Read, Think, Stay

Cameron said…
Athol- the readers pretty much trashed you in the comment section but you have to admit some of their comments were rather funny. Instead of dismissing their comments (or getting upset over them) why not take them as constructive criticism? Several readers noted that inspite of your wife’s open legs policy, you still cheated on her with your emotional affairs(one of which lasted an entire year); therefore your relationship advice is easily rejected. Actually, these readers are raising a legitimate point; frequent sex doesn’t necessarily compensate for other problems in the relationship and it doesn’t stop your partner from cheating. Apparently, nightly sex didn’t prevent you from seeking emotional satisfaction from other women; perhaps you should have been more concerned with your emotional(rather than sexual) bond with Jennifer. Btw, that would probably make an interesting post (subtle hint).

Also, the term “doormat” was used to describe Jennifer. I have to admit that one thing I dislike about your blog is that you sometimes do make your wife sound like a real pushover. Of course, I don’t know if this is really true or if you just tend to exaggerate her easygoing nature. Does she ever get really angry or short-tempered with you? How does she express it? I think the problem I have with your description of your wife is that she does not come across as a real person; she seems too Stepford Wife-ish.
I have covered all of this before in earlier posts but not in a connect-the-dots kind of way. If you’re new to the blog via the Daily Mail… I probably look like a jerk.
One of the critical underpinnings of my approach to sexual understanding is the work of Dr. Helen Fisher. I make explicit mention of this in the Acknowledgments page of the book. I’ve written two posts on her work here. There’s a lot of good stuff there and do watch the video of her. It’s excellent.
However, the 10 second summary of her work is that there are three separate body systems at work when it comes to love and sex.
In Love = Dopamine based excitement / OCD like mental obsession on person of desire. (This is why SSRIs can kill off romance and interest in sex btw) The addition of Game understanding is that Alpha Traits compliment this process.
Pair Bond = Oxytocin / Vasopressin (female/male) based emotional bonding and closeness. The addition of Game understanding is the Beta Traits compliment this process.
Sexual Drive = Testosterone based all purpose generic horniness towards the opposite sex. Physical fitness compliments this process.
You can have all three systems functioning for a single opposite sex person, or experience one system responding to one person and another to someone else. It’s critical to understand that they can work in unison, but they are separate biological functions at work. Kind of like you have hot and cold water taps in a sink, you can have either tap turned on, both or neither. They can work in unison, but they are separate plumbing functions at work.
So on one level when someone says “I love you but I’m not in love with you”, they are actually saying “I oxytocin you, but I don’t dopamine you.”
So what does that mean for me personally?
Well I have a very high sex drive. Let’s not kid anyone here, if the girl in the red dress walks by, I look. I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter who she is or if I even know her… I’ll look. I can have no expectations, intent or relationship with her. Just baseline testosterone turns my head. My baseline horniness drives my sex drive with Jennifer… as far as testosterone is concerned, she’s a warm, willing and promixal vagina. Giggity.
I have a very high frequency sex life with Jennifer, she touches me physically a lot, I’ve watched her give birth twice and we have been together as a married couple for sixteen and a half years. That all equals vasopressin, vasopressin, vasopressin and yet more vasopressin. So I am truly and deeply pair bonded to her. I love her with my whole heart endocrine production of vasopressin. Make no mistake on this point though, I do love her.
So Jennifer gets two really big check marks for holding my relationship interest. I’m into her from a testosterone and vasopressin standpoint. But the dopamine… well here’s where it gets awkward.
When I first met her… yes, oh my God yes, totally head over heels in love with her. But that was twenty years ago and since then I’ve said that those feelings of being in love and crushing on her come and go. (Read those Dr.Fisher posts linked above)
Now dopamine is related to a need for stimulation, and I am a very intense person with a need for high stimulation, and Jennifer is a much calmer lower stimulation person. So in terms of holding my romantic interest, Jennifer is just too low key for me. She really likes reading books and taking a nap on the couch for example. For sure all the sex is great, but she gives it up so easily that it’s not exactly a dopamine engaging challenge.
That short fall of dopamine has been a marriage long issue for me to handle. It’s not simply that I’ve had two serious emotional connections to other women, but I’ve more truthfully had crushes of some degree on nearly every single woman I know at some point in time. I did crush on Jennifer on and off the whole time we’ve been married, but in all seriousiness, I crush everywhere on everyone all the time. It’s really quite annoying to be honest.
