Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Let's look through 23 Ways to Keep Your Romance Alive.
Elliot: OK. I'll quote each, and then you say what you notice.
Share a Secret Code
Pick a word that's likely to come up occasionally in conversation (heat, midnight, bedroom, whipped cream...) and agree that every time someone uses it, you have to touch -- anything from a kiss to a lingering thigh stroke under the table.
Caeli: This suggests touching is a key part of romance.
Elliot: Right. Let's keep track of how many are about sex. So far, 1/1. The words were intended to be ambiguously sexy as well. Notice also that thigh stroking is supposed to take place under the table. Why do they need privacy for it?
Caeli: It's partly a taboo. It's partly because it's intimate. It's partly because it's just between them.
Elliot: And partly because people are ashamed of their sexuality.
Caeli: There's a lot, so let's do the next one.
Transform Dinner Into Dining
That midweek post-grind meal you devour together? Make it register off the mush-o-meter with some tiny adjustments to the atmosphere. "Pull out your nicest dishes and light a couple of candles, even if you're just having a mushroom pizza," suggests Gregory Godek, author of 1001 Ways to Be Romantic (Casablanca Press, 2000). "It's the mood, not the food, that sets a romantic scene. So stick a bouquet of daisies from the corner store in the center of the table, lower the lights, and turn up Enrique Iglesias or Bessie Smith. You could even conveniently forget the utensils so you have an excuse to feed each other."
Caeli: This suggests a large element of romance is mood and atmosphere. It doesn't really matter what you're eating, as long as it feels special.
Elliot: If feeding each other is fun, why does it need an excuse?
Caeli: It's embarrassing to ask.
Elliot: It's embarrassing to ask something so simple of your spouse? The person closest to you in all the world, that you trust completely, and could tell anything to?
Elliot: Evidently, complete trust isn't really the norm, and many spouses aren't close at all. In fact, I remember a Malcom in the Middle episode where the husband wants to do something sexual (we don't hear what), and then, before his wife can reply, says he was joking out of fear of rejection. Then she says yes and he's surprised.
Caeli: With all the attention sex gets, shouldn't they have talked about it before?
Elliot: One would be tempted to think so.
Get Swept Off Your Feet
Make up your own tango moves and groove with your guy for 15 minutes while you wait for dinner. Pop in the Marc Anthony CD, then press your pelvises together, entwine your legs, and twist and twirl around the living room. "Slow dancing is so intimate," says Godek. "The way you stand hip-to-hip, block out the world, and sway to each other's rhythms ... now you're really cookin'."
Caeli: This is mostly about touching, so the sex count is now 2/3.
Elliot: Yup. It also equates touching slowness with intimacy, and uses the euphemism "cookin'" to mean hot, which means sexy.
Caeli: Why is that a euphemism if the meaning is obvious?
Elliot: Because the author avoided writing "now you're doing something sexual that will really get you in the mood to have sex".
Caeli: Isn't that rather crude writing, with no style?
Elliot: Yes, but why is it? Because people don't like to be explicit about sex. They prefer not to say it.
Caeli: I see. Next?
You and your guy are having a Blockbuster night. But wait, think twice before you change into your lounging-on-the-couch clothes ... You know, oversize T-shirt, shabby sweater. That gear isn't exactly a recipe for a night of making googly eyes. Instead, slip into something a little more comfortable but a lot more cuddle-enticing. "A fitted T-shirt or a semisheer tank top, especially when worn without a bra, is a lot sexier than some too-big shirt you're swimming in," says fashion designer and Cosmo contributing editor Shoshanna Lonstein. "Pair it with your favorite perfectly worn-out blue jeans or khaki cutoffs for a casual but irresistible look."
Caeli: 3/4 for sex. I wonder what an "irresistible" look means. Why can't it be resisted?
Elliot: It means that if you do that, he will have sex with you.
Elliot: What's interesting to me is that people have to be reminded so much to act sexy, and if they forget about it, and wear normal, comfortable clothes, that is not sexy. It's so much work people have to push themselves to do it. Being sexy is different than being a good person and living pleasantly. It's all this extra stuff to do, based on its own value system, that doesn't even claim to be morally right.
Caeli: If you take it for granted that having sex is good, then it is about how to accomplish that, so it's implicitly right.
Elliot: I suppose. But it is so intrusive. Why should sex need to intrude on our clothes, on our movie watching, or on our couch use?
Caeli: Because movie plus sex is more fun than just movie.
Elliot: Isn't that a bit strange? If you want to have sex, why not just do it now? Then watch the movie in your preferred attire.
Caeli: It's nice to take things slow, sometimes.
Elliot: Why? What purpose does it serve? For example, people don't take movies slow, by pausing them on and off every few minutes. They would only pause for a functional reason, such as a bathroom or food break, to stop watching, or to comment on the scene. People generally avoid pauses in movies, because it interrupts the flow.
Caeli: Apparently sex works well spread out more.
Elliot: But why? What's the functional reason?
Caeli: Maybe it's like eating desert, which people savor.
