Passion Vs. Comfort: Do You Have to Have Fireworks to Have a Successful Relationship?

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Passion vs. Comfort. This is a post you don’t want to miss, inspired by a discussion on my (500) Days of Summer thread. Here’s the gist of it. Reader Lori writes:

I have been with a man who loves me, and has loved me, as close as one can get to unconditionally for over 13 yrs…. I was never totally madly in love with him, but he knew he wanted to marry me the minute he met me. I married him — BECAUSE he was a great guy in so many ways, minus the sky illuminating fireworks. Don’t get me wrong, intimate moments were always adequate…even pretty damn good at times. But never, well, you know…crazy great. Almost fourteen years later, I remain married and faithful, but with an empty space in my heart. And wondering if I aspired to mediocrity and lost out on the amazing feeling most of us have felt at some time, of true selfless love. I love him….but I’m not ‘in love’ with him. And that is what has happened to EACH AND EVERY married friend I have, (male and female) that married simply because of the reasons you mention… many have strayed, the others are simply living there…yet nobody’s home.

Because if you take as gospel what she says — “passion or bust!” — you might have a long and lonely road ahead of you.

Everyone I know that married because the partner seemed a great choice, would be a great dad, etc. ended up divorced or unhappy. The FEW couples I know who are happily married — still love to hold hands AND ‘make-out’ — THEY married someone they felt intense chemistry for & vice versa…and of EVERY one of the divorced friends, several who are dating but have not found love, only ONE tells me she made the wrong choice leaving. The rest say they would rather be alone, than with someone and lonely.

Please know, I am not a cynic. I have SEEN & BELIEVE IN great love & marriage, but it SHOULD NOT BE treated as a business decision — it sounds great in theory — but it just brings way too much misery for way to many down the road — you better be pretty damn sure you wanna come home to this person, sleep with this person, and walk on the beach holding hands with this person 50 yrs later…because divorce.. from what I have seen… hurts. And living in quiet desperation…hurts.

Listen, I’m a 37-year-old dating coach who’s been married for less than a year. As such, I’m not going to sweep Lori’s points under the rug or deny her 13 years of pain. She feels what she feels, she’s seen what she’s seen, and it’s perfectly valid. In fact, it’s very persuasive.

However, without negating Lori’s take on things, I’d like to try to balance it out a bit. Because if you take as gospel what she says — “passion or bust!” — you might have a long and lonely road ahead of you. And I’d rather you have a happy relationship instead.

Unfortunately, while I’d like to appeal to emotion (as Lori did), I have to appeal to logic. So first of all, let’s acknowledge that Lori’s working off a small sample size, and, like most of us, she finds evidence to support her existing worldview. Whether Lori knows them or not, there are plenty of happy couples who did not have instant magic and chemistry. I’m in one of them. It’s dangerous to extrapolate from five divorced friends who regretted their choice of husbands and conclude “this is how the world works”.

People who are generally satisfied in life are satisfied in marriage. People who are generally dissatisfied in life are dissatisfied in marriage.

Next, Lori’s making the assumption that every woman who didn’t have that ga-ga, giddy, wobbly-kneed feeling about her husband feels as empty as she does in her relationship. This is not the case either. People who are generally satisfied in life are satisfied in marriage. People who are generally dissatisfied in life are dissatisfied in marriage. This is further explained in “The Paradox of Choice”, by Barry Schwartz. I can’t say what the right reasons are to get married or what the wrong reasons are. Nor can I say whether you or your friends truly settled. What I can say is that it’s really easy to envy others based on what you think they have in their marriage. The reality is often quite different. Yes, even for couples brought together by passion.

A movie called “Serendipity” illustrated this point well. In it, John Cusack envies his best friend Jeremy Piven’s perfect marriage…until he learns near the end that Piven’s getting a divorce. Who’da thunk it?

Envy is always a sin, and grass is ALWAYS greener. Seriously, Lori could sacrifice her marriage to pursue her dream man. The fact that she doesn’t means that there’s something compelling keeping her married — and it’s not simply the kids. I suspect she realizes that even if she doesn’t have the divine spark, being single in your 40’s is no cup of tea, and perhaps a kind husband is not so bad after all.

Reader Sophie follows up on Lori’s comment with this question:

Can you give me/us an idea of how many of your friends you think/know married people they weren’t in love with?… I’d like to know what percentage of people aren’t in love on their wedding day. I don’t want to “settle” but I think it would make it easier if I knew that it’s what a lot of people end up having to do.

