Friday, March 27, 2015

The Grand Year-Long Alpha Male Experiment

For the last few weeks, I've been posting about gender issues. Part of this came about because of a year-long experiment I've been running. I've been fascinated with the role of masculinity in our culture. Before I jump into the nuts and bolts of the post, let's operationally define "masculine" and "feminine" (source = Planned Parenthood):

Masculinity traits:

  • independent 
  • non-emotional 
  • aggressive 
  • tough-skinned 
  • competitive 
  • strong 
  • active 
  • self-confident 
  • sexually aggressive
  • rebellious
By contrast, feminine traits would consist of:
  • dependent 
  • emotional 
  • passive 
  • sensitive 
  • quiet 
  • graceful 
  • innocent 
  • weak 
  • flirtatious 
  • nurturing 
  • self-critical 
  • sexually submissive 
  • accepting
For anyone that's known me personally can attest, I've historically exhibited far more feminine traits than masculine traits, hence the experiment. So for the last year or so, I've consciously inhibited displaying feminine characteristics and tried to display masculine characteristics.

The results have been nothing short of shocking. 

Prior to the experiment, most people treated me as if I were invisible. The only exception: When I was in "teacher mode", where I tended to display more masculine characteristics. During the experiment, I noticed people...
  • Paid more attention to me,
  • Listened to my ideas more readily,
  • Agreed with me more often,
  • Were more pleasant to me,
  • Laughed at my shitty jokes more often,
  • Gave me more free shit,
  • Were far more willing to follow me,
  • Seemed to be more attracted to me.
At first, the strength of that effect freaked me out a bit. I just wasn't used to eliciting that reaction. Then it started to make me a little sad. Despite all our work we've done to assure gender equality, masculine characteristics are still clearly winning out... at least for a dude.

I was really dismayed until I started paying attention to the way people treated Shelly. For those that don't know my wife, she's undergone a significant change throughout her thirties. She basically went from a very stereotypical "feminine" female to a "rivals the most alpha masculine male" female. The change in the way people treat her is exactly the same change I saw in people treating me differently, except some males seem to be exceedingly uncomfortable around her.

That led to the conclusion that our culture has a definite preference for masculine characteristics regardless of biological sex, at least in some situations. That led me to question why. I've been pretty heavily involved in the gender equality movement since my early days in college, and I was always under the assumption that the genders haven't reached true equality because men were simply balking at giving up power. I bought into the assumption that masculinity was a bad thing. The "masculinity = female oppression, rape, etc." connection made a lot of logical sense. Fortunately, my observed preference societal for masculinity led me to consider there may other unknown variables at play. That led me to the "protection drive" hypothesis I blogged about recently. 

I'd hypothesize guys really do want women to have equal power. The roadblock isn't a desire to share that power. The roadblock is male insecurity, which explains why some males are seemingly intimidated by Shelly's overt assertiveness. They're insecure because she doesn't need their protection, and our ability to protect and provide is how men measure their self-worth in our culture.

Maybe men don't object to gender equality because they don't want to lose power; maybe they object because gender equality will destroy their perceived usefulness. Weird, right? This could also explain why, in stereotypically-male competitions, men hate losing to women. 

I'll use jiu jitsu as an example. When we train, we spar at 100%. It's live combat... or at least it's supposed to be. When guys spar with me, they'll always go slightly harder than me. If I go easy, they go easy. If I go hard, they go hard. With Shelly, however, it's different. Regardless of how much effort she's expending, almost all guys avoid 100% effort with her. They tend to go easy. If she's going hard, they'll usually stop before she submits them to "teach" her something. It's a weird phenomenon I've seen again and again. Guys really hate losing to girls.

I'm still hashing out the hypothesis, how exactly this idea influences our behaviors, and most importantly, if this is a barrier to gender equality, how can we make it work for us instead of against us? There's no denying my embracing of masculine characteristics has made a profoundly positive impact on myself and those around me. It would be easy to just dismiss it as an insignificant abnormality, but it's part of a pattern I see repeated again and again and again. Maybe we've incorrectly associated masculinity with oppressive, patriarchal misogyny. Maybe our vilification of masculinity has actually blinded us to the real root of the problem. 

I'm not a fan of vague plans for change. I need specifics. If we're going to run up a mountain, I don't want to just run in the general direction of the mountain. I want to know the terrain. I want to know the weather. I want to accurately assess my abilities and weigh that against the abilities required to get to the summit. I want a map. Sure, there's a chance that planning may reveal weaknesses I didn't think I had, but that gives me the opportunity to fix those weaknesses. That's going to dramatically increase my odds of success. 

Fighting gender inequality is no different. If there's a variable at play we're all ignoring, it only makes sense to reveal it, sit with it for a while, learn all we can about the phenomenon, develop a better map to overcome the barrier, then get to it. My year-long experiment has taught me there are variables at play that make us really uncomfortable. That's no excuse to pretend they don't exist. Sometimes making maps reveals shit we'd prefer didn't exist. Making maps forces us to dig deeper than the fantasy world we create to make us feel better than seeing reality for what it is.

Then again, that's why map-makers are in short supply. We don't like to think we could have been wrong all these years. When we get emotionally-connected to a particular outcome, we lose the ability to see the terrain, thus we lose the ability to make maps. That's what compelled me to start this journey. 


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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Real Men Let Women Die: A Discussion on the Role of Protection in the Development of Gender Roles

It might not be readily apparent based on my Facebook discussions, but I'm a huge supporter of gender equality. Specifically, I have a Utopian dream that one day all of us, regardless of sex, can have the freedom to express gender however we see fit. In fact, my Utopia would encourage members to develop as many gender-specific skills as possible, then learn to use them in the appropriate situation. Any member of the group could do any task regardless if it required "masculine" or "feminine" traits.

There's a major problem with my Utopia: Men and women aren't all that close to being equal yet. Worse, neither gender has unlimited freedom of gender expression.

I'm not one to dream about a Utopia without some sort of plan to make it a reality, so I've been spending a lot of time considering the issue. My first question - what barriers exist that could be preventing actual gender equality?

The standard issue most give usually involves power. Specifically, men are not willing to give up their positions of power in our society. It's a nice, politically-correct answer. But is it accurate?

While there may be some old-timers that genuinely do not want to see women in power, pretty much every male I know doesn't care if women assume power positions. In fact, many actively support it. Women have a lot of male allies.

It seems logical that women should be in a position to simply take power. By the time women can vote, they hold a numerical advantage over men. Add the male allies and women should have a hell of a voting contingent. That should be all that's needed to take positions of power.

Yet it doesn't happen.

Maybe power isn't a cause of our gender roles after all. Maybe the real cause is something a lot less controversial. Maybe the real cause is something that was (and could still be) practical and even desirable.

What if our gender roles developed because men and women, through some combination of biology and socialization, have developed a system where men protect women in exchange for something... maybe intimacy? Maybe men have a drive to protect women because it helps both genders advance their genes to the next generation. 

Way back in college, I was exposed to the theory of sociobiology. The field essentially attempts to explain modern human social behavior as a function of our biology as it developed via natural selection. In other words, we behave as we behave because it helped our ancestors produce kids that could reproduce. Sociobiology is used to explain why men tend to be rather promiscuous (because they produce billions of sperm cells) and women are selective (they only have a limited number of eggs and pregnancy and child-rearing are a huge investment.) It also explained the honeymoon phase of relationships (it compels us to have sex, thus make babies) and the subsequent oxytocin-fueled bonding phase (keeps us together to raise aforementioned babies.) 

I liked the idea of sociobiology, but I'm inherently extra skeptical when dealing with evolutionary theory. Inferring anything about the past based on shady evidence and present behavior is a dangerous game. Fun, but dangerous. The real problem I had with sociobiology, however, had to do with the underlying motivation. What exactly drove our behaviors? Also, it didn't really address why relationships seemed to tank after about four years. That oxytocin- fueled bonding wears out after a while. The standard explanation was kids and stress, which is entirely legit. Kids are a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, the same effect occurs in childless couples, too. 

