A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents evidence for a counterintuitive aspect of human relationships:
couples who had been together longer – on average 40 years longer – knew less about each other’s preferences (favorite foods, movies, etc.) than younger couples.
The article is entitled “Older but not wiser–Predicting a partner’s preferences gets worse with age.” You can read the original here and a writeup at Wired.com here.
On reflection, this phenomenon is not completely unexpected.
When you first get to know a person, be it in friendship or dating, there are countless undiscovered things you have to learn about each other.
Each new experience is an exciting revelation, and each new fact adds to your understanding of the other person.
But after a time, you start to feel as though you know each other pretty well, and you stop digging for surprises.
Or you might think that the other person’s preferences and beliefs are fairly constant, and don’t bother investigating whether they have changed in the time that you have been together.
An interesting idea would be for a couple to try to maintain a simple, healthy tension in their relationship – the tension of being aware that there are still countless things they don’t know about the other person, and to treat those unknowns as a treasure of surprises to be discovered.
To give a somewhat silly example, do you know whether your significant other prefers flip-flops or sports sandals?
If it’s the former, are they a Rainbows fan or a Rainbows skeptic?
If it’s the latter, do they favor the tricked-out ones with massage footbeds and gel cushions?
The conclusion of this exercise:
if you don’t know, try finding out!
You might be surprised at what else you learn about the other person.
This idea of re-discovering the person by engaging with him/her on different ideas and in different situations relates to another phenomenon – couples who have been married longer often find themselves doing the same things for “date nights” that they have been doing throughout their relationship.
However, the spouses report feeling much closer to each other when they do something new or adventurous instead, such as going rollerblading at night and getting ice cream instead of going through the hum-drum “dinner and a movie” routine for the nth time.
This paper raises several other fascinating issues (for example, the role of “white lies” in long-term relationships), and I will be discussing it more in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!
Over at wired.com, Jonah Lehrer discusses some surprising aspects of sex: 1) even as a pleasurable experience, it often causes a large stress response in the body, including the release of chemicals that help the body deal with stress, and 2) as discovered in recent research in rats, it can promote neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons, in the adult rat brain. One research team in particular, which included Princeton professor Elizabeth Gould, also found that when male rats were allowed to mate with female rats multiple times over the course of the experiment (“chronic” sexual experience) as opposed to just once (“acute” sexual experience), the level of stress-response chemicals went down, but neurogenesis continued. In other words, repeated sexual experience in rats led to beneficial neurogenesis without the harmful chemical stress response.
You can read Lehrer’s full article here
I should provide the ever-needed caveat in animal research: we can’t jump to the conclusion that the same holds true in humans, because of the striking differences in anatomy, brain organization, development, etc. And even if it could be proved that the same were true for humans (which might take a while – you can’t kill humans at the end of an experiment and dissect their brains the same way that you can with rats and mice), it would certainly not mean that we students should start having sex all the time in order to boost our GPAs. This is only one isolated aspect of sex, detached from all other ethical, behavioral, and interpersonal considerations. But this type of focused, specialized research is still important: by uncovering these smaller bits of knowledge about sex, piece by piece, we can begin to better understand this complex and fascinating facet of human life.
Written almost exactly a year ago, Robert George’s article on “Gay Marriage, Democracy, and the Courts” is more applicable than ever in light of recent events in California.
to to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
“…as a comprehensive sharing of life–an emotional and
biological union–marriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to
procreation…Only this understanding makes sense of all the norms–annulability
for non-consummation, the pledge of permanence, monogamy, sexual
exclusivity–that shape marriage as we know it and that our law reflects. And
only this view can explain why the state should regulate marriage (as opposed
to ordinary friendships) at all–to make it more likely that, wherever possible,
children are reared in the context of the bond between the parents whose sexual
union gave them life.”
by Marlow Gazzoli
Unsettling news from the great
state of Georgia: apparently, opposing the orthodoxy on homosexuality and
viewing gender as more than just a social invention precludes one from being a
counselor in our multicultural world. Jennifer Keeton, 24, is studying for her
master’s degree in counseling at Augusta State University, and sued the
University to prevent her expulsion. An excerpt from the story:
alleges the university retaliated against Keeton for stating her belief that
homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not a “state of being,” and that gender
is not a social construct subject to individual change. According to the suit,
the school wants her to undergo a ‘thought reform’ program intended to change
her religious beliefs. She faces expulsion unless she complies, and the suit
seeks to block the university from throwing her out for noncompliance.”
It seems to me that the faculty
have a totally distorted view of what a counselor is. A counselor should not
merely confirm his patient’s choices and lifestyle out of some misguided
respect for diversity. Rather, he is supposed to better the life of his
patient, not just encourage him to do whatever he wants.
A doctor’s purpose is to
safeguard the health of his patient, not defer to his patient’s views of what
is or is not healthy. Absent an objective moral law and order, the counselor is
merely an encourager of whatever life the counseled wants, a “life-coach.” This
is what we can expect in a world awash in relativism. “You can hold your own
views but can’t force them on others. Who is to say what is right? What is