Section 3: Part One of the Map (CLICK HERE to print entire Map.)
© Al Turtle 2006
Romantic Love and Vintage Love
Relationships begin with Romantic Love and end, if they are successful, in a region I call Vintage Love. Vintage lovers are the 4% from that Outcome Study that reached the relationship of their dreams. I like the term Vintage Love, as it both captures a sense of wisdom and experience.
Romantic Love has been written about so much that I just want to hit the highlights that contrast with Vintage Love. Let’s put the two regions side by side.
Both Romantic Love and Vintage Love feel really good. These are both wonderful times.
In Romantic Love much of the “feel good” is caused by a drug, PEA, phenylethylalamine. This amphetamine like drug, sometimes called the drug of infatuation, is secreted in a person’s brain. PEA raises your energy level so that you can work all day and be up all night. PEA makes depressed people feel better and anxious people relax. PEA raises the sex drive and thus “turns people on.” Sexually passive people are suddenly very active.
And PEA is what I call a proximity drug, meaning that when the loved one is near or when you think of the loved one, PEA increases. When the “loved one” leaves, the level of PEA drops. You can easily get the idea that “they turn you on,” when it is really your own body that determines these things. The effect of PEA is to make you want to be with your partner all the time. The experience is a bit like a roller-coaster.
I recall one time sitting in my office in a company and looking across the entry way to the elevators as a female co-worker got off. It was a Monday morning and, I swear, her feet never touched the floor as she radiantly and dreamily crossed the hall. I said, “Who did you fall in love with?” She whispered, “Don’t tell anyone!”
Now, over in Vintage Love the primary drug of that makes people “feel good” is endorphins. This hormone is a much steadier supply of good feeling. And with it you feel good whether you are with your partner or they are away. In Vintage Love you feel good to see your partner and good to go to work, knowing your partner is around. Endorphins are in babies in the womb – lucky them.
Sandra, my partner, says these two periods have different tones. Romantic love sounds like a puppy, panting with excitement. Vintage love sounds like a cat purring.
Thus we can say that along the path from Romantic to Vintage Love, people lose that high excitement passion and replace it with more comfortable feelings.
The second big difference between Romantic Love and Vintage Love has to do with data – how much do you know about your partner. In Romantic Love people have almost no data. I sometimes call them “dumb as posts.” Teenagers can fall in love with someone in the hallway at school. Millions fall in love with movies stars. Data is not a necessary or perhaps even a desirable attribute of Romantic Love. I heard once that “People actually fall in love with the ‘person’ they dream of … when they look at their partner and not with the person they are physically looking at.” They don’t even know their partner. I like this phrase. If you ask Romantic Lovers about each other, you tend to get very inaccurate, but optimistic answers. “She really likes that, I think.” “He’s always done that, I am sure.” And even though Lovers seem to talk a lot, there seem to be many undisclosed “secrets.” Because they think they know a lot, and don’t, their lives are fully of surprises. Now in Vintage Love, people have “tons of data”. They know almost everything about each other. They typically have no secrets. They have shared it all, and thus no big surprises. In Vintage Love, they are also remarkably self-aware. It is as if they have figured themselves out. They seem to know not only what they like, but why they like it. Thus we can expect that along the path from Romantic to Vintage Love, couples do a lot of self-discovery, self-disclosure, sharing, listening and learning.
Another trait that we can point to is Agreement. Romantic Lovers put a high priority on Agreement. They speak of agreeing on almost everything as though disagreeing is somehow a bad thing. They talk of having the same values, same experiences, his/her towels, past-lives, etc. They are soul-mates. If I hear a couple saying, “We agree on most everything.” I know they are in Romantic Love. Nothing could be so different as how Vintage Lovers handle agreement. Vintage Lovers actually avoid agreement and don’t trust it. Here is what that first Vintage Lover couple I interviewed said to the question of “How do you deal with agreement?” The woman said, ever so properly, “Mr. Turtle. We believe that it is impossible for two people to agree on anything.” Then the man, after he stopped chuckling at the question, said, “Yup, yup. If two people are agreeing, you know one thing for sure. At least one of ‘em is lying.” That was the first time I had heard the real version of “agree to disagree.” Vintage Lovers seem to value data very highly, and thus don’t like agreement. They believe that at some level of depth everyone sees things differently and this difference is important data to them. Romantic Lovers seem to value agreement very highly and thus don’t get much data. They seem to prefer “shallow agreement.” And so we can say that along the path between Romantic Love and Vintage Love, people must give up the need to agree and replace it with a love for differences.