So back to gender roles and the original question - why haven't women achieved equality yet? This "protection drive" could be part of the problem. Men, unconsciously, want to keep women safe. Women, unconsciously, want to feel safe. Unfortunately, the very idea is so controversial, most can't even fathom it. After all, men are socialized that women are just as capable as men. And women are socialized to be strong enough to take care of their own shit.

Yet the drive still persists. 

If it didn't, we'd require women to sign up for the draft. If it didn't, we'd execute more female prisoners for committing capital crimes. If it didn't, we'd encourage more women to be machinists, firefighters, or garbage collectors. If it didn't, women wouldn't prefer fit, rich men. 

So if this hypothesis is correct, we're fucked, right? Gender equality would be impossible, right?

Not quite.

The other part of my hypothesis: We only feel that "protection drive" when we perceive a threat. I'll dive into my personal story for this point. As my regular readers probably know, Shelly and I have been training at an mma gym for over two years. Prior to training, I felt a much stronger drive to stick up for Shelly. If she was in any sort of danger, I felt a need to help her out. For the last two years, I've seen her learn the skills to do significant bodily harm to pretty much anyone. In other words, I've watched her learn to take care of her own shit. The result - I have virtually no drive to protect her. 

There's a weird catch-22 with this strong woman phenomenon, however, and further evidence there's a strong unconscious drive to protect women. Men, generally speaking, really do not like strong women. Again, I'll use Shelly as an example (though I've observed this effect time and time again with my strong female friends.) Shelly today is a different person than when we met. She's far more assertive, confident, and brash than she used to be. And both genders respond to her in much different ways. Most women now have a tendency to submit to her, and men tend to avoid her. It's the male reaction that's especially interesting... it's the same reaction many men have to female comedians... it takes a certain male personality type to appreciate them. What's that characteristic? I'm hypothesizing it's a low desire to play the protector role. 

When considering this issue, one of the questions I asked via Facebook and IRL friends was:

Take any hetero couple with children. Give them thirty seconds to make the following choice: Either they choose one member of the couple to die OR both members and the children will die. How often will the male be chosen to die and how often will the female to be chosen to die versus how many will chose for all to die?
Predictably, men, across the board, said they would die. Women, with only one exception, answered along the lines of "of course I'd die for my children." Good answer, but that wasn't the question. I was asking if they would volunteer themselves to die instead of their male significant other. Only one woman was willing to take the bullet first. 

So maybe that's the key to that protection drive... it's conditional. If we live in a chaotic environment we perceive as dangerous, we see more protective behaviors. As conditions improve or women become more capable of protecting themselves and we perceive greater safety, that protective drive disappears. That could explain why we see greater gender equality as socioeconomic status increases... people feel safer when they're not dirt poor. That could explain why "warrior societies" where women could fight alongside men enjoyed more gender equality. 

If this hypothesis is correct, achieving gender equality would be rather straightforward. Since there would be some sort of biological explanation for this drive, it's not something most of us can necessarily intellectualize away. We need to do two things:

  1. Support women's efforts to take care of themselves, especially in the physical realm. Naturally, I'd recommend mandatory mma training in schools. This would also include really embracing strong women. 
  2. Stop making our world seem like a scary place. We enjoy the safest world in the history of humanity, yet we continually try to convince ourselves we live in a scary world with danger around every corner. We fear terrorists, chemicals in our foods, tap water, global warming, ebola, vaccines... whatever. 
That's it. That's all it would take. Of course, many will dismiss the idea because it's ridiculously politically-incorrect. Sadly, that's the nature of our modern world - we're so worried about being offended we're intentionally blinding ourselves to honest self-assessment. But that's another post for another day.

It's a weird hypothesis. It's obviously controversial. Yet, nobody has given a better explanation for many of our seemingly illogical mate selection and relationship behaviors. What do you think? Leave a comment!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rethinking Modern Man

Over the last year or so, I've been exploring sex and gender. First, I was researching for No Bone Zone. The premise of the book was simple - our modern understanding of long-term relationships is sort of fucked up and we need to rethink how and why we do the things we do if we want our long-term relationships to be successful.

When conducting research, I consistently came across a gender-specific pattern: A lot of men seemed to fall into the "Nice Guy" trap I've discussed before, and this pattern was sabotaging relationships. In No Bone Zone, I made a case that our conceptualization of relationships has shifted from a pragmatic organization to more of an ideal. Relationships used to be practical arrangements for raising a family. Ideas like "soul mates" simply didn't exist. Today, we expect our partner to fulfill all our needs; to "complete" us.

And we're not very well equipped to make that work.

Relationships aren't hopeless, though. A few fairly simple tweaks and adjustments in expectations is all that's needed to make our modern relationship ideal into our reality.

But what about the individuals? What about the men and women that make up said relationships? Their gender roles have shifted significantly over the last few decades. For women, this has meant a dramatic increase in freedom by extending the same rights, opportunities, and possibilities once enjoyed only by men. Women, more than any point in our country's history, have come close to gaining full equality. And that's a great thing.

Men, on the other had, haven't had such a smooth transition. In fighting for women's equality, it was necessary to attack a lot of the societal barriers that created the glass ceiling for women. Many of our patriarchal beliefs and behaviors, which once served a utilitarian purpose, are no longer relevant today. 

The problem - we have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. On the surface, we vilify masculine behaviors like aggression, violence, dominance, assertiveness, competitiveness, narcissism, etc. while reinforcing behaviors like cooperation, passivity, submissiveness, agreeableness, indecisiveness, etc. In other words, we've set up a society where we teach men to be more androgynous than masculine. This has made it much easier for women to assume masculine roles within society, but also caused a bit of an existential crisis for most men. And inadvertently, many women. 

Here's the problem. When we look at at males throughout history (or even today), we see that "masculine" traits tend to show up when needed. It's almost like men are Superman-esque. Under normal circumstances, men can assume either masculine traits when food or protection is required, or assume feminine traits when going things like child-rearing. In other words, men were once adaptable.

In modern times, we've actively discouraged that ability to shift gender roles by punishing many masculine traits (think schools banning Pop Tarts bitten into the shape of a gun) and reinforcing androgyny. This causes problems for males for several reasons, including:

  • Men can't do man stuff.
  • Men are losing the opportunity to bond with other men at the local fraternal organization.
  • We're losing the apprenticeship dynamic where men learn to be men from hanging out with men.
  • And the real clincher... men aren't especially good at relationships.
The last one is, for the purposes of this blog, the most important. Modern man sort of drops the ball when it comes to relationships because we've been taught women want a warm, caring, considerate sensitive man that's in touch with his feelings, open to mutual self-disclosure, and will always place her needs above his own. 

Indeed, almost all women DO want a man with all those qualities...

... some of the time. 

Women also want a man that can make decisions and lead, has confidence, be a good provider, fit, and able to command a social situation. Unfortunately, this second list of characteristics is also the characteristics of the stereotypical male we've associated with patriarchal oppression, hence the move to actively kill these characteristics. This man is going extinct because women don't usually consciously realize they're attracted to these characteristics. 

Ask most men what characteristics they think women prefer and they'll likely rattle off items from the first list. In fact, they'll likely say women hate items from the second list. Except, of course, for the "bad boy" jerks that seem to get all the women. Men have a hard time explaining why women are attracted to "jerks" because we've been conditioned to believe "jerks" are misogynistic assholes.

But what if they're not? What if the behaviors other men identify as "jerk" behavior is really just typical masculine behaviors our male ancestors used to court and reproduce with our female ancestors? What if both genders are hardwired for it because it was so important to our survival? 

I've been conducting an experiment for about a year. I've been intentionally testing out "alpha male" behaviors in every aspect of my life. As a pretty laid-back beta male, this change is fairly dramatic. The results have been equally dramatic. Both males and females respond to me much differently, and it's always positive. Even though we disparage overt masculinity, our behaviors betray our beliefs. All of us reward masculinity.

