Oh shit … you wanted to find out what happened after the whole hospital incident in last week’s blog? Sorry! I zag when you think I’ll zig. This week I’m going to do one of my shorter, topical pieces before diving into the tragedy that illustrates why you should be careful what you wish for.
Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you, brother
You can’t have one without the other
It’s so random and unlikely that it must be fate. You meet that special someone, and even though there a million reasons why you should have passed each other by, you connected. The sparks were instant, and whether you quickly dived into bed or waited, the attraction was undeniable by you both. Learning more about each other, you loved what you had in common and found the differences endearing. This was it, what you’d been waiting for! It may not have worked out the last time but this time it was for real because you could feel it so strongly. And if you like it then you should put a ring on it, and you didn’t just like it—you were in love. Love and marriage … it’s an institute you can’t disparage!
Spoiler alert: Sinatra is full of shit. Or maybe not, since he was such a believer in love & marriage that he did it four times. Yet quad-wives were not enough to stop ol’ blue-eyes from having dozens of mistresses over the course of his life along with plenty of one-night stands.
In case you’re new here, it’s fair to say that I have complicated feelings about sex and relationships. I am the cynical white knight. I’m a hopeless romantic who knows better, but unfortunately “hopeless” is the operative word. I love women, but I have terrible luck with dating and relationships. I love the idyllic white-picket fence image of monogamy but my urges are decidedly more on the polyamorous side of the playground. My eyes my wander, but deep down I want to wake up next to the same someone every morning who’s actually glad to see me.
In other words, I’m fucked.
I’m not the only one messed up. As many as half of the marriages in our country are doomed. Whether it’s infidelity, two people who grow to hate each other’s guts, or perhaps the saddest: two people who slowly become sexless roommates who go through only the basic motions. Infidelity is complicated by the idea of “emotional affairs.” Would you rather your spouse fuck a co-worker with zero long-term interest in that person, or is it worse if there is nothing sexual but instead there is a deep emotional connection kept strong through regular contact? Though everyone’s different, men in relationships are usually troubled more by a physical betrayal while women are often more distressed by romantic emotions given to another even if the man in question never once touches the boobs of another.
Anthropologists generally accept monogamy as the status-quo of human sexual relationships: a pair-bond. In other words, they believe a male-female marriage is the natural state of things. (Not excluding or ignoring homsexual attraction or long-term relationships, which have always been with us, but we’re talking statistically typical at the moment.) One man fucks one woman to create a family, and they keep on keeping on until it’s the next generation’s turn to do the same. But that sure begs the question, if that’s the “natural” state of mankind, why is a long-lasting marriage the same odds as the coin toss at the Super Bowl? Why is porn one the highest-grossing entertainment industries? Why do those feelings that lead us into bed and down the aisle fade at all?
I hope you don’t expect me to actually answer those questions. I have no fucking idea! Seems like a cruel joke. But I’ve been doing my homework. One day I hope to understand why my dick and heart will pretend to be on the same side, before a betrayal as if my organs are playing a game of Diplomacy with my entire future on the line. My brain, which should be the one in charge, is constantly being swayed by the arguments of one side or the other. (“Mr. Heart makes a strong case about remembering just how sweet Mary was on our birthday, and to be understanding of just how stressed she’s been lately. But HOLY CHRIST—Mr. Dick has just submitted a picture of Susan’s amazing ass into evidence. My ruling: we go after the ass but we’re gonna feel really bad about it later. Case dismissed.”)
One interesting thing is that not every expert in human evolutionary behavior believes in the “standard narrative.” The book Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships was authored by two married anthropologists challenging the notion. There is some compelling evidence that we humans, in our ancient hunter-gatherer days, were horny and unashamed and indulged in our passions with multiple partners freely. The evidence comes from the challenges monogamy has in modern cultures, the behavior of rare isolated primitive tribes, and even why our sexual organs look and perform the way they do. It asks some interesting questions, such as…
Why do women generally have a slower build-up of sexual response compared to men? Why do men have swinging balls? Why do women often have the urge to loudly call out while fucking? And why does my dick have that particular “plunger” head to it? (Possible answers: Because sex for female humans might once have been a line of men taking turns so everyone gets off. Men have an external scrotum to produce more sperm than their primate cousins, so they can produce additional shots on short notice. Female screams of ecstasy are calling out for more men to join the party. And the human penis is designed by evolution to literally pull back the semen of an earlier guy so that my soldiers will be on the front lines for fertilization.) It’s important to note that the book doesn’t say monogamy is incorrect and that we should all start attending key parties, but it draws conclusions based on research and evidence. A clash of culture vs. biology really would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?