Elliot: People only do that because they are irrational about diet, and don't eat as much desert as they want, and they're trying to pretend they like it that way. But they don't, and they are tempted to binge all the time. Which sounds a lot like sex. People want to do it a lot, sometimes binge, often feel guilty afterwards, and never get all they want.
Caeli: Hmm. Well maybe there is a functional reason that I don't know.
Dish With Him
Flash back to the '50s and get passionate over pots and pans. "Okay, it's totally old-fashioned and cornball, but I find doing dishes together incredibly romantic," says Janet, a 28-year-old chiropractor. "My dishwasher went on the blink one night, and my boyfriend offered to help clean up. We both rolled up our sleeves and got sudsy in the warm water. We talked about the places we'd love to travel to, the crazy things we'd like to try just once in our lives, and our hands kept touching -- we just got completely lost in each other as we did this mindless activity. It was so sweet and oddly intimate that I haven't bothered to get the dishwasher fixed."
Caeli: This isn't about sex, so 3/5. I guess doing something together can be nice.
Elliot: Sure. But why something so dull? The article even calls it mindless.
Caeli: That leaves more attention leftover for talking.
Elliot: If they want to talk, why not sit on the couch and talk?
Caeli: Because if they didn't have anything to say at first, it'd be awkward. But while washing dishes, they aren't pressured to say anything at first.
Elliot: That may be. But why do they need an excuse to think of what to say? Why are they uncomfortable talking with each other? They don't seem very close or intimate. The dishes, if they are a pretense, are a sign of a lack of intimacy, exactly the opposite of how the people interpret them.
Caeli: Good point. Also doing dishes sucks. It's a lot of trouble for an excuse to talk.
Touch Tenderly in Front of the TV
When you're both chilling out in front of the tube, heat things up with some hands-on action. "Give each other mini foot massages while watching the evening news," suggests Laura Corn, author of 101 Nights of Grrreat Romance (Park Avenue Publishers, 1995). "Or lay your head in his lap and let him stroke your hair." For the ultimate drive-in date experience, invest in an extralong extension cord and watch TV outside on the deck or on lawn chairs on the front stoop underneath the stars.
Caeli: Didn't we already have this one?
Elliot: Romance is a bit limited. It prefers the dark or candle light or moon light. It likes fancy things, or chances to touch or taste or smell. It likes unusual things you wouldn't do otherwise -- things you only bother with because they are romantic.
Caeli: This is about sexual touching to "heat things up", so 4/6 for sex.
When no one's looking, give your guy a sneak peak in public. Granted, it's not exactly violins-in-the-background romantic, but it's certainly guaranteed to send his heart (and pulse) soaring.
Caeli: 5/7 for sex. Maybe you should comment first, usually.
Elliot: It seems to say, "Who cares if it's romantic? It's sexual. He'll like it. He'll be excited." Now, why should he be excited? He's seen it before. All he wants. Hasn't he?
Caeli: I guess not. At least not in public.
Elliot: And public is fun because it's naughty, it's wrong, and there is a risk of being caught?
Elliot: Sex isn't wrong, naughty, bad, or sinful. That's a horrible idea.
Elliot: Back to the earlier issue: Why keep in sexually unfulfilled?
Caeli: Maybe he had all he wanted earlier, but he still wants more.
Elliot: He wants the same thing over and over, without limit?
Elliot: Isn't that boring and mechanical?
Caeli: That's what the tips are for: to spice things up with variety they might not have thought of.
Elliot: There aren't many interesting variations on showing him your breasts. And are these tips only for young people? The tips are roughly the same every article, so surely older people have tried them already.
Caeli: I don't know. Let's move on.
Send Him a Sweet Afternoon Treat
If you know your guy's facing a particularly grueling, sucky afternoon at the office, call up a local restaurant that delivers and send him an I'm-thinking-about-you lunch, suggests Ilene Rosenzweig, coauthor of Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life (Warner Books, 1999). Let him know dessert's waiting at your place later.
Elliot: This didn't have to be about sex, but then they put in a euphemism for sex at the end, so that's 6/8. It's also about food, again.
Caeli: Also, why does he need reminders that she's thinking about him? Aren't they so close and intimate as to take it for granted?
Elliot: Right. And also, consider all these tips are aimed at girls. And that's true of most such lists. Why? Because guys aren't expected to really care, even though girls apparently do. That's not a perfection connection and total agreement.
Caeli: I think a soul mate sounds nice.
Elliot: Of course it does. That's the point. Who wouldn't like to meet someone who really understood him, and agreed about everything he didn't want to argue about? And fulfilled his sexual fantasies. But it's silly. You can't find such a person. The only difference between a soul mate and many people you meet is knowledge (and the soul mate is imagined to be prettier). But how can the person have all this knowledge of you, if you have only just met? It's silly.
Caeli: Sometimes people do meet, and have a connection right away. What's going on?
Elliot: They are connecting with things they share in common because they are common in our culture. They are stereotyped. Often it's romance: they both like to eat fancy dinners, have sex in the moonlight, and have sex during movies, so that seems like a connection.
