Editor’s Note: Sexytime is a feature at The Federalist where resident sex experts Rich Cromwell and Mollie Hemingway answer reader questions.
How do you avoid getting bored — emotionally, intellectually, or physically — with someone after being together every day for 5 or 25 years? Love requires diligence, of course. Hamlet’s line, “assume a virtue, if you have it not” comes to mind; and yet, we all know people who have divorced after years or decades of marriage, or stayed together, miserable, due to inertia. Whether they file the papers or not, something good is missing. How might a couple avoid that outcome? Or maybe the better question is: what is that good thing that is missing? — Rookies
Rich: First let me say congratulations, Rookies. The simple fact that you’re aware that marriage doesn’t magically sustain itself puts you on more stable footing than those who think merely saying “I do” was enough. Pop culture glamorizes happily ever after because showing people arguing over the proper way to hang a roll of toilet paper while the kids smash a lamp isn’t exactly sexy, Rom-Coms aside. No, happily ever after doesn’t just happen, but you can create it, nurture it, sustain it. You just have to expend a little energy.
So how do you create it, nurture it, sustain it? Well, you answered your own question—you study Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of motion, starting with inertia, the one you mentioned.
Simply put, inertia states that, absent external forces, an object in motion will remain in motion and an object at rest will remain at rest. Now, I get that you weren’t asking about physics here, but this is relevant, especially if you’re considering kids. Because the thing is you get to decide what sort of trajectory you’re going to go for. Are you going to be in motion or are you going to be at rest? Are you going to let external forces, like work and kids, slow you down?
No, you’re not. You’re going to always choose motion. You’re never going to settle; you’re always going to make sure work and the kids know their place. You’re going take moments for you and your spouse to kiss one another passionately, even when you’re gross with morning breath and not in the mood for anything but coffee. You’re going to carve out time to do nothing of importance together, whether a short hike or a happy hour. You’re going to realize you don’t always need to be together and support one another in your independent pursuits.
Mostly, you’re going to plan on choosing virtue, and you knew we were going to throw that back on you, regardless of whether or not you have it and never be complacent in that choice. You’d be surprised how far a modicum of intentionality will take you, but back to science.
Newton’s Second Law is a little more confusing. Galileo actually called it first, but he failed to take into account friction. The second law is about the relationship between mass, acceleration, and applied force. It’s mainly about calculating things; I’m not going to calculate anything, nor am I going to suggest you calculate anything. With regard to marriage and the second law, the main takeaway for you is to avoid unnecessary friction lest your acceleration decrease no matter how much force you’re applying.
Finally, we have the third law, the one you’ve likely heard applied to a variety of situations not related to physics. This is the one that states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We tend to think of this in large terms, but it’s not necessarily a big thing. It can be the little things that lead to the inertia you observed in those couples who either divorced or resigned themselves to staying together in misery. Or it can be the force that leads to a lifetime together.
Think about it like this— if you push one another over trivial issues, if you really fight about the toilet paper instead of eschewing that friction, then the result is going to be that you end up farther away from one another. Sure, the pushing requires you to get closer, momentarily, but the result is that the force carries you in the opposite direction. On the reverse side, if you go a little counterintuitive and pull away long enough to put silly friction behind you, because you don’t always need to talk about things, it’s going to push you back toward one another. Then, you can have a rational discussion about how the proper way to hang the toilet paper.
But, back to your better question, what is good? It’s the enemy of the perfect. And what is perfect? It’s the enemy of the good. Your marriage is never going to be perfect. It’s going to have ups and downs, silky smooth moments and gritty friction, happiness and sadness. That’s okay. That’s what makes memories, what gives us a basis of comparison, and what offers us an opportunity to reflect on our lives, when we’re almost at the end of our time on earth, and say, “No, it wasn’t good, but it was great.”
Mollie: Simply the fact that you’re aware of the risk of divorce puts you on better footing than most young couples. But my advice is to stay as far away from even the concept of divorce as possible. Don’t even think about it. Don’t consider it an option. Like, even when you kind of loathe your spouse, just get out of that headspace and onto a more productive line of thinking. It sounds so simplistic but it’s easily my best marriage advice: divorce is not an option.
