Why Old Married People Know The Secret of Life — And You Might Not


Google the words, “The Secret of Life”, and you get over 66,000,000 results.

No, it’s not quite as many as Britney Spears, but it’s something that lots of folks have been looking for a long, long time.

Now, I’m not going to claim to know the secret of life — not yet, anyway — but I’m pretty sure I know the secret to a long-term relationship.

It starts with learning from the wisdom of people who are different than you are — old married couples, relationship counselors, and yes, even dating coaches — and considering how to apply their respective points of view to your complicated love life.

You’ve heard me talk about chemistry before. And in the dating business, I’m far from the only one.

Attraction’s not a choice. By the same token, attraction isn’t a very good predictor of relationship health.

A favorite relationship expert named Alison Armstrong says that when you’re lucky enough have your chemistry dialed up to 10 with a man, you should probably run in the opposite direction.


That sounds so counterintuitive. But consider this:

When you’re crazily attracted to some guy, doesn’t that feeling actually make you a little bit…crazy?

You start to obsess about when he’s going to call.
You become weak and needy because you’re so consumed by him.
You can’t stop thinking about him and have trouble focusing on work.

And this is supposed to be a good thing?

Take a second and think about who you are at your BEST around.

It’s probably not the person you lust after the most. More likely, it’s your best friend. Or your sister. Or your mom.

These are the people around whom you can truly be yourself — at both your best AND your worst. So why do you always choose men where you’re walking on eggshells?

“But I can’t help what I’m attracted to!” you might say.

You’re right. Attraction’s not a choice. By the same token, attraction isn’t a very good predictor of relationship health.
I’ve been attracted to HUNDREDS of toxic women. Most times, I was so driven by this attraction that I was willing to overlook their considerable negative qualities.

Have you ever done this yourself? I’m betting that you have.

Because whether you’re attracted to great looks, extreme wealth, or bountiful brains, you can’t help the way you feel. Yet that feeling is EXACTLY why you keep being drawn towards the same incompatible men.

You like a man who is very successful financially? Guess what? He’s likely to be a Type A workaholic. He’s likely to be opinionated and bossy. He’s likely to be on a bit of a power trip. He may have trouble compromising. He’s not necessarily interested in sharing his feelings and has even less interest in hearing your feelings. But congratulations — you’ve got financial security!

You like a man who is extremely attractive? Guess what? He’s likely to be a bit of a narcissist. He’s used to being given special attention for his looks and may not have developed the same kindness and generosity that you have. He may be underdeveloped in other arenas such as intelligence and worldliness, since so much of his life has revolved around people being attracted to him. Oh, and don’t forget, he’s extremely insecure; he needs the validation of constantly finding new women to tell him how gorgeous he is. But boy, is he hot! Enjoy your trophy, my friend.

You like a guy who is super smart? Guess what? Chances are he lives in his head. He’s over-analytical. He’s somewhat of a know-it-all. He has social insecurities. He’s kind of moody because he doesn’t see the world like everyone else does. He’s tortured by his potential. He can be wildly creative and unstable or blindly driven by money. He’s quite possibly depressed, and, at the very least, intense. But, yeah, he’s fascinating. Hang on tight, and embrace the drama!

So when you’re assessing your dating prospects and are thinking past the lust phase into “Who will be wheeling me to my chemo treatments in 40 years”, consider that everything that attracts you comes with a considerable downside.

And the people who REALLY have it figured out — the couples who’ve been married for 40 years — could probably tell you the same.

Ask an elderly married person the secret to her relationship. Do you think you’re going to hear words like: lust, money, and intellectual stimulation? No.

You’re going to hear things like friendship, compromise, laughter, and trust.

If you’re entirely driven by short-term attraction, you can’t be too surprised when you haven’t found a relationship that sticks.

How boring!

Yet it’s plainly apparent that THOSE are the qualities you should be looking for when choosing a partner. Those are the qualities that determine long-term compatibility.

