I remember a conversation that I had with an ex-girlfriend a few years ago about our fears in relationships. I told her that mine was to wake up one day, ten or twenty years into a marriage, and no longer want to be with my wife. Of course I'd only thought about the situation from the perspective of sexual attraction, and so had unsurprisingly developed the fear that I would grow bored or tired of her after she lost her beauty.
"Yeah, I see what you mean..." she agreed - but she continued, "I guess I've always just figured that the more time you spend with someone, the more you'll have invested in them. You'll have more shared experiences, more history - more memories. You'll know each other's habits, likes, dislikes, routines and quirks so much better than any new person's, that the temptation to leave won't really be that strong. You'd have to throw away everything and start again."
She was right. And I realized right then that my perspective on that hypothetical situation - and on relationships in general - was missing a huge piece of the puzzle. I was ignoring completely the phenomenon of attachment she described. I'd considered only lust and romantic love, the two early phases of relationships, and I'd lacked the experience or foresight to recognize that the situation I feared wasn't realistic.
More importantly, I realized that choosing someone to marry wasn't so much a matter of taking a gamble on the best girl possible as it was a choice of a girl to start to build a life with. In other words, the strength of the resulting relationship wasn't merely a function of the quality of the girl I would choose; much more important would be the life we'd live together - even if it wasn't perfect. By simply choosing to bind our lives together, we would be choosing to invest ourselves in each other; and before long, that investment would outweigh the greater sexual attraction of some hotter girl, or the excitement of sexual novelty.
Now, this isn't a particularly male phenomenon, but it is important for women to know that it isn't a particularly female phenomenon either. It happens to men too. So in the same way that I don't need to fear waking up twenty years from now and finding myself looking for a new wife, neither do you need to worry about your man doing it - assuming, of course, that you are both people of good-will, who are willing to work to maintain a good relationship. Even if he isn't aware of the phenomenon, it will affect him - just as it would have affected me even if I'd never had that conversation with my ex girlfriend.
The mistake I made in thinking about my future relationship is one that plagues young Americans' attitudes towards marriage. It is the reason that couples feel the need to live together before getting married, and stress out so much about choosing a partner. If these fears were rooted in reality, no relationship would succeed. There is always a hotter, richer or more-compatible partner out there; finding them isn't a prerequisite for a happy marriage, and you aren't going to renounce your vows just because you encounter them after marrying someone else. Your partner will always have the advantage of the time you've spent together and the relationship you've built.
It is also worth pointing out that this phenomenon is the main reason why you shouldn't linger in relationships that are stagnant or half-hearted. In doing so, you are investing yourself emotionally, and - despite the shortcomings of the relationship - that investment will make a break-up much more difficult.
In any case, I am writing this post because I was reminded of the whole concept a few hours ago, while listening to the lyrics of a new Dierks Bentley song, I Hold On, which is written to his wife. It's a great song, and one that I think is particularly poignant coming from a man:
If you can't watch the video, here are the words:
It's just an old beat up truck, some say that I should trade up
Now that I got some jangle in my pocket
But what they don’t understand is it's the miles that make a man
I wouldn’t trade that thing in for a rocket
What they don’t know is my dad and me, we drove her out to Tennessee
And she’s still here now he’s gone
So I hold on...
It's just an old beat up box, its rusty strings across the top
It probably don’t look like much to you
But these dents and scratches in the wood, yeah that’s what makes it sound so good
To me it's better than brand new
You see this here flat top guitar, has had my back in a million bars
Singing every country song
So I hold on...
To the things, I believe in
My faith, your love, our freedom
To the things I can count on
To keep me going strong
Yeah I hold on... I hold on...
Like the stripes to the flag, like a boy to his dad
I cant change who I am, right or wrong
So I hold on...
Yeah baby lookin' at you right now, there ain't never been no doubt
Without you I'd be nothing
So if you ever worry about... me walkin' out
Yeah let me tell you something...
I hold on...
1. The Downside of Cohabitation Before Marriage
2. We Have a Shared Responsibility
3. Why Rejection Is a Good Thing
4. The Male Sex Drive Always Recharges