Should I Get More Sexual Experience to Be More Like My Boyfriend?

 

I am 31 and in an early, but exclusive (5 month) relationship with a wonderful man. He’s 33, good looking, tall, he’s very considerate, generous, loves dogs, gets on with my mother, tick, tick, tick. We have a very, very good sex life too. He’s just the best. There is one thing that I find bothers me.

He has had considerably more sexual experience than I have – a whole lot more, I reckon – and I am finding myself jealous of him. I spent virtually my entire twenties in a couple of long term and unsuitable relationships, which I now regret. I regret not having fun, turning down offers (and I did get them!) and chasing men who weren’t prepared to give me anything. It was a mistake to throw away my youth like that.

What I have noticed is that my current partner is much more self-assured, confident and optimistic than I am. I believe this is because he has been validated time and time again, physically and romantically. He’s also never been cheated on, or even dumped. His experiences have made him a happy and attractive person.

In fact, I’ve actually noticed that as a common theme, in others who were more carefree and up-for-anything in their younger days.

I do want to get married and have children one day. So does he. And we are doing very, very well so far, for a newbie couple. He thinks I’m brilliant and that’s lovely. But would I be making a mistake in not getting the same sexual and fun experiences before embarking on that chapter? Could I become a better, more experienced and well-rounded person by doing so? Please be honest – did I miss out on anything special and is it worth returning to?

Thank you.

Antonia

Thank you for making a brilliant observation, Antonia.

“My current partner is much more self-assured, confident and optimistic than I am…He has been validated, time and again, physically and romantically…His experiences have made him a happy and attractive person.”

100%

You may as well be describing my experience as a single man.

The reason I’m a dating coach is because, despite 300 dates that didn’t result in marriage, I enjoyed dating, I enjoyed women, I enjoyed hooking up, I enjoyed the good stories about bad dates, and I enjoyed the ever-present possibility of finding lasting love.

And if you like the opposite sex, enjoy dating, and feel good about yourself regardless of the outcome, you’re going to be a more confident and attractive person than the person who hates dating, hates online dating, hates the opposite sex and assumes the worst in people.

That confidence – that validation – is priceless, and I wish it for everyone reading this right now. At the same time, I still wouldn’t recommend you throw your relationship away to get more sexual experience.

I don’t blame you for wanting to redo your 20’s. I do, too. But while life may be about an accumulation of new experiences, you don’t want to move off the marriage/children track just to fuck a few more dudes, all under the guise of self-improvement.

One of my first online dates taught me that “the only emotion that grows over time is regret.”

One of my first online dates taught me that “the only emotion that grows over time is regret.” I’m not positive that’s true, but it does resonate. Saying “I wish I…” might make for interesting daydreams, but it rarely holds up in reality.

If you found a man who you think you can spend your life with, that’s the point of dating. Yes, sleeping around is fun, but mostly it taught me what I DIDN’T want in a wife.

Essentially, casual sex is what we do to keep busy until we meet the “one.” And if you think you’ve met the one, you owe it to yourself to stop looking further.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Jeremy

    Antonia, you wrote, “What I have noticed is that my current partner is much more self-assured, confident and optimistic than I am. I believe this is because he has been validated time and time again, physically and romantically.” Hmmm. Is he more confident because he’s had more sex, or did he have more sex because he was more confident? Or were both the sex and the confidence related to other personality traits that were the causative factors? This is a really, really important thing to think about.

    There is a big difference between building circumstantial confidence directly versus thinking you will build global confidence circumstantially. Words…. what I mean is, consider a person who is afraid of public speaking. Giving such a person experience speaking publicly will likely help build confidence at public speaking (assuming the experiences go well). But building experience speaking publicly will not necessarily build confidence at playing baseball, or at dating, or at any non-directly-related thing. Not unless one was already predisposed, personality-wise, to global confidence. Like Evan said he was, in a previous post. Going out and having lots of sex might make you confident at…going out and having lots of sex. But will it make you a generally happier and more confident person? Or will it simply be your go-to bandaid whenever you’re feeling bad about yourself – to self-medicate with a validation-fix?

    If you haven’t already done so, please read “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz. Counter-intuitively, the more choice we have, the less satisfied we are with any choice we make. Humans are not designed to deal with too much choice. It doesn’t give us permanent validation, only validation fixes. If you are not a naturally globally-confident person, seeking validation through sexual partners will not give you what you think it will, nor will it ultimately make you a better relationship partner when you do decide to settle down. If you are feeling restless and non-confident about your ability to be in a permanent relationship, try to deal with the root causes that lie within, not without.

    1. 1.1
      Rampiance

      Wow, Jeremy, spot-on!

      You noticed what she really wanted at the bottom of it all, and how her proposal would fail to achieve it. Besides failing to achieve her bottom-line desire, she would add the regret of losing her thirties to her already acknowledged regret of losing her twenties. How many decades of regret can one accumulate? A lifetime. A lifetime of regret.

      1. 1.1.1
        Jeremy

        Well, to be honest I think there are 3 possible motivations she might have for the question: 1) She doesn’t like the guy enough and is looking for a way out (I find this the least likely of the possibilities). 2) She likes the guy a lot but doesn’t like herself much, and she thinks she’d like herself better if she was more like him. So she’s trying to recreate his personality in herself by reliving his history (which, of course, won’t work for the reasons I gave above). 3) She likes him and herself well enough, but feels at a power disadvantage – he’s had history, she hasn’t, so she doesn’t feel that they are equals in the relationship. It’s hard to be comfortable in a relationship if you don’t feel equal to your partner. So she’s trying to even the balance. Problem is, she wouldn’t be evening it. Because he had sex with others before they met, not after. If she goes and has sex with others after they’ve met, they are no longer even. The power war will go on. And sometimes (oftentimes) the best way to win a power war is to surrender. What does it matter if yours is the last flag left standing on the battlefield…if the battlefield is a smouldering pile of radioactive rubble?

    2. 1.2
      Adrian

      Hi Jeremy,

      Have you read the old post on here with the overweight girl who was always ignored by men; however, once she lost a lot of weight she started gaining a lot of male attention? She felt resentful because these were people that “she just knew in her mind” would have ignored  her when she was a big girl.

      What is your opinion on that? It reminds me of this in a way.

      Both women seem to have gained something high level in the realm of dating and yet their mentality is still of a person who lacks the self assurance/worth to accept it all. So now I’m curious to your thoughts on age and reprogramming our views subconscious views, beliefs, and actions?

      Personally I believe that most “globally confident” people gain it through childhood interactions that nurture and develop their self-efficacy. This leads me to wonder that even if a person who is my and the letter writer’s age faked it enough will it ever become our reality or will it just be “circumstantial confidence?”

      …   …   …

      On a side note: I have noticed that most daters who brag seem to display circumstantial confidence. They become very skilled at attracting the opposite sex but outside of that realm-like when interacting with strangers-they lack confidence; especially when they are before a globally confident man and woman.

      1. 1.2.1
        Jeremy

        I think that global confidence is a personality trait, Adrian, an anatomical predisposition.  I don’t believe it is caused by childhood experiences, though it is definitely augmented by them.  Check out this TED talk about optimism and keep in mind that confidence, after all, is just self-directed optimism.

         

        When I was a kid, my parents tried all sorts of things to make me more confident, sent me to all sorts of schools and camps to build experiential confidence – art camp, improv school, drama camps, sports camps, gymnastics camps, debating clubs, freaking glass-blowing camp, etc, etc.  All of these things improved my skills at the things involved.  None made me more globally-confident because I lack the rose-tinted glasses of self-directed optimism.

         

        This doesn’t mean I can’t be confident.  It means that in order to be confident, I have to have some rational basis for the confidence, that my confidence will always be circumstantial – present in some areas, lacking in others. I will never be the Fonz.  Wow, dated myself.

         

        The reason I bring this up isn’t just because you asked, Adrian, it’s because I sense that Antonia (the OP) is doing the same fundamental mis-appropriation of causation.  Her BF is happy and confident and she believes the reason is because of his positive experiences.  She believes her relative unhappiness and lack of confidence/validation is because of her experiences.  Neither is true.  Both are inborn baselines that can be augmented, but not changed.  Note how, in spite of being the guru of happiness, Martin Seligman claims to constantly battle blue funk.  Note how I fight the same battle, in spite of knowing all that I know, in spite of having everything a man could want in this life – the house, the steak and the salmon (literally and proverbially), as Caroline R posted so eloquently below.  The way to fight the blue funk isn’t by listening to what our brains tell us to do – food, novelty, sex, dopamine and endorphins.  No, it’s through PERMA, as Evan’s most recent post describes.

         

        1. K

          I was thinking very much along the lines that Jeremy explains here (of course a lot less academically).  I do think a lot of it is innate, certainly a baseline.  I have more confidence and this sort of everyone-will-love-me-and-want-to-be-around-me feeling than I should.  My parents were pretty poor with very limited time to spend with me.  I was never told I was exceptional or beautiful.  I had one relative who did treat me that way which I think helped to offset it.  I wasn’t given tools or outlets to develop my confidence.  If anything, if I had an aptitude or interest for a hobby, it was often discouraged because I had obligations at home.  Despite this, I was very popular in school and always had a large group of friends and do to this day.  I see friends who had much more nurturing and positive reinforcement at home and still lack confidence to this day.