The idea that we fall in love and then choose that person to marry feels like a universal ideal, but it’s actually a modern concept and still rejected in some cultures. Our more pragmatic forebears tried not to confuse the issues. Marriage needed to last and was a practical arrangement. One didn’t need to be “in love” with a spouse. In fact, most cultures thought it was a terrible idea to be in love with one’s husband or wife.
Face it, we’ve got it pretty damn good. In the old days we’d have a lot more kids but as many as half of them would die before reaching adulthood, women very literally risked their lives with each pregnancy, and day-to-day life was fucking grim. Falling in love might be a pleasant distraction, but distractions could be dangerous.
The Greeks separated the feelings of love with completely different terminology. Storge is the love of family and those we treat as family. (Ladies, that guy you “love like a brother” is you being in storge with him even if he goes home and masturbates to your Facebook profile picture.) Philia is a feeling of strong friendship and affection, which can include sex but not in the desperate tear-each-other’s-clothes-off style, and often found in close platonic relationships. (The couple that’s been together for five years and agrees to have sex after the laundry is done but before the next episode of Game of Thrones is a good example.) Agape is the ideal love, one that’s beyond mere affection or passion, but a love that transcends, is spiritual and pure, and is focused on offering more than receiving. (This is the love my roommate has for me, her big brown eyes and wagging tail and oh she’s such a good dog! Yes she is.) And lastly there is Eros.
Eros is where we get our modern word “erotic.” He was a god of Greek mythology, though you probably know him by his Romanized name: Cupid. Romantic! Except back in the Bronze Age eros was not generally considered a good thing. Cupid’s goddamn arrow is a wound, after all, and bleeding hearts lead to trouble. Passion leads to terrible decisions, which is why a dude named Paris kidnapped a gal named Helen and started a war in which the good guys lost.
You probably think of Romeo & Juliet as a tale of love and romance—I mean, Taylor Swift sure thinks so. But that interpretation of the play came long after the Bard croaked. It’s a tragedy, a cautionary tale about what happens when two idiot teenagers hook up and let their heart and hormones override common sense and their families’ rules. “Violent delights have violent ends” didn’t come from the show with naked robots, it’s the friar’s warning/prophecy to the horny kids who get themselves killed.
Eros is a feeling the Greeks called theia mania—madness from the gods. In other words, it makes you fucking crazy. Cupid’s arrow pierces you, and the intense desire for someone literally hurts, especially if they cannot or will not return your affection. It’s about wanting more than giving. If you’re lucky, both you and your intended are hit by the little naked archer at the same time, and you come together for the kind of passionate whirlwind that is the stuff of poems and porn, you get naked and do things to each other that only have names in Urban Dictionary.
And … it doesn’t last. Sorry, kids. For some eros lasts longer than others, but it generally fades. If you’re very lucky it settles into philia, affection and mutual respect and enjoyment of each other. With that kind of marriage or relationship it may not be intense and amazing all the time, but you enjoy each other’s company and stand ready to schedule in a 30-minute hump-session on your lunch break. Now it sucks when one person in the pair is still bleeding from Cupid’s arrow but the other has “fallen out of love,” which can lead to hurt feelings or obsession or your pet rabbit being boiled alive.
Or maybe you’re five years into your marriage and have settled into a decent life, perhaps somewhat routine and in a rut but better than most people will ever have it … then you feel the sharp pierce in your heart caused by an invisible arrow or maybe just the sight of someone who makes you feel again, it hurts but in a good way. It’s like you were in Kanzas and woke up in Oz, the gray mundane replaced with dazzling Technicolor. You had forgotten what it feels like to want someone so strongly and you feel alive again. Eros is temporary insanity, and sometimes the crazy comes on strong because it genuinely feels that it’s a life or death decision, but rather than avoiding death you are coming back from it, stepping out of the cold tomb of a mundane life into something exciting and heart-racingly real. You know it’s a bad idea by every standard and Sunday School lesson out there, but what kind of choice is it? You go for it—dive into the deep end, look before you leap, fall without a safety net, let the fire lick your skin. In that moment, the feeling is worth anything, everything.
That’s what I was told after my wife fucked another man and went on a multi-state crime spree.
(Pardon me, EX-wife.)
Maybe I’ll tell you that story. One day.