My first true emotional affair I only realized in retrospect. It was about ten years ago and the line between friendship and something more happened when we started meeting for breakfast once a week. I would have said then that “we’re just friends” and all the typical Rationalization Hamster bullshit; they were dates. After about 4-5 weeks of this, she basically stopped the relationship and I think that’s simply because she decided I was never going to make a proper move on her because I loved (vasopressin) Jennifer.
Jennifer knew about that relationship, but never did anything about it. It hurt her, she was scared of losing me, but ultimately she was a doormat about it. If she had told me to knock it off I would have instantly stopped.
A few years back I met another woman that I had an instant attraction to. One of those out of left field this-is-your-soulmate crushes. I was overwhelmed with dopamine for her, all the while being firmly attached with vasopressin to Jennifer. I was terribly confused by these emotional poles. I would be at home feeling perfectly comfortable and relaxed with Jennifer, but plagued by thoughts of the other woman. I would try and steel myself against not being affected by her, but the steel would turn to jello on seeing her, talking to her or emailing. Attraction is not controllable.
So I had a simple choice to make, (1) go the “Eat, Pray, Love” route, and make a serious transition move for her and screw over Jennifer and the kids in the aftermath. Or (2) “Read, Think, Stay”, and figure out how to sort this mess out and not screw over my wife who fairly objectively was doing right by me. Good sex is after all good sex.
It took about three months to come to my final decision and as I’ve repeatedly said, the Talk About Marriage forum is a place that greatly helped with that decision. I knew after reading hundreds of stories of cheated on spouses, that I could not do that to Jennifer. Once again, Jennifer was too passive in dealing with my attraction issue. If she had chewed my head off about it and expressed how hurt she was, I would have broken away much quicker. It took over a year for the feelings for the other woman to resolve after my decision to work things with Jennifer.
It was also at the forum that I started discovering applying Game to marriage issues was unusually successful. My problem was that I didn’t know why they worked and I was endlessly repeating myself on the forum to new people, so I needed a way to make my advice more permanent that as answers in a forum thread. I also started reading dozens of books all around the subject matter of sexuality and thought long and hard.
The result of all that study, personal mistakes, experience and determination to find a practical workable solution, is the blog and the book. It’s a cross-fertilization of biology, behavior modification, pick-up artistry, Talk About Marriage and my nursing experience. If it works I added it, if it didn’t I dropped it.
So back to Jennifer and myself…
Marriage is along journey and we had now learned that we had a critical flaw in our otherwise harmonious marriage. I was a high-stimulation husband, she was a lower-stimulation wife. Without addressing that issue I was eventually going to get a dopamine fix from someone else at some random point in the future.We had no less than three serious verbal disagreements about finding solutions to that before Jennifer started responding to what I was asking of her.
Our practical solution was that Jennifer consciously started paying attention to higher-stimulation sex with me. I’m better about asking for it when I realize I’m becoming wound up or bored too. Another major tool in balancing us is my writing and effort on the blog. It’s an exciting, fun, stimulating experience for me. I get dopamine from writing something good, or seeing a lot of hits, and I now hit refresh on the book sales web pages like a rat hitting the food pellet lever in a science experiment. You don’t have to get it all from sex.
Jennifer for her part has learned a great deal about sexuality and relationships over the blog years. I doubt she would ever let me get away with obvious interest in another woman like she did before. She would probably keylogger me, gather evidence, expose and offer Plan A or Plan B just like I suggest in Chapter 27. I’ve also quite consciously painted myself into a corner by writing from a pro-marriage and monogamy perspective. If I cheat on her, my career as a writer is over.
In terms of Jennifer being written about as a total Stepford Wife / Doormat. This is probably unavoidable to some extent. I’m far more comfortable writing about my own shortcomings, than about hers. If I write about hers, it will just come across as bullying/smearing/insulting/demeaning, plus Google is forever and a few angry sentences are searchable for all time. Also she is by nature low-stimulation and gains enjoyment from being submissive to me. So she really doesn’t act badly all that much at all. But as you can see, that was part of the problem for us… it’s not a feature, it’s a bug.


