The Multiple-Lover Phenomenon

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In the June newsletter we described the unconscious evolutionary programming that causes women to find "Don Juans" compelling. Briefly, if your sex partner is attractive to lots of women, your future son has a better shot at that quality - and at opportunities to spread your genes in the next generation. Needless to say, this evolutionary program seldom leads to lasting harmony. Yet it’s easy to see why evolution has conserved it; it passes on lots of genes.

The multiple-lover phenomenon is another common unconscious pattern. As soon as you start to get closer to your mate, someone else shows up to tempt you. This recently happened to a friend:

For the first time in my life, I have been approached (unsolicited - at least consciously) by a woman (not my partner) to be her lover. This came out of the blue for me, and it blew me away emotionally for a few days. I still feel rattled...So, here I am, a man experiencing his first prolonged period without peak orgasms, and a woman whom I thought was a casual friend approaches me and asks me to be her lover. She wants me to pleasure her - yet doesn’t want anything more - because she is married...another wrinkle.

Is the universe/spirit testing me (ha! ha!)? The problem is that my body responded with a big "yes!" although I have not done anything and made no commitment (yet). Clinton cartoonWhen I think of her and being with her (she is quite attractive, intelligent, and dynamic), I feel energy pulsing in my perineum and a tingling in my chest and solar plexus. Sometimes, I shake. Once, I sat and cried. I have no romantic feelings for her - just a sexy excitement.

So, I want to continue the exchanges with my partner, and I also have this "opportunity/temptation" on the sidelines that is affecting me (I am letting it affect me). My biology says to go for it! Something has been awakened and I find myself staring at young women's bodies like I never have before. I feel alive, yet torn. The rest of me is just confused.

His experience is not unusual. Another very attractive friend said he noticed that he would go months longing for a lover...and every time one showed up...others did, too. His love life was very chaotic and painful for all concerned.

There are many ways to explain this multiple-lover phenomenon. For example, in We, a book on the psychology of romantic love, Robert Johnson writes that romantic sparks of the type my friend is suffering from hide a spiritual crisis. (Yes, behind all the racy neurochemistry, he is suffering - crying, shaking, tormented.) Johnson says we actually long for a spiritual experience that carries us beyond ourselves,Shakespeare in Love a transcendental experience. As soon as a relationship settles into normal companionship, we project our spiritual longing onto the next partner...and the process continues indefinitely.

This yearning is especially intense for anyone with whom we cannot have a normal relationship (for example, because she is married to someone else). Johnson recommends that we find a deeper connection to spirit through some other practice, and accept that our relationship serves a different, more mundane purpose in our life: companionship, procreation, physical affection, etc. Here I believe he overlooks the true spiritual potential of our intimate relationships - when we learn to use sex, as opposed to courtship - to achieve transcendence.

Coolidge Effect in actionOne can also look at the multiple-lover phenomenon in terms of the Coolidge Effect, of course. Biology bombards us with a huge, and very compelling, surge of neurochemistry whenever we have the chance to fertilize an "extra" mate. The only repellant for this biological gadfly seems to be finding a deep sense of wholeness in our existing relationship. Feelings of wholeness may translate into more oxytocin. Scientists have shown that oxytocin counters the cravings of high dopamine, speeds healing and counters stress. Perhaps as a result of our practice of controlled intercourse, I have noticed that I no longer really enjoy anyone's touch but my husband's (even for a therapeutic massage). Some type of deeper bond, beyond my conscious mind, has formed.

There's yet another reason humans attract side relationships. As A Course in Miracles, says, humans believe that "love" equals "sacrifice." Why? Because passionate sex leaves us feeling drained at a subconscious level. Gradually we associate our lover with feelings of depletion. We unconsciously perceive her/him as dangerous, which of course translates into "less attractive than any available lover who hasn't yet drained us." In short, we fear long-term unions simply because the neurochemistry of conventional sex manipulates us to do so.

When we first switch to controlled intercourse, all those old feelings of uneasiness about our current lover are still in place. It takes a while for our subconscious to recognize that our mate is now safe, that is, no longer draining us. Meanwhile, we see neither lover clearly. Our mate, who can benefit our health and inner peace doesn't look as good as she would if we had only just met her. siren seductionThe temptation, with whom we could never have a "draining," long-term relationship, looks better than she would if we had no mate. To put it differently, our subconscious doesn't believe that long-term relationships are good for us...despite the statistics that prove they are, and despite what our hearts tell us. This is how biology tricks us into producing greater genetic variety among our offspring.

Meanwhile the enticing neurochemistry of temptation is amazingly powerful. Anyone who is fairly attractive and not inhibited about sex knows it quite well. Such a person has options. So when the urge to separate hits, it seems clear that the solution lies in the next potential lover.

In fact, that person is likely to be wrong every time, and a very slow learner. Why do we implicitly trust those alluring neurochemical signals? Our brains are designed to supply dopamine surges to signal "right" decisions in all situations. Such a surge helps us choose courses of action that were rewarding in the past.

Yet, there are some areas of our lives in which these signals are not reliable. After all, our brain evolved to push us toward actions that improved the genetic success of our ancestors, or guaranteed their survival in their less-abundant lives. Many of these unconscious choices now serve us poorly - such as reaching for high-calorie foods, chocolate bargoing for short-term gains rather than long-term benefits, and, of course, adding genetic opportunities on the side. In these areas, we want to seek greater wisdom before making decisions. For an excellent, entertaining book on this subject see Mean Genes: From Sex, to Money, to Food, Taming our Primal Instincts by Burnham and Phelan.

Perhaps the cure to the multiple-lover phenomenon ultimately lies in healing our perception of our mate by changing the way we make love so we never feel drained. Then ongoing intimacy with its health and longevity benefits will not seem fearful. It may also help to recognize that the urge to switch partners is not coming from an inspired part of the brain.

Switching to controlled intercourse in an existing relationship is challenging. Our past uneasiness about being drained haunts us for a while. That's challenging enough without an enticing temptation like the one my friend faced. Yet, if we can stay with controlled intercourse long enough to clear out the old projections, then we have all the gifts of a long-term relationship (familiarity with each other, a mutual "history," and so forth.) and mutual attraction.

This process takes both time and lust engravinga firm decision to spend more time building something with our current partner. Resentment toward our current partner may be a challenge for a while. After all, in our subconscious mind, she is between us and an opportunity that our brain is signaling would be vastly rewarding. Sometimes it helps to set a time limit during which we will make a total commitment to our current efforts, at which point we will allow ourselves to reassess our situation...so we don't struggle with conflict constantly.

Like all of us, our mates have been burned by the fear of love that results from conventional lovemaking. By putting their healing first, we may speed our own.

By the way, I just heard this from my friend:

I'm back together with my mate. The Exchanges and Peace were the impetus for some changes in our relationship. They both very much contributed in a positive way because they made us each face some things about ourselves. And, we have incorporated some of the book into our lovemaking. Okay, we're not doing it by the book. However, we are doing well and have gained much as a result. We are conscious of when we want pull away and we reach out instead. Life is rich!