Consumption – Production
Another trait that differs between the Romantic Period and Vintage Lovers has to do with Consumption vs Production. Romantic Lovers tend to be consumers. They frequent the mall. They buy things for each other. They collect. They party…. and when they are done partying have nothing to show for it. They appear needy. Vintage Lovers tend to be producers and contributors. I’ve met several who describe themselves as “professional volunteers.” They tend to be involved in their community. They tend to be making and giving things away to others. We expect this in grandparents, but I am convinced it is really more a result of getting more generous as people become more satisfied with life. Thus, along the path between Romantic Love and Vintage Love, couples become filled up, more complete and at last, more generous.
The last trait I want to compare is Self-responsibility. Romantic Lovers tend to be remarkably passive, waiting for the other to lead or to do it. It is fun to hear them saying, “No, you go first. No, you go first.” Or “What do you want to do for lunch?” or “I’ll do whatever you want.” It almost seems as if they are waiting for the other to speak, to take the lead, so that the other can follow. But also this “waiting” seems to have a tone of anticipating someone else to take care of them. This can show up as simply as sitting at the dinner table and waiting for the other person to start clearing the dishes. It can show up in one person always holding the door for the other – a kind of compulsive one sidedness. This trait often emerges later in complaints about unfairness or feeling used. It often shows up in the way Romantic Lovers speak. “You make my life so great!” “You turn me on.” This tends to sound as if one (active) person causes the other’s (passive) feelings. This trait becomes a powerful problem in the next territory of the map and surfaces as blame and finger pointing. Vintage Lovers tend to be quite self-responsible. They often speak their opinion first, but in a way that invites alternative points of view. They seem to be taking care of themselves in front of their partner. This self-responsibility shows in a lot of what I call “turn-taking”. “I’ll do the dishes tonight and you tomorrow.” It also shows in the distinct lack of blaming. What we can say is that along the way from Romantic Love to Vintage Love, people tend to become more responsible for themselves.
Romantic Love Ends
The Romantic Love period always ends. It has to. I like to say it lasts for 9 minutes up through 9 months. But it always ends. If there was one thing I could change in this country, it would be to get Hollywood and all those Romance novel writers to teach that Romantic Love is a period, not a forever. People fraudulently tell you that if you find the right person, it will be happiness ‘forever after’. It isn’t. Perhaps we could make a class action suit against all the perpetrators of this lie. I have seen so much pain when the normal process of ending of the romance happens. “I don’t love him any more.” “She just doesn’t turn me on.” Yet Hollywood, romance novels, and soap operas, repeat the lie, “And they lived happily ever after.” And yet, I truly believe that falling-in-love, romantic love as a basis for partner selection, is a wonderful and positive force. It just has to end and no one wants it to end.
The first reason Romantic Love must end is that PEA, phenylethylalamine, the chemical basis for the “feel good,” is a short term effect. It stops. One day your partner will walk into the room, and you won’t be turned on. And it will never come back with that person again. It seems to be part of the mating process in mammals and after a while just stops. When the PEA stops, the heightened sex drive stops. Since one partner or both partners’ sex drive will decrease unexpectedly, there is a lot of pain, and a sense of betrayal. “You lied to me that you liked it!” “What is the matter with me?” Yet this is normal. (By the way, many people get a kind of addiction to the “rush” of Romantic Love. They go from partner to partner trying to keep up the “feel good” and causing lots of pain. Better they should take a break and think about it.) The second reason romantic love must end is that you cannot live together long and have no data. Living together produces data, and data is “terminal.” Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. As data begins to accumulate, the wonderful dreams, the fantasies, begin to be replaced by hard “facts”. You can’t stay naive forever. The third reason romantic love must end is that holes begin to appear in the agreements. Over time you learn more and more that your partner doesn’t see things your way. Different values begin to surface. Time together brings this on. The fourth reason is that buying things costs a lot and doesn’t fill the empty hole in selves. The two of you end up sitting there with lots of things, lots of charges on your credit cards and still feel empty. And lastly the passivity emerges as blaming. And if I think you “turn me on”, then when I don’t feel turned on, I will think, “You turn me off.” It’s your fault.
The Power Struggle
When Romance ends, quickly or slowly, people move into the next stage that is typically called the Power Struggle. This stage lasts a few years. Almost all couples who come into my office are in the Power Struggle. Since so much is written about this stage, I will be brief. This stage is characterized by a single, simple principle. “Hurt ‘em til they love you.” You complain, criticize, lecture, blame, judge, shame, argue, humiliate, avoid, stonewall, be silent, yell, and even hit. And all of this is done with the purpose of making things better. “I just want to get back to the way it was.” The Power Struggle is a lengthy and fruitless attempt to get back to romantic love. In my office, when I invite people to go deeper into why they did that “mean thing,” what will surface is an attempt to “make things better” and get love. Why would we hurt someone to get love from them? Back in the 80s we figured out why people would do something so silly as this. This behavior is the instinct that babies are born with. If a baby doesn’t get fed, it causes distress for the people around it. It cries at just the right, annoying pitch. The Power Struggle seems, on the surface, to be an attempt to use that baby instinct to make things better. Each person seems to treat the other as a parent who owes them better things. This, of course shows itself in the common complaint that “he’s just a demanding baby”, or “she just thinks everyone is there for her needs.”
