The Complete Interview I did for ‘Cosmo’: Sex, Men and Long-Term Relationships

When I first spoke with Cosmopolitan, the editor confessed that she would start with a vague idea and build an article around it, based upon the responses from the panelists. A lot changed over time and they ended up using only a small portion of my comments for the magazine, so I thought I’d post the specific responses I wrote to the editor’s broad set of questions. Make no mistake, it got hot and sexy, as I followed the cue that “Cosmo women like some sass with their advice.” Take a look and add your thoughts as you deem necessary:

The feature we’re putting together for the June issue will address the fact that being in a LTR (long term relationship) certainly has plenty of benefits, but feeling so comfortable and at ease with your partner can sometimes crowd out the “old” you — the identity you had when you were single or just beginning your relationship.

1. Can you address the above concept a bit — that is, the “dangers” of getting too much into a relationship rhythm, how one’s identity changes once you become part of a couple, as well as the positive consequences of getting back in touch with the person you used to be?

Both men and women are capable of losing themselves at any and all points in the relationship. Sometimes this occurs early on, when the infatuation is so high and you simply want to spend every waking moment with your man. So you go wherever he wants, spend time with only his friends, sleep at his place every night, and start forgetting about all the things that make you who you are.

Some couples get into a relationship rhythm over time that appears fine for the couple but is poor for each individual. Women who start to label themselves solely as “So and So’s girlfriend” are sacrificing their own identity. The best wives and girlfriends are the ones who have their own goals and interests. Trust me, as both a guy and a shrink: if you give up too much of yourself to your guy, if you never have your own friends and activities, he’ll eventually lose interest in you. And if he doesn’t, he clearly has no desire to be in an equal partnership with you. He’ll be lazy and complacent, never challenging himself to be a better lover and partner. You want to wake up to that every morning?

2. Why is sex such a priority in the early days of a relationship? Once that rush of new love dies down, how does a couple’s sex life evolve? (For better and for worse.)

A lot of this is evolutionary. Whether you want to have children or not, your body is designed to make kids. That’s how our species carries on. The chemicals that are released during the crazy “puppy love” stage are a way for Mother Nature to get us together to procreate and produce more of us.

Another part of this is novelty. You’ve got a new man: he’s sweet, rich, well-built, smart, whatever. You want to explore him, get to know what turns him on, develop a sexual connection with him. You look your best and he’s bringing his A game as well. There’s sexual tension, curiosity. Who isn’t excited about not knowing what’s about to happen next in the bedroom (or any other room for that matter)?

Over time, however, familiarity kicks in and drive can wane. Some studies say that only 10% of long-term couples maintain that “in love” chemistry over many years. Sex can become mundane. There aren’t many surprises in bed anymore. Maybe you get a little too comfortable with each other. You stop dressing your best and get a little lazy. And because we see plenty of other, attractive people every day, we start to develop a “grass is greener” philosophy as our partner’s flaws become more apparent. This means that to maintain a good sexual relationship, you have to work at it. You can’t just let the sexual energy of the past drive your love life.

3. Why is it so crucial to maintain a fulfilling sex life once you’re in a LTR? How do you beat the dreaded “roommate syndrome?” Is spontaneity the key?

It’s only crucial if you think sex is important, and if you’re reading this magazine, I’m assuming it’s really important. The keys are knowledge, communication, openness and a loss of pride.

Know right now that the intense sexual chemistry will die down, it won’t last forever. Be prepared. Talk to each other about what is working and what is not. Our sexual needs change over time and if you are guessing about what your lover wants, you’re begging for failure. Be open to new things. You don’t need to sacrifice personal boundaries or compromise your morals, but don’t hold back from things that might seem kinky or wild. And do not, under any circumstances, be too proud. Don’t stand there in a five year-old, faded G-String, pouting about how your man should want you and only you. Work at making him want you! Read books on sexuality together, attend workshops on spicing up your sex life, buy toys and hot clothes online. Be active in your sex life. If you wait for it to come to you after a certain number of months or years, you should probably just buy a vibrator now and call it quits.

