Take the greatest insights from the world's top relationship experts, blend them with the struggles of everyone in the dating trenches, and filter all that through a truly extraordinary mind. That's what happened when I interviewed Hara Marano, the Editor at Large of Psychology Today, and the author of Unconventional Wisdom, Psychology Today's advice column.

Episode Table of Contents

Episode Introduction: Hara Marano

Here's a chance to hear the greatest insights from the world's top thinkers on intimacy and relationships, blend them with the struggles of everyone who's in the trenches, trying to work it out in their dating lives and their relationship lives, and put these together and sift them through a very incredible mind. Then this is the chance to do that.

Hello and welcome to The Deeper Dating Podcast. I'm Ken Page and today I'm going to be interviewing Hara Marano, the editor-at-large of Psychology Today, and the author of Psychology Today's advice column. And she's got tons of fascinating information for everybody interested in the subject of intimacy, dating and love.

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Every week I'm going to share with you the greatest tools I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing and heal your life in the process, because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love. And the skills of love are the greatest skills of all for a happy life. You can also find the whole transcript of this episode on deeperdatingpodcast.com.

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A Warm Welcome to Our Guest: Hara Marano

Ken: So, Hara, welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I'm just so delighted to have you here.

Hara Marano: And I am always delighted to talk to you. Well, you have such a deep understanding of issues and such a thoughtful take on everything that it's always a pleasure to chat with you.

Ken: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you so much. And your role, and why I'm super excited about having you on this podcast, is because there are very, very few people to talk about intimacy in a way that who are positioned like you are, because you are the editor at large of Psychology Today, and you write consistently some of the most important features on relationships and intimacy and you're speaking with the most thoughtful, insightful, brilliant thought leaders around, about all aspects of relationships, sexuality, and intimacy. That's one level.

Ken: On another level, you are the advice columnist for Psychology Today with your column Unconventional Wisdom. So you are hearing from the trenches, and have for 15 years, about what people go through in their intimacy journeys. And then finally, you are someone who is in a wonderful relationship yourself, and you have many friends and people you love who are at all different phases of relationship. So there's the personal as well. And I want to tap you on all those different levels in this podcast.

Hara Marano: Well, I'll be happy to report from all of them. You know they all come out of one mouth, so I see with one set of eyes on all the, in all those different domains, and all my thoughts come out of one mouth, so you'll be hearing from me on all of those rolled into one ball.

Key Struggles of Single People in the Search for Love

Key Struggles of Single People In The Search For Love
Photographer: Martin Péchy | Source: Unsplash

Ken: That's right. Filtered and synthesized – through your heart, your mind and your eyes. So, great. Can I ask you the first question then?

Hara Marano: Please. Jump in.

Ken: Great. I guess the first thing that I want to ask you is, what are you noticing from the trenches as the kind of key struggles that single people who are looking for a relationship are experiencing?

Hara Marano: Well, so many thoughts come to mind. I think that there are at least two that I'd like to talk about.

Ken: Great.

Hara Marano: One of them is, and I'm getting this primarily from the questions that come into my column and conversations directly with all kinds of other people in my life. Direct conversations, that increasingly, people aren't really clear on what a relationship is. And they don't understand that

A relationship first and foremost, must be mutual.

Hara Marano: There must be a mutuality of respect, of consideration of needs. I hear from so many people who simply like another person, and assume from that, that they're going to be paid attention to in the way that they want. They're not. They’re frustrated. It sets up a really bad dynamic in a relationship. And I just hear this from so many people.

Hara Marano: Now, I suspect, because it's so much more common among young people that it has something to do with the development of social media and online contact. They’ve lost some basic threads of relationships. But the other thing I see, and this is, I can guarantee you a very direct result of social media, is that there are people who are really struggling with a lot of ambiguity in relationships.

Cowardice: A Decency Without Back Bone

Hara Marano: Ambiguous signals, and this is definitely a result of the fact that online media makes it very easy to avoid the real emotional labor that has to go on in a relationship. So, people just cut their losses and they end a relationship by ghosting, and you have no idea why a relationship ended.

Hara Marano: Which creates all kinds of ambiguity, anxiety. You have no way to grow for the next relationship. And you never learn how to handle all the difficulties that come up in relationships, because you just hit the off button.

Ken: That's right. It makes it so easy to flee. Just be out of there, like it never happened.

Hara Marano: Right. Or, to just avoid anything in any way through electronic communication. So that's a real problem that people are struggling with and it consumes a huge amount of emotional energy.

Ken: I think that's so true. Energy that could be used elsewhere.

Hara Marano: Could be use elsewhere for a million things in one's life, and for the relationship itself.

Ken: Yes. Exactly. I mean the whole thing of like ending a relationship by texting. You brought up such a huge point and I think that a lot of that cowardice is just decency without a backbone.