Needless to say, what works for needy babies surrounded by adult caretakers, doesn’t work for needy adults with equally needy adults. Couple uses progressively more and more frantic efforts, yelling louder, complaining more quickly, withdrawing more and more completely. All this time, the hope of that dreamed relationship gets thinner and thinner. Finally, at least for one partner, the hope ends.
The Choice Point: Door #1, Door #2, Door #3
When hope of the relationship getting better reaches zero, I think we arrive at the great fork in the road. I call this the Choice Point: Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3. All couples get here. Door #1 leads to Vintage Love and a small group of couples choose this door. I want everyone to choose Door #1. I’ll talk more of this later. Let me also leave Door #2 for later. Door #3 is the Divorce door and is currently chosen by most first married couples. Unmarried couples choose this door by walking away. Either way, I’ll call it divorce.
Door #3 – Divorce
So let us look at Divorce. People choose this door since the pain of their being together has gotten very great and the hope of things getting better has finally reached zero. To get away from the problem seems the best choice. But is it? Let’s look at the news that comes from multiple divorces.
Running Around in Circles
Divorce #1 happens about 50% of the time, probably much more. What happens next to these people? They wander around for a while,— however long it takes. Sometimes they say they will never marry again. But eventually they get lonely enough, and start again by falling in love.
Of course they have to find “a second right partner” to enter the Romantic Stage. They have been here before and remember the way. Sometimes they do this faster. They enter the Power Struggle again, now for a second time. And as they remember the way, they often also move through this region faster. They try the old “hurt ‘em till they love you” routine harder and quicker. Hope wanes faster. Before they know, it, they are back at the Choice Point: Door#1, Door#2, Door#3. Second marriages/relationships end in divorce at a much higher rate. Divorce #2 is chosen as much as 85% of the time.
These 2nd divorced people wander around, saying they will never marry again. But it is just a matter of time before that old loneliness hits them. And there they are, available and looking. They find another “right person” again and slide into the Romantic Period. This time they make a prenuptial agreement. This time they have separate houses, separate bank accounts. And again the Power Struggle inevitably arrives, struggle begins, hope diminishes. Here they are again at the Choice Point: Door #1, Door#2, and Door#3. But a funny thing happens on the way to Divorce #3. The rate drops drastically.
The statistics show that people choose divorce, the third time, less than 25% of the time. Of course, for those who do choose divorce, the pattern is the same of waiting a time and then starting again.
Two trends in Divorce
Why does the divorce rate go up and then go down? Here is the story. It seems quite clear to me that there are two trends that affect these divorce rates.
One trend is upward and one is downward. The upward trend is a learning effect. First divorces are harder to do. Lots of people came to the first wedding. Couples want their marriage to last forever, and have a dream of a white picket fence. If they have children, they really don’t want to create a split home for them to grow up in. First married couples gather lots of jointly owned stuff: a house, a family picture album, etc. And they have many fears about the cost of a divorce process and of divorce lawyers. Second divorces are much easier. No one came to the wedding. People have already given up the white picket-fence dream. Couple’s keep their property less mingled. And most couples have in their wallet or pocket book, the business card of a good divorce lawyer. Thus the 2nd divorce rate goes up.
You would think the 3rd divorce rate would be even higher, but it isn’t. Here’s why. As a person is heading toward divorce #1, they are saying, “I married the wrong person.” It may be hard to get that first divorce, but eventually they do it. As a person heads toward divorce #2, they realize they have “married the wrong person again.” Well, it is easier to get away from them. This leads to the high 2nd divorce rate. As a person is considering divorce #3, they say, one more time, “I married the wrong person. Hey! What am I doing.” This shift from simply blaming the other to beginning to look at one’s self as part of the problem is critical. “Divorcing does not guarantee getting a better partner. Maybe I’d better look at myself.”
Self-examination is one of the traits needed for entry into Door #1. I call this effect, “shifting the marriage.” Most couples come into my office as if I ran a car repair center. They have a problem and “it is sitting in the other chair.” Shifting from “blaming” to “self-examination” leads to a decrease in the divorce rate. I try to get couples to “shift.” Before we look at what people do if they reject divorce, (that’s 50% of first marriages, 15% of second marriages, and perhaps 70-80% of third marriages) I need to give you some more background.