Like approximately 41% of America, my parents were divorced. In fact, most kids I knew growing up were from one-parent (or weekend-parent) families. The older I got, the number of friends whose parents were still married shrank correspondingly. By college, they were a rarity, almost to the point of being an attraction worthy of any circus side-show. Honestly, I could count their number on the fingers of one hand and still have a couple digits left over for spares.
After graduation, I had been hanging out with a friend and his rather astonishingly cool parents. They were shockingly funny and easy to talk to… and they had rather excellent taste in beer. I fully expect them to be played by Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney in the film of their life. Since my friend and I were newly single – one of us more bitter about it than other – the four of us were chatting about relationships. My friend’s father just began to grin like a shark, listening to the two of us gripe about our now-nonexistent love lives, and shared the sort of knowing look with his wife that indicates a well-worn inside joke. “I know I’m supposed to be all nostalgic about the ‘good ol’ days’ back when I was a big swinging dick…” he said
“When was that, exactly?” interrupted his wife.
“…but Christ almighty,” he said with a suitably dramatic sigh. “You have no idea how glad I am to not have to worry about that crap. Me and her,” he said, jerking his head over at his wife, “have been together for about… how long was it?”
“30 years,” she said, rolling her eyes at him.
“30 years,” he agreed. He took a sip of Guinness and continued. “Some of ’em actually happy.”
Then his wife smacked him with a throw pillow.
As staged as that little performance had been, that phrase actually set a few thoughts in motion for me. Despite having had a couple of relatively long term relationships (for me, anyway) under my belt, I still had very little idea of what made them work. As little as I knew about actually meeting, dating, or successfully seducing women, I knew even less about keeping them. It was only years later that I started to understand a few things about relationship maintenance that I wish I’d known back then.
The problem that a lot of guys face is that we can get too caught up in the thrill of the chase; the racing pulse and quickness of breath that stems from an early crush, the anxiousness, the anticipation… All of it leading up to the moment when everything comes together, love blooms on the battlefield, the credits roll and the couple lives happily ever after.
Unfortunately, ever after can be pretty damned short if you don’t know how to take care of your relationship in the first place. Relationships – whether they’re for one year or thirty – take work. They require maintenance and care, and if you aren’t providing it, they can break down faster than you’d believe.
Don’t Settle Down Too Far
The courtship phase of a relationship requires you to be on your toes. You know that you need to sweep her off her feet, so it’s your job to be awesome 24/7.
You need to be at your best at all times because you know damned good and well that if you slip up, there’s another guy just drooling over the opportunity to swoop in and snatch her out from under you. So you’re keeping the simple carbs low, loading up on chicken and broccoli, maybe looking into some weight training to tone up a little because you know you want the first time she sees you naked to be nothing short of magical. Your clothes are clean and neat, your bachelor pad is clean and organized. You’re ready for a date to turn magical at a moment’s notice.
But once you’ve passed the courtship phase into the couple phase? Well…
Let’s be honest. It can take a lot of effort to maintain that constant state of awesome. And with relationships comes familiarity and familiarity means… well, you can let yourself relax a little. You both are going to have seen each other’s flaws. You know she snores when she sleeps. She knows that under normal circumstances, your bathroom looks like Sherman marched through it on the way to Atlanta. You’ve burped, farted and scratched yourselves in front of each other and you’re both ok with that.
The problem is, familiarity breeds comfort, and comfort can mean letting the standards slip. A little slippage is to be expected; after all, you’re not having to prove yourself now.
So maybe instead of getting the grilled skinless chicken you get the pasta carbonara. Or maybe a couple of extra sodas during the day. Maybe you skip a workout or two; it’s ok, you’re busy, it happens. You don’t necessarily dress as sharp as you did before. Little things. Little changes to your routine.
But those little changes add up quickly if you aren’t paying attention to them. And before too long, well… lots of little changes turns into 20 lbs.
Look, time and age make fools of us all; everything’s inevitably going to swell and sag as time and gravity have their way with us. But making an effort at keeping yourself in fighting trim is a mark in your favor. It tells her that you still care whether or not she still thinks you’re sexy and that you want to make the effort to make sure that she does.
Plus: let’s face it, sex is so much better when you’re in shape.
But while we’re talking about getting too comfortable…
… And The Only Place You Take Her Is For Granted.
When you’re single and dating, it’s all about going out. Movies, dinner, romantic walks in the park, spontaneous little outings just because you like the way that her eyes crinkle when she’s happy and surprised. The thrill of new love gives you stamina like you had never known and you’re wanting to spend it all on her. Even when you’re an official couple, that rush that comes over you will have you giggling like a schoolboy as the two of you frolic in the gauzy haze of a romantic montage.
But even the most rollicking couple is going to slow down over time. There will be more nights on the couch, catching up on episodes of Supernatural or Community. There will be weekends where all you will want to do is just decompress after a long and stressful week of the exams, crazy bosses and looming deadlines. Sometimes you’ll be so wrapped up in the mundane activities that make up day to day life that you’ll realize you just don’t have the time or inclination to take an unplanned road trip out to the hill country just because you think it might be fun. As time goes by, you settle into into a routine; Monday through Thursday finds the two of you in front of the TV. Maybe Friday night you go out with your friends, or she takes a girl’s night out. Saturdays mean going through the Netflix cue, Sundays are paying bills and housecleaning. Then, before you know it, a routine has become a rut and as you flip through the suggestions based on your love of wacky action comedies, you’re wondering where all the excitement in your life has gone. Meanwhile, your lovely significant other will be remembering the days she was single and every night meant something new.
Ruts feel like they can be inescapable and you might feel as though you need to resort to extreme measures to break out of them. While making big plans – exotic vacations, expensive candle-lit dinners at romantic restaurants, moving in/out/into a new place can shake things up, these aren’t long-term solutions. You don’t want to play an ace when a deuce will do. It’s like trying to circulate water with dynamite; it’ll make for an impressive blast and some excitement, but things will settle back down fairly quickly.
Instead, add something new to the routine, something that the two of you can do together. It can be as simple as taking dancing or cooking classes, or getting friends together for a bi-weekly roving dinner party… it just needs to be something that can inject a steady level of newness into your life. Adding a little chaos to the mix can help push you out of the rut.