  1. Kelly says

    I think I'm the lower-stimulation partner in my relationship. (I'm also, a woman) It annoys me to no end when people consider me the doormat of my 3 year relationship with my fiance. I let him make decisions because it's easier for me. I would stress out and pick apart even what to eat for dinner. It's overwhelming. Part of what makes our relationship work is handing over most of the decisions to him so that I can relax. When I can relax I do better at work and school and I have awesome orgasms. Some people just don't understand that letting things pass is okay, and could even benefit you more than making "the last call" ever could. May have been a little off-topic there, but I think that's a reason a lot of women are constantly complaining that they're stressed. You don't need to make decisions for your partner, give them up sometimes so you can rest your mind.

  2. Julia says

    Have you ever done or considered taking up some "extreme" sports to get your high stim fix? Maybe some full contact martial arts? Boxing?
    Time for a Harley?

    I used to be the "high" partner in our relationship, but age has diminished some of that and thank God! Had I married a high stim man, there would probably have been a double homicide.

  3. Athol Kay says

    Julia – my gifts tend toward the intellectual rather than the physical Julia. I've just killed myself all year to get the book done.

    Things will be very exciting soon enough…

  4. Candice says

    Thank you for providing the interesting framework with which to understand love and attraction. :-) Candice

  5. Anonymous says

    I don't know if you would endorse this, Athol, but I've always taken the subtext to your writing to be that your outside options and your willingness to remind Jennifer of them maintains the right polarity in your marriage. You are slightly higher value than her, and that's good for marriage.

  6. Codeazure says

    Wow, that's really personal stuff to expose. You seem to enjoy writing about your relationship, but that must have been pretty hard.

    It was helpful to put the biochemistry in context. I always keep forgetting which chemical does what.

  7. Athol Kay says

    Codeazure – it is personal. But my honesty and insight is what drives the success of the blog and helps people.

    Anon 5:41 – Sort of. It's not so much that I have outside options that I have active involvement with, but that if push came to shove I could persue them successfully.

    It's kind of like having nukes. I don't wnat to actually use them, but I have them and that makes a difference.

    At this point I am very much at peace with my choice in Jennifer and don't want to pursue anyone else. The mass female attention from blog readers etc provide all the perselection I could ever want.

  8. Phil Mueller says

    Hi Athol, I'm one of those new-to-the-blog-via-the-Daily-Mail guys. I spent a good chunk of Friday reading through a lot of the archives, and I didn't think you looked like a jerk… till this post. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn't really mean it this way, but to me this post kinda came of as saying "the dopamine made me do it", with a big dollop of "plus it's my wife's fault for not stopping me".

    Now as a married man I'm well aware that attraction is not controllable, you are 100% right about that. BUT, what you do with that initial attraction is very much in your control. Do you slap that shit down in your mind or do you dwell on it and nurture it? Do you avoid that person or seek her out? Of course it's very tempting to do the latter, it's a big dopamine boost as you point out. But that way lies ruin, and every step you take down that road makes it exponentially harder to come back from the brink, if indeed you can or even want to anymore. You managed to in the end and deserve big kudos for that, but I bet you would agree that it would have been better and easier overall to have nipped all that in the bud in the first place. As the saying goes, you can't stop birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.

    Anyway, I don't mean to call you out in my very first post here. Considering that a major theme of your philosophy is the need for us husbands to man up and own our marital problems, I assume you didn't mean your post as a cop-out, but you should know that it can pretty easily be interpreted that way.

  9. Sweet As says

    I think I might be the higher-stimulation one in this relationship. Yes, in fact, I'm pretty sure that's right.

    That contextualizes some stuff for me nicely. Thanks.

    It reminds me that I need to take up roller derby, not PTA.

  10. Athol Kay says

    @ Phil – I think when I term them "emotional affairs" I am admitting fault.

    What I'm doing is explaining how I came to understand the experience and work through them. The latter one in particular was critical in propelling me on this path we are on.

    As to blaming Jennifer… I can't win. If I say she does nothing wrong I get complaints she is a Stepford Wife, if I say she does something wrong I'm blaming her for my mistakes.

  11. Phil Mueller says

    "I can't win. If I say she does nothing wrong I get complaints she is a Stepford Wife, if I say she does something wrong I'm blaming her for my mistakes."

    Alas the perils of blogging, you're right, somebody's going to not like it no matter what you say. I appreciate your honesty and you & your wife's willingness to lay it all out there in hope of helping others.

  12. Anonymous says

    "It took over a year for the feelings for the other woman to resolve after my decision to work things with Jennifer.

