Your relationship with a woman begins from the moment you say hello. That relationship can last anywhere from a minute to a lifetime. However, a sexual relationship with a woman begins when you first engage in sexual activity with her (whatever your personal definition of sexual activity is). The relationship changes significantly after that point. As such, it's important to make it clear to her and to yourself what you want and what you're offering before sexual activity happens.
In the early chapters, we discussed taking stock and figuring out what you want from your relationships with women. Now is a good time to revisit that question in light of the three types of love feelings that Helen Fisher enumerated: lust, romance, and long-term attachment. Roughly, those three translate to short-, medium- and long-term relationships. For shorthand, let's call them fling, romance, and partnership.
Consider this situation. Let's say you're at an amusement park, and you're looking for a really fun ride. An attendant approaches you and tells you about this incredibly exciting, borderline dangerous ride. You get very eager to try this ride and stand in line. After an hour's wait, you get on it - and it's mostly a flat, medium-speed ride that barely makes your heart rate rise. How do you feel about the ride? How do you feel about the attendant? Let's consider the reverse scenario, in which you're looking for a fun but mellow ride, and the attendant directs you to The Widowmaker, their steepest, fastest, twistiest ride. How do you feel about that attendant after you get off that ride? Perhaps a little angry?
There's an analogy here with the relationship marketplace. If you represent yourself as someone who's looking for serious dating but really just wants to sleep with as many woman as possible, you're misrepresenting yourself. This will lead to your unhappiness, as you may get stuck in an arrangement you don't necessarily want; her unhappiness, because she's not quite getting what she wants; and once again your unhappiness, which will be caused by her unhappiness (count on it). It's also a violation of your integrity, which will always be to your own detriment. Call it karma, call it what comes around goes around, call it having it bite you back in the ass - it's a bad idea. As a man, your word is your honor. Keep it that way. This reminds me of the first of Don Miguel Ruiz's Four Agreements, namely: be impeccable with your word.
Be impeccable with your word.
Don't take anything personally.
Don't make assumptions.
Always do your best.
- Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Now that we've covered how not to represent yourself, the question is: how do you want to represent yourself? The answer is that you should represent yourself in the manner that is best aligned with your goals and intrinsic nature. On one end of the spectrum is the archetype of the rogue -- the bad boy, the dangerous man. He's in it for the adventure, to play the field and have some fun. He doesn't concern himself too much with the long term. On the other end is the nurturer and potential husband. He's more of a one woman-one guy kind of person. Figure out where you are on this continuum now. Also figure out where you want to be on this continuum, because you can change your position based on the principles you've read about so far. However, in the end, you'll be most effective and have the greatest fulfillment when you align your external message with your internal nature.
Just as the three brain circuits for lust, romantic love and long-term attachment are interrelated, so are the fling, romance and partnership systems related. Serious long-term relationships (i.e. partnerships) are usually borne of romance. Flings can lead to romance and subsequently even marriage. However, note that you generally cannot move backwards in the sequence:
fling romance partnership rogue cool guy husband
If you market yourself as a partner, you will not become fling material. Ever. Even if you market yourself for romance, chances are very small of getting in the fling zone. However, if you start in the fling zone, you have the latitude to move forwards along this one-way street. It follows that the rogue archetype has the greatest freedom when it comes to the type of relationship he wants to have. This makes sense, since the rogue adventurer type is usually successful at creating strong attraction with women. Lest you think that this is an unreserved recommendation of the bad boy lifestyle, be forewarned. If it does not fit your personality well, you will feel like a phony. And having lots of women around does not necessarily translate into fulfillment. Deep fulfillment comes from deep connections, and the bad boy lifestyle can preclude that. The dirty secret of some of these bad boys who get lots of women is that some of them are profoundly lonely and fundamentally unhappy, trying to fill that void with quantity instead of quality. Find out where your fulfillment lies. Pursue that, and not some standard someone else has prescribed for you.
Now that you know what to do regarding marketing yourself with integrity, the question is how you will go about doing it. To that, there are two components: timing and wording. As far as timing is concerned, you should make your terms clear regarding the meaning of your impending intimacy after it becomes relevant and before sexual activity (however you choose to define it) begins. If you start talking about it at the start of your first date, it will sound presumptuous and just plain weird. If you talk about it after a night of shared passion, you risk coming off as an opportunistic creep. This is another instance of the idea of taking the middle path, a recurrent theme in Eastern thought.