But the idea that lengthy marriage is boring is something I’d also avoid. I’m thinking of what my mother told my siblings and I when we’d complain of boredom: “Only boring people are bored.” The same thing should apply to marriage. Make a decision to have a grand adventure instead of being sadsacks. Compare it, perhaps, to the scaling of Mt. Everest. Yes, half the people who attempt to scale it fail. Some are poorly prepared for the hike. Others plan their route stupidly. Still others just die in freak avalanches. But those who make it aren’t bored! They’re having the adventure of a lifetime. And, yes, probably portions of the hike are kind of long slogs, but whatever. Get over it.
Now, having said all this, all relationships (whether those relationships are about marriage, children, parenthood, neighborhood associations, employment, or book clubs) are going to have better parts than others. That’s because all relationships involve you and you’re a disaster. Your spouse will likewise be a disaster. Because we’re humans. And humans, no matter how much we wish otherwise, are prone to doing bad things and saying bad things and generally being just tremendous disappointments to everyone around us. So practice forgiving your spouse. Daily forgiveness is a great way to keep resentments from building. Resentment kills sex, affection, love and all the things that make marriage so awesome. At the same time you’re forgiving each other, work on remembering that happy marriages can’t be focused on your own happiness.
I was struck by the last quote in a Washington Post story about Dave Chappelle this week. It had nothing to do with marriage or anything, but the reporter asked him if he was happier now that he’s not doing his wildly successful Comedy Central show. He said:
“I’m a more mature version of happy. When I was making the show, I was very happy. It was a very difficult show. It was very exciting, it was fun, but I was happy to do it. … But life is like the Crayola box I told you about. I use more crayons now and I have a much rounder, happier experience, a fuller experience, a more interesting experience just for doing it. And I know myself and my preferences better than I did when I was a little younger.
“I’m happier in the way a guy gets happier when he starts to mature. It doesn’t make things easier, but I’m so much better at handling them.”
So maybe I should say, “Develop a more mature version of happiness.” Early in our marriage, we had a selfish view of happiness based on whether our needs were being met. We’re starting to learn that marriage goes from great to super-great when we’re meeting each other’s needs. A mutual focus on each other’s happiness is what’s missing from bad or failed marriages. So take charge and lead the way and then enjoy the benefits that come from really giving of yourself completely and holding nothing back.
Is there a contradiction between manliness and grooming? I love that my man is all man, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him trim around the hedges a bit, if you know what I mean. –Fearful of Fur
Mollie: Oh who knows. I think it’s best to think of manliness as having to do with courage in the face of risk, provision of necessary resources, protection of others, and various other virtues associated with the sex. But whether your dude manscapes or not is adiaphora. What’s key here is that you both communicate with each other in a loving way about the change you seek.
Capitalists are certainly encouraging our men to buy products associated with hair removal. For sex reasons, of course:
Wherever you go with this, complete hair removal seems a bit over-the-top. Hair protects and wicks moisture away and complete removal always seems a bit juvenile in a way. And while a shaggy pit isn’t doing anyone any favors, a bit of hair seems nice and manly. So if your man is up for it, encourage some trimming. And remember, fellas, ain’t nothing as sexy as being clean. Go ahead and scrub up.
Rich: When it comes to women, grooming is a given. There is a plethora of articles on the subject, commercials so overt they belong on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and even surveys informing us what the most popular options are. It’s not that there aren’t discussions about mens’ hedges, there are, but a quick perusal of the topics listed in that Google search reveals a number of top hits telling men not to trim.
From that survey we learn that 88%, a solid majority, of men do engage in some form of lawnscaping. And while the men over at Masculine Style don’t head south in their recommendations, from them we can infer that there isn’t a contradiction between manliness and grooming and that their sensibilities about such don’t likely end at the waistlines of their well-tailored pants. But this is about your experience and not statistics, so how do you go about resolving it?
It’s kind of a tough call as your man is in the 12% who apparently either have absolutely no opinion about grooming or maybe have a negative opinion about the matter and, well, I can’t relate. I can, however, offer recommendations, but this will require me to take a bit of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge tack to avoid getting too ribald for this fine publication. Fortunately for you, I’m just the man for the job.