And if you’re entirely driven by short-term attraction, you can’t be too surprised when you haven’t found a relationship that sticks.

Join our conversation (55 Comments).
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  1. 41

    Hahahahaha,   I just finished dating a guy who is rich, handsome and brilliant.   He’s a financially successful guy (opinionated, bossy) who was smokingly hot attractive (worldly, insecure, and self-admitted narcissist) that was smart as a whip (moody, depressed, lacking friendships).   And I desperately wanted him back.   Even though I’m almost 50, I was simply blinded by the chemical reaction.
    Thanks Evan for hitting the nail on the head (or taking the proverbial 2×4 and hitting me on the side of the head).   🙂

  2. 42

    christine#38 Thanks for your comments – at least I know I’m not mad! n  The ironic thing is, I don’t have anything against the “intimacy on the third date” thing – if I’m attracted to a guy, I would also have the expectation that he should be making a move at that point and would be put off if he didn’t… the problem arises when, as per the topic of this thread,you attempt to date the guys who are potentially suitable but not scoring high at all   on the chemistry scale. Either you’d have to lie to them (“I’m old fashioned that way”)   – I’m not! – or you try to avoid intimacy by rushing home early or staying in crowded surroundings… but you certainly can’t tell someone “I think you’re potentially a suitable long term mate but as yet I feel no attraction to you, can we go for ice cream?”

  3. 43

    A lot of people seem to  be proponents of  this kind of  outcome, why not be honest about the consequences? The guy *might* be fine with it.

  4. 44

    Karl #30

    When I said “complacent,” I didn’t mean we no longer complimented each other or appreciated each other. I meant, we accepted that no matter how much be both would have wanted chemistry/passion, we weren’t a match that clicked in that way.

    Also, to me, chemistry is not being hot over the best looking guy, or wanting to have sex with someone soon after I lay eyes on them.  Chemistry, to me, is when for whatever reason, I  *click* with someone. We  *get* each other and  our personalities  compliment each other and  a connection falls into place easily. It’s actually more mental for me than physical.

    I’ve had chemistry with women who became my best friends.  Chemistry is  not always sexual. But when  it is a  romantic edeavor, it can be passionate, sexual,  and  encourage infatuation and/or love….

    I’ve also known many men that I find  physically attractive and who have great personalities, but that doesn’t mean I feel,  or could  feel that kind of connection with any of them  by just *trying*.

    Just as I’ve met many women who, for whatever reason, I don’t click with and the friendships didn’t grow or were limited, or were good, but we  didn’t *hit it off* like others.  


  5. 45

    Maybe there is just too much going on in the busy, fractured day of a typical American. Too many options, and no time to weigh those options = only opting for OBVIOUS choices.
    Think about how it worked just a century ago – you grew up in a small town, you knew   the potential husbands/wives that were available mostly from a young age, and you had quite a bit of time to come to a conclusion about what to do from the limited choices.
    Now, with internet dating and maximized leisure time, there is more time than ever to ponder the APPARENT endless choices.
    Although, are they really that endless? Maybe busy modern life only makes us think that we have endless choices. All those guys/gals you click through on dating sites and think “maybe…”. All those people you meet in bars and other gatherings where they’re “okay, I suppose…”
    Whether you believe in God or Evolution, it seems clear that the human mind is not equipped to handle a universe of decisions.
    A thought experiment:
    Imagine two ice cream shops in different parts of the same city: One that has 12 flavors and the other that has 1,000 flavors. Go and ask the patrons exiting each store if they feel they made a good choice and are pleased with the flavor they selected.
    My suspicion is that people exiting the small shop will be more certain they made a good choice. The people exiting the shop with 1,000 flavors may LIKE their choice, but I will bet that they will be more ambivalent.
    Yet, would anyone deliberately go into the small shop if the big one was right next to it? Probably not, because people like options. Therefore, if options exist, people will hesitate longer to make a commitment. Enough options, and you get decision paralysis.
    Eventually, the excessive options break down a system that once worked, and you end up with many unmarried people, since there is always a chance that a better deal could be just around the corner.
    Girl has a big nose? Next! Guy is not tall enough? Next! Why settle for such flaws when a better match is bound to come along sooner or later.