For the average male, this is confusing as fuck. It's no surprise most of us are motivated by sex. We're usually led to believe being a "nice guy" is the best route to getting said sex (and accompanying relationship, family, etc.) What we observe, however, is the exact opposite. It's the apparent jackasses that get all the female (and male) attention. This becomes even more apparent when female sexual desire plummets in a typical long-term relationship (and offers me the opportunity to make money selling books like No Bone Zone.) One of the secrets to recreating passion is getting in touch with that long-buried alpha.

So what's the solution?

It's clear killing masculinity and making all men androgynous isn't a workable solution. Some propose going back to "the good 'ole days" of the 1950's and before. That's problematic because the overt patriarchal system of that day simply isn't needed based on the sociocultural prosperity of today. The old system was set up for survival, but came at a heavy cost for men (who were expected to die to protect their family) and women (who gave up opportunity and rights in exchange for male protection.) Going backward is not an option.

There has to be a better way, right? There has to be a way to protect equality yet allow freedom of expression, right? Can we have a world where women aren't limited in opportunity or possibility simply because they have a vagina? Can we have have a world where men are free to be men yet have the freedom to express their feminine side when necessary?

I believe there is. 

In my Utopia, any sex (biological or genetic) can possess and express any gender (masculine, feminine, or androgynous) characteristics they wish. In fact, we would encourage everyone to foster stereotypical gender skills. Diversity and flexibility always make a system stronger and more resilient, and this idea is no exception.

So what would that Utopia require?

First, we need to abandon the idea that masculinity always equates to misogyny and female oppression. That's simply not true. Masculinity and femininity are neither inherently "good" or "bad", they just "are."

Second, we need to understand "feminism" isn't about creating a matriarchy. Feminism is about equality. Specifically, assuring all of us has equal opportunities, possibilities, and responsibilities.

Third, we need to give males the opportunity to express their masculinity. This third point is the focus of the new project I'm starting (details coming soon.) We need to teach men how to properly express masculine characteristics in a way that doesn't interfere with the rights of others. We need to teach how and when to use these characteristics in conjunction with feminine and androgynous traits. We need to give men the opportunity to emotionally bond with other men. Finally, we need to teach men how to navigate the trials and tribulations of long-term relationships. 

Modern man is in a crisis state. We've lost our way. It's easy to sit back and play the victim card. It's easy to blame the feminist movement or women in general, but they're guilty of nothing more than demanding equal rights. Our current plight is our own undoing because we haven't been willing to speak up. We haven't been willing to stand up and advocate for ourselves. We need to redefine what it means to be a man in our modern world. We have a voice. It's time to start using it.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Assessing Sexual Compatibility to Avoid the Dreaded Dead Bedroom

As I've mentioned in my last few posts, I've been spending some time reading through stories on the /r/DeadBedrooms subreddit of Reddit. "Dead bedrooms" refers to a sexless or near-sexless relationship. 

The stories hit a little close to home because I see a lot of my first marriage in the heartfelt accounts people share. I can totally relate to the crushed self-esteem of feeling like the person you love most in the world seems to be repulsed by your touch. Being repeatedly rejected is absolutely devastating to self-worth, and I can feel the pain in every story.

Part of my fascination with this has to do with the question - can we prevent dead bedrooms? No-Bone Zone was written to help couples rekindle the spark they once enjoyed, but what about couples with wildly different libidos (as opposed to issues that may interfere with our sex lives like medical conditions?) What happens when it's not an issue of needing to rekindle the spark but rather the spark was never there to begin with? 

Part of the issue is, even for people with very low libidos, sexual desire is off the charts during the Honeymoon phase (hence the "honeymoon trap.") Two people, one with a high libido and one with a low libido, may match up sexually during the early stages of the relationship. They don't discover the mismatched sex drive issue until they've already made a significant commitment (marriage, house, kids, a cat named Whiskers, etc.)

That brought up the question - is it possible to assess sexual compatibility before making a significant commitment? 

The answer - maybe.

There's an instrument (aka: survey) called the Sexual Desire Inventory- 2 (SDI-2) that measures how we think about sex, specifically how often we think about sex and how often we'd want sex. The idea would be to give the test to both members of a couple before or shortly after they make any sort of commitment (like dating exclusively.) The closer the scores, the closer their sex drives match up, the less likely they would experience the dead bedroom phenomenon once the honeymoon phase dies down. Ideally, people with a high libido will pair up with people with a similarly high libido. Same deal with low libido folks. 

In the past, I've recommended solving this problem by having open, honest discussions. I would still recommend that, but the SDI-2 would likely be a better tool than my previous ideas like discussing masturbatory frequency (a decent proxy to measure how often we get horny), sexual frequency in past relationships (which could be influenced by the past partners' libidos), or frequency of watching porn. All of these could be used, but probably won't be as reliable as the SDI-2.

Some may be asking "This is great for people that like sex, but why would a person that's not really into sex need to take a test?" It's simple - the person with the lower libido in a relationship suffers, too. They have to tolerate the seemingly constant requests for sex and must repeatedly reject their partner. That process is always distressful and has a decidedly toxic effect on the relationship. 

So what do you think readers? How many of you would be willing to complete a survey like this to determine sexual compatibility? Leave your answer in the comments section!

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Monday, March 9, 2015

The Definitive Guide to Infidelity

I've gotten a fair number of questions regarding infidelity over the last few years. Specifically, many people seem to be interested in learning how to identify if their partner is cheating on them. My psychologist side is fascinated with this topic because extramarital affairs are incredibly complex human behaviors that typically involve all sorts of hidden and not-so-hidden feelings, motives, and behaviors. My relationship blogger and writer side is interested because preventing affairs is one of the themes in my latest book No-Bone Zone. Before we tackle the nitty-gritty details, it's important to define exactly what we mean by "infidelity."

Operational Definition


The first definition I encountered on the 'Web is as follows:

"The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner."

It's not a bad definition, but requires us to define "unfaithful." How about this definition instead:

"The action or state of violating prenegotiated boundaries within the confines of an intimate relationship with a romantic and/or sexual partner."

I like this definition better because it allows different couples to define "infidelity" as they see fit. They can set clear expectations about what is allowed and not allowed. As such, "infidelity" happens when those boundaries are violated.

Prevalence


Finding statistics on the rate of infidelity is almost impossible because every study seems to return different statistics. Most find the rate of infidelity for women to be somewhere between 15% to 40% and men from 25% to 50%. If we exclude "sexual infidelity" and only consider "emotional infidelity", all of these numbers jump around 20% higher. If we ask people "if you would cheat if you had the opportunity and there is no chance you would get caught", both genders jump to an astonishing 70% or so.

Staggering numbers, right? 

The first time I came across these numbers, I was shocked. I assumed the subject pools had to be biased. That is until I started doing research for the aforementioned book. One of the most shocking pieces of data I found - the infidelity website ashleymadison.com has over 22 million registered members. 

Let that sink in for a moment. 

Okay, so infidelity is exceedingly common. Here's the weird part - according to a 2013 Gallup poll, 91% of Americans consider infidelity to be morally wrong. Given the majority of us would cheat if we knew we wouldn't get caught, this stat highlights our blatant hypocrisy on this issue. Even more interesting - that stat is trending upward even though the actual rate of infidelity is increasing. The more we cheat, the more it disgusts us. 

Is Cheating Ever Justified?


When it comes to questions of morality, there are no obvious right or wrong answers given the variability of individual mores. I've been spending a fair amount of time perusing Reddit's /r/DeadBedrooms subreddit. 

One thing became abundantly clear - many people's attitudes toward infidelity is directly related to their own situation. People that have been trapped in a sexless, extremely unhappy marriage are much more willing to consider infidelity, especially if they've made repeated attempts to solve their relationship problems via counseling, group therapy, etc. In this situation, the unhappy partner may be looking for an alternative partner when (not if... these relationships usually fall apart eventually) the relationship ends. If discovered, the relationship is likely going to end.

