem is that what helps us achieve one of these goals is often incompatible with what helps us achieve the other. To make us feel loved and valued, our spouse must convey appreciation for the person we currently are. To help us grow, he or she must emphasize the discrepancy between that person and the person we can ideally become, typically by casting a sober, critical eye on our faults.
... Today, we expect our spouse not only to make us feel loved, but also to be a kind of life coach.

Jack Fisher said...

Ares, I don't consider my wife a "life coach" and its hard to imagine any adult who would call his or her spouse that.

And I don't believe love "must convey appreciation for the person we currently are." That is insane to expect a spouse do approve bad decisions, as in by saying, "I appreciate you as up and coming mid level manager of a illegal narcotics distribution ring." Or, "you're an alcoholic and just blew the rent on beer, but I'm conveying appreciation even though ythe kids will go hungry again." Madness.

Ares Olympus said...

Jack, it looks like the author was trying to paint two opposite unrealistic extreme, perhaps summarized as pure unconditional versus conditional love. I imagine he would agree with your examples of insanity of unconditional love, even if that's where many people start in a new relationship. But all the problems start as soon as you need a person to be different than they are, to accept them. Life coaches at least have the virtue of not caring if you change or not, but only helping you when you're ready.

Anyway, I only looked at the author now and I see he's promoting his new book.
Eli J. Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and the Kellogg School of Management, is the author of the forthcoming book “The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work,”

Jack Fisher said...

AO, I believe that if you take the vows, love is unconditional. To unconditionally love a spouse does not mean accept, approve or ratify misconduct. Do not confuse love with affection. If a wife is an alcoholic and is ruining the family, the husband must get help for her. That is love, where love means acts of love. I don't think we define love in the same way.

Ares Olympus said...

Jack Fisher said... AO, I believe that if you take the vows, love is unconditional. To unconditionally love a spouse does not mean accept, approve or ratify misconduct.

I certainly agree it is possible to be accepting of a person (in the unconditional sense), without accepting their behavior. But there's still an open question how that's done, especially given we're all self-righteous hypocrites in our own moments of pain.

Apparently people can still write books about these things and it all makes sense, until its real and right in front of you.