No Excuses in Biology!

I spent some time answering mail today, and wanted to share some of this interesting letter I got from one of my readers. Since it took me to task for one aspect of how I’ve covered the Boredom subject, I think the issues it raises need to be addressed before I go on.

I really like your blog. It’s interesting, and offers a great perspective. However your article on boredom seems to be kind of two things.

a) It’s not “helpful” like your other articles on how to deal with this very common and specific intimacy issue.

b) It seems like a rationalization for taking back women power and making them like men — ie: women can sleep around and are meant to be all “macho” also, except as women. Women are meant to have multiple partners and this is biologically built into them.

Which is fine. And biologically this maybe the case. But it ignores the much more profound levels of human existance — such as the spiritual and emotional and intellectual — and makes no attempt to reconcile them.

I would have prefered to have seen what you have done to sort of combat this kind of stuff.

I didn’t mean the evolutionary discussion to justify sleeping around or women being “macho” (heaven forfend). I only meant the biological material to help explain WHY women get bored (in addition to the more basic “familiarity breeds contempt” concept). I’ve heard from more than one person now that my writing about these evolutionary ideas is somehow “dangerous” to people who won’t use the information responsibly, but I don’t think that’s a good reason to avoid these concepts, especially when I’m writing about marital fidelity and relationship issues.

For human beings there are no “excuses” in biology. None. If you are a sentient, mature adult, blaming any exploitative, impulsive, selfish or inhumane behavior on some supposedly uncontrollable trick of your hypothalamus is the equivalent of Flip Wilson yelling, “The Debbil Made Me Do It!” (And here come de judge.)

But there is a necessity to understand the ways in which biology challenges those “more profound levels of human existence” my correspondent spoke of. Forewarned is forearmed, after all. If we are aware that our animal natures will demand things that our spiritual, emotional and intellectual natures abhor, we might be able to get better, more realistic ideas of how to deal with our importunate lizard brains.

This culture feeds us fairy tales. It tells us that “normal” men and women who love each other can live in thoughtless sexual bliss Happily Ever After, because if we’re healthy and our relationship is Meant To Be, we’ll want sex with each other at least three times a week until we’re 93 (with six weeks off after the birth of each child). This is fantasy, of course, and most people recognize it as such when it is stated in such stark terms. Yet still, somehow, people have internalized this romantic Movie Marriage as the standard against which they measure themselves. If they’re not fulfilling that ideal in their everyday lives, they’re sure it’s The End.

Understanding that women might be biologically tuned to seek different partners in a serially monogamous fashion tells us a couple of very important things: women who become sexually bored with their long-term partners are not suffering from some kind of character flaw, and if a woman loses interest in sex it doesn’t mean that she’s with the wrong guy or that the marriage is over. Knowing these things might enhance her ability to cope with the situation.

At the same time, knowing that most women will get sexually bored with ANY man after a while will help husbands understand that there’s not necessarily anything permanently wrong with their marriages when their wives lose interest in sex with them, and, maybe more importantly, that if they attempt to solve their problem by seeking out a new partner, she is likely to end up bored, too.

I mean it’s easy for men to cheat and say that they are built this way, that they need some outside excitement.

I don’t know about you, but if any man ever said this to me, I’d tell him I’m “built” to consider him an idiot. I can’t help it, it’s genetic. I have this adult brain, see, and it just, well, works.

Personally, in my relationships, because I feel that the focus of the relationship is not just in the biological (and the biological perspective is one you appear to take, minimizing the psychological one), but rather in higher elements of human experience, I’ve found that the things which advance the relationship and stave off bordem is the mutual encouragement and exploration of each other. Spiritually and psychologically. In fact, I’ve often considered that “flirtatious” physical aspect to be really just one layer. And after a while not such an interesting one, because it’s so fleeting, and disappears. If one man is flirting with you today, then he’ll be flirting with someone tomorrow and you’ll be history in his mind. Milan Kundera once said that when a man lets go of an infatuation of one woman, a galaxy of others come into view.If you stay there for long enough, at that level, especially as you get older, you just starve.

Finally you need someone who is commited to your life project of being you, and you to them.

I agree that commitment to each other’s efforts to be the people they were meant to be is crucial. Partnerships of that kind should be one of our lives’ highest aspirations. But I think it’s a little bit beyond my purview to try to outline or advise on the subject of being committed. After all, you either are or you aren’t.

I feel sorry for people who can’t genuinely commit to supporting each other in that way, but I don’t think it’s something that I can realistically address.

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