|By Alan Kerr|
I smell a rut & on crowd nineQ: I just got dumped by a guy who swore he was ready to settle down (after years of serial monogamy). His relationship history reminded me of the man you wrote about recently who had been married and divorced five times and was on relationship number six. Woman number six wrote you, “He’s in his 50s; his marriage-hopping has to stop.” Obviously, she’s fooling herself, but what’s his deal? What’s anyone’s who gets married over and over?
A: Some model their marriage on their parents’ and some on their parents’ car lease. (Sadly, hanging a new-car smell pine tree around the wife’s neck doesn’t seem to stem the flow of trade-ins.)
Everybody wants to believe their love will last, but when a guy’s marrying Wife Number Five, some honesty in vow-making seems called for — for example, “Till mild boredom do us part.” And in keeping with the trend of using movie lines in the ceremony, the groom can turn to the minister at the end and state the Schwarzenegger-accented obvious: “I’ll be back.”
The notion that the only valid relationship is one that ends with the partners in twin chairs on the veranda of Senior Acres, rocking off into the sunset together, keeps some of the wrong people chasing it. The truth is, some people just aren’t wired for forever. That’s okay — providing they’re honest with themselves and their partners that for them, lasting relationships last only so long (“when two become as one” and then one starts getting all fidgety for the next one).
Even for those who are determined to make forever work, there’s a problem, and it’s called “hedonic adaptation” — getting acclimated to positive additions to our lives and no longer getting the lift out of them that we did at first. This happens with boob jobs, lottery wins — and marriage, explained happiness researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky on my weekly radio show. Lyubomirsky writes in her terrific book, “The How of Happiness,” of a 15-year study in Germany showing that couples got a big boost in happiness when they got married — a boost that, on average, lasted two years.
According to Lyubomirsky, research shows that the most powerful ways to combat hedonic adaptation are adding variety and expressing gratitude. You add variety by shaking up your date night routine, going on vacation (even a quick one), and varying your daily life in small, fun ways. You can express gratitude by buying or making some little thing to say how much you appreciate your partner or by verbally admiring his or her hotitude and wonderful qualities. Lyubomirsky explained, “Gratitude is almost by definition an inhibitor of adaptation,” because adaptation means we’re taking something for granted. “Being grateful for something is appreciating it, savoring it – i.e., NOT taking it for granted.”
Predicting whether a particular guy is a romance junkie can be tough. (It’s not like a meth habit. There are no scabs.) A girlfriend-hopper might swear he’s ready to settle down and believe it — until the moment he realizes he’s not. You’ll want to believe him; we all tend to lead with our ego: “I’ll be the one he’s different for.” This is risky if your ovaries are on the clock. If, however, you can just live in the moment and hope for lots more moments…well, there’s always that chance you’ll end up being his eighth and only.
Q: The man I’ve been in a long-term on-and-off relationship with has started seeing someone else. He’s cagey about the details, but what’s really bothering me is that she has no clue that I exist. I’m tempted to write her an anonymous note, telling her that I was here first, have been here a long time, and am continuing to have sex with her Lothario.
A: Like many people around the holidays, your thoughts turn to the have-nots: “Hi, I believe you have not heard that I’m having sex with your new boyfriend.” The reality is, you’re looking to escape feeling vulnerable by lashing out. (When life gives you lemons…break some other woman’s windows with them.) The “anonymous” note is really about telling this woman, “Hey! I’m here! I’m lovable! I’m important!” Well, there’s a better way to say those things, and it won’t even take a stamp. Just call this man and say goodbye. This means finally admitting that the parameters of this relationship aren’t working for you. Come on…you’re well-aware you aren’t his one and only, yet there you are complaining, “Waiter, waiter! There’s a harem in my soup!” What is there to say to you but “Yes, madam, of course there is. It’s the Lothario special. It comes with other women on the side.”