Another situation that comes up on occasion involves a very specific situation. You have a couple that's been together for a long time, usually a decade or more. They're both happy and pretty much fulfilled, but one partner wants to add a little sexual excitement AND they've discussed that need with their partner AND the partner cannot provide the sexual excitement. The partner with the itch may initiate a brief sexual encounter to scratch the itch, so to speak. They have no desire to leave their spouse, so there's no emotional component to the encounter. If discovered, the relationship may or may not end, though these are the situations that often lead couples to explore consensual nonmonogamy

Both situations are a moral slippery slope. Does the situation justify the behavior? Some say yes, many more say no. My take-away - as a society, we despise infidelity... until we're in a situation where it becomes at least a little bit appealing. Does this mean we should do it? Only the person making the decision can make that decision. 

Gender Differences


The widely-held societal belief is that cheating is a man's game. In fact, it's not uncommon for people, mostly women, to believe all men are cheaters. Indeed, men report engaging in more infidelity. But is that accurate? If we measure the actual number of people that cheat (versus asking them if they cheat), that gender difference disappears. It would be safe to assume men and women cheat at roughly the same rate, and often for the same reasons. So what are those reasons?

Reasons People Cheat


There are millions of possible reasons we may engage in extramarital sex. Humans are, after all, rationalizing creatures. Regardless of our morality or belief system, we do what we're driven to do then explain it afterward. Here are a few of the more common reasons a person may cheat:

  • Compulsive cheater: This is the category that invalidates pretty much everything else in the article. Compulsive cheaters are probably suffering from antisocial personality disorder (they're psychopaths that don't experience the normal range of human emotion.) They have always cheated on their partners at every opportunity and will continue to cheat in the future no matter how much you plead, negotiate, or threaten. 
  • Crime of opportunity: This describes the folks that usually do not intend on cheating. In fact, they may be completely happy and fulfilled, but are placed in a specific situation. That situation usually involves lowered inhibitions (usually via alcohol), a provocative environment (there's sexy stuff going on around them), there's a degree on anonymity,  the experience is likely going to be a one-time thing, and there's virtually no chance they could get caught. Some studies suggest upwards of 75% of both men and women would cheat in these conditions. The social psychologist in me wholeheartedly agrees. 
  • Boredom: As I'll mention throughout the article, sexual boredom is rampant in modern long-term relationships and the main reason I wrote No-Bone Zone. No matter how hot, sexy, or kinky our partner is, hedonistic adaptation sets in and we get bored. It's not an inevitability, but avoiding boredom is hard work few are willing to research and execute. That boredom eventually is what leads many people to seek out others.
  • Resentment: Resentment occurs in relationships because one or both partners aren't getting their needs met in some way. There's not enough affection, not enough sex, boring sex, one person does too many chores, one person always cares for the kids, one person works too much, etc. All are behaviors that breed resentment. The problems can usually be solved with communication. 
  • Revenge: "My partner cheated on me, therefore I am going to cheat on them."


Warning Signs


The following six scenarios are fairly reliable predictors of situations where one or both partners may consider initiating an extramarital affair. 

  • Sex has diminished in frequency and/or quality. Sexual satisfaction is one of the best predictors of infidelity. After the honeymoon period in relationships, sexual frequency and quality decrease. One partner typically becomes the "low libido" partner; the other becomes the "high libido" partner. This dynamic eventually creates a great deal of resentment and often sets up a situation where the high libido partner begins searching for another avenue to fulfill their needs. Oddly, sometimes affairs are started by the low libido partner. Their lack of sex drive could be caused by simply no longer being sexually attracted to their spouse. In either case, this "sexual boredom dynamic" is the situation that prompted me to write No-Bone Zone
  • The partner is feeling emotionally neglected. Sometimes affairs are started for emotional reasons instead of sexual reasons. When one partner's emotional needs aren't being met, they may look elsewhere. "Emotional affairs" are usually started innocently enough, but quickly spiral out of control due to something known as the restraint bias
  • One or both of you have limited sexual experience. So you wanna marry a virgin, huh? Aside from the lack of experience, having a limited number (i.e.- "one") of partners is a reliable predictor of extramarital affairs. Basically a person falls in love and has sex with their mate, the honeymoon ends, and they begin a slow dance toward a boring sex life. Because they've never experienced that cooling down period, the inexperienced partner wonders if the grass is greener on the other side. Many times, they hop the fence to frolic in the new field.
  • One or both of you are needy and require affirmations. People that need external validation (which usually coexists with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, poor body image, etc.) are more likely to have affairs because, well, it fuels their needs in a powerful way. This is one of the reasons confident people tend not to seek out extramarital sex.
  • One partner verbalizes their unhappiness. If there was ever a red flag of red flags, voicing unhappiness should be it. Most people report being blindsided by their partner's infidelity, but they just ignored the very obvious warning signs... and this is the most commonly-ignored. If they say it, they've probably been thinking it for a long, long time. 
  • Seven Year Itch. The entire premise of No Bone Zone is based on the idea that we're not very well-suited for monogamy, at least for long-term relationships that go beyond about four years. Very few of us possess the relationship skill set to effectively keep the passion alive for the long haul. One or both partners eventually succumb to sexual boredom, which eventually leads to affairs. Don't just assume your partner will always be faithful; the power of sexual yearning is greater than most peoples' resolve to remain faithful with unmet sexual needs. 


Extramarital Affair Behavior


The following is a large but still not comprehensive list of behaviors that could be indicators your partner is having an affair. Most of these, taken by themselves, do not constitute solid proof you're the victim of a cheating spouse. However, several taken together could be enough to warrant further investigation. 