As far as wording is concerned, you should convey in your own way that you don't make any promises you can't keep. Phrased positively, you only make promises you can keep. Honesty is absolutely the best policy here. If you're coming off a difficult relationship and you'd like to have some time to get to know someone before making a commitment, say so. If you're not boyfriend material right now but you really enjoy her company and want to get to know her better, say that. If you are looking for a serious girlfriend, she might be looking for relationship lite, so that's worth mentioning, too (there are two parties involved here, and sometimes you're the more vulnerable one). One way to do it is to preface your statement with "I just want to make sure you understand one thing before we go any further..." and end it with "... and if you're not cool with that, I totally understand." Don't worry about 'losing the deal.' This is not a business transaction, but rather a delicate exchange between two emotionally vulnerable beings - you being one of them. Your integrity and the emotional well-being of both of you is worth more than any potential sexual experience. Also, it's in your enlightened self-interest to state where you stand. Complete honesty can only win you points, since it signals comfort with yourself and your desires without apology or excuse. She has probably had experiences with men who have behaved with less integrity at this point, so your candor will be well-received. And if it's not well-received, then you're probably better off without the entanglement that would have ensued had you not made yourself clear. Finally, making yourself clear now gives you greater flexibility in the relationship down the road. If you don't say anything, the woman will make some assumption about the meaning of your interaction, which may not be the same as what you want. Regret usually follows. Don't let it.
Sex is not everything in a relationship, but it's a big part of it. As we discussed earlier, oxytocin is the hormone chiefly responsible for feelings of long-term attachment in women (in men, it's vasopressin). We also mentioned that oxytocin is produced at the moment of orgasm and through touch. For this and hundreds of other reasons, good sex plays a big part in starting and maintaining a relationship. This point cannot be overemphasized.
Let's just take it as a given that being good at sex is a good thing, and that you are interested in getting better and better at it. In fact, I can hardly think of a more useful, practical life skill. For whatever reason, sex is caught up in a lot of taboo and restriction in Western society (and just about everywhere else). Robert Anton Wilson observes that there is one rule that every human tribe has in common: reproductive activity will not go unregulated by the tribe. The upshot of this all is that if you're like most people, you've probably received little or no instruction regarding good sex. And that's a perfectly acceptable starting point.
Lucky for us, there's a lot of good resources out there to catch up on lost time. Thousands of years ago, there were Chinese emperors and Indian maharajas with lots of money and free time on their hands. Seeing as there was neither cable nor video games then, what these emperors would do in their copious spare time was to have lots of sex with their hundreds of wives and concubines. They also commissioned their philosophers and scientists to figure out novel and exciting ways of enhancing their sexual experiences. Predictably, over hundreds of years, these emperors and philosophers came up with a lot of good stuff. From China came the treatises of the Taoist masters and the Yellow Emperor; from India, the Kama Sutra, the Ananga Ranga, and the works of the yoga masters. What they figured out was not just the incredible variety and intensity of possible sexual practice, but also the potential to use sexual communion as a path to higher consciousness. A good reference for that knowledge is the comprehensive Sexual Secrets, by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger, which covers the traditions of India, China, Nepal, Tibet and Japan.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by the abundance of information on sexuality. Where does one start? How do you separate between what's important and what's less important? In the booklet The Tao of Sexual Mastery, I summarize the content of dozens of books on sexuality into practical principles which you can learn and put to use immediately. Instead of burdening you with piles of detail to sift through, the booklet gives you the basic principles of anatomy, physiology and technique that you can then expand upon and adapt to your own needs.
All relationships are temporary. Even the best ones eventually end in death or divorce. Once you reconcile yourself with that fact, you can focus on being fully present in the relationship at all times and worrying less about how long it will last. I believe that every relationship has an intrinsic length to it. All relationships are equally valid as long as they enrich your life, help you grow as a person and increase your personal freedom. A one-night stand is not any better or worse than a 50-year marriage - it simply is what it is. And trying to make a relationship last longer than its intrinsic length (or cutting it off before its time) will likely cause you pain. In the meantime, if it is in your interest to make a relationship last, there are some things you need to know.
Let's revisit the three kinds of love - lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment (fling, romance and partnership in our parlance). Lust operates on a time frame of hours to days. Romantic love operates on a time frame of weeks to months. And long-term attachment operates on a time frame of months to years. There are occasional exceptions, but if you expect any one of these things to last longer than they actually do, you will be disappointed. Pain is expecting the world to be different than it is. It's a universally known fact that love fades; and yet, it is a universal phenomenon that when caught in the throes of love, we just know that this one's going to last forever.
Here are the facts. Scientists tell us that the average time that 'in love' feeling lasts is 18 months. Four years is about the upper limit. That's also about the peak time for divorce and infidelity. Biologists speculate that it's probably because way back when, it took that long for an infant to become somewhat independent (just over 3 years old) and to free up the woman's hands so she's not completely dependent on the man to provide for her and the child.