For what it’s worth, I think MORE people are “in love” when they get married than not in love. Unfortunately, that “in love” feeling one experiences is often an illusion that masks severe cracks in a couple’s long term compatibility. Thus, being “in love” – what some might call passion or chemistry – is not necessarily correlated to a happy marriage. Doubt it? Look at all the times you’ve felt passion for someone, which, ultimately, amounted to nothing.

That leaves a certain percentage of people – fewer than the passion-seekers – who go into marriage without blinders on. I would guess most of them love their partners – much like Lori – they just don’t feel that THING that makes you feel like you just KNOW. These marriages have a greater likelihood at lasting, but only if these folks can get out of their “grass is greener” thinking. Once they go for greener grass, as Lori acknowledged, they find themselves in the same morass as every other single person – wondering how to find that elusive partner that gives them EVERYTHING, consistently disappointed that everyone’s falling short. If you’d rather be single and alone, well, congratulations, you’ve got your wish.

If you’d rather be single and alone, well, congratulations, you’ve got your wish.

I didn’t arrive at these conclusions from a textbook. I arrived at them as a newly married man, as a dating coach, and as a student of all sorts of dating and relationship advice. In short, I’ve long been asking the same questions that you have. After dating half of Los Angeles over 15 years, I didn’t rush into marriage — and I wanted to be sure that it felt the way it was supposed to feel.

I remember talking to Dr. Pat Allen, author of “Getting to I Do”. When I asked her how marriage was supposed to feel, she held up a blank index card to me. “On this side, you have passion.” She flipped over the card. “On this side, you have comfort.”

“Choose one.”

Yeah. It hit me like a ton of bricks, too. But I got it instantly.

It’s not impossible to have ANY passion with comfort or ANY comfort with passion. It’s that the two don’t coexist easily. The very thing that ignites passion is friction and instability. Once again, look at your past. Passion is usually brief, intense and rocky. Comfort, on the other hand, tends to be softer and more nurturing.

Comfort, therefore, is not nearly as exciting, but it tends to last longer. Studies say that passion usually dissipates in 18-24 months. Which is why people who expect their passion to last for 40 years, in essence, are trying to defy the laws of nature.

In marriage, you’re not making a decision for the next six months. You’re making a decision that’ll last the next 30 years. And just like one might choose different career paths for passion or comfort, people choose partners for similar reasons.

Consider the 45-year-old struggling actress who still thinks she’s going to be the next Julia Roberts. Guess what? She’s not. But kudos to her – she followed her passion, she followed sher dreams, she never settled. She showed them!

I use the Hollywood metaphor because I was a screenwriter in my 20’s. I pursued it for 7 years because I knew that SOMEBODY made it in this town, and dammit, I was as good as they were. Agents, managers, execs, contests and film schools all agreed. But after writing 13 screenplays before I turned 30, and not making a consistent living at it, I made a conscious and difficult decision: I was going to put passion aside for comfort.

Due to some combination of unrealistic expectations, Hollywood fantasy, and human nature, we seem to think that all our dreams should come true.

I could have been the penniless 40 year old guy who continues to take a 1-1000 risk with his life…or I could get a new career. You know what I chose.

I have absolutely NO regrets.

Hey, I admire those who refuse to compromise – especially that tiiiiiiiiny portion who finds both passion AND comfort in work or love. But make no mistake, it’s rarely that simple. Passionate couples fight and divorce more readily than comfortable ones. Successful writers run cold, and are forced to find new careers. It’s easy to envy everyone else; it’s just foolish to do so.

All of this talk reminds me of a favorite Billy Joel song, Vienna, from 1977. In it, he wrote:

You have your passion, you have your pride, but don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?

Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.

Due to some combination of unrealistic expectations, Hollywood fantasy, and human nature, we seem to think that all our dreams should come true. Why?

Because we want them to. Because we’re good, deserving, people. Because SOMEONE has fantasies come true, why not ME?

I don’t begrudge you the right to your dreams. But at what point do you start to live in the real world, where people make compromises because they’re prudent?

Chances are, you’re compromising at your job — with your pay, your hours, your co-workers, your location, your status, your very career itself.

The alternative to this compromise is called unemployment (or, maybe, self-employment). Either way, it’s a lonely road.

Which is just my way of saying: think twice before you toss out that sweet, generous, good-hearted, loyal, honest partner of yours.