  • Change in routine. We like our routines and only change them if absolutely necessary. If your partner is changing their routine for no discernible reason, they may be rearranging their schedule to meet up with their lover.
  • Unexplained absences. Affairs take time, and people engaging in affairs usually have excuses to explain where they were, why they were there, and how long they were there. Still, some absences may be unexplained because the details can get overwhelming. Those unexplained absences are usually a sign their were meeting someone else.
  • Too many or inconsistent details. All of us have a default level of detail we add when explaining or describing something. Few of us ever consciously pay attention to the level of detail we use. When we lie, we unintentionally provide either more or less detail than we would if we weren't lying. 
  • New underwear. Or in the case of women - matching bras and underwear. Both behaviors are typical of people in new relationships. While simply buying new underwear may just be an attempt to replace the ratty underwear they've had since college, pairing the new underwear with situations where they could be meeting their lover should be considered a red flag. 
  • Unusual bathing habits. If your partner is bathing more than usual, or bathing at odd times (like immediately after returning home from a "night out with friends"), it's probably not because they've developed OCD.
  • Sudden focus on appearance. If your partner is prettying themselves up more than usual, they're trying to impress someone. 
  • Sudden interest in fitness. This can be tricky because it's not uncommon for folks in their 30's and 40's to have an existential crisis about their mortality, realize they've treated their body like shit, and being frenetic workouts. This is also the age when a lot of people first consider having an affair. Two two often go hand in hand.
  • Emotionally distant. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to spend our emotional capital on our highest emotional priorities. If a significant other becomes emotionally-distant, they're probably spending that capital elsewhere.
  • Sudden interest in a new hobby. Couples get to know each others' recreational outlets pretty well, including the motivation to do said hobbies. If your significant other takes up a new hobby with no obvious inspiration, their new lover may have given them the idea.
  • They become accusatory. Some people cover lies with a good offense. They respond to accusations with accusations of their own. This redirection is meant to end your questioning. 
  • They begin looking at you while talking on the phone or using the computer. This is subtle, but telling. If they're talking on the phone, texting, or using the computer and they glance in your direction repeatedly, they're probably being careful to keep you from seeing their activity. 
  • Foreign smells and tastes. When you've been with someone for a long time, you habituate to their smells and tastes. In other words, you don't really notice it. If you DO notice their tastes or smells, it's probably because they've changed, and odds are good they've changed because they're now mixed with the smells and tastes of a third party. For example...
  • Sex dramatically decreases. A loss of interest in sex can be caused by all sorts of things, including "they're getting it elsewhere."
  • Sex dramatically increases. Weird, I know, but sometimes sex begets more sex, and the unfaithful partner will begin being much more sexually assertive and initiate more often.
  • Sex gets inexplicably mechanical. When people start affairs and get emotionally-attached to their new partner, they often distance themselves emotionally from their original partner. That's often manifested by a lack of emotion when having sex. It feels far more mechanical than it did in the past.
  • Shaving routine changes. We tend to shave on a fairly predictable schedule. When we're in a long-term relationship, we tend to... how do I say this delicately... we tend to let shaving go a little longer than we did when we were single. A dramatic increase in shaving frequency is a sign your partner is trying to impress someone with their silky smooth skin. The more intimate the area being shaved, the bigger the red flag. 
  • Unusual travel. Any unusual solo travel, for work or pleasure, should be viewed with suspicion. 
  • They bust out new moves. New sexual moves, no matter how subtle, are always a red flag. In my experience, very few people actually spend time researching better sexual techniques. Most learn new stuff from new partners. 
  • Begins to volunteer for opportunities to get out of the house. If they're abruptly volunteering to run errands, they may be using the opportunity to meet or communicate with their lover.
  • Sudden interest in new foods. We're creatures of habit, especially as far as food is concerned. If your spouse develops an interest in a new type of food, they may have been introduced to that food by the person they're cheating with. 
  • Passwords. New, unknown passwords or passwords on devices that were previously unlocked is always a damning sign. 
  • Unusual mileage, gas consumption. When people engage in extramarital sex, they usually have to travel somewhere. If there's an unexplained increase in their car mileage or money spent on gas, they could be driving somewhere to meet their lover.
  • Scratches or bruises. If your spouse has a bite-shaped bruise on their ass or claw marks down their back, well, you know where that's going.
  • Unusual attachment to phone. If your partner suddenly becomes noticeably attached to their phone, odds are good they're guarding it for a reason. And that reason is almost always because they're hiding an affair.
  • Unexpected gifts. Infidelity typically induces guilt, which is often alleviated by giving gifts. These gifts are tend to be rather expensive. 
  • Stops asking about your day. When we enter into relationships, we develop scripts that we more or less follow every day. One of the most common elements are "how was your day" questions. A disruption in that pattern usually means they no longer care about your day and aren't careful enough to maintain that pattern.
  • They stop using pet names. If they've always called you "Schmoopie" but suddenly refer to you by name, they're distancing themselves emotionally.
  • They begin subtly engaging in attempts to guide you towards other partners. This is a weird phenomenon, but should always be a HUGE red flag. If your significant other seems to be subtly trying to set you up, odds are good they already have your replacement lined up.
  • Digital hiding and/or deleting, emptied trash. Discrepancies between phone bill records of calls and texts and the actual calls and texts saved on your significant other's phone can be a sign of infidelity. Also, electronic messages moved to the trash or, more damning, emptied trash (assuming they were never OCD about emptying the trash before) can be signs they're hiding something.
  • Loss of weight. This may be intentional (to look better) or unintentional (falling for someone causes our appetite to be suppressed for a few months.) 
  • Lack of sleep. New relationships cause a release of a lot of neurotransmitters, many of which inhibit sleep. Also, the stress of keeping the secret can make it difficult to relax enough to get to or stay asleep.
  • They increase complaints about your family and friends. When someone is our highest priority, we tend to avoid criticizing the other people in their life. Those critiques will increase when their priority slips.
  • Begin talking about other couples going through divorce. Other couples are always getting married and divorced. If your significant other starts talking about these more than they may have in the past, it's probably because they're weighing those relationships against your own. 
  • Avoids long-term plans. People in long-term relationships tend to make long-term plans. People in long-term relationships that are having affairs tend to avoid making long-term plans.
  • Unusual washing of clothes or bedding. Are they washing the sheets daily when they may have only washed them weekly? Are they doing laundry after getting home from a night out with friends? Any change in laundry habits could be suspicious.
  • Once-endearing things now annoy them. Do you laugh like a hyena? Did they also find that trait to be cute, but now can't stand it? Red flag.
  • They flirt with a proxy. Odds are good your partner isn't going to flirt with the person they're having an affair with in your presence, but they may flirt with others in an attempt at misdirection. 
  • They begin talking about the nature of love and/or relationships. This may be done consciously or unconsciously, but a new fascination with relationship dynamics usually means our spouse is assessing the nature of your relationship and may be comparing it with the relationship they're forging with someone else.
  • Sick days. If your significant other is supposed to be at work and they take a sick day without telling you, odds are good they're meeting up with someone. 
  • Dating apps, websites. If you find an app like Tinder (or Grindr... we don't discriminate), accounts on dating websites like match.com, or adultery websites like asleymadison.com, your significant other's phone or tablet, that's usually a pretty good sign they're playing the field.
  • They stop doing household chores or maintenance. When we check out of a situation, our commitment to the trappings of that situation decreases. That includes household responsibilities. 
  • Unusual anxiety. Having an affair causes stress due to the ever-present danger of being caught. If the cheater is falling for the other person, it's also likely that process will cause what appears to be constant low levels of nervous energy that are impossible to hide.
  • Faster talking and moving. This is tied to anxiety. When we're falling for someone, the adrenaline release causes neural transmissions to speed up. Not only does it produce anxiety, but we talk and move a little faster than we would normally.
  • Sudden increase in time spent with friends. A "guys' or girls' night out" is a common cover story used to hide affairs. If your significant other seems to be spending a lot more time with their friends, they're probably not spending a lot more time with friends.
  • Toilet seat. This one is pretty much exclusive to an unknown man being in a bathroom. If the toilet seat is normally down and it's inexplicably left up, there's a pretty good chance it was a detail overlooked by the cheating couple.
  • Towels. Most families use a predictable number of towels. If there's an unexplained increase in dirty towels without an obvious explanation, it could be caused by a third party showering and/or cleaning up after sex in your house. 
  • Weird phone calls. An increase in hang-ups, sales calls, or calls received in the middle of the night are all possible signs something is going on. 
  • Birth control. Unexpected changes in birth control methods can be a red flag. Typically, women may being using the pill, a diaphragm, or another method for no apparent reason. It's less likely, but the sudden insistence on using condoms (by either gender) can be a red flag they're concerned about a possible STD infection. Passing it to you would provide concrete evidence of infidelity.
  • Different behavior at family gatherings. Spouses will develop patterns that define their interaction with both their family members and your family members. If they're having an affair, both interactions usually change. They may suddenly get closer to their own family and farther from yours. 
  • They become overly concerned about YOUR schedule. Affairs tend to be time-intensive activities that require a degree of careful planning. The cheating spouse will usually have to plan around their significant other's schedule, so they may take a new-found interest in your comings and goings. They may also do this if they suspect you of having an affair.
  • Different attitude toward kids. Children are often the unintended victims of adultery because of the relationship strife that can occur when the affair is discovered. Before that point, however, a spouse's behavior towards children will often change. The unfaithful parent may either lavish the children with attention or ignore them completely. They may also attempt to alleviate guilt by showering the children with gifts.
  • Change in "I love you" habits. People typically give out "I love you" sentiments in a relatively predictable manner. When someone is engaging in an extramarital affair, that rate may increase or decrease. 
  • They suddenly become forgetful. I like to call this the "Ronald Reagan defense mechanism." When people create a web of lies, keeping track of truths and lies becomes increasingly difficult. People intentionally or unintentionally forget stuff. That sudden change in memory skills usually means they're hiding something.
  • Change in Internet habits, no browser history. A significant increase in time spent online, browser history that includes anything suspicious (like a Google search for "how to cover your affair"), or deleted browser history can all be suspicious. 
  • Sudden increase in jealous behaviors. Whenever we engage in undesirable behaviors, we have a tendency to assume other people also engage in the same behaviors. It's not unusual for a cheating spouse to become hypersensitive to the very behaviors they're doing when trying to cover their tracks. The result? They suddenly get much more jealous than they were previously. 
  • Sudden decrease in jealous behaviors. The opposite could also happen. 
  • Wedding rings. If you wear wedding rings (Shelly and I rarely if ever wear ours), watch their habits. If you catch them without it, that's usually a good sign they're removing it because of an affair. Also, look for tanning under the ring, which would indicate they're taking it off during the day.
  • Change in religious habits. Affairs cause guilt and religion can greatly amplify guilt. Most people react by backing away from their religious practices, though some may increase (they're trying to compensate.)
  • Become unusually critical: When people cheat, they may or may not be in the process of leaving the relationship. To mentally prepare for that, it's not uncommon for the cheater to "pre-rationalize" leaving by highlighting their partner's flaws. If they do leave, it makes the decision easier to justify.
  • Their friends or co-workers suddenly become socially-awkward around you. Spouses that have affairs will go to great lengths to plan and anticipate interactions with you, so they tend to be fairly well-prepared to lie. Their friends and co-workers are not. If they suddenly start acting uncomfortable around you in any way, they probably know of the affair and are trying to hide it.
  • Unusual expenses. Any significant deviation in spending habits should be viewed with caution, especially large (like two people were eating) restaurant tabs, movie tickets, jewelry stores, hotel rooms, etc.
  • Gifts. When people first get together, gift-giving is extremely common. New objects that inexplicably appear, especially stereotypical "romantic" gifts like cards or jewelry, likely came from a new love interest.
  • New music tastes, new interest in literary genres, movies, or TV shows. Humans have a weird tendency to adopt the habits of their romantic interests, and people having affairs are no different. A new-found interest in any of these is a potential red flag. 
  • Burner phone. If you find a second secret phone, they're either having an affair or peddling meth. 
  • Their eyes change. This is subtle, but people will adopt a slightly different "gaze pattern" if they're trying to hide something. Bad liars avoid eye contact more than normal. Good liars use more eye contact than normal. People that have recently fallen in love (or are getting novel sex) tend to have brighter, more sparkly eyes. 
  • Excessive daydreaming. This is another very subtle sign, but if your significant other seems to be lost in thought A LOT more, there's something that's capturing their interest. 
  • New credit cards or bank accounts in their name only. This is a classic "covering your financial tracks" move.
  • Trace evidence left in pockets, purses, or cars. Receipts, movie ticket stubs, wrappers or containers from new restaurants, condom wrappers, etc. can be physical evidence of infidelity. 
  • Increased anger, starting an unusual number of arguments. Anger is a fairly common emotion cheaters express because they've probably been suppressing a great deal of resentment towards their significant other. Now that they have a potential option in the new partner, they're more likely to express those previously-suppressed feelings.
  • Seat position moves. We're creatures of habit. When many people get into a car, they adjust the seat. If your significant other's passenger seat moves and you're the only person that normally sits there, it had to be moved by someone. The same can be said about things in the back seat. If nobody normally rides back there and stuff is moved around for no logical reason, odds are good people were back there for a reason.
  • Increased happiness. New relationships tend to make people happy, which is difficult to suppress. If a significant other suddenly seems happier for no obvious reason, they could be riding the high of a new relationship.
  • Hoarding cash, sudden concern for finances. People that suddenly show an interest in finances are usually either interested in hiding something OR calculating the feasibility of splitting the finances. People that are hoarding cash are usually using the cash to fund secret affairs or preparing to leave the relationship.
  • STD's. I alluded to this one earlier in the list. Contrary to popular belief, you can't contract gonorrhea from a tractor seat. If you suddenly have an STD and you're not having sexual contact with anyone besides your significant other, you can be certain they contracted it from a third party.
  • The other person's name comes up in conversation more than usual. Most people will avoid mentioning their elicit lover's name in conversations. A few people will resist that by doing the exact opposite - they'll talk about the person more than would be expected in normal conversation. Think of it as a compensation behavior.
  • They become overly defensive. We normally get defensive when we feel we're under attack. We also get defensive when we're being questioned about something we're trying to hide. The behavior is driven by a desire to dissuade the questioner from asking questions.
  • They hire a divorce lawyer. This one usually doesn't require a lot of additional detective work...