The point is this: if you want a relationship to last, be prepared for change. The glue that keeps a romance together is not the same as the one that keeps a partnership in place. The magical brew of neurotransmitters and hormones that sustains that feeling of being in love diminishes over time. Deal with it. What replaces it is a deep feeling of appreciation, trust, respect, and understanding which is less intense but more durable.
We've all heard the saying "Good fences make good neighbors," and the same is true of a relationship. One of the most effective ways of keeping you together is the ability to stay apart. Some of the best advice I've ever heard about making relationships last comes from Kahlil Gibran. In The Prophet, one of the townspeople asks the departing Al-Mustapha about marriage, and he responds:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore...
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each others' keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each others' shadow.
Recall that the universe is a reflection of you. If you hold on too tight to someone, you are in effect saying to the world, "I'm afraid of losing her." The world will then simply affirm your feeling by making you lose her. Instead, celebrate every moment of her presence in your life, knowing full well that her presence is temporary. If you're busy appreciating her and being exceptionally good to her, you won't have time to think about losing her. Also, leave the cage door open. Men often get so caught up in keeping a woman that they forget that, as wonderful as the other person may be, the relationship itself isn't fulfilling. You don't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with you, and that's true for both parties.
Of course, the best way not to have to worry about losing her is once again to turn the tables, making sure that she's more worried about losing you. If you successfully applied the principles of The Tao of Dating, chances are that you became attractive to more than one woman. Women notice this and value it. The next section talks about how to keep that attractiveness going, even after you're in a long-term relationship.
If you've done everything right up to this point, congratulations. You embodied a strong masculine presence, you were compelling, you were romantic, you were an all-around stud, and by golly you got the girl. Now I've got news for you: the work has just begun. As the old samurai proverb goes: After the victory is won, tighten your helmet. Right after you've done everything right is when you are most likely to falter. Don't let that happen. Remember that the man's job is to maintain the lead - always. Keep up the good work you've done up to this point and fulfill your promise by maintaining a strong masculine presence (with the internal frame, total self-acceptance and leadership), staying compelling and keeping up the romance. Getting the girl is not a license to backslide into the bad habits of yore. If you do, she will notice, and you will lose her.
This is also the time to realize that if she has been testing you up to this point, she will test you even more henceforth. Expect that and be prepared for it. One of the things that women will try to do in a long-term relationship is to tame the man. Ironically, if she succeeds, she will have also initiated the demise of the relationship. What she found attractive in the man in the first place was his strength and independence, so taming him quenches the fire of attraction. However, you know this and will prevent its happening by always maintaining some tension in the relationship. Do this in two ways: by maintaining your independence and your aura as a sexual being. Be respectful and considerate, but also make it absolutely clear what your boundaries are and when you must have your own time. If Friday night is your time with the boys, then you state that clearly and stick to it. A pet has no independence and no sexual aura - don't turn into one. Chances are a pet is not what she signed up for, and it's not what she'll stick around for either. She was attracted to you because you were sexually dangerous in some way, so maintain some of that. Again, all things in moderation. A little subdued flirtatiousness with other women, a little "do you think so-and-so is cute" comment every once in a while is all it takes for her to remember that you're still alive, and that's what drew her to you in the first place.
One of the main factors contributing to the demise of long-term relationships is being taken for granted. All those things that made you wonderful, interesting and special are now simply accepted as standard features. Sometime it reaches a point where just a small lapse from wonderfulness is held against you. This is completely normal and expected. There's nothing sinister about it. In fact, it's a demonstration of habituation, one of the main features of the mammalian nervous system and a cornerstone of adaptability. In other words, it's not a bug, it's a feature, and it's not going away. So learn how to work with it, not against it. Be like water, as the Taoists say. Don't try to topple the obstacle; just figure out a way to go around it.
To optimize survival, the nervous system has evolved to notice change and filter out the background. It happens in all of your five senses: eyes notice moving objects and not static ones; you stop noticing the refrigerator's hum after a few days; you stop smelling something after five minutes. This is called habituation, and there are mechanisms operating at the cellular level to make this work. In other words, you're better off understanding it and working with it rather than fighting it. And the proper way to circumvent habituation is to deliberately introduce salient, unpredictable stimulus, better known as change.