  2. 2
    michi

    Some women just cannot accept a good thing and enjoy it. Do you know how many women would kill for what you have at this very moment?  Realise your luck and cherish it and stop asking silly questions.

  3. 3
    MEH

    OMG! Get the experience with him. Enjoy and grow…

  4. 4
    Adrian

    Happy New Year’s Evan! Thanks for all you’ve done for us.
    …. … ..

    I believe it is Emily who often says, “What causes these people to over share so much about past lovers?”

    Anyway, Antonia said, “He has had considerably more sexual experience than I have – a whole lot more, I reckon – and I am finding myself jealous of him.”

    I honestly don’t think she is jealous, I think she is INSECURE. She is afraid he will leave her for someone more sexually exciting.

    I have read countless emails to Evan and this is truly one of the rare few where you can just tell how attracted and into the guy the woman is. I believe her very high chemical attraction to him is causing both fear and doubt. She doesn’t seem to be able to trust that he is happy with her the way she is (why would he stay so long if he didn’t accept her the way she is? If he has so many options for choosing women, doesn’t it mean something that he chose you over them???).
    … … …

    On a side note: Antonia I’ve asked Evan, Jeremy, and Karl R all a variation of the same question you did, and they all gave me the same answer Evan just gave you. So maybe flirting, dating, and getting attention a LOT from the opposite sex only builds a genuine foundation of confidence and validation when you are young but for people our age it will just be a hollow and temporary boost, but we will eventually go back to our default way of thinking???

  5. 5
    MilkyMae

    He’s 33 and never been dumped? Personally, I would put this man in the inexperienced camp. IMO, unrequited love in your past is more authentic(and attractive) than variety of partners and validation. The former means “he cared” and latter confirms her belief that he is “a hottie”. Also, how did this info come out? Did he drink too much and confess that he was never dumped? Or is he so awesome that she can’t imagine any woman would dump him.

    1. 5.1
      Karl S

      OP should totally dump the guy to give him more life experience and free herself to shag dudes she isn’t in love with. This will definitely strengthen their relationship when they eventually get back together to have children (that’s the plan right?)
      /sarcasm

  6. 6
    Chris

    OP is projecting her own biases and assumptions onto other people’s experiences, incorrectly so. Romantic and sexual success tends to come from being happy and confidant. It does not follow however, that sexual experience will result in feeling happy and confidant.

    Look at all the people who say that casual sex has left them feeling “used”, “cheapened”, “broken” even. This is particularly so for women. I’m not saying that she will automatically find casual sex a negative experience, she may find it empowering, but there is a chance it may be for her.

    Will more sexual experience make her more attractive to men? This is a contentious issue, but the simple answer is “no”.

    “He’s also never been cheated on, or even dumped.”
    I’m sure he has been.

    “His experiences have made him a happy and attractive person.”
    They are mostly a consequence, not a cause, of him being a happy and attractive person.

    “I do want to get married and have children one day.”
    Given the reality of female fertility, she is better of being more deliberate in her intent to marry and have children. I’m not saying she needs to rush to the alter with this guy, but she needs to stop imagining marriage and children as some far off event that can be postponed indefinitely. And perhaps this guy isn’t the one for her, but he seems like a good prospect, and if she decides to run off to experience other guys, she’s going to lose him, permanently.

  7. 7
    Emily, to

    Dear Antonia,

    You have a guy who you find super appealing, who’s confident, great in bed, good to you AND who wants a relationship with you. You have hit the motherlode! Who cares if he’s more experienced? Take advantage of it! 🙂 Ride that train as long as you can. Don’t throw this away for some one night stands with guys whose names you won’t even remember.

    1. 7.1
      Caroline R

      I agree with ‘Emily, to’.

      You’ve got the freakin’ motherlode, the El Dorado, the Holy Grail for a straight, single adult woman.

      The issue is your insecurity, nothing else. Work on that like nothing else matters. Because nothing else does matter.

      Please see this Antonia, and don’t be afraid, or do anything to mess this up.

      Why would you go elsewhere? To another man? That’s just nonsensical.

      Does the person who finds themselves living in a mansion and having everything to live for, and can have steak and salmon for dinner deliberately go and eat canned cat food for dinner, and sleep in the dumpster out the back just for experience?

      Hell no!!!!

      They lie on those Egyptian cotton sheets in the mansion. They put that steak in their mouths and they THANK GOD for their good fortune.

      Put that man’s steak in your mouth!

      (Caroline gets down off soapbox, and exits stage left).

       

      1. 7.1.1
        Emily, to

        Caroline:
        “You’ve got the freakin’ motherlode, the El Dorado, the Holy Grail for a straight, single adult woman.”
        How many times in one’s lifetime does she think the Universe lines up all the factors like that in one man? He’s straight, he’s hot (to her), he wants her, he’s good to her … What more does she want?

        Adrian: Happy New Year!

        1. Caroline R

          Emily to

          Ha ha ha ha!

          He should come to us, the smart women who can detect gold a mile away!

          I wish you peace, love and happiness, and great personal success in the year ahead.

          And to the other readers.

          And especially to Evan, our Champion!

        2. Emily, to

          Caroline R,

          You, too. Happy New Year!

    2. 7.2
      Adrian

      Happy New Year Emily! (^_^)

  8. 8
    Limera

    I would respectfully like to disagree with the statement that people who were more chill and dated around in their 20s are more optimistic and self-confident as a result. I think it works the other way around.

    Optimistic and self-confident people are more attractive and also open and chill, which are very attractive qualities. I have numerous friends from high school who have hardly been single since they turned 15 and they are all extroverted, optimistic andand easygo people and have been ever since we became friends. They behaved just like Evan describes (like men and dating, are chill), but I think this is the direct result of feeling self-assured rather than the other way around.

     

  9. 9
    No Name To Give

    I don’t even understand the point of the OP’s question. Let well enough alone. Sex is not the end all be all of life.

  10. 10
    Antonia

    Hello all, this is Antonia, I wrote this letter.

    Thank you very much Evan for addressing and publishing it, I wasn’t expecting you to do so and I appreciate it. I can see a few of you are unsure by what the actual point of my issue is so just to clarify and nail it (and I think Jeremy actually mentioned this in the comments) – I do not feel “equal” to my boyfriend.

    I feel that he has done more, seen more and taken more of what sex and relationships have offered him, which makes me feel somewhat inadequate and regretful.

    In addition – I read this blog often (big fan) and the general consensus here always seems to tend to lean towards having fun, dating, hooking up and sowing your oats and enjoying it, before making that major commitment to someone. Evan says himself, this sort of experience (and ultimately validation and confidence) is priceless.

    I do not have this. My boyfriend has. So if it is indeed priceless, I wondered if I should abandon this young relationship to achieve it. Hope that clears things up a little.

    1. 10.1
      K

      “So if it is indeed priceless, I wondered if I should abandon this young relationship to achieve it. Hope that clears things up a little.”  

      The answer is no.  Maybe this relationship won’t work out (you never know) and this will be part of your experience.  I have tons of friends who have a lot of experience, rarely did they go seek it and most would give it up to have a great partner.  Please stop creating a problem.  You will NEVER be equal to your partner in all ways.  If you solve this, you’d find another issue, career, friends, etc.  So work on feeling that you are enough.  I’m sure you have things your boyfriend doesn’t have, perhaps empathy, maturity, resilience…I forget your age or if you noted it.  If you are in your 20s I’m a little more sympathetic.  But if you are in your 30s definitely work on finding your inner confidence sooner than later.

    2. 10.2
      Jeremy

      Thank you for clarifying, Antonia.  Regarding the experience you mention being “priceless” – it is NOT.  I explained why not in my 2 responses above.

       

      The world is so full of bad advice…and how is one to know good from bad?  By starting from the goal and working backwards, that’s how.  Consider advice to sow wild oats, have experiences…GROW.  Grow into what, exactly?  What is the end-goal of the growth?  A child grows to become an adult.  A sapling grows into a tree.  You know what grows uncontroledly for the sake of growing?  Cancer.  Viruses.  Pubic hair.

       

      If your goal is to marry, have kids, and be satisfied with a monogamous life, having more sexual experiences will absolutely not help you with this.  Again, read the Paradox of Choice.  Then read Stumbling on Happiness.  If your goal is simply to have experiences, well then have them by all means…but realize that doing so makes marriage more difficult, not less.  Does tasting all 31 flavours at Baskin Robbins make it easier to choose one cone, or harder?

       

      If the issue is a want for experience, deal with that.  If the issue is power, deal with power.  Not indirect surrogates for power.  Start with the goal and work backwards – you feel he has power because he has experience, and you don’t.  Will getting experience now make you feel more powerful?  Maybe.  Will it make him feel LESS powerful? Definitely.  Will that be helpful if your goal is a relationship with him?  No.

    3. 10.3
      Emily, to

      Antonia,

      I read this blog often (big fan) and the general consensus here always seems to tend to lean towards having fun, dating, hooking up and sowing your oats and enjoying it, before making that major commitment to someone. Evan says himself, this sort of experience (and ultimately validation and confidence) is priceless.

      But as a woman, you really don’t get confidence and validation from sowing your oats in that men aren’t all that picky about who they have casual sex with. You get much more validation from a high-quality man wanting a relationship with you, which you’ve achieved.

