Monday, June 17, 2013

Letters to a young man 26

Hello my friend. You wrote to me saying,

I'm seeing this one girl regularly now and I think you mentioned that you were in a serious relationship so I'm wondering if you can give me some advice for being in one. I've never really been in a long term one and I like this girl a lot so I'd like to keep it going. Only thing is sometimes I want to do my own thing. Plus a lot of girls keep hitting on me now that they know that I'm taken.

Thank you for your letter. I must admit that I've been long silent and somewhat remiss on the subject of relationships, I presume because you've so often wrote to me about your pursuits of women, among other things. And now that you've captured her affections, it is natural you may ask yourself, "What now?" Being in a long term relationship myself, and having been in more than one in my life, I have much to say on the subject, but I'll try and focus for now on the particulars that you've asked about.

The other women

First of all, be wary of women who show interest in you only because you're unavailable. You know the type: the moment you hit the market again, they cannot be bothered. Some of these women want you because the woman you are with is attractive, and it will bump their ego to be with a taken man. They will imagine themselves on the level of your girl, and will feel special if they've captured your attention/affections. Another breed of girl is the kind that will want to get with you and then destroy your relationship by letting your girl know. In either case you will need to weigh the cost/benefit of straying and decide accordingly. In my experience, it's generally not worth it, especially if she's in your social circle or likely to run into your girl. Not to mention the question of fidelity.


Whether or not to stray can be framed as a question of morality. I prefer to frame it as a question of what you are seeking and why. In some cases a man wants sex (or even just friendship and flirtation) because of novelty. In some cases because he needs a release (much like a massage) in the event that there is some separation, like if your girl is gone on a trip or something. In some cases, it is because the man is damaged and needs attention and an ego boost. Be wary of this last case, for if you are in the throes of a dalliance because you need something from the girl, you're at risk. At risk not only because the girl will have a certain power over you, but at risk in general because you do not have yourself together and may drift from scenario to scenario for your feeling of self-worth. I can speak of the risk of that situation because I am familiar with it personally. Take my advice, and be honest with yourself about why you're considering it. Then, you can ask yourself if it's really worth it. Moments of pleasure are fleeting. That isn't to say that they aren't worth it, but in some cases what you get isn't what you thought you'd get, nor what you wanted. In some cases, the fantasy is better than the reality. It all depends.

The 70% Rule

Others have written on the subject of how to keep things going well, how to remain the man in your relationship, and how to keep things stable, healthy, and fresh. I'll add my two cents to this canon. Those who practice Zen have a principle of never eating past 70% satiety. I think this is a good rule to follow with regards to many things, including relationships. In the simplest terms, you never go much beyond 70% in the romantic mushy gushy department. There's no need and it will only end up with her becoming both spoiled by your affections and resentful that you're giving her everything she asks for.

Examples of what I'll call the 70% rule in practice:

  • You buy her gifts at random which you happen upon, without premeditation. The gifts need not be terribly expensive nor of a "romantic" quality, but are gifts which she is not expecting and will give her more satisfaction than chocolates on v-day. When you give her these gifts you don't make a big production of it and quickly move on to the next thing. She'll be moved, surprised, and hold you in god-like appraisal. If she tells you she wants something, buy it a few months later, long after she thinks you've forgotten. You shouldn't buy her predictable gifts on predictable occasions, and your delivery and response to her appreciation should be 70%.

  • When she tells you she loves you, on occasion smile and say, "I know", and kiss her on the cheek. No need to do this every time, but do it on occasion. She may throw a mock fit, but she will love it. You shouldn't always reply with, "I love you too", and you should mix up your responses to keep things fresh.

  • Be helpful, on occasion, without asking or making a big production of it. There's no need to sell her on how helpful you were, let your actions speak for themselves.

  • Let her do things for you (like your dishes and laundry) and do not jump up to help her every time.

  • On occasion compliment her dress, her shoes, makeup, hair, or general appearance. Catch her off-guard with it, and keep it simple. You shouldn't tell her every day how beautiful she is. And when you do it should be 70%.

The principle is to temper your most romantic efforts to about 70% and to let your most affectionate and romantic gestures tower over and stand out from the norm. If a man is a gushy and romantic 100% of the time, it will sour the relationship, despite his best intentions. Obviously every woman is different and some will require more comforting and reassurance than others. And I'm not recommending you be a dick the rest of the time. The idea is that you never go past a certain point, except on very rare occasions. (When it's time to show up and be a man to help her, comfort her and support her, you'll know it.)

Do Your Thing

It's important in relationships to have your own interests and life. Setting aside the importance generally of having your own life and interests, you'll be a better companion (and so will she) if you have other things to focus on and work toward. A good woman will be supportive of these interests and goals, and will look forward to your updates on what's happening in your life. If she isn't, she's not good for you.

Compromise and Decision Making

It's also important to compromise. You're not going to go very far in a relationship if you're always my way or the highway. You'll be travelling alone if that's your approach. Relationships, in many ways, are an art form comprised of decisions, joint effort, and shared resources. It's important to be decisive and not wishy washy, but you must also be flexible and not hard-headed. It took many years for me to be comfortable making decisions and taking the lead, but I've learned the value and importance of it. It becomes second nature and fun. If you're not as comfortable being the decision-maker, you just need to give it a go. Commit to something, and if your plan doesn't work out, don't sweat it. It's better that you took the lead and then tried something rather than sitting there saying, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" Repeat these words after me,

Tell you what, why don't we do this: ____.

You'll notice that it isn't framed as a question. It's just a way that you can phrase something and proceed from there. Insert your plan into the box. In some cases it's best not to even revel what your plan is. You can just say, I'll pick you up at 8, it's a surprise. Even in a long term relationship, women love this kind of thing. Surprises and mystery are your friend.

Friend or Foe?

A relationship with a woman can be many things. For some, it is a constant battle. I recommend against this, and if you find yourself in such a place, you should consider ejecting. The most rewarding type of relationship is one where you are friends and partners in crime with the girl, where your interests are her interests because she makes them so. And you will do the same, obviously, because it is rewarding in and of itself, and because it is also in your best interest to do so.

Put Your Foot Down

Sometimes, you have to be the man and put your foot down. Women can be temperamental and unreasonable and they need to be corralled. They respond well to having a man take charge, even if they might say otherwise. Observe how they respond when you put a stop to their carrying on and you'll see that they in fact crave that behavior from you.


A long term relationship with the right woman can be immensely satisfying. I think for most men they just need to temper themselves a little, and resist the urge to play out the mindless romantic gestures 100% that they see in date movies. I think the 70% rule is helpful in this regard, and is a good mindset to have about life generally. One more thing we owe to the Orient. Consider well your options before you stray, be strong, surprising, flexible, and have your own life, and enjoy the ride.

I hope this finds you well, and that it in some way has been helpful.

Farewell for now.

My book on stoicism.