It takes technique to make love last.
Ovid, the Art of Love
Tom Robbins once wrote that there is only one serious question – Who knows how to make love stay?
There are those of you out there who would protest this, asserting that there surely must be more pressing issues at hand. Avoiding environmental catastrophe, for one. Or putting an end to poverty, perhaps. Or moving beyond racial, gender, and cultural bias.
Inarguably, these are all vital concerns that demand our attention. But as far as the individual goes, I believe that the mad-scientist writer may be right – nothing is more pressing than the question of love. After all, is it not love that makes virtually any suffering, any injustice, or any tragedy more bearable? Is it not love that brings communities together and bridges the chasms between different peoples?
Perhaps we’re getting away from my key point, which is this – we all want to love and be loved. Unfortunately, we are terrible at making it happen.
Romance Should Be Taught in Schools
That’s right – Romance should be something that’s taught like math or social studies.
Why? Because it’s important. We spend the entirety of our lives struggling with it – we go through depression and violence and suicide and even murder because of it. But we’re expected to figure it out almost entirely on our own. We’re taught the biological aspects of love (at least in most schools), but not the mental and spiritual aspects – namely “romance”.
Why is that? Is it because it’s difficult to talk about? It can’t be that difficult – it’s the subject of virtually every song, film, and novel.
Maybe it’s because it’s “subjective”? A lot of things are subjective, but we still teach them in schools. We teach philosophy and art and sport. And believe it or not, it’s not that subjective.
Romance has been an instructed skill in various cultures and eras and echelons of society since the dawn of civilization. There are accepted methods that have been discussed and shared by everyone from Ovid to Colette, Henry Miller to Robert Greene.
Perhaps we don’t see the value in it? If that’s the argument, then it’s prosperous.
People kill and are killed over various aspects of romance. Suicide, rape and sexual assault, divorce, depression, poor self-image, even addiction – all of these things can be symptoms of a poor grasp on romance.
And let’s face it – we all like to think of ourselves as Don Juans and Juanitas, but when all is said and done, as a culture we’re not very good at romance.
And I’m no different. I’m not going to pretend and say that I have all the answers. After all – I’ve tried and failed at romance time and time again. If anything, I know more about what doesn’t work than what does.
But we have to start somewhere. Thomas Edison said that he had to fail 10,000 times before he successfully created the light bulb, but that each of those failures brought him closer to success. (You see how I just put a positive spin on being dumped?)
So to start off, let’s take a look at how to tease love into existence, then we’ll discuss how to make it last.
The Art of Seduction
I’ve written before about how being intelligently single is your best bet when it comes to meeting someone who snags your attention, so we’re going to skip ahead and assume that you’ve already got someone in your life who interests you. This is about building romance, not finding it.
Now, how do you move this from casual interest to something more romantic?
- Don’t get impatient.
If you throw too much fuel onto a fire you’ll smother it.
Resist the urge to move things along too quickly. There’s no rush to pin labels on one another or your relationship, or to introduce each other around to friends and family, or to move in together and make things “serious”. Let things unfold of their own accord – because romance has a life of its own that is independent of your insistence.
To use another metaphor – You can’t force a flower to grow. Its petals will bloom at its own pace. But through over-attention you can kill it off before it has a chance.
- Give space.
Similar to the last point, love needs room to breathe if it’s to grow.
If you’re around all the time and constantly texting and messaging, how is your beloved supposed to get the opportunity to miss you? It might sound counterintuitive, but those moments when you’re away are when your partner will love you the most. It’s when he or she has all sorts of irrational fears about what you might be up to, and they store up stories and experiences that they can’t wait to share with you.
- Be authentic.
It makes perfect sense that you would want to be impressive in every moment, but you know what people respect above virtually all else? Authenticity.
Don’t be afraid to reveal that you make mistakes, and that you have fears and shortcomings. That’s what it is to be human. Vulnerability exposes who you really are, and in a world of people who are trying to cover up their true selves, sharing the real you is like offering a gift while asking for validation. It puts a lot of power in the hands of the other person – the power to wound, to reject, or to humiliate. It shows that you trust them, that you respect their judgment, and that you want to share more than what’s seen on the surface.