There are infinite ways of being unpredictable, but here I want to give you two techniques derived from behavioral psychology and animal training. The first is deliberate unpredictability, especially when it comes to doing nice things for your partner. Behavioral psychologists and animal trainers call this implementing an irregular schedule of reinforcement. Let's say you've been training a dolphin to jump, and you've been rewarding it with a single fish each time. The fish is the reinforcer - something that increases the chances of the behavior happening in the future. Now if you keep up the one fish-one jump regimen, after a while the dolphin will stop jumping as high. This is not because the dolphin is temperamental or evil - it's just the way things work neurologically. The way to make sure that the dolphin's response doesn't decay over time is, paradoxically, to withhold the fish for a while. Give it to the dolphin every third or fifth jump. If you withdraw it entirely, the reinforced behavior will stop, so keep up the reinforcer; just give it irregularly. Now a funny thing happens: the dolphin starts to jump higher in order to get its reward. On some level, it has realized that just showing up isn't enough; it has to work harder.
If you think you're a lot smarter than a dolphin, let me ask you this: Has your interest in a woman ever increased after she told you she didn't want to see you? Have you ever started calling a woman even more after she stops returning your calls in a timely fashion? Have you ever started to put in more hours at work after the regular kudos you were getting stopped? The fact is, people are a lot smarter than dolphins, which is why this technique works even better for them.
To get you started, think of some behaviors involving reinforcement. We are unconsciously using reinforcers all the time in our relationships: praise, enthusiasm, food, presents, backrubs, sex. Anything that makes someone feel good is potentially a positive reinforcer. Become aware of them. Now think of all the ways that you use those reinforcers in a habitual manner, i.e. without thought or variation. Take kissing, for example. Do you kiss her every time you leave for work? Do you kiss her every time you come back? Do you kiss her in the same spot, for the same duration of time? If you do, your kiss no longer conveys any information - it has become meaningless. Stop that. For example, make the standard back-from-work kiss the exception rather than the rule. Then change the way you do it. Kissing is just one example. You have probably fallen into habit in the way you take her out, initiate sex, buy her presents, or sound happy on the phone. These are all opportunities for introducing variability.
Maybe the last two paragraphs got you down a little bit. You're thinking, "Look, I have a good heart, and I just enjoy doing nice things for my baby." That's perfect. As long as your enjoyment is the main reason you're doing it (vs. force of habit or even worse, trying to please), you will be naturally unpredictable and will never be taken for granted. This is an extension of the masculine ideal of following your internal compass. And as long as you're not doing the same thing over and over again, that's a fine policy.
For all the sweet guys out there who really, really want to do nice things for their companions, there's another technique that works. This is called the jackpot. A jackpot is a larger than usual reinforcer, usually given for no reason at all. For the dolphin, it would be a big ol' mackerel instead of the little minnow it was regularly getting. Human beings call it a surprise. For it to work, the jackpot has to be a reinforcer (i.e. pleasant), bigger than average, and unexpected. A pair of tickets to Paris for the weekend works; a pair to Antarctica work less well. And it's worth repeating that the jackpot works because it's unexpected. Twice a year may be all you need for it to be maximally effective. Human beings (especially women) catch on very, very quickly, and if you do a jackpot every month, she'll come to expect her monthly surprise, in which case it's not really a surprise any more. Don't let the technique compound the problem. In the Tao of Dating seminar, we explain and demonstrate these techniques extensively until you understand them at a gut level. In the meantime, for an in-depth understanding of behavioral techniques, I recommend Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog. It is an interesting read in its own right and tremendously insightful about human nature.
The four horsemen: recognizing problems before they arise
John Gottman, Professor of Psychology at Washington Univeristy, has been studying married couples for 25 years and has come up with a lot of interesting, highly accurate ways of evaluating the health of a relationship. In fact, using a 3-minute video of a couple interacting with each other, he can predict the success or failure of a marriage with over 90% accuracy. What he has found is that there are certain styles of interacting that tend to be harbingers of doom for a relationships. The worst four amongst these he calls 'the four horsemen', since they tend to be apocalyptic in their destructiveness. The four are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If you engage in these communication styles on occasion, that's okay -- everybody does them to some extent. The problem arises when they become the principal mode of communication. The worst of these four is contempt -- and it's actually the most easily avoided of the four. There's really no place for it in a loving relationship. So keep your eyes open for unannounced guest appearances of the four horsemen in your relationship, both in yourself and your partner. And if you see criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling coming up early in a relationship, let that be a sign for you to seriously consider whether it is worth your while to keep it going.
Taking your own counsel, again
In the end, there are as many ways of keeping a relationship going as there are relationships. What's important is to be aware of why you wish to keep a relationship going. It is one thing to keep it going because it's a source of fulfillment for both of you, and another to keep it going just for the sake of keeping it going. Generally speaking, if something adds to your growth and freedom, you should keep it in your life; if not, you should let it go. That rule applies to relationships as well.
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