    1. 45.1

      Sooo true!!


  6. 46

    @ Jack
    The problem is all men act like nice guys for the first few months. The few men I know are nice are friends I’ve known for a quite and while and thus wouldn’t want to lead them on.   So how do you know when you have a genuinely nice guy?

  7. 47

    It’s not that hard.
    Date exclusively, indicate that you are marriage-minded, and save the sex until you have a lot of personality-oriented chemistry. The physical chemistry will come from that.
    If you’re looking for butterflies AND and amazing/nice guy, well, that’s probably 10% or less of all men, and they will go to the hottest AND sweetest girls.
    The rest of women will have to compromise a fair amount on either physical chemistry or character.

  8. 48

    I usually get about 10 -15 new emails on my dating profile a week. Obviously there’s not enough time to get to know all of them. And aside from avoiding profiles that explicitly ask for sex only, shirtless pics, guys with sunglasses, and guys posing with other girls there’s no way to really know someone character.

    The options are choosing to contact the men that are the most interesting me to physically and intellectually and then weeding them out from there.


    Eschewing the guys I’m interested in because if I’m interested every women is interested and therefore they must be have too many options to be considered a relationship oriented guy. So the next step would be to divvy up the remaining men between not gonna happen and the meh column. And then sift through the meh column to find the lest meh of the meh. And then date them in the hopes that my guesstimation of their lesser desirability is correct and will correlate with an increased relationship orientation and their all around improved character.  

  9. 49

    @ Christine #41:
    “And if you do feel chemistry quickly when meeting someone online, can you really trust it when you don’t even know that person?”
    This has been my latest adventure that left me all shaken up and too depressed to eat. I met a guy online a couple of months ago – I didn’t feel anything, he didn’t feel anything, we could’ve said “fine” and gone our separate ways, or remained in touch as colleagues (which was what I wanted, since we do the same thing for a living) or whatever. Instead, he gets me to come out and meet again, and this time, he really turns on the cute… by the time I walked out of there, I was insanely attracted to the guy and could not wait to meet again. (apparently, by the time he walked out of there, he had another woman waiting at a bar next door, but that’s a story for another day.) First time this has ever happened to me with someone I’d met online. You’re absolutely right, this is counterfeit chemistry. I thought I was old and experienced enough that this wouldn’t happen to me, and boy was I wrong. Next time I feel chemistry on second date, I will absolutely be questioning my own feelings, because it.just.does.not.make.sense to be head over heels in love with a stranger.
    @ Jack #46, While you’re probably right about a century ago, the “thousand flavors problem” already existed when I was in college (80s). And these were real, live people that you met in real life, not online strangers with cute photoshopped profile pics. In the three years that I dated before I met my (now ex-) husband, I said “Next” a lot… IMO it is a part of figuring out who you are, what works for you, and what kind of person you would work the best for.
    I don’t think the old system has ever quite worked though, as you say it did. Cheating was rampant even when I was growing up – even when I started at my first job (granted, that was in Eastern Europe, but still) I worked with a lot of couples in their early 30s that had been married for ten years, and there was a huge amount of cheating going on. Now it’s right up there with picking your nose in public, but I remember when it was cool to be married and have someone on the side. For this change alone, I prefer the present situation to the good old days.

  10. 50

    Perhaps the best option for most is to find someone with the most compatible values system, especially conflict-resolution style, and that does not repulse you physically.
    At least you will be spared heartache and drama. There is much to be said for a nice, boring life. It is American narcissism that demands that our lives be epic adventures.
    Most of human history has been centered around survival. It is only these last hundred years or so where a small portion of people in Western Civilization have had so many options.