How to Catch the Cheater


  • Track. Tracking your significant other's movements and communications is the first step towards catching the cheating spouse. Fortunately, technology makes that really easy these days. If your spouse has a smart phone, all operating systems have the capability (usually turned on by default) to track and save geographic location data. Do a Google search for their particular phone to learn how to access that data. Computer usage can be tracked with commercial keylogger software, and searches are usually recorded by search engines. For example, when you sign in to Google, it records all your searches by default. You should also track all communications, financial records, and behavioral changes. If you are thorough, it probably won't take more than a few weeks to find a definitive answer.
  • Document. This sort of goes without saying, but keep detailed records of the tracking you're doing. Record times, dates, locations, names, email addresses, phone numbers, and whatever else may be of use. I would recommend using some sort of journal to record the data, but keep the journal well-hidden. If they're having an affair, it should become painfully obvious. 
  • Consider options. How you proceed is entirely dependent on your particular situation. The most common options are to confront, then either try to fix the relationship or leave the relationship. Some people choose to ignore the infidelity. While I really don't recommend it, that option may work for some. A less traveled route that's gaining in popularity - consider consensual nonmonogamy. Regardless of your decision, do not confront your significant other without first developing a plan.
  • Develop a plan. Regardless of the option you choose, it's important to develop a plan. If you choose to stay, how will you work through the inevitable shitstorm of emotions? Is individual or couples counseling an option? What if they don't want to stay in the relationship? If it's ending, how will you share custody of the kids or split up material possessions? What about living arrangements? All of these things need to be considered. 
  • Question using "volatile conundrum" technique. Once you collect enough info to know they're cheating, have considered your options, and developed a plan, it's time to set a trap to potentially confront them. Because people will almost always deny having an affair, it's best to catch them in an indisputable lie. For this, you can utilize a volatile conundrum. A volatile conundrum is an ingenious technique used to safely test is someone is telling a lie. It works like this. Let's say your spouse was supposedly running to the grocery store, but was gone for a suspiciously long time AND you're fairly confident they're lying. When they return, you give them a fabricated "incident" like "I'm glad you're home. I was listening to the news and the grocery store was robbed shortly after you left. Are you okay?" The spouse must now make a decision - lie about being there for the robbery OR dispute the robbery. If they go along with the lie and claim to have been there for the robbery ("Yeah, it was pretty scary. The police questioned all of us"), you know they were lying. If they dispute the robbery ("I was there and didn't see the robbery or the police"), you know they were telling the truth. At that point, you can use an "out" like "Huh, I must have misheard the report. I was in the kitchen and it was hard to hear the details of the story." The out effectively hides your suspicion until more evidence can be collected OR you're able to catch them in a lie. So let's assume you caught them in a lie and it's time to confront...
  • Confront them. So you caught them in a lie using the volatile conundrum. Now it's time to put them plan in action. Odds are good they're not going to admit to the affair even after being caught in the obvious lie, so be prepared to present some (but not all) of the information you collected. Always keep a few cards hidden in case they continue to deny it. Explain your plan. Depending on your decision, you can discuss or negotiate where you go from this point. It's going to suck balls, but this is necessary regardless of the future.

A Slightly Different Perspective


Remember the earlier section where I discussed the definition of "infidelity?" I mentioned we should define it as crossing negotiated barriers the couple decides, not use a blanket definition society tells us we should use. Why is this concept so important?

My polyamory friends were the first to introduce me to the idea that "cheating" should be a nonexistent idea because it's based on the belief that we have ownership over our mate. As such, we have no right to determine what they can and can't do, ergo there can be no such thing as "cheating." 