You might think you’ll be happier alone.

I think it’s debatable.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    JuJu

    If you choose to compromise, there will be NO passion.
    If you make practical considerations, there will be NO joy.
    If you don’t hold out for every single thing on your laundry list, you will be consigned to a sad lifetime of longing.

    Not quite. Or, actually, not at all so. I don’t think one necessarily (or even commonly) rules out the other. I would just prefer to tie my life with someone I know I want to be with, and sex for me personally is, maybe, one of the three or four most important components of a romantic relationship, so I want to make sure the person I choose for life is someone I want to have sex with indefinitely, and who wants the same with me.

    I have been married to a man who wasn’t physically my type, and after only five years together I no longer wanted sex with him (he still wanted me as much as ever). Which didn’t mean, naturally, that I didn’t want sex in general – I did, just not with him. The man I would like to find now doesn’t have to be perfect at all, but from my experience I learned that he does have to be attractive to me beyond the initial sense of novelty.

    If a man thinks for one second that he is not absolutely perfect in the eyes of his wife, then he has no self-respect.

    Please don’t distort what I said. She told him that while he knows what it’s like to be intensely in love with a woman, she will never know what it’s like to feel the same for a man. She also told him hers is a life unlived. Theirs is a marriage that’s marginal at best (for her). I do believe my resulting question is legitimate.

    And I never did dispute that marriage is a compromise, and that no one will be 100% what you want (nor will I be anyone’s *ideal* choice). Although I certainly would not want to hear my mate harp on everything he’s given up on or settled for by choosing to be with me. I don’t want him to rationalize his decision, nor do I want to have to rationalize mine.

    1. 21.1
      Tim

      I have been married to a man who wasn’t physically my type

      May I ask you what your physical type is? I mean  is it really that different from the ‘physical types’ of most women (read conventionally attractive men) ?    

  2. 22
    Selena

    Sorry I hit a nerve Evan. I didn’t mean to be sarcastic as much as I meant to light-heartedly portray some marriages I’ve heard described elsewhere. I read some sites that are not devoted to dating as much as they are to troubled relationships. A common, COMMON, complaint is where one spouse has totally lost interest in sex and the other is that their wits end with frustration.

    Sometimes there seems to have been a bait and switch involved: the person seemed passionate at first, but cooled off in the months after the ceremony. In others, the spouse writing in admits things were never “that great” in the bedroom, but they thought the situation would improve after marriage. And sometimes they admit it didn’t really matter at first, but as the years went by, decades in some cases, the lack of passion came to be translated into a lack of love. Sometimes of simple interest in the other person.

    And inevitably these people are emotionally torn on what to do. They describe their spouse as “a great parent”, “we get along very well”, “my best friend” , “would be terrible to divorce”. But like Lori mentioned in one of her posts, that little something that was missing at the start, had turned into something very big. An elephant in the room.

    You may not have been crazy infatuated with your wife off the bat Evan, but re-read your post…you write about her PASSIONATELY. You do. As a person who interests you, and I guess you could call it a bonus that you have a great sex life. 😉

    This is not the same as advising people to consider marrying someone for whom they feel little in the way of sparks just so they can avoid the horrors! of being single over 40. Though perhaps that was a fear of yours? Another thing Lori wrote, that I’ve read other people say elsewhere, was about preferring to be alone rather than LONELY in a marriage. This is what can happen when ‘comfort’ wears off just as it can when passion does.

    Initially I thought your comment about fighting on the way to chemo was pretty lame. Now thinking about it, I’d LOVE to be fighting with someone on my way to chemo. Because it would show we were still passionate about each other, and life! Something I imagine I’d need going in for chemo. And other difficult situations.

  3. 23
    Selena

    Whoa ho! So many staggering assumptions I scarcely know where to begin. Talk about absolutest thinking my friend.

    Compromise is more likely, certainly more palatable with some passion for backup.

    Since when did JOY and practical considerations become mutually exclusive? Not in my world.

    I don’t HAVE a laundry list, much less hold out for everything on one and drown in longing. There are dealbreakers, everything else depends on the individual.

    There is a man alive who thinks he’s perfect in the eyes of his wife? Really? On earth?

    I’m neither arrogant, nor naive and I think the concept of holding out for the “perfect guy” is ludicrous. There is no such thing as a perfect PERSON let alone guy.

