Friday, October 17, 2008

Guest Post: Jennie Shortridge on Love and Marriage

Seattle author Jennie Shortridge will be at Vroman’s Sunday, October 19 at 5 p.m. to read from and discuss her latest novel, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, quickly becoming a book club favorite. Called “smart, funny, and wise,” by author Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain) it’s the story of middle-aged Mira’s journey from perfect to better when she flees her “perfect” life and lands in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, known as “The Center of the Universe,” to begin life anew.

Jennie writes about the biology of love and marriage here:

Little did I know when I wrote Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe that by re-imagining the age-old story of the runaway wife, I might tap the zeitgeist of that elusive fifty percent: the American married. And not just the female contingent. As I write this, nearly half of the customer reviews for the book on Amazon are from men.

For the past few months promoting this book, I’ve talked to hundreds of readers at book stores and events, phoned in to book club meetings across the country, and participated in numerous blog events out in cyberspace. Through all of that, I’ve been fascinated to discover that we’re all asking the same questions about the state of long-term marriage and the lack of passion that can plague it—or worse, sound the alarm or death knell of something we once thought sacred and forever.

The following Q&A is presented with these caveats: I am no expert in marriage or psychology, and I hold no degrees nor am I a licensed anything. However, my husband and I have been together for nineteen years. I have been both the dumper and the dumpee in relationships. I read voraciously about the biology of love, the science of romance and dating and mating. And like Paul Simon says in a song of the same title, “Maybe I think too much.”

An imaginary conversation, then, performed in both parts by me:

JS1: Where does all the romance go after we’ve been married a while, and will it ever come back?

JS2: In the book, Mira is a science teacher and considers love from a biological standpoint as a way of coping. For we lay people, understanding the biological underpinnings of human love and romance can help us gain clarity and achieve a better comfort level around the inevitable changes in marriage.

When first we fall in love, chemicals flow through our brains that make us feel euphoric, aroused, and attractive, and like the only one on earth who has ever felt this way with another person. It’s the same chemical that drives addiction. It’s the same chemical that is released when we eat chocolate. Why? So we will fulfill our biological imperative and mate with another human. That’s it. From the body’s perspective, it’s not about finding our soul mate, but about replacing ourselves on earth so our species will survive.

Once we have fulfilled that obligation, or enough time has passed to do that—say a year to a year-and-a-half—the passion chemical is replaced by a bonding chemical that encourages us to stay together long enough to raise the offspring to physical viability—say seven years old (the dreaded seven-year itch). And yes, it applies even if we don’t have children.

At that point, the partnership is no longer required, biologically speaking, and things can get dicey. That’s when we must become our most human selves and not act and react from an unthinking and solely biological place. That’s when it gets more difficult to be romantic and kind with our partners, but we have to if we want to build life-long love and respect (and fingers crossed, passion) inside our relationships.

JS1: How do you get the old zip-zang-doodle back in a marriage?

JS2: There’s a reason why they say marriage takes work. It’s not the bills or the kids or the countless other obligations that are the hard work. It’s staying passionate and in love and respectful through all of those things that is the challenge. That’s what happens to Mira and her husband Parker. They forget to keep talking; they retreat within themselves. They forget how to be in love.

Personally, I think it’s the small kindnesses, and the reciprocation of them, that help two people stay in love. Or if they’ve disappeared of late, the reintroduction of them that can bring excitement and connection back. The “I love yous” and kisses hello and goodbye, the shoulder rubbing after a hard day, the time we take away from everything else to just talk to our partners and try to really understand what’s going with them. And by staying true to ourselves as well, so we stay interesting and vibrant and, well, desirable.

JS1: Is it wrong to fantasize about running away? Okay, about doing the horizontal tango with someone who is not necessarily your spouse?

JS2: I hope not. I figure that anything happening between your own two ears is your business. I’ve talked with a lot of women now about this topic, and trust me when I say you’re not the only one going to see “Iron Man” ten times not for the action but to moon over Robert Downey Jr’s dreamy eyes. They’re so dark and deep and… Ahem. Excuse me. I have some, um, thinking to do.

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