Between my last post and being assaulted yesterday at Fred Meyer with a mind-numbing display of pink and purple and red hearts, I've been thinking a bit about romantic relationships and why they are so difficult and wonderful at the same time--perhaps more difficult as a single and more wonderful as a married, but neither status is a recipe for bliss or for disaster.
I don't know if you did (or do) this as a single, but my friends and I had a theory for just about everything when it came to dating. In her comment earlier in the week, chrisw asked me to tell the Naked Mole Rat story. After all, it sounds so much more appealing to be the "Hot Chick."
To preface, I've got to tell a little bit about the fabulous chrisw. Though we went to the same high school just a year apart, chrisw and I didn't meet until my third year at college. She was also a biology education major and we began overlapping classes; we also had a lot of student government-type activities in common and ended up really connecting. Chrisw is like the laid-back, hilarious, mellow version of STM. Or maybe I am the uptight, serious, driven version of chrisw? Anyway, chrisw was one of my few friends still left around when I got back from the mish and she saved me from deep lonliness on a number of ocassions. We went through a lot together--the Bleskimo, Shaner, Evolution 587, frizz hair girl, squirrels. . . . you get the picture. As I remember it, the Naked Mole Rat theory didn't orginate with chrisw (correct me if I'm wrong?), but she got it immediately when I said it off-hand one day: another reason to really love her.
Before I knew Chris, I took a basic biology class that had an evolution component for one of the sections. It was pretty basic stuff, but the instructor spent nearly a whole week on the concept of "altruism." You see, scientists have a hard time explaining WHY animals will ever act in anything but their own immediate self interest. (Humans are a little different: we are intelligent enough to have complex social values that bear on our behavior as powerfully as instinct; because animals don't have these values, evolutionary biologists are always looking for genetic reasons to explain behavior, particularly "unselfish" behaviors.) The teacher gave several examples of animal behaviors considered altruistic.
He used the example of the Naked Mole Rat: this hideous and nearly blind creature lives in subterranean niches in Africa. As if being a mole wasn't bad enough, this thing gets its full name from the fact that it is nearly bald and very rat-like. In a large family colony, there is only ONE female who gets to mate. This female, whose hormones are the strongest, effectively blocks the other females from being recognized. To add insult to injury, the other females are compelled to serve the Queen. They take care of the young, wash the Queen and bring her food.
My friend Ryan and I had this class (and several others) together and we were always trying to come up with ways to remember what we had learned. As we'd had several chemistry classes, our mneumonics usually revolved around attraction and relationships. And though Ryan and I were never interested in dating, I always thought the whole studying chemical attractions thing was probably our geeky attempt at flirting. The Naked Mole Rat Queen lesson gave me the giggles for some reason.
I told Ryan that it was not unlike my apartment. One of my roommates was Pocahontas. (I posted about her some time back, though you are unlikely to remember that. She was definitely the "hot chick," but also one of the bet friends I've ever had.) He knew immediately what I was talking about--men sensed Pocahontas' presence from 100 yards. I think every guy who visited our apartment the three years I lived with her, came initially for a chance to see her. It was a bit disconcerting to go places with her and witness the mass-whiplash that happened as men of all ages craned their necks to look. I'm not kidding. I remember starting spring quarter one year and both of us, in different classes, noticed this amazing looking guy sporting a cream-colored sweater. We joked all afternoon how cute he was and who would dare sit by him first. That afternoon, she took the garbage out, met him at the dumpster and had a date before she came back in the house. There was no chance of getting asked out, at least not first, with Pocahontas around.
What Ryan didn't know (or maybe he did) is that any girl who ever lived with her, adjusted to her cycle within a month. She and I lived apart over the summers and if I'd switch tracks with other roommates, it would only last until I was living with Pocahontas again. It was not uncommon for all six of us to start within three hours of one another. My apologies to any men reading here.
Pocahontas, being a fellow science geek, got a real kick out of the analogy and even put up with us calling her The Naked Mole Rat Queen from time to time. If any girl we knew was lucky enough to be having a good dating month, she was dubbed the Queen; though, I must add, it was not too likely with Pocahontas on the market. She got married while I was in the MTC to a wonderful man, and though I was sorry not to be at her wedding, I rejoiced over the marraige, knowing that I might actually get a date when I got home with the Queen out of the way.
Then, for one glorious summer, just before I met Plantboy, my turn came. Chrisw was able to pass the torch and dub ME the Naked Mole Rat Queen. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be: I learned that with great power comes great responsibility.
Other relationship theories came and went during those years:
The Challenge Theory--Compliments of SimpleEasyandQuick and Ryan. This is basically the revolting idea that the hunt is much more fun than the catch, particularly for men. I always hated this, but my observations and few pitiful experiences told me that it was probably true.
Rebel Factor--This was Pocahontas' idea. As much as you wanted to marry the nice boy, there was something infintely appealing about the boy with a wild streak. Particularly if that wild streak manifested itself in some rather harmless way like motorcycle riding or bridge jumping in the middle of the night or living out of your car with nothing but a shotgun and a flannel shirt for a month.
Trade-up--Also SimpleEasyandQuick's idea. This could potentially be called the "string-along" theory because the premise was that you never dumped whomever you were with until you could be reasonable assured that your were trading up.
Red-Hooded Sweatshirt--More of a test than a theory really. My roommates and I thought there was nothing cuter than a guy in a backwards ball cap and I hooded sweatshirt. Especially if it was red. If you couldn't pass the ball cap test, well, then, you were out. Really mature, eh?
Darcy Effect--This is my most recent acquistion. It is important to note that the lovely Elizabeth wanted nothing to do with Darcy when she only saw him as handsome and tall with 10,000 a year. (I'm talking about the book, people, not the 2005 travesty that has Keira Knightly's boy-bosom heaving over mullet-boy from the minute she claps eyes on him.) It is only when she sees that he is basically pledging to give up everything for her--his family connections, his pride, his condescension, that she falls in love with him. In other words, what attracts a woman most to a man is that he is willing, to at least some degree, to be made over by her. Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets," says to Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man." BINGO. Darcy Effect.
So why all of this living in the mid-nineties reminscing today? (It is starting to really scare me how long ago that was.) Well, I think that PP and EQP did get ONE thing right in their blog-that-wishes-it-was-satire-but-doesn't-quite-cut-it. They are posting nearly every day about "mistakes" that women make and relationship issues. What this says is that in the end of it all, there is not a "reason" why people are single: there are as many reasons as there are people who would like to be married.
My first two or even three years of marriage was difficult for me. I loved Plantboy, but I remember thinking sometimes, "People really do this for a lifetime? For eternity?" There were so many new things all the time--job changes, moves, a baby--things that many young couples experience. It took a long time for me to realize that part of my difficulty stemmed from my screwed up relationship theories. All that I thought I learned about men and relationships while dating, didn't translate that well into married life. So many years had been focussed on the chase that I didn't know all that much about what to do once we were standing still.
It was ironic really, because one of the things that most attracted me to Plantboy is that we didn't play mind games on one another. How we felt was always very straightforward. It had been a huge relief for me to find someone so devoid of manipulation and false pretense. But after marriage, so many of my unresolved insecurities (imagine marriage not solving all my problems!) and my overblown belief in the huge differences between men and women threatened to keep me from being truly happy with my partner.
Now, most of my relationship theories have flown the coop. There are no pat answers and easily wrapped up solutions. I find myself instead sometimes looking for parenting theories that will do this! But I like to think I'm a little wiser now. As interesting and even helpful as all such philosophies are, they can never take the place of inspiration, hard work and consistent love.