  11. 51

    “you will be spared heartache and drama”… unless that man wants to know/remember what it is to desire or be desired instead of merely non-repulsed/non-repulsive. Men have options, too.

  12. 52

    Love how it’s written, I appreciate, fully understand and AGREE with the “boldness” of this idea (given the kind of ideas and information in our modern media, movies and stuff)….but I have a question that seems pretty serious to me: what about ground-shaking, amazing, “I’ll never forget” kind of chemistry? I don’t want to be the moody philosopher around here…but I’ve had that…and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s nothing compared to my current real, healthy and fulfilling, amazing, long-term relationship with this amazing guy that I’m with now….but where in the “shelves” of my conscience should I decide to put the mind-blowing, “write-a-novel-about”, full of chemistry, TOXIC (though it went both-ways) “Relationship” with this other guy? What does it mean? How should I think about it? Is it really silly, random, common and…useless, as it may seem from this article? I’d really appreciate your reply. I’m asking because I think the ground-shaking chemistry I’ve had before is getting in the way of how I see love in general, in the way of how I give advice and in the way of fully appreciating my guy. I hate the doubts, he doesn’t deserve them

  13. 53

    I am a 33 year old man, and I met the love of my life when I was 23 years old. We attended the same University, and we happened to be attending the same dreaded Health class when I met her. I had only spoken to her a few times when the semester first started, but at that time I was interested in another girl who, at the time, was everything that fit the definition of “my dream girl”. Her name was Aleana and she was a breathtaking, blue-eyed blond from Moscow, Russia.     I became friends with her, and we shared many conversations, spanning from where she lived in Russia to what her future goals were.   She was breathtaking and her Russian accent was subtle and incredibly sexy… and on top of that, she was a genuinely sweet person. I was completely head-over-heals for her!   Then I found out that she was a semi-professional tennis player who had become well known among tennis fans. Unfortunately, due to a career ending injury, she decided to attend school instead since her injury was not likely to completely heal.   I was enamored by her beauty, and somehow I mustered up the courage to ask if she would like to spend some time together – just the two of us.   Desparate for a much needed a break from schoolwork, she accepted my offer, and we went to the movies a few times, which happened to be her “favorite thing to do”.   Confident that she was interested in me,   I took her out to eat at a beautiful restaurant, which clued her in that I was interested in a relationship (which I thought was quite obvious), but she was strictly interested in keeping it “a simple friendship”. I could tell that the dinner quickly became the cliché, awkward date… but I pretended to be happy with the arrangement, and we continued to remain friends.   Obviously,   I was a bit heartbroken since I was so enamored by her, and I certainly wasn’t interested in dating anyone else at that time.    If it haden’t been for that disappointing outcome, I would have never found my true soulmate.
    When I first met the girl who later became my girlfriend, my attraction to her (if I were to put it on a scale of 1-10) was about a 5.   We went on a couple of dates and occasionally spent time together doing very practical, mundane things, such as running errands and grocery shopping.   We really enjoyed each other’s company, and it wasn’t long before I began to find her more beautiful and more sexy than ever before. We clicked.   We laughed together, and we began to finish each other’s sentences.    As I fell in love with her, and eventually grew to love her with all my heart,   I loved her for who she was.   I loved her good traits and I loved her flaws.   My initial attraction to her was very subjective.   The original “5” that I rated her attractiveness at eventually became a solid 10.   When you truly love someone with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul – they will be the most beautiful person in the world to you. Even my Russian friend Alaeana’s beauty was pale in comparison to my beautiful Danielle.   I loved her so much, I found myself tearing up when I looked into her beautiful baby-blue eyes.   She literally melted my heart. I could look at any model or celebrity, and she was the only woman who I could think about.   Ten years later, I still get weak in the knees when I see her – even after a brief absence.   She fills the void I had in my heart, and I love her – the real love…   You may not be familiar with the Bible, but it has the perfect definition of love.   So many people only know selfish love, but real love is everlasting and doesn’t change… and it is undescribably beautiful:
    “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

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