Saturday, August 8, 2009

Post No. 131: There Has to be Something More

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Today, we have some Common Sense thoughts about choosing a spouse - the first, and hopefully only, time.

When we sit down at the keyboard, we’ve often just watched a series of movies on TCM, some cartoons, and the news.

John Edwards, the Democratic presidential contender who cheated on his wife, is back in the news. So are the timeless issues of sex, power, and breach of trust.

As we watched the Edwardses, we asked, “What are people thinking when they pair up?”

Some suggest that very little thinking goes on, at least north of the equator, and that’s where the cartoons come in. We’ve long argued that transient, hard-wired blood flow and chemical (whether hormonal or self-administered) factors play far too large a role.

We're not being prudish; we've just been there; and, on far too frequent an occasion.

It’s not difficult to find some element of errant temptation in most Hollywood products. Some even suggest that Tinseltown bears some responsibility.

But history is replete with evidence that hanky-panky predated Hollywood. A recent History Channel program discussed the long trips between American colonial farms where brief “stops” were made (by members of both sexes) to, let’s say, regain one’s energy.

Modern couples are often shocked to find that sex is a reoccurring complicating factor. Last evening, we watched a program on the mythological god Zeus. It was noted that all of the ancient gods, in addition to their immense power, had human frailties.

Zeus’ flaw? An insatiable sexual appetite. (Even without Viagra.)

While we’ve never quite figured out why the male member (or even the female member) of a couple might have an interest in prolonging the event (particularly those otherwise incompatible), we do find the spate of competing commercials entertaining.

The description of the potential side effects is almost as humorous as the cartoons we watch. “Anyone experiencing an erection longer than 4 hours should consult a physician.” Add to that the warning that someone experiencing a decrease in hearing or sight should discontinue using the product, and we’re really confused. Aren’t those parts of the deal?

In an earlier piece, we suggested that people considering, or stumbling toward, infidelity recognize the early warning signs. We proposed nipping the impulse in the bud while they still had some degree of control, before “Nature” took over.

That didn’t go over very well. Many apparently feel that Nature has no role, and it is all about pure selfishness, and a lack of Personal Responsibility. However, let's face it: the real issue is how one wants to occupy one's time.

We saw the movie Outbreak for the first time last week. In it, members of a divorced couple, both of whom are infectious disease doctors, join forces to fight a deadly virus. Watching them place their personal differences aside, and focus on their mutual goals, prompted us to write this piece.

TCM recently aired a collection of Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. As Rooney got older, he began to take an interest in members of the opposite sex. In some of his other movies, he was paired with Liz Taylor. In real life, Rooney and Taylor married 8 times each, and to them we dedicate this piece.

From what we’ve seen, young people considering hooking up long-term might look for something else apart from the transient. (Children are obviously not a very strong motivation to stay together these days.)

We’re neither apologizing for, nor condoning cheating. Nor are we suggesting that cheating is a minor issue to be glanced over. We’re just suggesting that marriage might have a better chance of survival, whatever the problems encountered, if there is something else going on apart from physical attraction.

The following appeared in our earlier, controversial piece:

“Probably the best line about love... is..., ‘Love is not two people staring into the eyes of one another, but rather both of them staring in the same direction together at the same time focused on the same goal.’ [I]f a relationship is primarily [physical] attraction... based, the decrease in the stimulation and intensity will occur about as quickly as the increase, if not faster.

“When men and women... realize there are issues in society larger and more significant than themselves, their children, and the physical structures in which they live (and where one places his appendage), then we will have made some progress as a society. When couples feel that their relationship is about to disintegrate, they might consider jointly volunteering their time to the AIDS Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Foundation, or a similar organization. That’ll place things into perspective.”

Earlier this week, we saw another couple in the news – the Clintons. The former Prez brought home two detained American journalists who made missteps in North Korea. His previously humiliated wife, now Secretary of State, beamed with pride. Moving on beyond his peccadilloes, they, together, pulled something off which they felt mattered.

For all the criticism their relationship received in the past, perhaps they have figured out the formula to a long-term marriage, or another type of "Stay Pow'R." (It remains to be seen whether the marriages of Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. John Ensign will survive.)

We strongly suspect that at some point during or following the Lewinsky scandal, at least one of them said, “There’s still work to be done, which best be done by the two of us.”


  1. I won't comment on the Clintons beyond saying I believe they have a marriage based on political goals and ambition... and nothing more.

    Having been married twice (with the first being a complete disaster lasting many years too long), I am probably not qualified as an expert. Still, I think there is advice I can give:

    1. Your partner should be your best friend.

    2. Do not try to change your partner in any way. If he/she needs to change then you are "in love" with someone they are not.

    3. Do not try to change to suit your partner's desires. You will no longer be happy with yourself.

    4. See your partner as your partner, not your savior or your servant.

  2. Very nice additions Douglas. We hope that others can contribute even one or two constructive comments, where you have contributed four.