4. This question overlaps a bit with #3: How important is it for a woman to show her partner that she desires him sexually? What are some ways she can do this?

If you’re not going to show your man that he’s desirable, there are plenty of other women who will. Talk isn’t cheap when it comes to sex. Tell him what you love about his body and his sexual prowess. Focus on his strengths and ask him to give you more of that. People respond well to hearing good things about themselves and often shut down when they hear “change this” or “don’t do that.”

Put in the effort to be your best. Not just sexually, but as the best partner possible. It’s fine to be comfortable with yourself, to not have to be at the top of your game every waking moment. But if you are interested in a long-term relationship, striving for greatness as a complete and evolved woman will help develop your sexual health for the long haul.

5. We always hear how spontaneity is crucial to keep a relationship fresh. How exactly would you define spontaneity? And how is it different than novelty? (For instance, is novelty trying new things and having new experiences, while spontaneity is more going with your impulses and fighting off routine and monotony?)

From a shrink’s perspective, ‘spontaneity’ would be acting ‘in the moment’ instead of involving planning and excessive forethought. ‘Novelty’ is more about newness.

6. I know this seems extremely obvious, but can you spell out why spontaneity (not novelty) is so key to a long-term relationship? For instance, at the beginning of a relationship, it seems like each partner is more likely to say yes — and to anything from playing hooky from work to a river-rafting trip when they don’t know how to swim. But as the relationship continues, those yeses turn into no’s — out of practicality and comfort. So what messages do those “Nos” send your partner? And what harm does it do to your relationship?

Both are important, it’s just each couple needs different doses of each. The only way to find out what works best for you is to use your imagination and try different levels of spontaneity and novelty. In short, practice. If you don’t like the idea of having lots of sex to try to see what works well for you, just put down this magazine right now and join a convent.

Depending on the person, the “no’s” from you could mean that you aren’t interested in trying, that you’re not working, relying now on comfort. No one need become a Yes Woman to anything and everything, but a constant denial of spontaneity will likely make your relationship feel stale and limp. For how long will your man want that?

7. How do you push yourself to be spontaneous? How do you get past the work you have to do at the office and the apartment you have to clean, etc. and just enjoy being in the moment with your partner?

You’re young now and that makes it difficult to prioritize, to know what’s really important in life. But you should know that when older people reflect on their lives and what they wished they had focused on more, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear them say, “I wish I worked more, I wish I made more money, I should have cleaned the apartment more.” No, they always talk about spending time with the people they love. Is spontaneity work, whether it’s about sex or simply being with your man? Of course it is. But if you remember what you truly value, not just now but in 20, 30 or 50 years, you’ll know to put down the Blackberry and focus on your relationship.

8. Why is nagging a guy (esp. about something small, like putting his clothes in the hamper) a huge turn-off? For instance, is it because men are extremely independent by nature but being in a relationship, he’s silently agreed to run everyday choices he used to take for granted by you. BUT: start picking at his habits or nagging him to change and you’ll step over some invisible line and make him feel trapped/criticized?

Are you suggesting that nagging isn’t a turn-off for women? That’s something I think would drive anyone to drink or kill. That said, I don’t think men are extremely independent by nature. We crave meaningful relationships too, whether they be romantic or platonic. But nagging is inherently critical and ultimately about meaningless things. Nag enough and an inner monologue starts playing like an mp3 file on repeat: Can I do ANYTHING right?

If you want your guy to change certain behaviors, nix the nagging and start praising him when he does right. For example, “I really like it when you put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor. It makes the room look so much better. Now let’s have sex!”

9. Why does commitment come harder to men than it does to women? Is one of a man’s top fears that he’s going to lose not only his freedom, but his sense of self?

Remember, people are hard-wired to procreate a LOT. Men are created to spread their seed to as many women as possible. That’s evolution at work, that’s how the species carries on. So commitment does involve a loss of sexual freedom, something that’s part of the plumbing.

If a man is generally happy with himself and his life, commitment is going to mean a change that he isn’t sure is for the better. Commitment involves less time with friends, his job/school, things he enjoys. He has to make time for you, so he needs to believe that it’s going to be worth it. I don’t hear many men complain about a loss of self in the psychological sense; it’s more of practical restraint on what he can and can’t do once he’s in deep.