    CLEARLY, Lori speaks for herself, but it was YOU who chose to make her words an example for your essay EMK. She mentioned some of her friends, but no where in her writing did I see she mentioned YOU or “the rest of us” whoever “the rest of us” is. And she is not the only person who’s written here after finding “settling” wasn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. YOU KNOW THAT if you read your own blog.

    XO Selena

    1. 23.1
      Quest

      <<There’s no such thing as a PERFECT person let alone a guy.>> [emphasis added]
      lol!   oh you nutty kids.

  4. 24
    downtowngal

    Selena #3, “It seems that comfort can become less comforting over time as well.”

    So true. When you know you know. If you’ve never been attracted to the guy you never will.

    I think this becomes an issue at the point of deciding whether to date – or continue to someone based on shallow criteria – i.e. hair color/height/occupation, etc. And you have to figure out whether you’re adding neorotic ‘roadblocks’ preventing you from pursuing your heart, or if it’s real. By the time you get to wedding day, if it’s not there, it never will be.

    Your heart and gut never lie.

    People who are holding hands after 40+ years are comfortable with themselves and are selfless toward their partners. If you feel as if you’ve settled upon wedding day it won’t change.

  5. 25
    zann

    Lori: I’m gonna be brutally frank. Either get over yourself or get into yourself. You say you married the dude knowing you were doing it for reasons other than love — because the timing seemed right, or he’d make a good father, or to suit what other requirements you thought you needed to be an acceptable woman in the eyes of others (because heaven forbid you should be a “spinster”). But what you were actually doing was making yourself comfortable by using someone else, namely your husband. And now that you’re still not comfortable with who you are, within the acceptable sanctity of marriage, home & hearth, you believe it’s because this same guy isn’t shooting you to the moon between the sheets every night. You crave what you think other lucky couples have — sparks AND compatibility. Just who are these lucky, lucky couples, because I’d like to meet them and hear what they have to say about their constant contentment. Chances are they have their blah periods or times when they rack their brains trying to remember what it was about their spouse that made them lust for them way back when. OR they grow to despise in their spouse the very thing that made them seem so HOT in the first place. Marriage is a crapshoot and messy, and — you’re absolutely right — often winds up being very tepid at times. But ya know what? There’s a whole lot of women, myself included, who would be glad to have such problems. Instant chemistry is exactly that — instantaneous combustion not meant to last. When you’re in it for the long haul, sometimes you gotta break out the flint, do a lot of rubbing, and pray for sparks. Come on, Lori, you’ve HAD the full-flush hot stuff in the past with other guys — but is it just coincidence that you didn’t wind up marrying any of them??? No, silly, it’s because for one reason or another, they weren’t good long-term partners. When we feel unhappy with ourselves, the first thing we tend to do is point the finger at the “other,” and start looking over the fence… convincing ourselves that IF ONLY we had those glorious sparks, everything else would fall into place. Maybe you even have a particular dude you’re craving & you’re sure he could fill that void for you. But I can tell you — from the mouths of married women who’ve gone there, done that — it’s a fantasy, a delusion. As for your friends who say they’d rather be alone than in a non-sparks marriage with a nice guy — well, may they embrace that alone-ness, live long and prosper from within it. Meanwile, there’s plenty of women out there who would be more than willing to recognize these nice guys for who and what they are. But if you’re miserable now, you’ll no doubt still be miserable without your current husband. He, on the other hand, might actually wind up happier without you — because at least he’d be free to find a woman who not only thinks he’s good enough, but actually finds him to be damn good — and a nice, responsible guy to boot.

    1. 25.1
      Tim

      She can easily go on to have numerous passionate flings with hot/gorgeous men. Its not that hard for most women even the avg looking ones.

  6. 26
    Barb

    Stop talking with your girlfriends about your passionless marriages. It’s only going to make you focus more and more on the passion you feel is lacking and make all the good things move to the background. Put the passion you have for complaining about it into a pool dancing class or something like that. How passionate are you yourself? Do you dress a little sexy, do you laugh a lot, are you engaged with life? Shake things up. Comfort and familiarity is the death of passion. It’s easy to feel passionate in the first few months of a relationship … it’s a fantasy that you will feel the same passion after 20 years of marriage. There’s no one on this planet with whom you will experience this.