    Getting back to the Clintons, are "political goals and ambition" necessarily negative or questionable qualities for a couple to have? What about "educational goals and ambition," or "scientific goals and ambition?"

    Can quality of "ambition" we separated and not exist in people who pursue big goals on the national or international stage?

    Are we to assume that ambitious and goal driven individuals are implicitly self-centered and ego driven? Does ego necessarily have a negative meaning?

    What if one spouse desires to pursue some big picture societal goals, and the other not, and in fact is frustrated by the other's pursuit of goals outside of the marriage, what should be done?

  3. Having been married more than a couple of times myself, and now single for nearly 18 years, I certainly am not an expert on the subject of marriage. However, I appreciate the thoughtful approach of this article as it considers the possibility that something other than sex can be a positive reason to be together. I also liked Doug’s comments, which obviously have come from his own first hand experience. We are all different in many ways and the relationships we develop are based on many factors. There is one thing for sure, successful ones are seldom, if ever, based on “What’s in it for me!”

  4. Thanks much Dan, as always, for your thoughtful comments. We definitely agree with you that the "something more" has to be something other than WIIFM, What's In It For Me.

  5. Inspector, you make good points with your questions. First, a marriage should be a partnership first and that can mean little in the way of romance. As long as there are mutually beneficial goals and rewards. Passion is important but it may not last so I don't think it should be the "anchor" of a relationship.

    The term "ego" has a negative connotation but it shouldn't. We tend to subconsciously preface it with "inflated" or add "maniacal" to it. Perhaps we confuse it with the Id. It seems to me that a weak ego allows the Id to take control and the Id is the one not based on pragmatism and reality but concerned with self gratification. Well, according to Freud anyway.

  6. Douglas, out of curiosity, do you think that Robert and Elizabeth Dole have a marriage based on politicial/societal goals and ambition, and nothing more?

  7. Sex and love - entirely different things.

    I love my motorbike, but I wouldn't have sex with it.


  8. Inspector, I don't know. Have we seen their personal life played out on the political stage? I don't think so, at least I do not recall stories of Bob Dole's womanizing so it is more difficult to determine. I think many politicians' marriages are political partnerships, though. When things get rough (as they do in almost all marriages), decisions are often made based upon the political career of one or both. It also happens in the corporate world, I suspect. And in the marriages of pastors from time to time. (which, for whatever reasons, we think should be different from the common people's)

    Don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the Clintons for their partnership. I am saying, in my opinion, it is not a lifelong love affair.

    The Reagans had a love affair that lasted, a devotion to each other. My parents did also. I think these are rare things in life.

    Jules, I recall a Hell's Angel's comment...

    Love is when you like someone almost as much as your motorcycle.

  9. The Jules:

    Welcome again. You are ABSOLUTELY correct that sex and love are entirely different things. However, teenagers and people in their 20s frequently do not appreciate that until it is too late.

    Furthermore, as a practical matter, there are lots of other emotions which might also be placed on the "sex" side of the equation, even though they are not sex: the admiration of and attraction to physical beauty; the tingly feeling; butterlies in one's stomach; that lightheaded feeling; and many other intangible and inarticulable emotions which make us feel "good" for the moment.

    These are the "transient emotions" of which we spoke.

    Additionally, love can be a far more transient emotion than respect and collaboration in pursuit of societal goals.

    Charlie Rose once interviewed an Indian high-tech entrepreneur who had been recently married. Charlie noted that in the Indian culture, especially amongst the educated and well-to-do, marriages were arranged for business, societal, and pragmatic purposes by parents or others in the family. Charlie asked his guest, since he was in a position to appreciate both, whether he believed that it was better to enter an arranged marriage versus one based on love.

    The guest responded: an arranged marriage. Why? Because the couple realizes that they have responsibilities to society and to others, most notably their families and perhaps businesses, not to themselves. That inures to the benefit of many outside of the marriage.

    He also said that if love develops, then it is like "icing on the cake."

    The Logistician once had a student in one of his classes from South Africa. She indicated that she was married for 2 years to a man she had never met, due to a family arranged marriage. She noted that he was a very nice man and very responsible and respected. She did not learn to care or appreciate about the "tingly emotions" until she came to the United States and became immersed in our culture.

    The other issue is that "love" is virtually incapable of common definition, and is in the eye of the beholder. One person's love is not another person's love. Even within a relationship, two people who consider themselves in love can have very different definitions and expectations.

    We say all that to say this. Yes, love and sex are entirely different things. However, in the grand scheme of things, they both might be lumped on the same side of the equation as transient emotions. Working in a collaborative fashion to pursue societal goals bigger than and beyond the couple's personal interests is an entirely different thing, and has the potential to last much longer.