10. If you let little disagreements with your man slide (eg, let his clothes stay where they are on the floor), how does he translate this? For instance, will he feel reassured that you love him for who he is and don’t have some mastermind plan to upgrade his personality?

This one is contingent on the relationship’s history. I think if a woman isn’t a nagger from the onset, a man is more likely to see her as someone who appreciates him for the bigger picture. He’s more likely to say the small things don’t matter to her. What’s important to her is being together and having fun.

A “mastermind plan” theory is more likely to come from a woman who formerly gave her man a hard time and then suddenly pulled a 180. An inconsistent partner can create a more suspicious lover, or at least a guy who thinks that his woman doesn’t know what she wants.

11. Obvious question, but why do men want to date someone who takes care of them but doesn’t act like their mom?

Last time I checked, it was taboo to have sex with your mom. So why would a man want that reminder in the bedroom with him? That doesn’t sound all that erotic to me.

12. Why are men more independent-minded today than ever and getting married at a later average age (28, according to one study)? Is it because after living solo for so long, they’re reluctant to make the compromises and choices they think a commitment calls for?

People in general are getting married at a later age in large part to the increased time spent in school and training. More people are required to get a greater amount of education than in years past and a Master’s Degree is the equivalent of a college-education from 20 years ago. Most people aren’t financially ready to take on the world in their early 20’s and are focusing their attention on that before finding a partner. This is a good thing; you want a guy who has solidified as much of his life as possible.

13. What pressures does society put on men to be independent?

Per usual, evolution is the source of pressure. Some theorists in this area say that the men who could tolerate long periods of silence and solitude (for example, waiting for animals to hunt down) survived to pass on their genes. In other words, these men were selected for their independent qualities.

The independent man is the one who appears strongest, most capable, most resourceful and confident. That, in turn, gets the women and allows for his seed to be passed along. So while women may not be consciously pushing men to exert their independence, men in general are competing for the best women. Therefore they are going to do whatever makes them the most desirable. Independence is a highly desirable trait because of the qualities that it suggests.

14. In one section, we discuss how the idea of “taking care” of your man might sound old-fashioned, but it can be really appreciated by him when done in small, subtle ways. (You’re not hovering over him or babying him, but just showing you care.) To that end, would you agree that the idea of TLC or pampering your man might be lacking in a lot of relationships today as women busy themselves with work and school? And guys might really crave/appreciate it, esp. now because of the dismal economy?

TLC might be lacking in a relationship, but it’s not because women are focused on school and work. Women have always had something to focus on, whether it be child-rearing and the home (back in the old days), or school and career now. If TLC is gone, it’s because the relationship is struggling or that nurturing style isn’t part of the woman’s personality.

Of course men appreciate it, but that’s simply a function of human nature, not being male per se. In this economy virtually everyone could benefit from more TLC at home with their lover. Getting through these times is hard enough, not having support and that caring voice makes the climb that much higher.

Dr. Rob, thank you so, so much for these incredible insights. You are a true stud, both mental and physical (interviewer removes clothes).

Note: I added that last sentence based on what you’d assume would happen after an interview of such sordid detail.

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21 Responses to “The Complete Interview I did for ‘Cosmo’: Sex, Men and Long-Term Relationships”

  1. BL1Y says:

    “I really like it when you put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor.”

    That sounded so incredibly passive aggressive. I agree that praise is generally going to work better than criticism, but with the wrong tone it will be just as bad, if not worse.

    If you’ve been in a relationship for a while, and your guy isn’t a total dullard, he’s going to know when you’re trying to manipulate him, and he isn’t going to like it. A sincere “thanks” will go a long way. And that’s the key, sincerity. You have to stop and recognize the fact that he’s going out of his way to make you happy.

    If you’re only happy that you’re getting your way, you’re going to come across as a nagging bitch. But, if you’re happy because you recognize that his actions show how much he cares for and respects you, he’ll appreciate the thanks and you’ll both be better off.