    It was also at the forum that I started discovering applying Game to marriage issues was unusually successful."

    I figured this was why you ended up doing the blog. I had one of the these "emotional affairs" too. It also took me about a year to truly recover from it as well. I figured "game" may be a great way to recapture the frame in my marriage. It worked.

  13. paige says

    I don't think self-flagellation would have been the best approach here. I think his emotionally neutral tone has several positives.

    People who find the site and have had emotional affairs don't need or want more guilt. They probably have enough all on their own, or dished out from their spouse. They need solutions and perspective and keeping the emotion out of the post makes it easier to read.

    If your spouse is currently in an emotional affair but isn't at a point where he/she is feeling guilty then seeing someone else self-flagellate isn't going to make your own situation less painful.

  14. elhaf says

    Resisting temptation teaches us many more lessons than never facing it. Very well put.

  15. Micah says

    "I've more truthfully had crushes of some degree on nearly every single woman I know at some point in time. "

    There's so much relate-able truth packed into this statement…

    For me, it's the "knowing" that's a whole lot more of a predictor of deep attraction than raw physical beauty. In my experience, the mere act of "knowing" someone (beyond a superficial introduction) ups their sex-rank about 2 notches.

  16. cameron says

    Athol- While I'm happy you answered my question, I had pretty much the same reaction as Phil Meuller: Your hormones made you do it (as the male rationalization hamster squeaks away in the background). I'm not surprised that you read a lot of Fisher's work because you seem to interpret relationships chiefly through the lens of biology. However, that seems an overly narrow, very reductionist view of human love and sex. People are much more than the sum of their parts. The relationship between neurochemicals/hormones and love/desire isn't nearly as cut-and-dried as you describe it. Many people suffering from low libido blame their hormones but medical tests often find their hormone levels normal; perhaps it's just easier to think a pill or a patch will cure our problems. I am a married woman amd mother of two children; when I look back at my own life I can see that my experiences of love and sex were influenced by many factors: biology, but also family background, cultural/religious beliefs, age, temperment, etc. I'm sure I was also influenced by factors that I'm not really even conscious of. Reflecting on your second emotional affair, perhaps you might search a bit more deeply into yourself than "the dopamine drove me to it". That actually seems a rather weak argument. If all you needed was a hormone rush a one-nighter probably would have done the trick; a year-long fixation on a particular woman hints at something more IMO. Exactly what was it about her that drew you so strongly? If you can honestly answer that question I think it will give you much more insight into yourself instead of blaming the notorious chemicals (which seem to get the credit/blame for everything).
    Your comments about Jennifer are quite interesting. This blog has often noted that passive men aren't respected by their wives. Take note ladies: passive women aren't much respected by their husbands. Note that Athol's emotional affair drags on for months even though he is aware that his wife is hurt by this (he may love her but certainly doesn't show her much respect with his actions).I guess the lesson here is: Ladies, if you suspect/know something fishy going on, speak up! Or perhaps I should say alpha up! Passive sulking and worrying really won't help; this is a case where you really need to get in his face and take firm action. A passive or submissive wife may be loved but not necessarily respected; a wife needs to show honesty, forthrightness and the willingness to stand up for herself in order to be respected; don't be afraid to rock the boat when you can see that your husband is doing something foolish or dangerous to your marriage. He'll thank you for it later when his head clears.
    Athol, you also dropped a rather telling comment that Jennifer is no longer a challenge for you due to the high frequency sex. I have long noted that I feel very passionate with my husband when we reunite after a few day's separation due to work or family visits. While frequent separations aren't good for a couple, occasional absences can make you appreciate each other a lot more. So Jennifer, if you're reading this, maybe you can suddenly find some out-of-town business that you absolutely have to attend to.;-)

  17. cameron says

    Athol_ I posted a comment earlier today (rather lengthy, I'm afraid) but it hasn't shown up; did it end up in your spam file or something?

  18. Athol Kay says

    Cameron – My apologies if my deeply personal answer to your deeply personal question was not to your satisfication.

    As I have already explained every single time I have brought the emotional affairs up – I was in the wrong. I am merely explaining what happened I am not excusing what happened.

    You will get no further answers from me on this matter.

  19. Jennifer, aka The Wife says

    Okay ladies and gentlemen, the wife has her two cents…I love my husband very much. I respect him very much for putting this all out there, but there is a limit to the detail that can be divulged to the world at large. There is no more story to be shared.

