How can we get back the thrill in our relationship?

We're Stanford juniors in love, but the initial fizz is gone.


Cary Tennis
June 8, 2007 2:41PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend and I have been dating for 15 months now. We are both in college (rising juniors) and we certainly love each other very much. We met by living in the same dorm ("dormcest"), took many classes together and became friends.

I had a girlfriend at the beginning of last year and so it wasn't until the spring that we got together. While we started off being very, very physical, that has since tapered off. I don't mean we have stopped having sex, or that we are no longer attracted to each other -- quite the contrary. I think she is the most beautiful girl in the world (seriously, I could send you a picture, she's gorgeous) and I think, while remaining modest, that she feels similarly toward me.

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In some ways what I am describing is sure to come off as the hackneyed and well-known aspect of relationships, as John Legend puts it, "... to get old/ They had a tendency to grow cold."

But I feel like what we have is something different; we are something more. We are students at an elite national university (Stanford), and a pillar of our relationship from the beginning has been our intellectual as well as our physical attraction to each other. While I wouldn't characterize our relationship as on the rocks (at all), I am hoping you might have some advice for us: What can we do to bring back the earlier days of our relationship?

Stanford Undergrad

Dear Stanford Undergrad,

Thank you for adding the word "dormcest" to my vocabulary.

So how do I want to help you? I want to help you by reminding you that while Stanford is expanding your sense of unlimited horizons in personal achievement, personal relationships are a different matter. She is one course you are never going to ace no matter how much you study.

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If you initially felt a profound, ecstatic love and desire that left you speechless and seemed to connect you with the very gossamer sinews of the universal cradle of consciousness, good man. You're probably doing it right. But it comes and goes, the majesty of entwinement.

Call me a mystic or a cynic, but this is what I recommend: Proceed in this relationship admitting that you know virtually nothing. Go forth wanting nothing but the naked truth of you and her, not to be a hero of right conduct and high ideals, not to be the perfect Stanford couple, none of that high-minded stuff. I say focus on the nitty-gritty, intractable mystery of individual lives and how they imperfectly intersect at best. Accept the ups and downs. Query yourself deeply: Are you being authentic or are you trying to show off?

Your relationship is not the stage where you display your triumph. It is instead the forest where you lose yourself in order to find yourself.

So let me tell you what I hope for you, apart from my hope that you get the relationship as right as you can get it, and don't sweat the small ups and downs, which come with the territory. Let me tell you what I hope. I hope that the awakening of your ideals and cultural power bestowed upon you by Stanford will be accompanied by an awakening of deep humility before the problems and challenges of American democracy. That is what I hope. And that is why I say that she is a course you are never going to ace. Because she is, by proxy, the real world you face, untamable and largely unknowable.

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I speak to you now in your capacity as a future member of America's elite, for America's elite needs now to turn away from dreams of empire, to turn away from dreams of personal excellence, which have become synonymous with dreams of empire, to turn away from dreams of self-perfection, which have become synonymous with the will to power and a master civilization, to turn away from our own perfect reflection and see instead how much damage our self-absorption is doing in the world, and not just physical damage but moral and intellectual damage too, as lies infect our promise.

If you study economics or politics or science you will see how difficult it is to change institutions and nations, and I hope you will realize that one reason it is so hard to change institutions and nations is that individual humans are unimaginably complex, subtle and, at root, unknowable.

It is the mistaken belief that people can be knowable and thus malleable that lies at the heart of America's most wrongheaded and tragic behavior in the world.

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What I mean is, you cannot even know what's going on in your own girlfriend's head. Consider what that means about the world you are soon to join.

I sense that you have high ideals, but I honestly think at this point in our history we need something like sobriety and realistic expectations, something like humility, to counter our tragic hubris.

So think of your girlfriend as the world. Consider yourself a guest there. Meditate on how unknowable it is.

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