      And stop talking to him about his past experiences. You’ve learned as much as you need to know. Move forward.

      1. 10.3.1
        Cathalei

        It’s true that she should move forward, but she can get validation from casual sex as well. Just not in that situation. If one wants to feel desired and attractive, they would feel validated by it. The point is, she already desires a relationship with someone she obviously cares about, and having casual sex would only drop her self confidence when she loses him as a result. Besides, it’s very unlikely that her beau considers this as a point of reference for liking her.

        1. Adrian

          Hi Cathalei,

          I agree with Emily, I don’t believe that the average woman gets validation from casual sex. She may receive the joys, excitement, and raw pleasure from sex but not validation.

          As has been repeatedly discussed on here women can easily get sex, even from guys out of their league. But getting a relationship from guys that they really want to be with is another matter.

           

        2. Emily, to

          Adrian,

          She may receive the joys, excitement, and raw pleasure from sex but not validation.

          I’m guessing, but most women have casual sex for the thrill of it, the excitement, the anticipated seduction (how will he do it? Or will she take charge?), the raunch factor. Not the sex itself. Unless you know someone at least a little bit, it’s usually not some orgasmic party. And, like I posted earlier, it’s not usually based on high levels of attraction or interest. It can be, but certainly not always.

        3. Adrian

          Hi Emily,

          You said, “it’s not usually based on high levels of attraction or interest.

          I just heard of a theory that women intentionally choose not to date or marry hot guys because they fear unfaithfulness and insecurity (like the letter writer is experiencing).  That women don’t mind and actually seek out hot guys for one night stands or friends with benefits but not for long term relationships.

          What are your thoughts on this? It seems to go against logic in my opinion. I mean why not date the hottest guy you can get; the guy who you feel the most attraction for.

          …    …   …

          This is all based off of an attraction study/documentary conducted in the UK where they morphed the face of a man on a scale from feminine to hot.

          The majority of the women in the study said they would date a good looking guy but not a hot guy.

        4. sylvana

          Adrian,

          Why not marry them? Because …. see above in your statement.

          Hot men are associated with unfaithfulness. A man is only as faithful as his options, as the saying goes. And about as reliable as such. Even if he is faithful, she’ll get to watch other women throw invitations his way everywhere they go. It’s gets old quick.

          You can have sex with them, enjoy a casual affair. But anything serious? Why bother?

          Same goes for most very beautiful women, as well. You will hear a lot of them complaining that men don’t want to date them seriously, or marry them. They often get dismissed when it comes to anything serious, for the same reasons. Too many options.

          The super hot ones generally don’t mind not being considered for serious. Because they’re playing on the “hot”/sexual attractiveness to begin with.

        5. Emily, to

          Adrian, 

          That women don’t mind and actually seek out hot guys for one night stands or friends with benefits but not for long term relationships.

          I don’t know any women who were specifically targeting hot men for casual sex. I’ve had a decent amount of casual sex and a few of the friends I had in my 20s did. Choice in casual sex was, as a general rule, based on convenience. I remember watching one guy leave a roommate’s room in the morning and, after he was out the door, we both couldn’t figure out why she took him home. It was something to do. This flies in the face of the myth that a woman who hooks up with a man quickly must be ga ga attracted to him or is in love with her fwb and wants more. Both are possible but not always true.

        6. Adrian

          Hi Emily and Sylvana,

          Sylvana said, “Hot men are associated with unfaithfulness. A man is only as faithful as his options, as the saying goes. And about as reliable as such. Even if he is faithful, she’ll get to watch other women throw invitations his way everywhere they go. It’s gets old quick.”

          Emily said, ” high-chemistry relationships, by their very nature, make you insecure….You’re terrified you’ll do something to mess it up. And, on a subconscious, irrational level, because you find this person so overwhelmingly appealing, you assume everyone else does. You’re terrified someone will steal that person away. It’s not logical, but all the hormones swimming around in your head make you a little crazy. ”

          So back to my original question, are you two saying-in your opinions-that women actually do avoid relationships with really hot men?

          It seems illogical to me, especially since as Emily said finding someone that you find hot that shares mutual attraction is rare. Plus after a few months to a year you won’t even be affected by their looks the same way (eating the same meal everyday analogy remember).

          Another thing is that on campus I’m surrounded by teens and at work most of the staff is in their 20’s. I can assure you that young girls chase looks as much as we men do, they just do it more subtly.

        7. Emily, to

          Adrian,
          It seems illogical to me, especially since as Emily said finding someone that you find hot that shares mutual attraction is rare. Plus after a few months to a year you won’t even be affected by their looks the same way (eating the same meal everyday analogy remember).
           I specifically wrote and then bolded it didn’t have to do with SMV (meaning looks). Blazing chemistry rarely does. Where is Shakut when we need him? I wave the white flag.

    4. 10.4
      Adrian

      Hi Antonia,

      Thanks for coming back to clarify.

      Personally I think you should break up with your boyfriend ASAP!!!

      If this is a guy who has done nothing wrong and yet he generates these negative feelings within you just by his presence and being who he is then you need to do both yourself and HIM a favor and end this relationship.

      Others may advise against this and even you may not want to do it but look at your reasons. Are they:

      Fear of scarcity: You are afraid you will never find another guy on his level again?

      Bragging rights: You enjoy the feelings you get from others being scene with a hot guy?

      Good sex: While single you didn’t have access to sex or even worse your past boyfriends were not as good as your current man?

      How long: You are afraid that it may take you years to find another boyfriend; let alone one you desire as much. You don’t want to return to “table for one” status?

      Look all these and more are good reasons to hold on to a great catch when you find it. However, the vibe I got from your letter indicated that none on the reasons you are happy to be with him has anything to do with love. I was in a similar position as you and what helped me were the words of a the commenter GoWithTheFlow when she said that “A person could have 99% of all the things you want but if that 1% is that much of a deal breaker than you should walk away-that 1 outweighs that 99”

      Antonia a woman in a happy/healthy relationship would not be contemplating leaving it JUST to have sex with other men. A happy/healthy relationship would not cause you to feel insecure or not good enough just by being in the presence of the other person. A happy/healthy relationship would not make you feel ashamed or regretful of your past.

      Even though I doubt you will take my advice, I strongly encourage you to leave him. Some people may tell you to work on yourself but I say why??? You have done nothing wrong! There is nothing wrong with you!… Be happy with who you are and find someone who brings that side out of you not insecurity.

      It’s not his fault either! You two just aren’t a complete match; it happens.

      Good Luck!

      1. 10.4.1
        sylvana

        Wow, Adrian.

        This was perfect!

        I agree with you, and I also think that we are missing something. There is a sense of insecurity coming through, and I’m sure she actually has reasons that cause her to feel insecure in this particular relationship. There’s more to this situation that just different levels of experience.

        The other factor I would include is the fear of missing out. She stated she’s been in mostly long-term relationships during her 20s. And – obviously – they all ended. So she never actually had a chance to have her fun and sow her
        wild oats, and also never got the benefit of being “good”. Since – well – she no longer has those relationships. Now she’s in another relationship and once again restricted, with no guarantee that this one will last. It might just turn out to be another few years wasted without being able to gain certain experiences. Meanwhile, she gets older and older, and her chances of gaining those experiences get slimmer with every passing year.

        While this is certainly not a good reason to break up (since the chances to find a lasting relationship diminish as well), the fact that there does seem to be an insecurity issue in the relationship is a red flag to me. In my opinion, he’s doing something (whether purposely or not) that feeds those insecurities. Otherwise, she would be able to dismiss them after so much time together.

        Or maybe it’s a case of her not being all that into him, but trying to talk herself into it. Either way, there are too many doubts.

         

      2. 10.4.2
        Jeremy

        Adrian, I completely disagree with you.  On so many levels, the things you state here are problematic IMO.  Caroline R wrote above that a person who has a mansion, good food and Egyptian cotton sheets doesn’t contemplate eating cat food and sleeping in a dumpster.  She is wrong, though.  So many wealthy people (or, at least, children of wealthy people) do indeed come to denigrate what they have and seek out experience different from their baseline, often radically different.  Cat food different.  Because it’s hard to want what we have, in the face of what we don’t.

         

        You are assuming that Antonia’s unhappiness has anything whatsoever to do with this man.  My assumption is that her unhappiness has little to do with him and everything to do with HER.  You are focussing on the hotness of the boyfriend somehow making her uncomfortable.  I am focusing on the fact that she sounds like she isn’t sure that a monogamous relationship is what she wants at all – regardless of the man.  That it sounds like she was fed a story her whole life that she should get married, she sought out that script, found it, and isn’t sure she wants to follow it.  Isn’t sure she wouldn’t rather have some fun and seek out experiences.  Nothing to do with the man.  Everything to do with the idea that “something better” is out there.  “Better” not necessarily meaning one man, but better positive affect, better experiences, better than what we’ve grown accustomed to in some way.

         

        When I was a kid, there was a game show on TV called “Let’s Make a Deal.”  The contestant would be offered a modest prize from the get-go, say a food processor (or something like that), and be offered the opportunity to either keep it or trade it away for whatever is behind Door Number 1.  Most of the contestants would do the trade, hoping for better.  Occasionally there would be a new car behind Door Number 1, but most of the time it was a trash can or some other junky thing.  The sad music would play and the contestant would go home.  That game show was a metaphor for life, if only people could see it.  How many people seek to trade up whatever they have for the mystery prize behind Door Number 1?