Caeli: Isn't that a gloomy way to look at the world?
Elliot: Only if you're expecting romance to be a primary source of your happiness.
Caeli: Oh! :)
Keep Him in the Dark
For the ultimate lights-out love nudge, fake a power outage. "Unplug the phone, computer, and TV, then turn off all the lights," instructs Godek. "With nothing else to distract you, you have no choice but to break out the candles and cling to each other as you tell scary ghost stories...or just plain cling to each other."
Elliot: 7/9 for sex. It's only implicit, but it's fairly obvious. The meaning here seems to be that if you have things you like, such as your computer and TV, then sex won't be appealing enough to bother with. So just deprive yourself of everything more attractive than sex.
Caeli: Maybe the issue is avoiding distraction.
Elliot: Distractions are things you can't easily turn off, like street noise, or worrying you're fat. If it's something you can easily turn off, like a TV, then distractions mean things you prefer to do; they are chosen.
Caeli: What if you would turn if off, but you're not thinking?
Elliot: If you aren't thinking, you can't take the advice from this article.
Caeli: Are you sure it's about sex? It just says to tell stories and cling.
Elliot: If you just cling that will get boring fast. But people don't just touch, and sit there for ages and not do anything more. There is a standard progression.
Caeli: Why doesn't it say sex more clearly, then?
Elliot: Because that's embarrassing, and crude, and people get the idea. And people like to imagine that they have this brilliant, original idea to use that situation as an excuse for sex, which would be ruined if it was clear everyone else did exactly the same thing.
Caeli: OK, seems right.
Elliot: Two of the other ones were about how to turn TV watching into sex. Now we have one about getting rid of the TV to have sex. As our counter is showing, one of the main themes of romance is just to have sex more often.
Caeli: If that's all it takes, why don't people do it without being advised to? People certainly care about sex a lot.
Elliot: At first they do, then it gets boring.
Caeli: That sucks.
Elliot: Only if you expect your happiness to come from sex.
Ban the Peck
Replace that chaste, no-effort lip graze with a 10-second smooch -- and make every single kiss a bit of bliss.
Elliot: 8/10 are about sex now. This is another one that intrudes on your life. It says stop doing what you normally prefer. It assumes that many people consider kissing too much bother, and don't want to spend their time on it, and just do it quickly and symbolically. And it says, as usual, stop that, spend more time on sex.
Caeli: This isn't sex, it's kissing.
Elliot: I mean sexual stuff. Kissing has a lot in common with sex. It's a form of cheating on your sexually exclusive partner, it's something people get jealous over, it's foreplay for sex, it's a form of touching, it arouses people.
Caeli: I see. So you mean "sex" broadly.
Map Out the Hot Spots in Your Neighborhood
Make it your mission to fool around in every prime passion nook of your neighborhood -- behind trees, on nearby park benches, under a lamppost. Every time you walk out your front door with your dream guy, hit one of these desire-designated areas until you have the whole area PDA'd.
Elliot: 9/11 are about sex. This continues the same themes we've been noticing. Do more sexual stuff. It's romantic.
Caeli: It's also about how to make sex more interesting, which implies there is a problem with sex getting boring, like you've been saying.
Write Him a Sexy Check
While you're taking care of the bills, take care of your guy with a personal payment for head-to-toe kisses, suggests Godek. "Tell him he can cash in anytime."
Elliot: 10/12 are about sex. This again says to have more sex. And it also seems to imply the guy can't have as much sex as he wants without a special gift.
Caeli: Should guys have all the sex they want? Why should a woman have to do that?
Elliot: She doesn't have to. But sexually frustrated and deprived people is not good. Notice that the attitude of assuming the woman won't want to is setting people up for problems. If the cultural norm is that guys and girls want different amounts of sex, then that must result in tension. I'm not sure it's true though. Girls want sex too. They just don't like to admit it.
Caeli: What's wrong with admitting it?
Elliot: Sex is dirty, impure, unchaste, sinful, and taboo. It's carefully hidden from children, and from other people in general, and people, especially girls, often feel guilty. Sex has to be justified, by a loving, romantic, relationship, or it's wrong.
Caeli: Most guys don't seem to care about that.
Elliot: A lot do. Caring is considered nice. But it's true that most of the pressure is on girls. Look at Islam: if a girl is raped, they blame the girl. It's her responsibility to be chaste, no matter what. And abortions for rape victims is still a controversial issue in the US.
Elliot: Yeah. And there's a whole issue, among psychologists, about rape victims (girls) blaming themselves. We're all familiar with the reasons, too. They're well known. She dressed sexy, and attracted him, and flirted too much, and has breasts, and guys can't control their urges anyway.
Elliot: Let's do one more and then stop for now.
Make Out Every Time You're Alone in an Elevator
Use this love-lifter as a cue to sneak in a secret smooch session.
Caeli: That's about sex again, so 11/13. Wow that's a lot.
Elliot: Yup. And it's the same theme of having more sex, and having it differently to make it less boring.
Caeli: This is cool, let's do the rest later.