Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Crawling In Love: An Alternative to Falling

The Five R's of Romance's Slippery Slope
Jeremy Sherman
This post is a response to Single Midlife Man FINDS Romantic Solution by Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D.

It’s a rush more exhilarating than skiing. It’s a slippery slope down which you’re liable to break hearts including your own. Falling in love is fun; falling in love is dangerous.

When we fall in love we tend to move toward each other at an accelerating rate, gaining momentum in a surge to merge. We attribute the gaining speed to the unique glory of our particular partner and partnership, but more than we tend to notice the acceleration simply comes with the terrain of love’s slippery slope. Love is a positive feedback loop. It snowballs, a function of five factors I’ll call the Five R’s:

The Rush: On dates with potentially compatible partners, the object is to give each other sweet rushes through thoughtful, attentive, kind and generous gestures.

The Risk: If the attraction is mutual, then so is the risk of rejection. Both parties will become sensitive to signs of withdrawal.

The Ratchet: Any rush-generating gesture will come to be expected, its withdrawal a potential sign of risk. If you texted a thank you thoughtfully after the first date, then not texting after the second might be taken as a sign that you’re withdrawing. It becomes as hard to lower expectations as it is to lower a ratcheting car jack.

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The Rise: With every delightful gesture becoming an expected gesture, to engender further delight you need to ratchet up with evermore-generous gestures.

The Rest: You can’t keep adding generous gestures at an accelerating rate forever. To survive the rest of a long happy partnership, you have to give the ratchet a rest, de-escalating gestures.

Successful couples de-escalate their generosity imperceptibly, as months or years into their relationship they get practical and come to take each other and the rarity of fresh new generous gestures for granted.

Many couples don’t survive the transition from Rise to Rest. Some don’t because love’s slippery slope rushes them toward each other too quickly to notice their incompatibilities. Others don’t because they think that the de-escalation signals withdrawal, evidence that their love has died. Still others choose not to survive the transition because if the fun part is the Rush and Rise, what’s the point of sticking around for the Rest?

No matter what your goals, there’s benefit to thinking about the five R’s effects on your love’s prospects:

If you seek a partner with whom to enjoy the rest of a long happy life, expect the eventual transition from Rise to Rest and be prepared to weather it.

If you’re trying to slow things down so as to only partner with someone sustainably compatible, not just someone rush-and-rise-worthy, figure out how to crawl in love rather than fall in love. Slow down the delivery of generous gestures. Resist the temptation to escalate generous gestures ASAP, with the all the expectations that follow.

If you’re looking to just harvest rushes, manage the Five R’s carefully so as not to reap havoc with your dates. Find like-minded rush-harvesters as partners, and enjoy the square dance of romance honorably, honoring of the dates who come and go by being careful what you promise in those rushes of generosity.

And if, falling too fast, you keep getting heartbroken, understand that the cause of your problems isn’t necessarily in you or your pick of partners, but most fundamentally in the slippery slope of love itself with all its inherent rushes and risks.

If you think you can just sidestep the Five R’s through a policy of having no expectations, you might be right, but I doubt it. Few things are as inevitable as ratcheting expectations. Any good thing, once reliably present is a disappointment to lose. Just listen to your cat mew agitatedly when you go back to dry food after wet.

Or just look at the accumulation of “wise counsel” from Job to Buddha arguing that one should have no expectations. The antigens prove the infection: Just as through your body’s defensive responses we can tell what infections your body has been exposed to, so too we can tell what afflicts people generally by the body politics’ defense responses. Galloping expectations are a pretty inescapable norm of human existence, which is why we have so many cultural attempts to come up with explanations how and why to not have them.

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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