      3. 10.4.3
        Adrian

        Hi Jeremy,

        You said, “You are assuming that Antonia’s unhappiness has anything whatsoever to do with this man

        Incorrect! Read what I wrote in post #4. Read what I wrote above. I repeatedly said he did nothing wrong. It’s her insecurity.

        You said, “My assumption is that her unhappiness has little to do with him and everything to do with HER

        This is where we disagree. I am basing EVERYTHING off what she wrote; nothing else. You are putting words and motives in her mouth.

        You could be right but like Evan, I can only go by what she wrote.

        Also you of ALL people know how people love to justify their good or bad actions.

        By writing the script for her reasoning, you are giving her an easy way out to justify her feelings when in truth it’s simply a case of a woman holding on to “the best she’s probably every had” instead of holding on to a good match for her.

        You said, “You are focusing on the hotness of the boyfriend somehow making her uncomfortable.

        To me she is chasing chemistry. Read her description of their relationship-of him. Where does she speak of friendship, trust, compatibility, shared values or goals???

        It’s he’s tall, hot, and the sex is GREAT!

        You said, “I am focusing on the fact that she sounds like she isn’t sure that a monogamous relationship is what she wants at all – regardless of the man

        Where does she say or even hint at that?! You are projecting. She just feels that she is missing something or wants to experience the wild FUN life that we see in tv and movies. That doesn’t make her unique, strange, or a candidate for psychiatric sessions.

        It makes her a normal human girl. We all see those shows and movies and think “I should be out partying instead of here at home read this book… I’m such a loser!”

        Listen to ANY-thing Evan has made about chemistry. She obviously has strong chemistry with him but low compatibility or she would not feel this way around him. He makes her anxious, unsure, regretful; Evan speaks on all this being signs of chemistry – compatibility imbalance.

        IT’S NOT HER; IT’S NOT HIM, THEY JUST ARE NOT A MATCH. As Evan says she is just too blinded currently by chemistry to see it.

        You said, “It sounds like she was fed a story her whole life that she should get married, she sought out that script, found it, and isn’t sure she wants to follow it

        Again WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THIS? Show me from her post.

        You said, “Isn’t sure she wouldn’t rather have some fun and seek out experiences.  Nothing to do with the man. Everything to do with the idea that “something better” is out there

        I completely agree with this. Antonia if you are reading, there are a plethora of stories from celebrities (people with access to date some of the most beautiful people in the world) who thought they were missing out on something when younger-before they become famous. So they dated around; a LOT! And what most have said is that they found it wasn’t what they thought. They are happy and content with one person.

        It’s normal for ALL of us to feel regret that our social lives aren’t like pop-culture characters that seem to be constantly having new, exciting, fun experiences; it’s easy to forget that they are just fiction.

        What is NOT normal is to be with a guy and say the relationship is great but you feel inadequate. It’s not you, it’s not him it’s the relationship itself.

        Both Evan and Karl R recently told me to judge the relationship NOT the person. I would advise you to do the same.

        Back to Jeremy. Evan says “you can’t do the wrong thing with the right person.” I agree with this. Regardless of how she felt about missing out in her youth, if this guy…  this relationship was right for her she wouldn’t be thinking about leaving him to go have sex with a lot of random strangers.

        1. Emily, to

          Hi Adrian,

          You wrote that the OP is chasing chemistry and insecure, but high-chemistry relationships, by their very nature, make you insecure. When you find someone you are 10-level attracted to (rare), who’s also attracted to you (even rarer) and who wants to date you … you know you’ve hit the motherlode.  I’ve had only 3 of those situations, and I’m in my 40s. You’re terrified you’ll do something to mess it up. And, on a subconscious, irrational level, because you find this person so overwhelmingly appealing, you assume everyone else does. (NO, IT’S NOT ABOUT SMV.) You’re terrified someone will steal that person away. It’s not logical, but all the hormones swimming around in your head make you a little crazy. 

        2. Jeremy

          You can’t do the wrong thing with the right person.”  I disagree.  I completely disagree.  Context is critical to this statement.

          As to where I got what I wrote from what she wrote, to me it was all over her writing.  As I wrote to you before, people communicate not just by what they say, but also how they say it, what they don’t say, and how they choose not to say it.  It is difficult for me to explain this to someone who doesn’t see it, and of course I could be wrong.  Interested to see if the OP will clarify further.

        3. Evan Marc Katz

          To be fair, Adrian is quoting me when he says “You can’t do the wrong thing with the right person,” which, in context, is a very important concept for people who live in fear of doing the “wrong” thing with their partner.

        4. Adrian

          Evan,

          I feel like I am banging my head against the wall here. I always go back and read your old material so perhaps it’s me since everyone disagrees about her staying with him.

          You’ve said, how unhealthy it is to be with someone that makes us anxious. You’ve said how chemistry blinds us to toxic relationships. You’ve said that we should ignore the positives and focus on the negatives. You’ve said that we should rate the relationship not the person.

          I just feel like everyone is focusing on how great of a catch this guy is and not seeing the emotions he is invoking in her by doing NOTHING WRONG! But I don’t think anything is wrong with her either! Just because he is a great catch doesn’t mean he is a great catch for her, but that’s nothing to be ashamed about… it happens.

          Yes I admit it would be different if you haven’t always taught us through the years about the signs of following chemistry over compatibility or if he actually did something that caused her to feel this way. I don’t think she needs medical help I just think she’s an archetypal example of what you’ve been telling us about for years in regard to toxic chemistry.

          So my question to you is with all the advice you’ve given about the pitfalls of high chemistry relationships how would I or anyone differentiate between the relationship itself being the problem verses we ourselves being the problem?

          There are just So Many of your old news letters that I can recall where you gave examples similar to this. Examples of women in high chemistry relationships and how they always felt anxious, insecure, inadequate, afraid, not good enough, etc…

          Yet to my recollection you Never once told any of these women to go get counseling. You would always say that the right relationship would not and should not cause those feelings. But that high chemistry has a toxic side that we refuse to acknowledge because it’s so heavenly sought after.

          Anyway Evan would you mind helping me understand the distinction?

        5. Evan Marc Katz

          There is no indication that the boyfriend is doing anything to make her feel insecure. There is no indication he has a character deficiency or is a particularly risky bet as a boyfriend. All that’s apparent is that the OP is insecure. She will be insecure with virtually anyone, so it’s on her to trust and address her insecurities, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater because of her insecurities. Makes sense to me, anyway.

        6. Jeremy

          There is no sign of low compatibility here.  This is not a classic case of high chemistry without compatibility.  The anxiety is not something he is invoking in her, it’s something she has in herself.  Has, by the sound of it, due to past experiences (and likely predisposition).  There is a power imbalance, but all relationships have a power imbalance.  The imbalance usually doesn’t become symptomatic IME until well beyond the honeymoon period unless some other problem brings it to the fore. Not all battles are the same battle.  The correct strategy depends on the correct diagnosis.  To believe otherwise is to use antibiotics on a cold.

           

          I wish her well with the course of action she has embarked upon.  I believe that working on herself/her anxiety is the most productive course of action, regardless of whether this relationship endures or not.

  11. 11
    Marika

    Hi Antonia

    It seems like you are already leaning towards a particular course of action, and that is up to you. But just had to weigh in to say that I can’t remember another post where everyone who commented both agreed with Evan and each other. This is a very mixed bag of people, they often bring up points that either shock, educate or challenge – certainly do to me – but in this case every third party weighing in sees your issue the same way. You’re worrying needlessly.

    FWIW, some people probably sow their wild oats / date around for fun. Many / most? of us (likely Evan included) date around as we’re still learning what we need or what’s important and we’re trying to find the best fit for us. If you found it without too much oat sowing – congratulations. That’s better. You save yourself a lot of drama.

  12. 12
    Adrian

    Hi Emily,

    You said, “in that men aren’t all that picky about who they have casual sex with.

    Do you really believe this? Some men perhaps but I don’t think they are the majority (nor are they the minority). At most only about half of all men would be capable of this. I would venture to say besides myself, most likely Karl R, Jeremy, and Evan would not have sex with a woman who we had zero attraction to….

    I mean sex is suppose to be pleasurable but how can you get pleasure from being with someone you are probably repulsed by? No kissing, no foreplay, you don’t even want to look at her, just pump and done? Where is the joy in that?

    That’s why guys who use terms like date down and low hanging fruit I think are full of bull. He has to find her attractive on some level which means she is not as low as these men are making those women out to be.

    I was just thinking about something similar last night; “do guys really get validation from sleeping with a lot of women?” Honestly I would say no. I think men get validation from getting attention from a lot of women, and the more attractive she is to him the more her validation counts in his mind. But ultimately I think a woman who he values highly that wants to commit to him is the pinnacle of validation.

    I think both men and women are alike on this. Perhaps the men who put those women down by calling them unattractive or easy are just doing so because they don’t want to publicly admit that they find those certain women attractive. Or even more telling they don’t want to admit that they don’t have what the type of woman they do want desires in a man.