  2. Tracie says:

    I agree with B1LY. I totally understand what you’re trying to say with that statement, Rob, but I can also see it launching a thousand snarky comments depending on its delivery. I’ve found that a simple (and again, sincere) “Hey, thank you for doing that for me today, it saved me some time” can go a long way.
    Your answer to 14 was great. There’s a lot to be gained from thinking less about human needs versus “guy needs.” I’m glad you posted the full interview. There’s some great advice here.

  3. Tracie says:

    *more about human needs, rather.

  4. T.J. says:

    Women who start to label themselves solely as “So and So’s girlfriend” are sacrificing their own identity. The best wives and girlfriends are the ones who have their own goals and interests.

    Right-fucking-on. Preach it, brotha!

    Ugh. For some reason or another (I’m guessing that it’s because I did something horrible in a past life and I’m on a 1,000-year Karma Payment Plan), I always seem to attract girls (on the rare occasion it actually happens or I pick up signals … which is really, really hard for me but that’s another neurosis) with no lives / friends and whatnot.

    And they’re always THERE. They never leave you alone. And they never shut the fuck up for five minutes. And if you don’t listen to every single word, then it’s automatically assumed that YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME!!!!

    Every woman I’ve ever dated … there’s never precious silence. Oh, and by the way, when I’m driving, the radio dial / volume button is not yours. Yes, I’d rather listen to the Eagles of Death Metal than your prattling on about your coworkers I’ve never met or really care about.

    The thing is, I’m not that interesting. I read and look up dumb shit on the Internet and screw around with design software that most women don’t understand or care about. Sometimes I play pool and bitch about politics over beers with my friends.

    I’m not interesting enough for you to be around me all the goddamn time. Get a hobby or some friends or get into some activism or something.

    Ladies, we don’t care that much about “pampering” or what-not. We just want to be left alone every now and then. Silence is platinum. An hour a day, that’s it … that’s all we need.

    /and yes, I just got out of a long relationship and realized my life is better without it. I’d love to be in another one, but this clingy shit has to stop. Any advice to help me get one that doesn’t latch on like a codependent lamprey on crystal meth?

  5. opinion says:

    t.j,

    what role do you play in the pattern that seems to follow you? are you initially attracted to the clingy women later to be feel overwhelmed by constant attention? does this remind you of your relationship with any of your parents? often people get into a relationship with a particular type person to work out their own issues without realizing that consciously.
    if you have a pattern of who you date, that says something about your own personal dynamics
    are there signs that you miss/disregard/ignore early on?
    what is your family’s history of relationships?
    you play a role in who you chose to be with you so the question you need to ask yourself is why do i mainly chose a particular type of woman?
    good luck!
    this is information about you and only you can answer these questions truthfully.

  6. sandy says:

    I followed your link and can’t help noting the end of your post: “Now let’s never speak of it again.” How quickly you go back on your resolutions 😉 LOL

    By “this month” do you mean June? Dang it, I was in the grocery the other day, with a full cart, behind several other full carts, and I reached for “how to organize your crap” magazine instead of Cosmo, because I completely forgot. Hope it’s not too late the next time I’m stranded in the check out line.

  7. brian says:

    I’m going to bet fifty chocolate candy bars none of your answers based on evolution made it into the magazine.

    Not that I don’t believe in evolution. I’m Jus’ sayin’

  8. T.J. says:

    @ Opinion:

    I’d like to preface this with the fact that I’m retarded with people and emotions. Like, I miss signs, even the big ones. The girl could have her tongue down her throat and I’d be thinking “Gee, I wonder if she likes me?”

    I’ve gotten better after years of observing others but it’s still hard for me to see stuff like that. The last gf I had … her roommate had to practically beat me over the head with a big, neon “Ask her out, Already!” sign before I was aware of any attraction.

    Here’s how it goes with every relationship I have. For two weeks to a month, it’s somewhat normal. Maybe a sleepover or two.

    Then, before I know it, BAM! She’s practically moved in with me for whatever reason. And then never goes away.