  7. 27
    lorihaah4

    Every post allows me to see the issue from so many interesting angles, all valid/valuable perspectives (well..maybe w/ the exception of Zann…ha ha) The fact remains (and I am speaking from my heart…and its a pretty big heart), I stay not because there is some unspoken, secret love of the ‘comfort’, but because i would rather feel the empty space than to hurt my husband and my children. I am NOT afraid to be alone, I am not afraid that i could not find a sexy man to date if single (im not yet 40 by the way and Im fairly confident id be a fun date), I only mentioned a few friends, but unfortunately I have know many/heard of many who live in quiet desperation as well…i simply want to show the other side of the settling issue, or of the index card “passion / comfort” – because if there is anyone who questions the walk down the aisle now….make sure you are really REALLY sure, because in marriage, the puddle between you becomes the brook, becomes a stream becomes the river becomes the grand canyon…and its pretty damn near impossible to bring that thing back together.

  8. 28
    lorihaah4

    Evan – i have read paradox of choice, and pretty much every other book i can get my hands on that you and several other relationship knowledge seekers have ever suggested – have you read the article from the Atlantic re happiness? http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200906/happiness
    pretty deep stuff there… long but worthwhile and it seems you are quite the reader yourself. i think another part of the whole issue is that we, as humans, (as raw as it sounds)… are still so fresh out of the cave – and what worked (p.e.a. etc) to keep us together to create/nurture babies, and live to the ripe old age of 40 50 or 60, just simply maybe doesn’t often doesnt work anymore?! The article suggests that the happiest in old age amongst us have really lived, that it is better to squeeze the lemons into lemonade of life. My BIGGEST fear..much bigger than of being alone, is that i am teaching my kids, leading by example, to aspire to mediocrity in life.. or maybe better stated.. to endure a stale ‘comfy’ marriage because thats what people do. And because so many people do so as per societal conventions, there is adultery, divorce, blah blah blah…. statistics are only a small percentage of the amount of people who actually stray… and from what ive read the statistic is pretty high – my guess, from what i have witnessed (MANY people share their personal stories with me, even strangers…im logical and compassionate and overall non-judgemental – tollerant/intollerant of what i allow in my life but non judgemental when hearing others lifestories) is that there are many seemingly happily married couples where one person is in fact very lonely… look at alcohol abuse, drug dependency, depression meds, etc. in the western world – it is out of control – too many people want to numb themselves of their pain.

    1. 28.1
      eric

      Lorihaah, you are gorgeous!!

  9. 29
    aj

    I had 9 great years until my mate died. No offense Evan but you are a newlywed. After atleast 7 years, lets see where you are at, young man! 🙂

  10. 30
    -NN-

    This is the same discussion that we always have – there are people who can have pleasurable sex without being attracted to their partners
    and there are those who find sex distasteful with a partner who is not sexually attractive to them.

    I know which one I am..
    I am rather without sex and single – than distasteful sex in a relationship. (because that it would be after several years, when my partner would get his O, and I would always be without)

    as simple as that.

    So if I thought sex is not something that I need in a relationship, I could settle.

    I would like to see for once that you are going to recommend that he starts a relatioship with a woman, whom he doesn’t fancy sexually ..
    (Because that is what you are always recommending to women..)

    It is easy, if you see plenty of members of opposite sex whom you fancy..
    I don’t
    – and I am not going to prostitute myself for rest of my life to have a relationship.

    1. 30.1
      Tim

      Hi NN

      The reason this is not suggested to men is that men can be perfectly attracted to average looking women, sexually. The author undetstands that women are selective and find a much smaller number of men sexually desirable than vice versa. Its a statistical reality that a large number of women would feel they have compromised on desire since there simply arent enought hot men to go around  

      1. 30.1.1
        -SW-

        You are fixated on “conventional attractiveness” and pretend it’s a standard that’s not achievable for most men. Yes, I want a fit, strong sex partner who looks good in and out of clothes. Must he be Adonis face wise? Heck no. Should he exercise regularly & eat / drink in moderation? Yes, it’s good for him and his stamina, thus good for me.

        You know what makes a man hot to me & so many others? Confidence, imagination, humor, kindness, self respect. More than once, when I couldn’t detect these qualities, my attraction to a potential hot lay disappeared before we ever got properly started.

        You know what else turns me off? When I sense he’s not excited about me at all. We didn’t have fireworks in the beginning, but I really appreciated my mate more with each year. He’s a pretty great fit for me & I still think myself lucky to be with him, but I so regret  our state of sex.