  10. Douglas:

    You always square up for the pitch and that's a good thing. There are two things about the Clinton relationship versus the Dole relationship.

    First, Bill Clinton cheated and lied, even if it was about sex. Second, Hillary Clinton, even though First Lady, behaved like an unelected adviser who did not have to go through the advise and consent process AND she behaved like an equal to a man, which upset lots of folks.

    The Clintons essentially redefined a political marriage (or team), in that Ms. Clinton did not work in the background, or just in complimentary ways. Some would suggest that on occasion, she worked "side by side" with the President.

    As for the Reagans, how do you personally know that there was real "love" there? None of us really know. We can only evaluate what we see and feel. Folks said that his first marriage to Jane Wyman was real love also, until it fell apart.

  11. To understand why I would say the Reagans had a real love affair, you would need to understand my experiences. It is in the looks exchanged between the two, the little touches when they had a reasonable expectation that they weren't be watched (or on camera), the comments of others who saw them in private moments, and how these things were what I observed in my own parents over the years.

    I never had the opportunity to observe the interactions between Reagan and Wyman so I have no judgment on that.

    I had no problem whatsoever with Hillary acting as an equal to men though I am not so sure what you meant by that. I like strong women who know what they want and don't act as if they aren't equal. It wasn't that she acted as "co-president" from time to time, either. It was more that she expected to be treated as such, I think, that rubbed so many raw. I am turned off by arrogance, whether it is from a male or a female.

    Is it love when you assume you can have outside flings? Is there love without respect? Is their respect without fidelity?

    Don't get me wrong. I knew couples who had "open" marriages. They seemed to love each other regardless. While they lasted. Which was less than 20 years (much less).

  12. If you look at human beings as vessels, the primary purpose of which is to perpetuate the existence of our genes, both the sexual urge and the inclination for infidelity are so fundamental to our survival that they are hard wired into our genetic make up.

    From a genetic standpoint, sex is the protective mechanism we use to prevent genetic annihilation by some errant microbe that happens to be deadly to any particular set of genes. The size of the gene pool determines how many variations, at least some of which could prove resistant to various kinds of microbes, exist to lessen his likelihood of total destruction.

    The larger the gene pool, the less the risk that it will not include at least some resistant strains to whatever bugs may assail it... hence the inclination to have as many sexual partners as possible.

    Interestingly, genetics is the only workable explanation we have for altruistic behavior such as an animal sacrificing itself to save its offspring, or the offspring of members of its family.

    So... blame it on Darwin....

  13. We've been reading back through the comments to this piece, and most seemed to focus on the "sexual" component. However, it was not our intention to convey our concerns about just the "sexual" component, but all of the emotional and physical factors that go into physical attraction. The first thing that we usually hear when a couple meets is some reference to physical attributes. Our concern is that all of the "attraction" factors, of which sex is just a small part, are potentially distracting, if not down right misleading.

  14. How unromantic of you, Inspector. Have you never heard of love at first sight? What, other than physical characteristics, can it be based upon? Pheremones, perhaps?

    And misleading is the right word. And aptly describes my first wife.

  15. Unromantic Douglas?!?!

    A very good male friend of ours used to say that he married for beauty, or as he sometimes said, he married a picture, the first time around. It was a nightmare of a marriage. All of us have been there; the issue is whether we stay there.

  16. Hi, inspector! I liked his comment, of the fact of having liked my blog. Do not have been anything simple, it me them has been growing. Thank you! Apologize for the mistakes, I had to put in the translator =s

    Bruna Sperandio - Brasil.

  17. Inspector, you have to take my last comment as tongue in cheek. First, your mate must be your friend and looks have little to do with that. But we are attracted by physical characteristics. And there are other factors, as anonymous said, "blame it on Darwin." The genetic needs of the species appear to be hard-wired into our choices in partners. A complex concept that cannot be summed up in a few comments.

  18. Douglas, you and Anonymous can't be serious about the role of Nature per Darwin. You were one of our readers back in the days when the Logistician was run out of the country for just suggesting that Nature played a role. You're obviously a member of a minority of people advocating that position. The vast majority of our readers claimed that it was simply pure selfishness.

  19. I'm sure I suggested you read The Naked Ape, if you hadn't already.

  20. Thanks much Douglas. Yes, you mentioned it previously, and based on some articles about it which we examined, it is worth the examination.

  21. Earlier this morning, we had the opportunity to watch bits and pieces of the 1995 film, "The Bridges of Madison County," starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

    As we watched more and more bits and pieces, we really began to understand the dynamic, and we became glued to the screen.

    In our opinion, it is the ultimate story of unrequited love. Roger Ebert, in his review, wrote:

    "[The film] is about two people who find the promise of perfect personal happiness, and understand, with sadness and acceptance, that the most important things in life are not always about making yourself happy."


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