For example, there’s a fantastic euphemism a friend of mine once formulated and it goes like this. When you go down south, what do you say? You say howdy, of course. Many of us, regardless of geographic locale, will say howdy from time to time. And who wants to say howdy with a mouth full of tumbleweeds? Nobody, that’s who. As such, one approach is to point out the side benefits and southern hospitality that go hand in hand with a nicely manicured lawn. But maybe that’s not the approach for you. I’m not trying to get that deep into your bedroom. As such I have another approach, one that almost no man can resist—an appeal to his pride.
While it’s true that men who are all man might actually appreciate a rugged appearance reminiscent of Grizzly Adams, look at how Adams gets lost in all that hirsute glory. He’s hidden behind his beard and coat. While masculine, what with the bear and all, one can’t really tell what’s going on underneath all that fur. We can’t really tell how much about the man for all the accoutrements surrounding him. Were he to scale it back a bit and lose some of his many pelts, he’d stand out more and appear taller, more imposing. Is your man already imposing? I don’t want to know. But as a fellow man, I can tell you it’s an angle that may make him scratch his chin and ruminate on the possibility of undertaking a little yardwork.
In either case, good luck and remember Schick isn’t only for the fairer sex, though its commercials tend to focus on you.
Any recommendations for music to put your lover in the mood? Just trying to expand my repertoire. — Running Out Of D’Angelo
Rich: Parliament’s “Get Up for the Downstroke.” Next question.
Okay, maybe P-Funk isn’t your bag. That’s cool. There are a variety of options out there to help set the mood. The main things to keep in mind are: pay attention to lyrics as you don’t want some downer lines hidden in a gyrating rhythm to spoil the moment, consider genres that you might not want to listen on an everyday basis, and let tempo be your friend.
For example, the Fila Brazila mix of Lamb’s “Cotton Wool” hits all those points. It’s vaguely sexual, it’s atmospheric, and it has a pulsing rhythm. Plus it’s fairly monotonous, which is another consideration. You may be tempted to go fancy and throw in some jazz or the like, but a blazing Charlie Parker solo at the wrong moment could be horribly distracting. That’s why you should lean on soul, R&B, and drum & bass.
But don’t be too overt about it. “Sexual Healing” is a classic, but it’s about sexual healing. It’s right there in the title and the lyrics. It’s not Soundgarden’s “Big Dumb Sex,” but if you’re trying to deftly set the mood, you’ll want to show some finesse. This is why I’m big on the more electro/drum & bass offerings—they’re all about aesthetics and vague assertions. To get you started, check out jams such as Alpines’ “Gold,” Agent Alvin’s “Drift Away,” “Play” by Goapele, and Ellie Goulding’s “You My Everything.”
Most important, though, is to listen to your lover. What’s her body language telling you during certain songs? How is she responding to your choices? While we can make suggestions, she’ll tell you what’s really working. Don’t forget Pandora and other streaming options while on your quest. Then, once you’ve figure out what works for you two and your tastes, stop listening to the music and really listen to each other. For while music is fantastic, once the main event is underway, it’s wholly superfluous.
Mollie: It is a scientific fact that Prince gets people in the mood 100% of the time. “Beautiful Ones.” “Erotic City.” Basically everything he has ever written. But other than that, your mileage may vary wildly. I myself love David Bowie, but that might just be because David Bowie is himself so sexy. I was talking about Erykah Badu on Twitter the other day and someone said the first time he heard her — on Dave Chappelle’s show, as it happens — he melted. That’s a good way to put her effect on people. Here’s “I Want You.”
How about some Miguel?
Dang. DANG. Mmm-mmmm. He’s featured on this great Janelle Monae song that’s super sexy.
Or how about Kelela?
I’m also with Rich, though, in thinking that there’s the music you want for the soundtrack of your life and the fun leading to sex vs. having the music blaring while actually getting busy. Perhaps a nice acid jazz bit — Massive Attack or Portishead or some such.
Have a question about sex, relationships or love? Email Mollie here. Anonymity will be protected.