        We got married (I felt sure, except I wondered why we didn’t have any sex for the 2 weeks before or half a week after the event), we planned for & had kids (we were both not sure, but turns out that was a great decision), and here we are, each trying to get some excitement on the side.

        Oh it makes me so sad. Not because I mind him getting some strange on occasion. But because there’s not much passion for me. I guess he thought I was just right, and got so comfortable so fast, and he won’t do a thing he doesn’t “feel like” (I’m to accept this because “this is who he is”), which means no pleasuring me between the times when _he_ feels physical desire (which is not specific to me, I just happen to be there & available). He’s just smart enough, kind enough & responsible enough elsewhere that this isn’t a total deal breaker. But I need a friend with benefits, because I’m not yet forty & feeling so little passion is just sad.

        If he wanted me, or were more happily generous with his attentions, I’d be panting for my husband right now. But he’s tepid at best, and, though I understand that’s his baseline drive with ANYONE, I can’t help but know that getting wet about him would be a kind of self betrayal. Like yearning for someone who doesn’t care for you the same way. I’m very GGG, but my trying to seduce him, whether getting dressed up, or prancing about in pretty underthings, or offering a morning rub or an afternoon bj, are 0% effective 98% of the time, and he views my interest in sex as unwelcome “pressure”.

        Then, when he finally gets around to feeling horny AND actually doing something about it, it doesn’t mean there’ll be an orgasm for me, unless I give myself one. My girl parts are sensitive, he hasn’t the knack of rubbing them right, and rarely tries, as he says getting others off was/is way easier & I’m too fiddly.

        Knowing all this, I (surprise!) don’t get wet quickly or very much, and he then interprets that to mean I’m not exciting because I don’t obviously want him. I think he views getting me off (which can take a while, especially as I get self conscious about his impatience) as mostly a chore, unless he’s ready to have intercourse for a while.

        I married the man I wanted to be with, and was so hopeful our sex would keep getting better with lots of practice. He’d rather (occasionally) do what he knows with someone new who “just gets off” spontaneously.

  11. 31
    A-L

    In #20 Selena wrote, This is not the same as advising people to consider marrying someone for whom they feel little in the way of sparks just so they can avoid the horrors! of being single over 40.

    I think this is the crux of the confusion/disagreement on this thread. We’re all defining sparks/chemistry as different things. In a different thread (https://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/is-it-okay-to-love-someone-but-not-be-in-love/#comment-38318) I talked about a knock your socks off, house-shaking, fireworks exploding extravaganza chemistry and several posters (including Selena) said this wasn’t what they were expecting when they said they wanted chemistry. I’m guessing that when Evan is talking about a 10 on the chemistry scale, this is what he’s talking about. When he’s dropping it down to a 7, it’s probably what the chemistry people are actually asking to get.

    10 = a knock your socks off, house-shaking, fireworks exploding extravaganza

    7-8 = more intense, more connected sometimes almost spiritual in nature sex (from Selena at https://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/is-it-okay-to-love-someone-but-not-be-in-love/#comment-38615)

    So if you feel little in the way of sparks, you’re not at a 7 on the chemistry scale, you’re probably a 3-4 at best, and quite possibly a 1-2. Nobody here is advocating for someone to marry their partner who they feel so little for in the way of passion. I think everyone would agree that it’s probably a recipe for disaster. But I think the pro-compatibility people are saying not to hold out for the house-shaking 10, because it’s unlikely to last (if it’s even found).