    And the thing is that it’s not that I loathe having company, while I’m a loner, it’s not the having her live with me, waking up with her every morning (oddly, something I miss now, somewhat), etc. But it’s the “not letting me do my thing” that bothers the hell out of me. As stated in my above post, I am not that interesting. Especially not interesting enough for you to have to be around me all the time.

    As for why I attract these women. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s an opposites / Odd Couple thing. I’ve always been somewhat detached from people and their ways and emotions. So maybe the most extreme side attracts to me.

    Guess I have more to think about.

  9. T.J. says:

    Oh, and I don’t know much about my family history or whatnot. Being from a Christian background, relationship / sex / etc. were somewhat taboo. Hell, I never got “the talk.” And, to be honest, that isn’t an area I want to know about anyway.

  10. opinion says:

    t.j,

    while there is ease/safety in not knowing, it does not help when trying to make life-long changes
    it is true that opposites attract but they do so for a reason. perhaps it is the thing you are trying to understand about yourself.
    it is no coincidence that you struggle with recognizing emotions and cues and end up with the person who is so intense, in a way.
    perhaps you are trying to understand that part of yourself by choosing these women. when i say “choosing” I mean unconsciously choosing. the more you can understand yourself, the more you can have actual control of the choices you make and the more those choices will be fully conscious.
    ask yourself, why am I missing cues? just because you have been doing it all your life does not mean you have to continue doing so.
    also, are you speaking up for your needs? are you setting boundaries?
    if you have been in the same situation over and over, what are you doing different for yourself?
    we have no control over what people do/feel/think but we do have control over our choices. if we understand ourselves better, we can make more informed choices.
    from the way you are describing it these women are needing so much from you and you feel suffocated in these situations.
    again, it makes me wonder if your emotional needs were paid attention to as a child. how available were your parents to pay attention to your emotions and how did they express their own emotions? maybe there wasn’t enough closeness in your home on some level and that pulls you toward women who want too much because you did not get enough. or another possibility, maybe a parent or even both were needy as well and you grew up knowing that so in some way you are pulled toward that dynamic. we are often pulled toward childhood unhealthy but familiar dynamics in order to work through them as adults. that pull is often unconscious. so until we make it conscious for ourselves we will be in the same cycle over and over.
    thanks for your honesty.

  11. Tracie says:

    TJ, have you ever told one of your partners how you feel and expressed your need for alone time? I’m not trying to be snarky; it’s hard to know sometimes when your partner needs space. When phrased carefully and with concern for your partner’s feelings, I think it’s possible to ask for and get the solitude that you need. Granted, a lot of women might take it the wrong way, but not always. (I’m pretty clingy myself, but I can handle a gentle reminder that space is necessary without flipping my shit out.)

    Maybe you are that awesome. Maybe they do really just want to hang out with you, and need a nudge to back off for a bit. Infatuation does funny things to people.

  12. Amber says:

    Dude, I randomly picked up a cosmo at the pharmacy last week while waiting for my son’s doc’s appt. It happens to be the June issue…where is this article?

  13. Celestine says:

    In addition to the whole nagging thing, one of my favorite media figures, Advice Columnist Dan Savage talks about something he calls “the price of admission”. I think more people would benefit adopting that kind of attitude in relationships. As no relationship is perfect and every person in a LTR is going to do SOMETHING that bugs you. Some your significant other doesn’t put the clothes in the hamper. Is that the end of the world? No. Would it be nice if they did that? Sure. But if that’s the biggest complaint you have about them, perhaps it’s time for YOU to simply accept it rather than trying to CHANGE them as a person.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ObrFwjesno (refernce video where DS talks about the PoA)