Vulnerability is where intimacy is built.
- Mix up your signals.
This is where craft begins to enter into things.
Everyone wants to possess the object of other people’s desire, and everyone wants to be the object of desire. So play around with this. Imply that you are desired by others – nothing builds love faster than a love triangle. (It helps if someone else really is after you.) Make it seem unclear as to whether or not you’re actually interested in committing. (But don’t take this too far.) Position yourself so that sometimes you are being wooed rather than the other way around.
It might seem like some sort of trickery – that’s because it is. But the bottom line is that seduction and romance are a game, and like any game you don’t want to reveal your strategy until the end.
Keep in mind that your goal is to make the game fun, not cruel.
- Make your time together an event – especially your arrival.
Every time you show up it should bring a smile to the face of the person you’re trying to win over.
Arrive wearing something absurd. Not only will it make the object of your affections laugh, but will show that you have a sense of humor. Or arrive with a novel gift in hand – the classic flowers will do in a pinch. Anything to start things off with something of a bang.
From there, your time together should feel like an experience. This can mean many things. Some exciting event, whether it’s a movie or a chili cook-off. Or showing off your favorite restaurant or bookstore. Or even just revealing some intimate story or detail about yourself that will change how you’re perceived.
Use your presence wisely. Time apart gives him or her a chance to wonder. Your time together should illuminate some positive aspect of how you interact – that you laugh together, that you share secrets together, that you make discoveries together, and in some cases that you can even share tears together.
Everyone craves touch, but we have a fairly convoluted sense of how it works. A few rules:
-Trust comes before touch.
-Touch does not have to involve “making a move” or being sexual.
-Touch does not require some big pretext.
Here’s what you do – once you’ve built a mental connection, just reach out and touch his or her hand. That’s all there is to it. You don’t need to ask to read their palm or find some other juvenile excuse. Just reach across the table or whatever and take their hand and continue the conversation as if it’s the most normal thing in the world (which it is). This is when you’ll often feel the proverbial sparks fly.
There are of course many variations of this. Maybe laying your head on their shoulder, or wrapping an arm around the waist, or even the tried and true hug goodbye.
My point is that while touch is important, we tend to overthink it. Just keep it simple, gentle, and honest, then take things from there.
- Leave on a high note.
Stage performers know this better than anyone. You want to leave while your beloved still wants more – not when you’ve become tedious and they’re ready to move on with their day. That way after you go, they’ll still be thinking about you and wishing you were still around.
Really it just comes down to good manners – don’t overstay your welcome.
- Prove your value.
Be the one who is there in the important moments. That can mean a lot of things.
Does he or she need someone to hold them when tragedy strikes? Or someone who is willing to sing karaoke when no one else will do it? Who will run away on a spontaneous road trip? Or celebrate good news?
Prove that you’re ready to be there when they need something in their life, whatever it happens to be. Remember — that might actually be the job you’re applying for.
There are dozens of other tips, and I could go into each of these in more detail, but that would fill up an entire book. (You can learn more in Ovid’s “the Art of Love” or Robert Greene’s “Art of Seduction”.)
For now, let’s move on under the assumption that this has all worked, and you are now more or less firmly in a relationship.
How to Make Love Stay
Honestly, I don’t have these answers yet. But I can say what not to do:
- Don’t take your love for granted.
- Don’t suffocate your partner.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Don’t hold grudges.
- Don’t confuse a child/pet/object with a solution.
- Don’t think that your relationship has to look like everyone else’s.
- Don’t forget to show you care.
- Don’t forget to be honest when you’re upset.
- Don’t ignore the details and little things your partner asks of you.
And don’t forget that you and your partner will change. The things you share now might not be there down the road. You’re both going to develop different priorities and interests and concerns. Be flexible and learn to bend with the changes.
Above all else – don’t think that you have to stay in a relationship just because you’re already in it. That’s not love and it’s not romance. It’s habit, inertia, and fear.
One last thing – don’t forget to have fun.
Love isn’t always fun, and oftentimes it’s flat out maddening. But much of the time, whether we’re having fun or not comes down to a matter of choice.
So make the choice to have fun with your love. That, above all else, might be what makes it stay.