    1. 31.1
      niceguy

      A-L, you have hit the nail on the head. Passion and comfort are not two sides of an index card, they are sliding scales that exist side-by-side. I can attest, if there is zero passion, no fireworks at all for one partner, then there will be zero comfort in the long run.
      I am a gay man in my late thirties. Though my “husband” and I have not traveled to another state to get legally married, we intertwined our lives after a very brief courtship. I knew in the beginning, as did he, that an adequate “spark” was not there for me. He is handsome, funny, supportive, loyal, and kind; there is nothing “wrong” with him.  He really is a great catch.
      We have a comfortable life in terms of money and resources, we are comfortable as friends/companions, we are comfortable together in business, but the absence of passion (on my scale) has torn our relationship apart. We stopped having sex early on because (I don’t have to tell you this) when there is zero passion, sex becomes an unpleasant thing that is to be avoided.
      I turned to porn and he eventually turned to others. I understood why he did it, but the trust still eroded. Things got worse, other people became involved, and the relationship became emotionally and physically abusive. He will literally start a physical fight in order to provoke me to hit him just to feel some kind of passion. We have so much “comfort” that neither of us want to end the relationship forever (we did break up for several months a couple of years ago).
      After everything that has happened, I would still trust him with my life, but I can’t trust him with my emotions. And of course: There is still no spark. We are on our fourth couples therapist (the first three couldn’t help to achieve any progress). I am a 7-8 on his passion scale and he is a 0-1 on mine. We have lots of “comfort” with lots of fighting, abuse, longing, heartache, and loneliness.
      I have read so, so many stories like Lori’s and like mine, and I know in my heart what the outcome should be. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, I’m an adult, I have dated quite a bit in the past. I just want at least a +5 on the comfort scale and a +5 on the passion scale (a 7-8 on each would be AMAZING).
      Those of us who have tried literally *everything* to ignite a spark know how lonely and painful life is for ourselves and for our partners. We aren’t the childish “grass is always greener” people that we are made out to be. We absolutely live in agony, the guilt and sorrow are overwhelming at times. But the passion is still not there, sex and intimacy never improve, and the loneliness is maddening.
      Why did I continue in the beginning without a “honeymoon” phase, and why have I stayed all these years? It was a partnership that made perfect sense, a 10 on the comfort scale for both of us. Why have we been torn apart, our relationship left with fortress walls and battle scars? Comfort can’t exist without some level of passion. There are plenty of good, honest, caring people like me who don’t wish for fireworks like Independence Day or New Year’s, we just want a warm, steady flame. An eternal flame would be nice, but it is gut-wrenching to live constantly in cold and darkness and to watch our “lovers” do the same.

      1. 31.1.1
        Evan Marc Katz

        No one on this blog – least of all me – told you to be in a relationship with a 0 passion. Of course your relationship will suffer if you don’t want to have sex with only person you’re supposed to have sex with. Keep reading this blog, my friend. 7 passion, 10 compatibility makes for a nice life. What you have, frankly, isn’t even comfortable. Comfort is not fighting. Comfort is a safe sex life where you know how to please your partner. Comfort is no couples therapy. You dug this hole by investing so much time in someone you’re not attracted to. Time to be a caring person and take care of yourself – find another man. Your partner deserves someone who wants him.

  12. 32
    mic

    Passion can be unrelated to strong physical attraction toward, or chemistry with, someone. It can even be about a hobby. Someday, maybe researchers will track marriages according to initial passion and see how well they are doing years later, when looks have faded and sex drives likely have dropped.

  13. 33
    mic

    For the record, physical attraction/chemistry probably matters in part because of those blah (or worse) periods when personality compatibility feels limited. People, for example, look longer at others they find attractive, which at least helps to maintain some respect as opposed to completing ignoring someone.

  14. 34
    starthrower68

    I still maintain that intensely passionate marriages see days when both people don’t feel particularly passionate or don’t even like each other very much. That’s when one learns that love is a decision, as much if not more than a feeling. That is not to say that either passion or comfort are wrong; but we all get bogged down in the cares of life, and get weary from it all. That’s when you decide you’re going to give it some effort.

  15. 35
    mic

    Physical attraction also automatically tends to lead to better body language and more smiling. Food for thought about how the world works. FYI, there’s evidence from yearbook photos that happy-faced people do better in life.

    Another good area for research is the physical attractiveness of people who crave passion. It’s plausible that people of average or less attractiveness seldom are in that category and therefore sooner learn how to successfully handle relationships, which they might need to take more seriously due to having less to offer in one respect. Again, marital satisfaction is not linked to physical attractiveness.

  16. 36
    Jurate

    It’s a choice for sure! It’s a choice between being “myself A” and “myself B”. If you choose to be passive aggressive and blame the partner for that you are doing zero effort (not to please the partner, but make yourself enjoy him), there will be no joy, only misery. It is such a no brainer that I can’t stop being surprised why it is a problem for YOU. It is the problem for your partner: you are being passive aggressive. What happens in those passionate periods of initial infatuation is: “the high”, where internal motivation to invest into relationship peaks and you do invest all of yourself, then with time, that investment keeps you in. If have not made that investment in a “green field” of a passionate infatuation, do it in “the brown field” – now. Same, or even better effect. That said, I would gladly skip the infatuation, the passion… I have it in myself…

  17. 37
    Ruby

    The most interesting thing about this thread is how hard it is to define what a relationship should be. The dating advice out there is so contradictory. Some say, you must give up your list to find love, while others I have read actively encourage you to make a list of what you want and carry it around in your wallet (The Law of Attraction), and that perfect partner will be drawn to you.