    1. 12.1
      Emily, to

      Adrian,

      You said, “in that men aren’t all that picky about who they have casual sex with.”Do you really believe this?

      Yes. How much casual sex have you had? Ever go into a bar and pick someone up after a 5-minute conversation? Casual sex and hookups, even friends with benefits, are largely based, for both sexes actually, on convenience.

      I would venture to say besides myself, most likely Karl R, Jeremy, and Evan would not have sex with a woman who we had zero attraction to 

      I didn’t say zero attraction. But you’re over thinking it. For many people who are ok with casual sex, if there’s a reasonably decent opportunity, they think: why not?

  13. 13
    Tron Swanson

    Even some of us who don’t have the best options are “picky,” in terms of not hooking up below our league. I’ve had some unattractive women basically say to me, “Come on, I’m the best you can do,” and I’ve said “I’d rather go without, thanks.” The four-letter p-word makes it easier to say that…

  14. 14
    Cathalei

    Hi Adrian,

    Glad to hear your response and the point is true, women can easily get casual sex from guys “out of their league” as there are no expectations and relationship is a different matter. My point is, if she has insecurities about feeling unattractive, casual sex could make her feel validated if not for her relationship. “These guys find me attractive, I am good” feeling would alleviate that insecurity. But her need is already met in this relationship from what I can see, so that would be moot.

    1. 14.1
      Adrian

      Hi Cathalei,

      But her needs are not being met. So I (unlike everyone else) would advise her to dump him. He is causing her great anxiety just by his presence.

      She can work on herself sure but either way she should leave him until she does work more on herself or until she finds someone who she wants as much but doesn’t generate those negative emotions just by his presence.

      1. 14.1.1
        sylvana

        Adrian,

        I fully agree. He is causing her great anxiety.

        I just re-read what she wrote. There is also a mention that he’s never been cheated on, never been dumped. That puts him in a mighty powerful position.

        He’s also not likely to have any sort of appearance of vulnerability because of it. And maybe no way to relate to her (as someone who has had bad experiences). He’s the one with the power to hurt her. She likely doesn’t feel that she could do the same to him.

        Overall, the power balance in this relationship is way off. Not just in sexual experience, but in the way they experienced relationships in general. She’s vulnerable. He’s invulnerable and in control.

        I also agree that she’s obviously not getting her needs met. If she feels such a need to get validation from other men, or through other experiences, she’s definitely not getting it from him – once again, not just in a sexual way, but multiple ways.

        And while she might just be anxious because of past experiences, there is something that is feeding those negative emotions – the way he treats her, the way he acts around her or others, little things he says or fails to say, etc.

         

  15. 15
    Antonia

    Me, the letter writer, weighing in again. I’m really glad you all offered your thoughts and opinions and I’ve read every one. Just thought you’d like to know which course I’ve decided to take.

    One thing I’ve found I cannot ignore is that with this man, I have been much, much happier in the now 6 months with him than I was in two years with my previous boyfriend – and the two years with the boyfriend before that.

    Today, he invited me to go with him on his family holiday, to Italy, with his father, stepmum and two sisters. No lover in the past has ever made a similar gesture. He has also started talking noticeably more about the short term future, seemingly testing my waters, asking me if I could possibly imagine living with him one day.

    (Just as a side note, my last relationship ended, because after two years, my very hot-and-cold ex boyfriend was moving further away and didn’t want me to move in with him. He needed his own space. And the very hot-and-cold boyfriend before him, left me a week before we were to embark on a 6 month tour of Australia and New Zealand together. He decided he wanted to go alone. I have a history of attracting strong avoidant types).

    My current guy is doing all the right things. And every time we leave each other, he says he can’t wait until the next time. He always looks forward and continues to make plans with me. He does what Evan always says a man should do – that is, showing I am a priority in his life. He is being anything but an avoidant.

    I think what I need to do is seek counselling to get to the bottom of this seemingly deeply-rooted feeling of not being good enough and my own perception that I am not his equal. He thinks I am his equal. It is ME who thinks I can’t be.

    So, I am going to remain exactly where I am. And this week, I am going to look at any and all resources to help me switch my way of thinking.

    Thank you very much, Evan.

    1. 15.1
      Marika

      Wonderful to hear, Antonia.

      Thanks so much for checking back in and please let us know how it goes.

      No wonder you are scared, given the history of guys dramatically pulling away. Very understandable. But like you say, it’s a thought process you can work on.

    2. 15.2
      Mrs Happy

      Dear Antonia,

      good luck.

      I just read an interesting article about happiness by behavioural scientist Paul Dolan in The Guardian: ‘The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?’.  He discusses the prevailing social narrative “stories about how we ought to live our lives. We are expected to be ambitious; to want to be wealthy, successful and well educated; to get married, be monogamous and have kids”, and how this just doesn’t work for everyone.  He mentions all sorts of interesting things, including that people should enter marriages/long term relationships knowing they may (almost will)  fail; his theory is that there will then be less need for  “psychological, financial and health-related support being required for the eventual fallout from a less than perfect marriage.”

      Anyway Antonia, I agree it’s worth giving your current relationship a really committed go, because I don’t believe you breaking up is the better choice given what you’ve told us.  But the pursuit of happiness isn’t always a long term relationship, not for everyone.  Over the weekend I just read 2 wonderful Xmas present Holly Throsby novels set in small towns, and a number of the older women (50+ years of age) characters live alone, seemingly happier than they were while married, certainly  much less stressed.  This echoes real life – lots of older women don’t re-marry.  I think Paul Dolan has a really good point – these narrative myths we’ve all bought into may not be true, may not increase happiness.

      1. 15.2.1
        Marika

        Out of interest, Mrs Happy, what does the article say does bring happiness?

        PS the heatwave has broken!

        1. Mrs Happy

          Quoting directly from the article (or alternatively, one could read his books, he is a UK happiness + wellbeing expert):

          ‘ When asked in 2014 what makes him happy, he said: “Happiness is situated in what we do and who we spend time with. It does not reside in some story we tell ourselves about what we think should make us happy.”

          Dolan says he finds happiness in his work, going to the gym, evenings out with friends, having new experiences, talking to taxi drivers… What makes him unhappy? Other people’s weddings, reading novels and overlong family holidays, he says. He concludes: “I am a very lucky man: not because I have a great job and family and all that stuff but because I have a sunny disposition. Now that makes me happy.” ‘

           

          I really liked his take on income relating to happiness, and how as your income gets higher and higher, you end up spending more and more time at paid work, you get more senior, to keep further increasing your income.  You even start to view hours spent in leisure time as ‘wasted’ because you’re not earning then. (This happened to me and I’m reversing it this year.) And after a certain income (around UK 50,000 pounds pa) happiness doesn’t increase, and earning more even becomes a law of diminishing returns w.r.t. life ease and wellbeing gains.  He writes that 9000 financial workers in New York, London and other cities, work for 100 hours a week.  He talks about this “success narrative” within society, re what hours people feel they ‘should’ work and what sort of jobs they ‘should’ do.  Many more florists are happy with their job, than lawyers, for instance, even though society would not call the florists successful.

          Loving the rain.  So are my tomato plants.

      2. 15.2.2
        Jeremy

        ” These narrative myths we’ve all bought into may not be true, may not increase happiness.”  This is, IMHO, good advice, but only half the picture.  The Yin without the Yang. It is what the rational child discovers after a religious education, entering high school/university and wondering if any of it is true, if any of it will improve happiness.  It is what the burnt out spouse discovers upon a midlife crisis – the narrative script they’ve been fed did not necessarily make them happy.

         

        But the other half of the advice, the Yang, is less commonly discovered IME, and it is this:  That the narrative you create for yourself after having rejected the narrative of society will not necessarily make you any happier – may, in fact, result in even less happiness.  You are a stranger to your future self, and only passing acquaintance at best to your present self.  You focus on one or two things you believe will make you happy without realizing what you’re missing.  (Generic “you”).  You reject what you believe isn’t true, and embrace something just as false – your belief in yourself.

         

        This applies in so many areas.  In studies, in careers, in relationships, in life.  I know so many people who came to understand the Yin.  Far fewer who understood the Yang, except for those guardian personalities I so love to talk about, who seem to have an intuitive understanding of the Yang, but none of the Yin.  Like 2 solitudes, gazing at each other across a chasm, never to meet.  Both are good advice, but neither is good advice on its own.  A balance is necessary.

        1. Marika

          Jeremy and Mrs Happy 

          Interesting discussion. I was going to ask about the Yang, Jeremy, but perhaps this is what you mean. When you quoted more, Mrs Happy, I realised I am familiar with his work. I read the study about income and happiness and I earn around the Australian equivalent of the peak that makes you happy without detracting too much from your life. But the (possible?) Ying of this is that living in a city I now think has overtaken New York as the most expensive city on earth, I would likely be happier with more money. Not a lot more, but certainly more. It’s contextual.

          How would this all apply to Antonia? That just because 20s spent making mistakes in lots of casual relationships increases some people’s happiness, it doesn’t for everyone? That she should certainly reject that cultural narrative, perhaps. But perhaps not the broader narrative of aiming for a happy life with a kind, generous man (which she appears to be on track to doing).

        2. Mrs Happy

          Dear Marika,

          well the median house price in this charming city topped 1 million a few years ago, so a person can’t really buy a home unless they’re on 6 or 7 figures.  Who knows whether renting your whole life alters happiness levels? Certainly during retirement it’s linked to poverty.

