Oct. 5 2011 12:00 AM

Helen of toy & Mitey aphrodite


Q: My wife of three years complains that I’m not
romantic anymore. In the beginning, I did romantic stuff all the time.
I still love her very much, but I guess I’m subconsciously reacting to
the fact that I’ve nabbed her forever. (There’s definitely something to
be said about “the thrill of the chase.”) How can I let her know I
still care?

— Comfortably Wed

A: Your wife could be a mix of Angelina Jolie,
Madame Curie, and Sue Johanson (the cute little old lady sexpert from
TV), and the thrill of the chase would probably still give way to the
thrill of pretending to listen to what she’s saying while you’re
watching the game. 

You can try to keep the romance alive with some therapist looking disapprovingly down her bifocals at the two of you —
or with the gift of a 50-cent purple plastic chimp. The chimp, happily,
will not ask you to “own your feelings” or repeat awkward “I”
statements. Of course, the chimp could also be a toy pig, a chocolate
dog, or some celebrity’s toenail clippings. I happen to have a thing
for chimps, so my boyfriend gives me chimp thingiedoos. The point is to
extend yourself in ways that give your partner a little lift even
though you no longer need to chase her (you just reach over in bed and
give her a gentle shake so she’ll stop snoring like an old wino).

Doing nice little things for each other
regularly is the romantic version of car maintenance to keep you from
ending up broke-down in Scarytown. A 2010 study tracking 65 couples by
psych prof Sara B. Algoe found that a partner’s little thoughtful
actions led to feelings of gratitude in the recipient partner, which
led to both partners feeling more connected and happier with their
relationship the following day. Algoe and her colleagues speculated
that “moments of gratitude can act like ‘booster shots’ for the ongoing
relationship.” Previous research by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky (detailed in
“The How of Happiness”) suggests that two of the most effective ways to
increase a person’s overall happiness are feeling grateful and doing
thoughtful things for others, so yes…the key to both a happier marriage
and a happier life could be the occasional checkout line impulse item.

The husband you don’t want to be is the
neglectful one with the miserable, angry wife he tries to placate with
occasional seismic gifting —
waiting until their anniversary and going bankrupt buying a diamond
tennis bracelet or hiring the Three Wise Men to drop by her office with
gifts of frankincense and myrrh. His wife knows very well what his
gifts are: remedial romancing —
a peace offering instead of a love offering. The wiser approach is
replacing the thrill of the chase with the thrill of making your wife
happy by being regularly attentive: Hug her and tell her she’s
beautiful. Change her windshield wipers without being asked (you care
about her safety!). Slip out of work to get her a cupcake (at 3 p.m. on
a Thursday, her happiness was important to you). Every now and then,
mix the little things up with all that stuff guys do early on —
stuff like sending flowers after sex, not sneaking out after your wife
falls asleep and then avoiding your favorite bar for two weeks so you
won’t run into her.

Q: I’ve been dating a really
sweet guy for a month and a half. Three weeks in, I knew I had to end
it, but he really likes me and somehow talked me into staying. Last
night, I realized I absolutely must end it…immediately! How do I do
this gently and make it stick?

—Dreading The Day

A: “If you love something, set it
free” is, I guess, helpful advice for those whose first thought is “If
you love something, lure it into your house and lock it in your
basement.” But, what you and a whole lot of people need to hear is “If
you pity something, set it free.” When you aren’t into a guy who’s into
you, the kindest thing you can do is snuff out all hope. Cut him loose
as soon as possible and as definitively as possible. Be starkly honest
that it’s over but vague and maybe even dishonest about why (for
example, you just don’t have “chemistry”). Giving specifics is usually
mean and gives your dumpee wiggle room: “I’ll take sex lessons! And
comedy lessons! I’ll even start reading books.” By letting it get to
this point, you’re prone to lash out with a suggestion of exactly the
sort of book he needs to read: “How To Get a New Head, Body, and
Personality, and To Think, Smell, and Talk Like a Totally Different
Person: A Love Story.”