I have mixed feelings about this concept. I agree in principle, but believe the practical implications simply deviate too far what we consider to be the societal norm to be useful for most couples. Still, I was curious about how this concept would work in a non-poly couple. Nicole, the contributor that has been writing the "Confessions of a Female Swinger" posts, gave her thoughts:

"My husband and I have talked about boundary-setting at length, and our boundaries are always adjusting. We give each other far more latitude than many couples would be comfortable giving, but we do still have clearly-defined boundaries.
Even though we're swingers, there are behaviors that would be cheating. Early in our swinging days, we would sometimes get lost in the moment and cross a line. For example, we had established a "no kissing" rule. One night, in the heat of the moment, I kissed a guy. It led to a minor fight which actually turned into a good conversation about why we had that particular rule in the first place. Eventually we both agreed it was silly and got rid of it.
Does the poly crowd have a point? Maybe, maybe not, but I don't buy that they don't have boundaries. I just think their boundaries are more relaxed than most, including us. If it works for them, great. For us, finding that barrier for our own special place just the two of us can enjoy is the point of us being together. That's ours to share; that's our commitment to each other."

Conclusion


So ya read this whole post, huh? Odds are good your attention to read through a 5,000 word blog post is fueled by either the suspicion your significant other is or about to cheat OR you're in a situation where you're considering cheating yourself. If you suspect your significant other, this post should you you plenty of tools to help discover the truth. If you're the one considering it - tread lightly. There's a reason it's the most common reason people get divorced; it destroys the trust that's the foundation of any intimate relationship. If you're considering it, have a conversation with your significant other. Who knows, they might be having the exact same thoughts.


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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Honeymoon Phase: Don't Get Get Fucked By This Stage of Relationships

I've been spending a fair amount of time perusing stories on the DeadBedrooms subreddit as of late, mostly looking for interesting potential blog topics. The subreddit's theme is sexless relationships. I've noticed a pretty distinct pattern in almost every story, which resonates with me because of prior relationship experience. Of the people that post their stories, almost every couple got caught in the "honeymoon" trap.

Shelly and I also know a few people via social media that repeatedly fall into the honeymoon trap. One woman in particular perfectly exemplifies this. Once or twice every year, this woman will begin dating a new guy, post tons of pictures and status updates gushing over the dude and how she's finally found "the one", then gets pissed at anyone that points out she said the exact same thing last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. No matter how many times the seemingly obvious pattern repeats itself, she always falls into the honeymoon trap.

What is the "honeymoon" trap, you say?

Any relationship can be divided up into discernible stages. For brevity, I'm going to simplify romantic relationships down to three stages: Honeymoon, crossroads, and reality.

The honeymoon phase begins shortly after we make a cursory commitment to another person, even if that commitment is casual, nonexclusive dating. This phase is defined by the electro-chemical cocktail occurring in our brain, including:

  • Dopamine (makes us feel good, also makes us "addicted" to our partner)
  • Epinepherine and norepinepherine ("adrenaline", gives us boundless energy)
  • Serotonin (causes us to obsessively think of the other person, blinds us to their flaws)
  • Endorphines (pain killers that also make us feel a little high)
The result - we get weird, but in a good way. We obsess about our partner. We want to spend every waking moment with them. We don't eat or sleep. We're always on edge. We get butterflies in our stomach and our palms sweat a lot. We think they're more attractive than they really are. We ignore their flaws. We want to fuck their brains out literally all day and night.

My poly friends like to call the subjective experience "new relationship energy" because, well, it feels pretty fucking awesome.

So What's the Problem?

As a society, far too many of us seem to fall into two belief traps. First, we assume that the target of our affection, based on the overwhelming strength of the feelings, is our soulmate... that one person in the whole wide world meant to be with us and only us. Second, we assume the feelings will last forever.

The soulmate fallacy is pretty easy to dispel. There's roughly seven billion people in the world. The fact that there's ONE right person for any of us is, statistically speaking, absurd. We have decent evidence that the honeymoon response increases as a function of genetic compatibility and is communicated unconsciously via pheromones. The stronger we "fall in love", the genetically healthier our children will likely be. 

The "forever after" fallacy is easy to dispel also because, well, every couple in the history of forever has experienced that drop-off. At the most basic level, it's just not physiologically sustainable. The honeymoon phase is tough on our bodies. It would literally kill us if we experienced it all the time. 

We can get hints of the passion back after the honeymoon phase, but it takes a thorough understanding of how and why we experience both passion and intimacy. That's THE major reoccurring theme in No-Bone Zone. Indeed, I wanted to write a book that would give couples potential alternatives when the passion diminishes.

Eventually the honeymoon phase winds down as we get to know each other better which signals the beginning of the "crossroads" phase. Our brains start producing more oxytocin (makes us feel closer to our partner) and vasopressin (makes us monogamous) and less of the other four neurotransmitters. The frequency and intensity of sex begins to decrease. More importantly, we begin seeing our partner in a more accurate light. Their previously-ignored or minimized flaws become more apparent. At this point, we typically choose to continue with the relationship or end it.

If we choose to stick with the relationship, we enter into the "reality" phase. We continue to build intimacy, which often includes kids, a house, and all the other trappings of the American dream. We sort of go on cruise control for a while... maybe a year or three. 

One day, one (or sometimes both) members of the couple wake up and realize their sexual needs aren't being met like they were during that first year or two of the relationship. Invariably, they ALWAYS seem surprised the honeymoon period came to an end. When they first got together, they set the honeymoon phase trap by assuming they would be the couple that proved everyone wrong. Their love was strong enough to maintain the honeymoon forever. 

Of course, they weren't special. They're beholden to the same relationship rules as the rest of us, but the expectations of a lifetime of unbridled passion ultimately results in serious disappointment. At this point, the couple usually morphs into a "high libido" partner and a "low libido" partner. This results in the following common complaints:

High libido partner: "I don't understand what happened. We used to have sex every day. My partner was adventurous and creative, the sex was hot, and they would initiate all the time. Now? I have to practically beg for sex and I get rejected all the time which kills my self-esteem. I've tried everything - working out, complimenting them, doing chores... none of it works. They often make me feel like a complete sex addict or pervert just because I want to be with them. I just want my partner to want me."

Low libido partner: "We used to have a lot of sex and it was great. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I'm just not as attracted to my partner as I once was. Life got really busy and I'm just not in the mood very often, but they still pester me for sex all the time. I hate being the bad guy and shooting them down so often, but they just won't give it a break with the constant smothering. I feel like their every action is somehow angling to try to con me into having sex."

If you've been in a relationship that lasted more than three or four years, you're probably familiar with this scenario and accompanying feelings. Resentment, anger, depression, feeling worthless, undesirable... all are par for the course. One or both of the members of the couple are probably considering having an affair or ending the relationship. This is the point where many of the /r/DeadBedrooms stories pick up. Unfortunately, the advice given on that particular forum is almost always really, really bad. 

So What's the Solution?

The solution is relatively simple: DON'T ASSUME YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS DIFFERENT! 

Enjoy the honeymoon period for what it is - a really fucking exciting rollercoaster ride. When it starts to end and you've decided to stick with the person, talk. Discuss how you'll navigate your sex life in the absence of the manic horniness of the honeymoon phase. HOW exactly you do that varies depending on your personalities, situation, beliefs, etc. 

Naturally, I would recommend No-Bone Zone because the entire book is set up to help couples navigate the post-honeymoon phase. However, some of the ideas might be a little too... edgy... for some. NBZ aside, there are a wealth of resources floating around the Interwebz. 

Avoid This Mindset

The real damaging mindset that derives from honeymoon phase ignorance has to do with the expectation that the honeymoon will last forever with the right person. It never does. It never has. If you love the honeymoon phase, you're either going to be a serial dater OR you get really, really good at manipulating the intimacy and passion dynamic to create momentary honeymoon-esque moments later in the relationship. 

For the rest of us, the post-honeymoon phase can be awesome. We can build emotionally-fulfilling closeness to another person for as long as we choose to stay in the relationship. Once we understand how to reliably create passion in the relationship, we can break up the warm but boring intimacy with the occasional headboard-banging animalistic fuck sessions. 