          Re income versus happiness declining returns, the UK50,000 pounds pa (=AU$90k pa) is surely for a single person.  If you’ve a spouse and 3 kids, do you times it by 5?  Who knows.  I needed much less money to have an easy comfortable life when I was single.  Now chunks of my income go on me hiring people to do things, for others who didn’t exist when I was single, so I don’t have to do them (e.g. pick up my kids’ toys, iron my kids’ school uniforms, clean the pool my kids swim in, etc), and providing for the family (big house, school fees, etc).  My aim is mostly to maximise my leisure time in comfort once I’ve finally finished paid working for the week, because increasing ease and leisure do make me less stressed, so I assume happier.

           

          Dear Jeremy,

          I don’t know I agree with you around not knowing myself now.  Who is going to know me better now?  And surely I know/guestimate my future self better than anyone else can – so I am best placed to plan for my future, to hypothesize whether being single or partnered, childless or not, rich or poor or in between, is likely to be better for me.

          I like learning what people regret at the end of life (I’m a little morbid.  I used to plan my funeral when young.)  It surprised me to learn that at the end of their lives, one of the things many women wished they’d done differently, was to not have tried to conform as much, they wished they’d suited themselves more often, earlier in life, instead of tried to fit in, done what society expected, and given so much to others.  Lots of them eventually got there (suiting themselves) only when older, and relished the freedom.

          I know you’ll be considering your experiencing versus remembering self theory, and I disagree with that in parts too.  The moment is important – who is to say it’s less important than the memory?  It’s one of my beefs about male circumcision without anaesthetic – people say “oh he won’t remember it”.  As though the suffering of pain were in memories instead of the moment; barbaric idiots.

        3. Jeremy

          Mrs Happy, if I believed people knew what was best for themselves I would expect to see much more happiness in our society than I do.  In the same way, if I believed that society necessarily knew what was best for everyone, I’d expect to see more happiness.  Some of the most miserable people I know (and am related to) are those who relentlessly pursue their own internal wants….only to discover that their wants don’t make them happy at all.  Or to never discover it.  Your friend, Paul Dorlan, tells the story where he was talking to a woman who worked for a media company.  She was complaining about how miserable her job was, how unhappy she was there.  And at the end of the conversation, without any hint of irony, said that of course she loves her job.  People are not self-aware.  Our minds are modular.  The reason I like Seligman’s PERMA principle far better than Dorlan’s Pleasure-Purpose/Time pendulum is because I think Seligman’s definition is easier for people to follow, better broken down.

           

          Marika, regarding the Yin-Yang thing, you’ll often hear me say to begin with the goal and work backwards.  I say this because most people do the opposite – they begin with the problem and work forwards.  And they get horribly lost along the way.  If  Antonia’s goal is to be happier and more confident, how is that best achieved?  Happiness is best achieved through PERMA, not through casual sex.  But PERMA is not a fixed thing – we each need varying degrees of each of its variables, according to our unique personality.  We each tend to prioritize one or two aspects of PERMA – the Idealist tends to prioritize meaning, for example.  The Yin is that the idealist will always need more of meaning that the other 4 things.  The Yang is that the other 4 things will ALSO be necessary.  It seems obvious when you state it that way, but it isn’t obvious to most people.  My mother has prioritized her own desires (and no one else’s) for her whole life, seeking meaning and positive affect.  She is one of the most miserable people you’d ever meet, notwithstanding.  Miserable because she’s never had any achievement or engagement and has eschewed relationships.  Never thought those things were important until she looked back and realized they were missing.  Who could have known better than she what she would ultimately have wanted?

        4. Jeremy

          Oh, one other thing regarding the women who wished they had conformed less in their lives.  Mrs Happy, did you ever study the book of Ecclesiastes back in your bad old Catholic School days?  A book of surprising wisdom.  For everything in this life there is a time, a time to heal, a time to kill, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.  For the women who wished they had conformed less, is it possible they are ignoring the happy things in their lives that came from conforming, having already obtained those things?   That conforming was necessary when they did it, that they wouldn’t necessarily be happy now if they hadn’t?  The woman who conformed in her past but is now free to not conform in advanced age may be happy.  But the woman (or man) who never conformed?  Would she/he have done well in school?  In finding a job, earning an income?  Finding a spouse?  Fitting in to society?  I know many aged people who are happy not to conform anymore, but I don’t know any people who didn’t conform when they were young who ended up happy (though I do know many who didn’t conform when they were young who ended up unhappy).

          For everything there is a time.

        5. Marika

          Hi Jeremy

          I know (or think I know) that you write in such a way as to be non-directive. Which is nice, as your comments always cause me to reflect.

          But reading between the lines, and of course I could be wrong, your comments generally appear to say that you believe there is one path to happiness and that path is quite traditional / conservative. Or have I missed something? Surely people can be happy following less traditional paths. I certainly think so. In a world as populous and varied as ours, there can’t be one way that works for everyone?

        6. Emily, to

          Marika, 

          Surely people can be happy following less traditional paths. I certainly think so. In a world as populous and varied as ours, there can’t be one way that works for everyone?

          And the world is shifting under our feet. At least here in the U.S. More and more people aren’t marrying and more and more aren’t having kids, so surely a greater number of people are questioning the traditional path than ever before, regardless of what pych books tell us.

        7. Jeremy

          Hi Marika.  No, it’s not that I think there is one correct traditional path.  Everyone’s pathway to happiness is somewhat different, depending on their personality.  My point is that whatever path one chooses must be balanced, not skewed.  Skewed paths tend not to lead to long-term happiness in most cases IME.  Personality archetypes are useful descriptors here: The Idealist and the Rational need to learn to be a bit more Guardian-like. The Guardian needs to learn to be a bit more Rational.  The Exporer/Artisan needs to learn to be a bit more Idealistic.  My wife tends to prioritize relationships and spend most of her time cultivating them.  I try to encourage her to also explore achievement and engagement.  My tendency is to prioritize achievement and engagement.  I try to encourage myself to better prioritize relationships and positive affect.  My brother prioritizes positive affect.  I try to encourage him to find something meaningful.  It’s not about one path, traditional or otherwise.  It’s about balance, about realizing that just because we think one aspect of PERMA is the important one doesn’t mean we are right….even though we are talking about ourselves.  Again, the Yin is that the aspect of PERMA we prioritize will always be the most important one for us.  The Yang is that we also need the other 4.

           

          Should the artistic child become an artist or an accountant?  There’s no right answer except for balance.  If he becomes an accountant, he should have free time to practice his art as a hobby.  And if he becomes an artist, he needs a business plan.  One without the other is too skewed, misses too many important elements, will be unlikely to result in the happiest life.

        8. Marika

          Thanks for clarifying, Jeremy. I do see what you’re saying. I agree mostly, but definitely disagree regarding the artistic child bit. I think if an artistic idealist type chooses/ is ‘encouraged’ to choose accounting because it helps with the balance (stable job, good income, helps provide for a family and money for hobbies and holidays etc), that person may seem to ‘have it all’ and should, by your conception of happiness, be happy.

          But I know many people like that who one day woke up and just couldn’t take it any more. Had to mix it up. Had an affair, took off on a trip or changed to a career they were passionate about, even though it meant a massive drop in salary.

          I think this is why every time you login to YouTube, someone is advertising how to start up a business from home or the portable lifestyle. People aren’t necessarily happy with the standard narrative. There’s a Dutch DJ, Armin van Buuren (sp?), who was, I think, an accountant. Now, 42 years old, married with kids, travels & DJs. Lots of money, but definitely not a balanced lifestyle. No doubt he could easily afford to retire, so my guess is that he doesn’t as he’s happy. It’s possible his wife isn’t happy – but the point is that what you say should make people happy doesn’t always work for everyone.

          I’m not totally sure why I raise this – I guess I just enjoy these types of discussions.

        9. jeremy

          I like discussing this stuff too, Marika, because this is a topic I think a lot about.  I’ve met quite a few people who woke up one day and couldn’t take it anymore, who upended their lives searching for happiness that had eluded them.  What such people have in common IME is that their lives have been all Yang and no Yin – lacked balance – in spite of the fact that society (and their significant others) believed that balance was present.  It’s all about how we define “balance.”  ‘Balance’ doesn’t mean giving each element of PERMA equal weight – such 1-size-fits-all solutions don’t work.  It means putting what the individual’s personality prioritizes on one side of the balance scale and the other 3-4 elements of PERMA on the other, and putting equal energy into both sides of the scale.  The elements aren’t equally weighted.  For my wife it would mean putting 4 parts effort into relationships for every 1 part effort each of meaning, achievement, engagement, and positive affect.  Such that for every 8 parts effort, half is spent on what her personality prioritizes and the other half on what it doesn’t, spread out.  Such is my definition of “balance” and it is neither what any given personality is likely to do on its own, nor what society is likely to dictate.