  14. T.J. says:

    Opinion:
    ask yourself, why am I missing cues? just because you have been doing it all your life does not mean you have to continue doing so.
    It’s not that I “miss” cues. It’s that I’m incapable of knowing they exist.
    Look, I know a good amount of the psychology game. I know how it works.
    I had two (non-existant, at that) folks with full-time jobs. Living the American dream, if you’d call it that.
    And what I learned, over years. It’s better to hide your emotions. And it’s better to choose your battles. Sit back. Look. Figure your losses. Or gains, but those never happen. Do I really wanna lose because Jesus said so?
    There’s always less bullshit. It makes waking up easier.
    The thing is that, after years, you understand what a Pyrric Victory is. I grew up in a house full of people with no idea what an “inside voice” is.
    What will waste less of your time on this planet? When you’re always “wrong.” Or when you keep your mouth shut? I’d rather keep my mouth shut and read.
    It’ll (pardon my French) fuck you up after a while.
    And maybe that’s what kills me. I guess it’s easier to avoid argument when you can’t figure out why you’re arguing about retarded bullshit in the first place.
    I “miss” “cues” because they don’t exist until I know they’re real. They’re Muppets, to me, frankly. You’re talking to and giving advice to (and I really do appreciate the help) someone whom sees muppets even if they’re not made of carpet.
    I miss “cues” because they might as well be Bigfoot to me.
    And, to answer your other question … I was handed off to babysitter after babysitter after babysitter …
    My own family only really talks to me when they want something like computer help. You nailed it like I wanna nail somebody other than myself. You get tired of someone asking you how you feel over and over again about every little goddamn thing over and over again and they just don’t really care over and over again.
    I’m not being emo or whatever but that’s how it is. I’ll dye my hair black when there’s a chicken in every pot. Won’t happen. But dreams are nice.
    Tracie:
    Maybe you are that awesome. Maybe they do really just want to hang out with you, and need a nudge to back off for a bit. Infatuation does funny things to people.
    I in no way claim to be George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s love child. But … given my space here in NE Ohio … I’ve found that you aren’t a damn thing unless they want something.
    That, and I’m weird. And I know it. I have to learn how other peoples’ social norms work and adapt to that. I guess I’m awesome in a “let’s discuss how sad our leaders are” way rather than a “this shitty song is awesome and I’ll totally profess that till I wanna die inside slowly” kind of way.
    Goes with the territory.
    I totally fucking wish I was awesome …

  15. T.J. says:

    Tracie:

    I need sleep and before I forget:

    Telling a woman “I need time to be left alone every now and then” is the same as “so you wanna sign this prenup?”

    Whether or not you care about what some random dude on the Internet says … it’s the same damn thing.

    Always.

    Sorry I’m jaded.

  16. Tracie says:

    T.J.,
    From one Ohio weirdo to another, I can say this:
    Someone cares.
    It sounds like your experiences with your family didn’t make you feel like they did, and they fucked things up badly, and it’s left you with all kinds of confusion and other unpleasant emotions surrounding humans. That’s completely understandable. Above understandable, it’s almost to be expected. People push you down like that during your formative years and it’s going to cause some damage. My ex went through experiences that sound very similar to what you went through, and he’s just now learning the extent of their effects.

    You can take this as just some bullshit platitude from a stranger on the Internet, but still: someone cares. Someone gives a shit. No matter how weird or awkward or estranged from humans that you might feel, someone’s going to want you to be happy. Hell, I wish I could hug you, and I’m just some random girl who’s never met you but feels like she knows to some degree what you’ve felt. Take from this whatever you will.

    Not sure what you mean about the prenup thing; care to elaborate? I don’t know how girl brains are supposed to work.

  17. Alice says:

    Thank goodness that every single reader of Cosmopolitan is a heterosexual woman, or you might have really messed that up!

  18. Kate says:

    “Remember, people are hard-wired to procreate a LOT. Men are created to spread their seed to as many women as possible. That’s evolution at work, that’s how the species carries on.”

    Actually that’s an antiquated conceptualization of evolutionary psych: the “parental investment” model. “Strategic pluralism” is an updated model which stipulates that women are similarly programmed to seek out multiple partners, we’re just a bit more covert and malicious about it. Women seek out “daddy types”–men who we perceive to be good, long-term caretakers–who will be around to raise our offspring. Once we’ve got those guys on lock, we cheat with the narcissistic, good-looking “cads”–the ones who are more overtly doing a multiple-partner thing–and get the dominant genes from them. So we keep the daddies around to raise our genetically questionable offspring and hope that the kids got the good genes. I know it’s a little Machiavellian, but it makes me feel better about being a female in what’s typically understood to be a male-dominated, parental investment world.

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