    I hate to say it, but no one knows. To some extent, despite everything, meeting that special person is a bit of a crapshoot. That’s why that “best people marrying young” discussion in another thread seemed like such a fallacy.

    The truth is, some people find their soulmate at age 22. And some of those fine people get divorced 20 years later. Some would like to leave, but stay because of kids, finances, or fear. Some really want to start a family before it’s too late, and compromise on the choice of a partner in order to achieve that goal. I’ve met many divorced people who married because their partner (or their parents) wanted it or because all their friends were married. Some people find the love of their life when they’re 65. Although we hate to acknowledge it, some people never do.

    We all want to know, though, don’t we? We can’t control who comes into our lives, we can only make a concerted effort to meet potential partners, and determine as best we can how we’ll respond to them. But you can’t control it, can’t bend or shape your desires to suit your will. All relationship involve some degree of compromise. What might work for me might be anathema to you….how much passion do you need? And how much comfort? Can you find a balance?

    And that’s just physical chemistry. What about common interests/values/goals, and character? One of the best quotes I ever heard was from a friend who said to me, “Desire is precise”. As if it all isn’t complicated enough!

  18. 38
    downtowngal

    NN#30, excellent points.

    I really think that if there are sparks at the beginning you have a chance. This doesn’t mean this is your lifelong partner, that’s what the next few months-year are about, getting to know each other after the initial buzz wears off so you can learn more about each others’ values, etc.

    Sometimes spearks fly after the initial period, but I think that’s if one party is (perhaps subconciously) placing roadblocks. Like a friend of mine who couldn’t believe how much she liked this one guy who kept asking her out – once she got passed the fact that he wasn’t the educated banker she always sought after she was hooked. By their wedding day they were sure.

    People often marry for reasons other than love. Like a guy who finds the girl he had a fling with on the rebound from his ex got pregnant so he marries her (true story). Or arranged marriages, which some of my friends’ parents (Indian/middle-eastern) had. In those cultures the family plays a greater role in society than in our’s.

  19. 39
    mic

    Lori, how attractive are the women in your social circle that you mention above? Evan, what about the woman in the happy couples you know, relative to LA standards? It seems like a woman’s attractiveness and her eagerness to go for a passionate relationship are connected.

  20. 40
    Diana

    I barely know where to begin. 🙂 In response to some of your comments, Evan, I do believe that a successful relationship is about compromise. If you are a truly successful couple, you learn as you grow (change), both as individuals and as a couple, as you weather life’s ups and downs and its many challenges, how to successfully keep your relationship thriving, all through compromising. Recognizing the compromising that has occurred does not deplete the joy, love, or passion in a marriage nor make anyone an object. Compromising between two emotionally and mentally healthy, strong individuals can actually bring a deeper joy, love or passion. After all, compromising is a selfless act. A couple will often compromise, at times, without even a glance. Every single day together is a constant balance, i.e. compromise.

    When I read the words “comfort, compromise, chemistry, settling, fireworks, passion,” and so on here, I often feel that the subject is not entirely clear, since every one seems to have a slightly different take. I find it somewhat bewildering when I read the view of others who have yet to experience a lifelong relationship, especially marriage because thoughts are being projected onto a future that has yet to occur. It is somewhat naive to believe you will know how you will feel after five, 10 or 20 years of marriage, with perhaps children as well ~ children will test your relationship in ways you cannot imagine or appreciate as of yet.

    Compatibility is what I believe to be the most important issue. I also believe there has to be the critical element of a mutual physical attraction; not spontaneous combustion, but a fire nonetheless. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at the beginning either. IMHO, the best kind of fire is the one that starts as a slow burn or a small spark, and is fueled by compatibility which often turns the fire into an explosion. Physical attraction is a funny thing ~ sometimes people become more attractive to us, as we get to know them, or vice versa. As the years roll by and the fire returns to burning embers, it will serve an even greater purpose because of the bond it helped to create to weather the storms ahead. Compatibility without physical attraction, or physical attraction without compatibility will not lead to a successful lifelong relationship.

    Oh it may appear that way, when you are looking over the fence, but appearances are highly deceiving. And everyone knows that a woman’s heart, in particular, is as deep as the ocean (to borrow from the “Titanic” movie), and one of the most complex things on earth.

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