What do you think? Based on my demographic data, many of my readers are at the age where "dead bedrooms" become an issue. How do you navigate that period? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Fourteen Practical Tips To Make Someone Fall In Love With You

Is it possible to make someone fall in love with you? A few months ago, Kate, a former student and keen observer of human relationship behavior, posed this question on my Facebook wall. 

Here's the typical scenario- one person is attracted to another, but the feelings aren't readily reciprocated. Is it possible for that person to do something, anything, to get the other to fall in love with them?

I say it's entirely possible to get someone to fall in love with you if the process of interpersonal attraction is really understood and you're able to tailor the methodology to the individual. It's not an inevitability; no method of eliciting behaviors is going to be infallible. It should work the majority of the time, however. Think of this as a collection of very deliberate courting behaviors.

Before I tackle the list of tips, let's talk about ethics. This is a tricky topic because it flirts with the line between seduction/ courting behaviors and emotional manipulation. The rule of thumb that should be used: 

If a person expresses they have no interest in you, leave them the fuck alone. 

Do not assume they're merely playing hard to get or you can wear them down. Unwanted advances, once rebuked, become crazy psycho behavior. We have enough goddamned crazy psychos in this world. Don't contribute to the problem. 

Okay, now that we have that cleared up, let's make up a hypothetical story about a girl named Lynne and her crush, Matt. Lynne really likes Matt and desperately wants to be in a relationship with him. What steps can she take to seduce him?

1. Understand propinquity and the mere exposure effect. The mere exposure effect explains the phenomenon of liking something more if we see it on a regular basis. Propinquity means being close. The more often Lynne interacts with Matt, the more he is going to like her. She can plan out "chance" meetings where they will run into each other in different environments. To use these two effects, Lynne should plan to "randomly" run into Matt frequently. The simple act of frequently seeing her will make Matt think positively about her.

2. Be physically attractive to take advantage of the halo effect. We like pretty things. We also attribute positive characteristics to attractive people (they're smarter, better at sex, make more money, are friendlier, are more trustworthy, etc.) Lynne can capitalize on both of these phenomena to make Matt like her more. This can be accomplished in a few ways:

  • Lynne should do everything she can to highlight or create culturally-ideal standards of attractiveness. This would include appearing younger, possessing symmetrical facial features, and aim for a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7 (or 0.9 for males), which is calculated by dividing waist size by hip size. 
  • Lynne has to learn Matt's particular interests. All of us have specific "fetish" characteristics that deviate from traditional beauty. Maybe Matt really likes longer hair or smaller breasts. Or his tastes could be even more specific, like dark lipstick or hairy armpits (it's a thing... really.)
  • Lynne needs to surround herself with less attractive females. Attractiveness is relative. In any given situation, we'll assess attractiveness based on others in the immediate environment. If Lynne were rated as a "7", she can appear more like an "8" or "9" simply by surrounding herself with a lot of "5's." 

3. Flirt. Flirting is nothing more than playful communication that hints at the possibility of sexual interest. Flirting consists of actual language and accompanying body language. The goal of flirting is to signal "I'm interested in you." Lynne should engage in mild flirting whenever possible.

4. Leverage similarity. The notion of "opposites attract" is wrong. Similarity is the foundation of interpersonal liking. The more similarities we have with another, the stronger the bond we feel with them. First, Lynne should highlight all the things she has in common with Matt. She can enhance this effect by shifting her behaviors to be more aligned with his. If Matt loves bluegrass music, Lynne could begin learning all she could about the music.

5. Build intimacy via self-disclosure. Intimacy, or the closeness we feel towards another person, is built by reciprocal self-disclosure. We reveal our inner selves to someone. They return the favor. This exchange bonds us and makes us feel closer. Lynne can utilize this by sharing details of her life or "inner self" on a regular basis. She should start small by revealing relatively minor things like the time she was embarrassed in middle school because she walked out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to her foot, then work up to more significant disclosures.

6. Build passion by playing hard to get. Humans want what they cannot have. More specifically, we value things that are rare. This particular quirk is the basis of economic theory and the idea of supply and demand. This is the reason people tend to get more interest from others when they're already in a relationship versus when they're single. Lynne can dramatically increase her desirability by making herself seem more unobtainable. She can do this by by cycling flirting behaviors with "indifferent" behaviors (where she shows no interest in Matt.) She can also use this by feigning mild interest in other people.

7. Reciprocal liking. We like people that like us, and the best way for Lynne to show this is simply say "Matt, I like you."

8. Make the relationship rewarding. We enter and stay in relationships because they fuel some need we possess. If we can figure out what any given person needs from a romantic relationship, we can then provide for said needs. We can discover other peoples' relationship needs by talking about their parents' relationship or their past relationships.

9. Build investments by starting small and building up. The investment theory of relationships is based on the idea that we're more likely to stick with relationships when we have a greater investment in said relationship. These investments could be time, mutually-purchased goods, cohabitation, pets, ids, whatever.

10. Leverage fight or flight. When we perceive danger our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and produces a set of predictable physiological reactions- sweaty palms, heightened awareness, butterflies in the stomach, insomnia, racing heart, etc. When we fall in love, the exact same thing happens physiologically. Our brains, for whatever reason, aren't especially good at attribution. If we're with another person and experience something scary, our brains often misattribute the feelings as "hey, I really like this person!" Lynne can use this concept to hep Matt fall for her by doing exciting things together. Riding a roller coaster, watching a scary movie, or riding in a cab driven by anyone unfamiliar with American traffic laws would do the trick.

11. Identify then establish common points of interest by studying "psychics." I'm a huge skeptic when it comes to supernatural phenomenon, mostly because there has yet to be a single case of a psychic demonstrating their powers in a controlled laboratory setting. That, and I actually studied the tactics of psychics (I dabble in magic, and "mentalism" was my favorite.) "Psychics" use a variety of skills to "read" people, most notably cold and warm reading (here's a good primer.) Anywho, cold reading allows you to observe specific things about a person and make fairly accurate assumptions. Those assumptions can then be utilized to make yourself appear like an ideal match. Let's assume Lynne and Matt are both in their late twenties. Lynne, based on her cold reading research, knows most men in their late twenties are unusually focused on establishing a career. That, coupled with Matt's long hours, could lead Lynne to begin giving Matt encouragement to succeed at his career while also discussing her career aspirations. 

12. Win over their social circle. Matt's circle of friends tend to exert considerable influence over his actions. Lynne can leverage this by befriending his friends and subtly increase her "girlfriend" stock by doing a few things. First, she should appear as likable and friendly as possible. Second, she should avoid appearing to be possessive and be willing to give Matt space apart (A new significant other usually means the friend is going to fall off the face of the Earth for months and months.)

13. Ask them to do you a favor. Asking someone to do you a favor is a weird psychological trick that almost always increases liking behaviors. Let's say Lynne asks Matt to help her move from one apartment to another. Odds are good Matt is going to agree simply because most of us have difficulty saying no to requests for favors. Matt, in his mind, is going to try to self-rationalize why he agreed to help her move. The answer he's invariably going to come up with is "I must be doing this because I sort of like her." Sounds crazy, but it works. 

14. Be funny. If there's one universal quality all of us enjoy, it's a well-developed sense of humor. We like funny people. Most of us like funny people a lot. Lynne can leverage this by actively working to become funnier AND avoid not-so-funny behaviors. I like to develop my own sense of humor by reading jokes, watching comedies, and studying comedians. I tend to take this to a dorky level by also studying the science of humor and joke-telling. The second part, avoiding unfunny behaviors, means limiting things like whining, bitching, complaining, being needy or clingy, or scowling a lot. Smile, laugh, don't take anything too seriously. If Lynne does this, she'll become much more attractive to Matt.

Well, there we go - fourteen tips to help Lynne seduce Matt. If she follows the tips, odds are really good she'll not only get a date, but probably set up a situation where Matt would be interested in a relationship. Of course, there's no guarantee the relationship will work, but who knows? They may end up living happily ever-after. 

Good luck and have fun!

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