Do you love love? Did you read Nicholas Sparks’ novels growing up? Do you still read Nicholas Sparks’ novels? Well, I have bad news for you. First, you have terrible taste in books. Second, I am not a romantic. In fact, one of the most embarrassing moments of my life involved a boy writing me a love poem for Valentine’s Day. I remember receiving the handwritten poem in third period and feeling like I was going to die. Not of happiness, but of utter humiliation. Accompanying the poem were chocolates, a teddy bear, a violet carnation (c’mon, bro), and a singing Valentine gram performed by four members of the high school band. As soon as High School Musical: the Public Shaming Years was over, I sprinted to the bathroom to fume and plot my revenge. That afternoon, I put in my request for a transfer to a new school. The reason I listed was “I have a stalker.” He was not a stalker, for the record. Just a nice, albeit overly romantic, 15-year old.
So while I am definitely not a romantic, I am very thoughtful. And being the teacher’s pet that I am, I like to excel at everything I do, including love. And why not? One of the longest, most comprehensive studies in the world recently confirmed that love is, in fact, the key to happiness. Love is literally everything. If you’re in a serious relationship or are married, your relationship is likely one of the most, if not the most, important foundations of your happiness. And your happiness is critical to your partner’s happiness. Happiness expert and author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin reports that a 30% increase in one spouse’s happiness increases the other spouse’s happiness, while the converse about unhappiness is also true.
If love is so important, so critical to our sense of self and to our lives, then why do so many relationships and marriages fail? Is it because we humans evolved from primates, only a handful of whom are monogamous, and therefore monogamy is simply not in our cards? Or perhaps, is it because too few people put enough effort into strengthening their relationships?
Approaching love like I approach many things–as part detached observer, part problem solver, part scientific luminary–I came to the decision to address the major causes of relationship conflicts in my own relationship. For those of you who don’t know me, I have been with my partner Maxwell for just over six years. And for those of you who hear six years and think wedding bells!, just know that my feelings toward wedding bells are pretty similar to my feelings toward love poems. See above.Based on my research, the most common sources of conflict in romantic relationships concern housework, money, sex and intimacy, work, appreciation, communication, and children. So I thought I could start with one of these relationship pitfalls: intimacy.
Both Max and I are working professionals in New York City. I’m a lawyer, and he works at a tech startup. As such, we rarely get to eat dinner together except on the weekends, and most days, we’re both exhausted when we come home from work. So, in the hour or two before bed, we’re either glued to our phones/laptops/tablets (but wearing orange glasses to block the blue light!) or sitting on the couch watching Netflix. Sure, we’ll cuddle on the couch and alternate playing little spoon when we hit the sack, but we could definitely up our game.
So, for this past week’s health and happiness experiment, I adopted an intimacy practice that I could share with my partner on a daily basis. I know what you’re thinking. Adopt an “intimacy practice” every day? Is she using her blog as a vehicle to promote her pervy thoughts and desires?
Maybe. But there are also tons of intimate things you can do with your partner every day besides “adult naptime.” For instance, make it your practice to kiss your spouse every night before you go to bed. And a real kiss, not one of those platonic pecks you rotely place on your partner’s cheek before turning off the bedside lamp. Or, send your partner off to work in the morning with a deep, warm six-second hug. I know what you’re thinking: A six second hug? Aint’ nobody got time for that. But research shows that six seconds is how long it takes for the feel-good dopamine in your brain to react to a hug and send bliss waves throughout your body.
Personally, I’m not a big hugger. In high school, when my friends would greet me with a hug, I would just stand there and let my body shrivel up as their claws tackled me in an embrace. These days, I’m a bit better at hugging but I still have a long way to go. For instance, when I’m obligated to hug half-strangers or distant family members, all I can muster is an ass-out hug.
In addition to doling out meaningful hugs and kisses, you could get major brownie points by giving your s.o. a legit compliment every single day of the week. “You look nice” does not count. Be creative, you sloths. Also, “You’re so smart” does not count. You’re trying to be intimate sex partners, not library buddies. Here are some examples that do count:
I love the way your body curves when you lie down on your side. This is also a subtle way of telling your partner, “I can see your love handles when you lie down on your side, but they’re still small enough to be cute.”
Your stubble makes you look so ruggedly handsome. This says I am complimenting you but also warning you that you need to shave your face before we have brunch with my parents.
Your butt looks amazing in those pants. Your butt looks only so-so in your other pants and you should buy a pair of these booty-popping pants in every color and toss out all of your other pants.
I love the way your lips curl up when you are mad, you look so sexy. This says I’m simultaneously paying very close attention to minor details about you (major plus!) and apologizing for something that I unknowingly did.
Mmm, you smell so good, I could just eat you (said by a woman/man smelling a man’s armpits). This says I’m abreast of the latest research which shows that male pheromones secreted in underarm sweat make men more attractive, but it also subtly says “you have the next 5 minutes to put on deodorant.”
Whatever gesture you adopt, just make a concerted effort to be more intimate with your partner each day this week. And if the practice is successful at making you happier, you can maintain these practices even after the week is over.
Side note: if you’ve been with your boo for a year or less, you need absolutely zero encouragement to get intimate. Keep on buttering the biscuit, you pervs!
Finally, for all my single and fly af ladiez out there who have been rolling their eyes at each mention of the word “partner,” you do you! Make the rest of us feel jealous and put on your crop top and vivacious red lipstick on a Wednesday night while the rest of us Netflix and chill sans the chill in our sweatpants.
As for me, the intimacy practice that we adopted this past week was engaging in the aforementioned six-second hug every morning. I know some of you are disappointed that my love practice was even more G-rated than a Disney movie, but this ain’t not one-stop porn shop. Every morning before one of us left for work in the morning or parted ways on the weekend, we’d stop to give each other a long embrace. No lame reach-around hugs or one-sided hugs either.
I was a little doubtful about the science on six-second hugs, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the research is actually legit! By the six-second mark of our morning hugs, I could physically feel the dopamine being released, just like I feel the dopamine being released when I first bite into a warm chocolate chip cookie. Our morning ritual went so well that we’ve decided to make it a daily habit, just like we’ve decided to eat warm chocolate chip cookies every morning.
Do you have any special rituals that you share with your lover that make you happier? I would love to hear about them! No graphic details, please.
Next week I’ll be blogging about kindness and figuring out whether performing a random act of kindness for a stranger each day can boost my happiness.
Until next week.