Playing in the Ashes – Three Years Later

playing with fire

I just finished reading Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance. Ansari is a stand-up comic, has a show on Netflix and was in Parks and Recreation. He wasn’t on my radar but John thought the book seemed like one I should read. And when your husband of 25+ years strongly suggests you should read a book on modern romance, well it’s probably a good idea to take the hint.

There are some really interesting factoids in this book, some of which demonstrate just how unmodern my romance is.

  • A 2013 survey asked Americans, “If you were asking someone out on a first date, which method of communication would you be most likely to use to get in contact?” 52% of those over 30 indicated they would use the phone, and only 23% of those under 30 said they would get in touch this way. Over 30% of the under-30 crowd would text, whereas only 8% of those over-30 would use this method.
  • In 1995, only 2% of heterosexual Americans met their spouses and romantic partners online. By 2010 that figure had jumped to 22%. Back in 1995 38% met their partners through friends. By 2010, that figure had dropped to 29%.
  • One more factoid. In 1932, one-third of couples who got married had lived within a five-block radius of each other. Can you think of anyone today who married their neighbour? Ansari can’t. Neither can I.

But the part of the book that I found most interesting was some stuff about brain science. (I studied and handled real brains at university long ago, and could even recite all twelve cranial nerves. I concluded that there was probably not enough grey matter in my own brain to ever donate it to science!) Ansari explains that relationships have two phases. The first phase is passionate love. The second is companionate love.

I don’t need to tell you about passionate love.  You know the feeling. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t keep your paws off each other.  Remember those days?

There’s a hormonal reason for this feeling. During this passionate love phase, your brain floods your neural synapses with dopamine. This is the same neurotransmitter that gets released when you do cocaine (I didn’t mean “you” per se). The bad news for many people is that this dopamine “drug” wears off by 18 months. This is a major cause of boredom, affairs, and people ditching their “old” habit for a new “high”.

But it’s not all bad news.  In good relationships, a second kind of love kicks in after the passionate love dies from an under-dose of dopamine.  Companionate love.  Anthropologist Helen Fisher studied brain scans of middle-aged couples who had been married a long time. She writes, “Among the older lovers, brain regions associated with anxiety were no longer active; instead there was activity in the areas associated with calmness.” So while passionate loves spikes early and then fizzles out, companionate love is less intense but it continues to grow over time.

Maybe I was on to something when I wrote about this in one of my earliest posts three years ago. Here it is.

Playing In The Soft Warm Ashes of A Once Hot Love

A few months ago, my cousin Jen sent me a link to a Jack White song. She heard it on the radio as she was pulling into her driveway and ended up just sitting there, stunned and enthralled – train-wreck style.

I want love

To roll me over slowly

stick a knife inside me,

and twist it all around.

I want love to

grab my fingers gently

slam them in a doorway

put my face into the ground.

I want love to

murder my own mother

and take her off to somewhere

like hell or up above.


Jen wondered what it meant to both want to run from and covet this level of intensity.

It’s normal to want to be swept off our feet, to experience a hormonal gear so high that every nerve ending rattles, to be consumed by a lust that sucks our breath away, spell-bound by a volcanic love that eclipses everything else, and tormented by sleep because any separation is too excruciating to bear.

I feel lucky to have experienced that short-term high – at one time. But rather than mourn the loss, I am proud of what has taken its place.

In its place is the lower frequency hum of a domestic life that is comforting in its predictability. There is laughing at each other’s jokes that no one else understands. There is driving to the grocery store at the family cottage, feeling like it is an exciting romantic get-away – and sipping wine in the kitchen afterwards listening to jazz and stealing kisses. There is going out to dinner to re-focus as a couple and finding ourselves talking endlessly about the great kids we have. There is sharing our worries and concerns knowing the other would sever their right arm to make it better. There is going to bed in flannel because we just want to cuddle.

I am content to play in the soft warm ashes of a once hot love.


Photo credit:Flickr/Nath Planas

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