    Also, he has said repeatedly that we have both made mistakes. We have acknowledged that and worked through that together. That's part of why our marriage is so strong. We hoped that by sharing this part of "the story", people would be helped…but this has now blown all out of proportion and re-stating what has already been said is getting tiresome.

    I am not a Stepford Wife…but I am exceedingly, to a fault, easygoing and non-confrontational. That has caused me to not recognize the seriousness of what was going on, and to not state my case and "claim my territory" firmly enough to make an impression. I was a slow learner, but yes now the lesson has been learned.

    And as to the "do you ever get angry" part of the question…I get angry with very few people in this world, honestly. I get annoyed with Athol sometimes, as he does with me, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times we've yelled at each other (or for that matter the number of times I've yelled at anyone).

    I don't let myself be used as a doormat either. I label myself as "easygoing" or "submissive", but that does not mean I am brainless, have no will or opinion, or am not treated well and loved by my husband.

    So yes, I am here, I am backing him up 100%, and I need to say that more often and more publicly (see, the non-confrontational thing I'm working through rears it's ugly head)Phew. I think that's it for now…

  20. Deborah says

    Kudos to you, Jennifer! As someone who much prefers to avoid confrontation, I sympathize with your journey in this area. Like you, I'm on it. Maybe like you, maybe not (can't say without knowing you in real life), I'm at the point where many people no longer can tell that I ever struggled with non-confrontationism and being too easy-going, but it is still an internal struggle.

    The way I see it, what you and Athol choose to share with us is a gift. So long as you don't tell us not to, asking questions is okay, but we have to accept that the choice is yours whether or not to answer. We certainly don't want to be the bratty child saying "Thanks for the slip'n'slide, Mom, but really, you have to get me a swimming pool now too."

  21. cameron says

    Jennifer- I wanted to clear up some confusion about the comment I made above. When I refered to emotional affairs as disrespectful, I was describing these as isolated events. I didn't mean to imply that Athol treats you disrepectfully in general; there is nothing in this blog that would lead me to that conclusion. You have had your conflicts over the years just as as all long-married couples have. The fact that you have resolved them and learned better ways to handle such conflicts is certainly a credit to you.
    When reading this blog, it's sometimes easy to forget you are posting under your real names; some questions are just going to be too personal to answer, so my apologies if my posting made you uncomfortable.
    Jennifer,I really enjoy your postings and I hope you write more of them. You lend a unique perpsective to this blog. Often after I read a posting I wonder: What does Jennifer think of this? I hope you'll share more of your thoughts in the future. You may think of yourself as a shy person but I think you are very brave.

  22. Anonymous says

    Really interesting post. I've got a lingering question: so for a guy alpha traits help cause the dopamine rush/obsession feeling and avoid "love you but not in love with you" scenarios. What about for a woman?

    It seems the general consensus is that the female version of "alpha" is just being hot + enthusiastic about sex, as dominance isn't an attractive characteristic in women.

    But, it seems you're still plenty physically attracted to your wife during the periods when you're not crushing on her, and that sex drive is a separate component of the equation. So if a relationship has plenty of good sex but the woman suspects the guy is losing that dopamine feeling–what to do? Particularly if he's not rushing to find a dopamine-producing activity for himself, as you did with your writing.

    You mention higher-stimulation sex, and I think Helen Fisher suggests doing lots of novel/exciting things so that he associates the thrill he gets from bungee jumping or whatever with you. Some lines of advice for women would say you need some mystery in a relationship, so don't always tell the guy where you're going, etc–which seems to me like a way to look like you have a higher SMP value than him.

    Any thoughts?

  23. Anonymous says

    I dopamine Athol and Jennifer. You guys rock. I'm sorry that your privacy has been invaded in this way, but I also thank you for your candor, because you clarified a lot of things for me just now.

    And for the record, when I read about the "emotional affairs", I really read that as something that was in the past, and just mentioned briefly for being open- which I was grateful for. It's nice to hear about people who have dealt with stuff in their marriage, and made an effort to continue anyway.

    And, it's made me realize I, a woman, have an unusually high level of testosterone- I usually am crushing on just about every guy I've ever met at one point too- and lots of oxcytocin for my recovering beta/nice guy (and a nudge to the alpha side, cause I need a dopamine fix. ;)).

    Appreciate your work, Athol. Thanks again.

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