Smells Like Quarantine Spirit
I started seeing a guy right before quarantine. In fact, we’ve broken quarantine a lot to be together at his place. I really like him, but I’m worried because our entire relationship has taken place indoors (watching movies, playing video games, sex). We have no experience together in real life, and maybe I don’t know the real him. What if we go to dinner and he’s rude to the wait staff? How can I figure out what kind of person he is when we can’t go to places where we engage with other people?
You see who people are when they’re tested. That’s why fiction is filled with knights going off on a decades-long perilous quest for the Holy Grail as opposed to briefly looking behind the couch for the Apple TV remote.
However, you don’t have to wait till restaurants reopen to get a sense of whether this dude’s a good guy or some Mr. Complainypants McMantoddler. And frankly, restaurant encounters are a pretty low bar for revealing character. Most people trying to make a good impression (and especially the sociopathic) know to contain themselves, genteelly waving their server over rather than yelling across the restaurant, “Yo, waitslave!”
Because we live in Modernville, our lives are physically easier than at any other time in human history. We go to the gym to get the physical workout we previously would’ve gotten milking the cows and plowing the fields. Hard times that come from both physically and emotionally difficult situations are the gym where character is made and shows itself, where you see whether a person is fragile or “antifragile.” “Antifragile” is a term by risk researcher and former derivatives trader Nassim Taleb to describe how stress and conflict are sources of improvement for living things, strengthening them and making them more able to cope with difficult and unpredictable situations.
In other words, the quarantine can be a good thing for character investigation. In lieu of dinner dates, you can schedule challenging one-on-one activities that show you what he’s made of. Camping and hiking are two sure character exposers. Or, if you prefer your challenges less wilderness-oriented, you could work together to assemble IKEA furniture. Consider yourself on the path to happily ever after if you don’t end up with three mysterious pieces of hardware left and/or murder-suicide each other with an Allen wrench.
Trial By Fireworks
I seem to need more excitement than most people. After eight months together, my boyfriend and I have fallen into a routine. Simply scheduling regular date nights seems unlikely to improve things. I’m 35, not 5, and I realize an ongoing relationship won’t be as exciting as when it was new, but I’m worried my boredom is a sign I don’t really love him. (And I’m pretty sure I do.)
— Worried Woman
Unfortunately, love is not a cure for boredom, so there’s a point in a relationship when it’s tempting to trade a lifetime with Prince Charming for three hours with Prince Random Stranger.
With love and stability comes predictability, the slow, bleak death of excitement. This is a bummer for anyone in a relationship, but especially hard if you “need more excitement than most people.” That suggests you are a high scorer in a personality trait psychologist Marvin Zuckerman termed “sensation seeking.” It plays out in a jonesing for novel, varied, and intense experiences “and the willingness to take risks for the sake of such experience” (such as risking a relationship for some strange).
Recognizing that you have this craving could help you meet it in less romantically destructive ways. You might feed the beast on your own by taking up adrenaline-amping activities like hang gliding or zip lining, or if those are a little out of geographic or budgetary range, jogging through dark alleys in bad parts of town.
To bring more novelty and surprise to your relationship, trade weekly date nights for weekly mystery date nights. Take turns planning them, and keep what you’re planning a secret from the other (save for any necessary information about wardrobe, etc.). Because novelty and surprise are the baby mamas of excitement, even an unexpected date eating hot dogs together on a bench while watching the sun set over a pretty body of water is likely to check the boxes.
But don’t stop at suggesting mystery date nights. Tell your boyfriend why: because you have quite the appetite for excitement. He can’t provide what he hasn’t been told you need, and this breeds resentment. You grow resentful over your unmet needs, and then he grows resentful over your resentment. And because it’s called “making love,” not “confirming hate,” any excitement you two had about sex (with each other) follows general excitement out the door, and “that thing” you do in bed becomes listening through the walls to the neighbors actually having sex.
(c)2020, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com. @amyalkon on Twitter. Weekly podcast: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon
Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence,” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018).