           

          My father-in-law snapped, years ago, and tanked his family.  Classic story of a lawyer who was a good family man, upstanding member of the community, synagogue president, who secretly hated his life, had an affair, and abandoned his family.  His wife didn’t get it – didn’t he have a balanced life?  Good job, money, family, – Achievement and Relationships?  Sure.  But what his Idealist personality craved was Meaning and he had none – none as he would define it.  He had, thus far, put Achievement and Relationships on one side of the scale, nothing on the other side, and had a horribly skewed life, completely unbalanced to his own personality.  All Yang, no Yin.  Thus far, Marika, I’m sure you’re with me, but look what he did from there – he tanked his former life, his relationships with his family, his job, and sought out meaning through writing books and building low-income housing…..and he is still miserable.  Happiness still eludes him.  Because now he’s all Yin with no Yang!  He has put Meaning on one side of the scale and nothing on the other.  His life is missing the other 4 elements, the ones his personality is not predisposed to prioritize.

           

          The artistic child will be much more likely to snap if not allowed to express his artistry when he grows up.  Doesn’t mean that’s what he has to do for his job.  Doesn’t mean that if it is what he does for his job he’ll be happy….if his artistry is all he focuses on.

        10. Mrs Happy

          I have many ideas but because I’m fatigued will just type them responsively to points.

          “It is what the rational child discovers after a religious education, entering high school/university and wondering if any of it is true, if any of it will improve happiness.”

          Interesting, because I’ve never considered one of the goals of religion being to increase happiness.

           

          Following societal scripts aside, some people just aren’t going to be happy, no matter what they do.  No series of decisions, lucky experiences, positives, significantly increase their baseline mood state long term.  A whole lot of people are irritated, unhappy, unsatisfied, rarely enjoying themselves.  I suspect it doesn’t matter what narrative script these folk follow.  Jeremy, maybe your father-in-law was one of those people; no matter what he did, he was going to be disgruntled?

          Then you have the people who made say one bad decision – e.g. marrying an abusive man, getting on a plane that killed their family – which tanks happiness levels in a chronic way.  Until recently women usually had to stay in abusive marriages because society or practical economics held them there.  Now this only sometimes still happens.  I think women being able to escape these situations probably improves their happiness, closer back to where their baseline happiness level was going to be.

           

          “..if I believed people knew what was best for themselves I would expect to see much more happiness in our society than I do.”

          Nope.  I know it is best for me to get off this screen, get on the treadmill, not eat chocolate today, take the kids for a bushwalk or to the beach, and when out with girlfriends tonight at a lovely French restaurant forgo rich food and wine.  People do know what is best, they just don’t do it.  I think the aim of many, is ease, comfort; for others, stimulation, growth.   I don’t think people constantly aim for happiness.

          I’ve stated this before, so won’t elaborate and bore, but I suspect there is a baseline level of happiness each person has, and people dip up and down in happiness during an average life, according to little events and hormone swings, then revert to their usual. Major incidents or drastic events (e.g. marrying a monster who kills your kids) can derail some for life, but for most people, their happiness is almost … predestined (bad word choice as I do not mean by an airy-fairy higher force); I mean, by their genes, environment, attitude, experiences, temperament, etc.

          This is why I flared up at discussions a few months ago when the gist was “your partner can make you happy”.  (Even my name was picked on.)  I hate it when people say during wedding vows “I’m going to make you happy for the rest of your life”.  Um, no, you really aren’t.  You cannot make someone happy for more than a few moments; any one person certainly cannot chronically alter the mood course of another just by being a good spouse.  The opposite can occur, you can make a spouse chronically unhappy, via horrific abuse.

           

          “She was complaining about how miserable her job was, how unhappy she was there.  And at the end of the conversation, without any hint of irony, said that of course she loves her job.”

          Probably because, on balance, she still likes her job.  Sometimes I whine about my busy job, my entitled colleagues, the painful travel, the boring paperwork, my mental exhaustion, but I love my career and wouldn’t stop it.  There are good and bad, few things are 100% perfect.

           

          Your mum.  Our mothers are similar, which is partly why we are similar.  Even if (big if) your mum is now thinking, hmm, I want somebody here with me, more meaning or achievement in my life, I guarantee she is not thinking – I should have put more into goals, others and relationships, something is missing and it’s because of my own actions and decisions, if I had my time over I’d do it all differently.

           

          Our minds aren’t modular.  I cannot believe you wrote this!  Or maybe I can, now I recall this section in a Harry Potter book: Hermoine is explaining to Ron, what Cho is feeling, dating Harry after Cedric died, and Cho’s conflicting emotions and thoughts, and Ron says, Cho can’t possibly think all that at once, her head would explode.  Emily, The Original (ETO) rails against this very feeling, this path to the coldly logical she thinks commentators here primarily travel on.  ETO and I (at least) don’t have self-contained parts of our minds that are closed off to other parts.  It’s all connected; feelings and logic with memories and goals, we are not modular mind sections closed off from one another.   That seems to me almost autistic, and I do think male brains veer towards that pattern.

          I’ll visit the bible in another post.

           

        11. Jeremy

          Re: modularity of the mind, consider this: https://www.smh.com.au/national/two-minds-in-one-brain-20080530-2jzw.html

           

          The different sides of the brain don’t know what each other are doing.  The left side of the brain makes up excuses for what the right does, even when it doesn’t understand what the right side is doing.  It makes shit up.  The brain is modular – hence different areas responsible for different functions, leading to the modularity of the mind as well.  Granted, we like to think of our thoughts as an interconnected bramble (and they are), but one area of the brain/mind doesn’t necessarily understand the others, they don’t work together.  Trying to hold in your pee kinda proves this 🙂

           

          I agree with you that our baseline happiness is fairly constant.  Can’t be radically changed in the long-term, but can be augmented.  Seligman has a lot to say about this.  Chances are you’re right about a good spouse not chronically increasing happiness, we become hedonically adapted after all.  But if we are GRATEFUL for having a good spouse, our gratitude can definitely augment our long-term happiness because gratitude tends not to adapt…

           

          I think that in many occasions you are right – people know what they should do to lead happier or more meaningful lives, but are either too lazy or lack the opportunity to do so.  But I have too often seen what I’ve described – people plain not knowing, misappropriating.  And I’ve experienced it myself, in myself.  I think that some personalities are more at conflict with themselves than others – have more of what I call “dyad conflicts.”  What I want vs what I should want.  What the experiencing self wants vs what the remembering self wants.  What the idealist half of the personality wants vs what the rational side wants.  My brother thinks that his path to happiness is through taking vacations, positive affect.  Whenever he gets stressed he plans a vacation.  Never occurs to him to reconcile with his wife, with whom he has vehement conflict.  My father thinks his path to happiness is through meaning.  Whenever he gets stressed he goes to the bookstore to look for some book on art or symbolism.  Never occurs to him to spend more time with his grandchildren, even though doing so always makes him happy and reading the books rarely does.  Whenever I get stressed my brain tells me to seek solitude, go into my cave.  Even though I know that doing so never makes me happier.

           

          My mother would never accept any sort of personal blame for her internal state, it’s true.  Could never have organized her thoughts to understand what’s missing from her life, whose fault that is, and how it could be corrected.  Does that change the fact that what is missing is, in some ways, obvious to everyone but her?

        12. Emily, to

          Mrs. Happy,

          I’ve stated this before, so won’t elaborate and bore, but I suspect there is a baseline level of happiness each person has, and people dip up and down in happiness during an average life, according to little events and hormone swings, then revert to their usual. 

          I’ve read the same thing. Even for people who win the lottery, after about 3 months, they fall back to their usual state of happiness. Trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.

          And for Jeremy’s example, idealists are by nature always striving. They’re aren’t ever satisfied, but they’d by more miserable following the status quo and feeling trapped than they are in trying to find meaning.

    3. 15.3
      Adrian

      Hi Antonia,

      You said, “I think what I need to do is seek counselling to get to the bottom of this seemingly deeply-rooted feeling of not being good enough and my own perception that I am not his equal.

      Have you ever felt this way before? Not just in relationships but in any type of dynamic with another person, be it friends, co-workers, strangers on the street?

      If the answer is no then YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM! YOU DON’T NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL HELP. You are just in a high chemistry relationship (read Emily’s comment in 10.4.3…).

      Evan did a wonderful timeline for the progression of dating (unfortunately I can’t remember the title of the post at this moment). In it he advises us to wait at least a year I believe before we consider moving in with someone, why? Because we are suffering from the high chemistry stage also know as the lust stage of the relationship. It blinds us from making rash decisions and accurately judging the current quality of the relationship.

      You have only known this guy for 6 months don’t think about moving in yet. Instead go back and read the things you have wrote about how this relationship is affecting you and ask yourself is this healthy? Perhaps because you have had so many bad relationships you are “willfully” ignoring these negative feelings this relationship is producing in you and you are even going as far as to blame yourself saying you need medical help to justify staying with him.

      You said, “He thinks I am his equal. It is ME who thinks I can’t be.” 

      Yes he is a great guy, and possibly a great boyfriend. I don’t deny that, but just because he is great DOESN’T mean he is great for you. Holding on to something that is not meant for you will only hurt you both in the long run.

      I’m only 2 years older than you and I’ve been in your shoes before so it’s not like I don’t understand where you are coming from.

      1. 15.3.1
        Antonia

        Adrian, you appear to be encouraging me to break up with someone who has done absolutely nothing wrong, never has done anything wrong and talks about a future with me. This is quite extreme advice to give to a total stranger on the internet, with irreversible consequences.

