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Hedonic Convergence

dr. lecter has no interest in hypothesis. he doesn’t believe in syllogism,
or synthesis, or any absolute.
what does he believe in?
chaos. and you don’t even have to believe in it. it’s self-evident.
– hannibal

things fall apart; the center cannot hold
– yeats

Any instability in a relationship is like carrying a brimming cup of coffee around the office; once the coffee starts sloshing about in the cup the momentum builds until you’re forced to stand still to keep it from flying out.  Relationship management is like this — forward progress punctuated by dramafests followed by cooling off periods to give everything a chance to settle down.  The less stable the relationship, the wilder and more frequent the swings between drama and normalcy, until one day the coffee is all over your shirt and there’s nothing left but a stirrer in the cup.

We all aspire to drama-free love lives (or, at least, drama on our own terms) so the question is: what makes a stable relationship?  The best way to answer this is to turn to analogies, because they are more fun to write.  The US and USSR had a stable relationship through most of the Cold War.  Two superlovers with roughly the same number of nukes (i.e., alpha characteristics) for a few decades until the US began to outspend (i.e., raise her sexual market value above) her commie lover.  The USSR, big proud bear that he was, sensed his lover pulling away from him and his status diminishing in turn.  He frantically tried to play catch-up but it was too late; she finally saw him for what he always had been — a drunk, brutish, pigheaded, financially insolvent badboy who was falling apart at the seams.  The fair maiden US trotted off to make sweet love with Brussels eurocrats, leaving behind a sulking ex-BF to lick his wounds and rebound with loyalist east Ukraine crack hos.

When a guy and a girl start a torrid affair with equal number of nukes they can fall in the kind of love that will turn crunch-faced cynicism into limpid-eyed naivete.  JFK said as much during the Cuban missile crisis.  You know where you stand with this person.  There is no feeling that you are any less than your lover and no fear that they will leave you or go berserk when the chips are down.  While you both have your own groups of friends, you know that you two together are the most important people in the world — Wonder Twins in the form of a romantic movie moment.  It’s the mutually assured destruction theory of relationships — a cataclysmic breakup would mean both of you will be much worse off and unlikely to find another perfectly matched partner.

Therefore, the best way to ensure a stable relationship is to be with someone who matches you in attractiveness.  This is derisively known as settling, because at the start of our journeys to fulfillment in the only thing that matters – namely, love and sex – we bristle with optimistic hubris and shoot for the stars.  Thoughts of being with someone who is less than our ideal is anathema.  Women are particularly prone to this self-deluding malady, sometimes so in thrall to their romantic ideals that they take the Acela straight into spinsterhood, sad, but principled.  Their aversion to settling is stronger than men’s because the cost to them of a bad choice in mating partner is much greater than it would be for a man.  And the fact that women can go long stretches without sex, like a camel without water in the desert, and still keep their sanity helps them stick to their guns.  (A girl friend once told me “For women, when we’re not getting it, we kinda forget about it.  When we’re getting it, we crave it.  For men, when you guys aren’t getting it, you crave it.”)

The problem with ideals is that you had better be pretty ideal yourself if you want from others what others want from you.  You get what you give.  If the planets align and you miraculously hook a partner way above you in sexual market value, be prepared to feel a tightening in your chest every time your lover doesn’t answer a text message promptly or you see him or her garnering the attention of the opposite sex while at a party together.  This is your emotional backchannel letting you know that you are punching above your weight and it might be time to think more realistically if you want a shot at a happy life.  Without a closely-matched lover we are doomed to scooping out buckets of water from a boat with a hole in its hull.

By “closely-matched” I mean, of course, the woman’s beauty = the man’s power.  For every one point up the hotness scale a woman goes, the man had better bring a commensurate increase in power.  Luckily for a man, he can work to increase his power.  A woman is pretty much stuck with what she was born with.  The good news for women is that if you are born with the genes for beauty there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to sell yourself; your product has inherent value.  The good news for men is that power comes in many forms — looks, charm, creativity, money, dominance — that while somewhat governed by genetic heritage can also be improved upon.

When the pairing is mismatched, the lower value partner will exert less control over the direction of the relationship.  He or she will be constantly buffeted by the ever-present threat of higher value prospects in the mating pool winning the affections of the higher value partner.  This is bad for the ego and is a recipe for perpetual heartache.  The lure of your amazing catch will wear thin once you realize you are not the locus of his or her love.

I once dated a girl who was quite stunning, educated, and career-oriented.  My game and innate qualities allows me to handle women like this.  But she had a wealthy ex-fiancee whom she had been with for three years prior to meeting me.  The combination of the time, love and experiences she shared with him plus his keeping in contact with her plus his objectively high status meant that I would constantly have to fight to be perceived by her as an equal to her ex.  For five months, I succeeded, by playing some of my best gamesmanship.  It was like watching a tennis match, with volleys of calculated aloofness and mighty serves of manipulative jealousy, backhands of backhanded compliments and psychological power plays at the net.  I even kept two girls in reserve, fucking them and loving them on the in-between days, to make sure I stayed stone cold savvy.  No matter… I always felt she had one foot in, one foot out of our relationship.  In the end, she married the ex-fiancee.  Our fling helped sharpen my game immensely, but at the cost of time better spent cultivating what I had with the other girls in my life.

It’s no spring breeze for the higher value partner in a relationship, either.  While the HVPs have the leverage to control the outcome of their relationships, they will always feel temptation to trade up.  Resisting temptation is an exercise in futility when your whole world is saturated with willing accomplices and every one of your senses is telling you the person you chose to invest your valuable time with is not the best you can do.  Sitting in the driver’s seat of a 20 year old Honda civic will get you where you want to go, but the ride won’t be as fun as it could be and you’ll feel guilty for pushing the car to the brink of mechanical failure.  Especially when someone just threw you the keys to a brand new Lexus.  Dating multiple partners who are OK with your polyamory will alleviate some of the tension, but eventually dating disharmony frays even the best of intentions.

We’ve all known couples who dated out of their league.  And when they inevitably broke up, we were not surprised.  But thinking about those breakups, how many were really devastated by them?  More likely, the exes experienced some relief mixed in with the feelings of loss.  The archetypical high-energy breakups, the ones where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, social withdrawal, and months of rehabilitation, are usually the result of closely matched relationships blindsided by some fluke of the fates or one partner taking the other for granted and realizing too late how perfectly matched they really were.

Happiness in love rests in large part on your ability to get past your ego and see yourself for who you truly are and how much you actually bring to the table.  It’s a soul-wrenching process of self-examination that sometimes only happens after years of reality have pounded into you the fact of your true worth.  If you don’t like your market value, then do what you can to raise it.  Otherwise, keep tilting at windmills.  You never know, someday soon human nature might change.

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