        Nothing I have said either in the letter, or the comments suggests he is upsetting me, or not catering to me. He says and does nothing to ignite or encourage these feelings. The problem is in my head. It’s a mental fight with…well…myself, I suppose.

        If I can seek and receieve the right help to address this, wouldn’t that be better than breaking both our hearts?

    4. 15.4
      Yet Another Guy

      Antonia, have you ever considered that one of the reasons why you are special to your boyfriend is that you are a relationship-oriented woman who does not have a high partner count?  While most men will not openly admit it, a woman’s partner count and periods of wildness play a huge role when it comes to long-term commitment.  Yes, it is a double standard, but it is a double standard that is historically grounded in paternity assurance.  While a high partner count does not automatically imply that a woman will be unfaithful, it places a lot of pressure on a man to perform because of fear that his woman will wander and he will end up raising another man’s child.  Even the most confident men harbor this fear, that is, unless they are complete narcissists.   If you have not had a chance to read it, “Women’s Infidelity: Women in Limbo” by Michelle Langley is an eye-opener.  It outlines four stages women who become unfaithful experience in long-term relationships.

  16. 16
    Marika

    Adrian

    I don’t think Evan ever advised a woman to break up with a quote: wonderful, considerate, generous man who talks of a future, gets on well with her mother and plans trips with her and his family. The one problem is her feeling jealous of his past and mistakenly (IMHO) believing that more sexual experience will make her feel more secure and confident. She can either learn that is a mistake by breaking up with a wonderful man or through counselling / self help. Which makes more sense?

  17. 17
    Marika

    Hi Jeremy

    Granted I didn’t read your link, but re the brain: are you simplifying? White matter, corpus callosum..connects brain parts and there is communication between different areas. If there wasn’t, we couldn’t divide our attention, remember two different things in different modalities, plan a motor action then carry it out, read words and form pictures in our heads, recognize a fear as unfounded etc etc… countless other examples..

    People who have no communication between the hemispheres have been specifically studied (eg corpus callosum cut) because they act in unusual ways or have unusual skills. Or those with lesions which result in poor communication between regions and result in deficits.

    Different brain regions certainly can and do work together!

    1. 17.1
      Jeremy

      Marika, Of course different brain regions communicate and work together.  But that doesn’t mean that one area knows what the other is doing, or that different parts aren’t in conflict with each other, especially when it comes to the conscious mind. Again, when you try to hold in your pee or hold your breath your conscious mind is in conflict with your reptillian brain.  And your conscious mind will at first win and then lose.  To use Talia Sharot’s example (from the TED talk I posted earlier), when we are presented with an emotional situation the left inferior frontal gyrus conflicts with the right inferior frontal gyrus – the one trying to interpret events optimistically and the other realistically/pessimistically.  One wins and the other loses, but both are present, both give input, one is chosen by the conscious mind.  The “self” is not one unified entity, it’s more like a committee.  Just as when we look at something we think we see a unified image, really our brains are putting together 2 fields of vision (from each eye), interpreting visual signals, flipping images, and hiding blind spots – none of which we are conscious of.

       

      Emily “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” I disagree.  Something can be difficult but also quite possible.  You just have to know how to do it.  For example, I was once taught that cultivating gratitude increases happiness – the suggestion was that I choose someone I’m grateful to, meet with them and tell them how/what I’m grateful for.  Of course, I didn’t want to do it – it’s embarrassing.  But I overcame that and went to my dad and told him how grateful I was for everything he’s done for me over the years.  He was a bit embarrassed and so was I, but I could also see that he appreciated my gratitude, in some ways thirsted for it (in ways I didn’t understand until I became a parent).  I’ll tell you, Emily, I felt absurdly good for weeks after. Happiness levels significantly up – for weeks.  That’s just one way out of many.  Not intuitive, though, not what you’d think to do.  In fact, the opposite of what my solitude-seeking personality would have told me.

      1. 17.1.1
        Emily, to

        Jeremy,

        I’ve tried the gratitude thing. It does make you feel good, but it’s temporary. From what I’ve read, it’s better to chase meaning than happiness. I think happiness is short-term, but if you find meaning in your life, whatever that is for the individual, it lasts longer. Has more depth.

        I really believe your father-in-law would have been more miserable if he stayed in what he felt was a trapped box of a life. But none of us are free. We just go from one box to another. But he needed a box that was a bit looser. 🙂 You like a tighter box, so that feeling will be foreign to you.

        1. Jeremy

          LOL, tighter box.

           

          Language is funny.  You say that it’s better to chase meaning than happiness.  Mrs Happy said that most people pursue ease/comfort or stimulation/growth rather than happiness.  My point is that all these things are encompassed in what I mean by “happiness.”  I don’t mean it in the positive affect sense.  None of us would be “happy” connected to an opioid drip, even though we might be constantly euphoric.  None of us would aim for such a life.  Wouldn’t have purpose, meaning.  To have the “happiness” that people seek, we need a mixture of things.  Your mixture has meaning as the primary factor.  Not surprising – in fact, predictable – given your personality-type.  I have no quarrel with the primacy of meaning for you.  I have a quarrel with the notion that meaning will be sufficient on its own.

           

          My father-in-law would indeed have been miserable had he continued trapped in his box of a life.  I never implied he should have remained in it, I implied that he shouldn’t have tanked all his relationships doing so – that even though meaning is more important to him than relationships, his effort in pursuing meaning vs relationships should be about 4:1 rather than 4:0.  And same with meaning vs positive affect, engagement, and achivement.  4:1 each.

        2. Emily, to

           I implied that he shouldn’t have tanked all his relationships doing so – that even though meaning is more important to him than relationships, 

          Maybe he wasn’t getting that much out of the relationships. I’m not implying he should have blown up his life but sometimes people, from the outside, can appear to have everything and not feel fulfilled.

          Even though I’m an idealist and strive for meaning, relationships are very important to me.

  18. 18
    Marika

    Hi Jeremy

    “his effort in pursuing meaning vs relationships should be about 4:1 rather than 4:0.  And same with meaning vs positive affect, engagement, and achivement.  4:1 each”

    As one model of happiness, the PERMA one seems reasonable. Your points are also good…however to carry it out in the way you express, we would all need to think like you.

    How would it even work in practice? Keep a diary or calendar of time spent on each area? No doubt you realise that kind of thing would significantly detract from my happiness. Your father in law is extreme, but how would you explain to someone else exactly how to make this balancing work logistically?

    1. 18.1
      Jeremy

      If everyone would have to think like me to carry out the model, the model would be useless.  There is no need for diaries or lists – I hate those things as much as any abstract-minded person does.  Different people set up their balance differently.  Mrs Happy wrote that she never saw the purpose of religion as happiness, for example, yet in the book “Religion for Atheists” Alan De Botton describes exactly how some religions have evolved (quite by accident) to automatically provide certain aspects of PERMA – a regular dose of meaning and community that would otherwise not necessarily be present.  Which is why, statistically, some of the happiest people in the world are very religious.  Of course, some very religious people are also miserable – the box doesn’t work for everyone, as Emily would say.  The point is not that religion is necessarily good, but rather the automation of community and meaning is good – religion for atheists.  There are other ways to automate those things.  Joining groups, charities, that sort of thing.  Not to constantly measure ratios of one aspect of PERMA versus another, but rather to automate that aspect that we don’t normally prioritize so that those things are present with less effort.  In fact, one one of Evan’s old posts about how men are lonely in today’s society, I wrote that one of the reasons I chose to marry a very sociable woman was because I knew that her sociability would improve my overall happiness but wasn’t something I was likely to do on my own.

       

      The way I’d explain this concept of happiness is simply to find a way to automate those aspects of PERMA that you don’t tend to prioritize.  Because if you have to focus energy to do them, you likely won’t do them.  And, once they’ve been automated, cultivate gratitude for them. Because we all need those things.

      1. 18.1.1
        Marika

        Thanks Jeremy.

        I didn’t mean the model per se. I meant the ratios as you expressed them. The interaction of PERMA and the personality types.

        1. Jeremy

          Ratios are funny in their intuitiveness.  Relatively few people know about the golden proportion (1.6:1.0:0.6), yet we can all intuitively identify faces that have this proportion and those that lack them.  It is the ratio of health and esthetics; we might not consider the numbers but we know what looks attractive and what doesn’t.

           

          I don’t think anyone plans their life according to ratios – not even me.  Yet, in some ways we do.  I never considered being a stay-at-home dad, even though I love my kids and feel happiness being with them.  Because my proclivity is to prioritize engagement and achievement.  I also prioritize relationships, but somehow my days get spent, on average, 10-12 hours at work (seeking engagement/achievement) and 2 hours per day with my kids before they go to bed.  I didn’t deliberately seek a ratio of about 4:1, it just sort of happened.  Reversing the ratio, spending 10-12 hours per day on relationships and only 2 on achivement/engagement wouldn’t have worked for me.  And in the same way, 10-12 hours per day on engagement/achievement and zero on relationships would also not have worked.  I’d have died of solitude, even though relationships are not what I tend to prioritize.

           

          It’s not that I think we should plan our lives according to a ratio and then strictly monitor, it’s that I notice that most of us already do this intuitively.  At least, those with sunny dispositions do.  Those with miserable dispositions don’t.  An interesting correlation.

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