Ken: Because people run and they flee, because they don't want to hurt people. They don't want to be the one doing damage. But they do more damage by not crafting the words to explain what's going on for them. It's a kind of betrayal to just leave like that. And you're right. It's absolutely rampant.

Dating: A Trial and Error Process

Ken: But it's betrayal and it shuts people's hearts down and makes them go into the game of dating with very shutdown hearts. With a lot of self-protection which is not the greatest way to enter into a new relationship.

Hara Marano: No. And I think that …

If you like or love someone, you owe it to them to explain why a relationship isn't working for you. One, it gives the person the opportunity to repair. But, it also gives the person the opportunity to do whatever they need to do for themselves or look out for certain problems in their next relationship.

Ken: That's so true.

Ken: That's a grave concern.

Hara Marano: Definitely. I just think that everyone at the end of a relationship……. Here's the thing about dating. Dating is by definition, a trial and error process.

Hara Marano: You're trying to find a good fit. There's never going to be a perfect fit. But you're trying to find a good fit where lots of things work together. And what that means is that there are going to be a lot of breakups. You know that, intellectually, before you even enter the process.

Hara Marano: So people ought to have enough respect for each other, and especially someone they liked or loved and at the end of the relationship, after the immediate pain is gone, sit down with each other and explain why it didn't work. What needs weren't met? What feelings arose? What developments in life intervened?

Hara Marano: I just think it's so necessary to know what's happening instead of spending eons guessing, being confused about,

The Least Attractive Element in a Relationship

Hara Marano: Worrying over and destroying before it even begins, another relationship because it creates so much anxiety. Often, people are walking on eggshells, afraid they're going to get rejected again because there was no clarity in leaving the prior relationship.

Ken: Yeah. And that's a really hard place and I know it personally, really well. It's that place where on one hand, you're judging yourself and thinking, "I must be really screwed up that someone like this just couldn't even like talk to me. Couldn't be with me. Had to leave me. Rejected me." And then on the other hand, there's so much anger. Like what an asshole that this person did it this way! And neither of those are particularly… they're both understandable, but they're not particularly generative.

Hara Marano: Not at all.

Ken: So yeah, you leave everyone stuck. You leave everyone stuck.

Hara Marano: And then, what happens with that anger is that it generalizes to like the whole class.

Hara Marano: Yeah, right, right.

Ken:Of that gender, or that age group, or that profession. Yeah.

Hara Marano: Right. And then

The wondering about one's self turns into insecurity, which is just the least attractive element in a relationship.

Ken: I think that is so true and I just have to kind of make a call out here and that is this is a call out to maturity that we're talking about for everyone who wants to end a relationship, to do it in a way that's kind and caring and honest and authentic. Taking the time to craft those really difficult words, and then doing it not by text.

Out in the Open

Out In The Open
Photographer: Joshua Ness | Source: Unsplash

Ken: The other piece that I just want to say to everybody who has had this done to them, you have a right to get the other person. To say to them, "I really want you to sit down with me and talk to me. I really feel like I deserve that. I want a clear understanding of what happened. I deserve that after this time together."

Ken: People are afraid to do that but in this world, and in this culture, you have a right to do that. You may not get it, but you have a right to ask for that strongly.

Hara Marano: You know, I actually did that in a relationship.

Ken: Did you?

Hara Marano: This goes back I would say about 17 years. I was dating someone casually. I knew he was not going to be a permanent feature of my life. He persuaded me to go out with him. He was 10 years younger than I was. A lovely guy. We had some wonderful times together. And then abruptly broke it off and I never heard from him.

Hara Marano: And then, about six or seven years later, I got an e-mail from him. He was in his dentist's office. He picked up the Daily News. My advice column was then carried by the Daily News, and he used that, seeing that as an occasion to shoot me an e-mail. And I wrote him back and I said, "You know what? Before we exchange another word."

Ken: Yes.

Hara Marano: "We really liked each other. We had some good times. We knew it was never going to go anywhere. You owe me an explanation."

Ken: I love it.

Hara Marano: And we've been good friends ever since.

How Gender Plays a Role in Relationships

Ken: Oh, so fabulous. And yes, we do have a right to do that. Hara, I'm going to move on because I'm going to hit a number of different points and hopefully in the future, I can have you on again so we could drill the hell down into these different things. But I'm going to move on to my next question for you.

Ken: And that is it's the same question and it's for people who are in relationships. What do you see as being the biggest struggles from the trenches that people are experiencing and reporting on and asking for help with these days?

Hara Marano: Well, well, I think that one of the big things everyone is struggling with is gender roles. I don't care what gender you are, what gender you want to be, where you are on gender identity, the culture's in transition. Everybody's in transition. Everybody's got different templates of what they learned, what they need, and everyone is just struggling.

Ken: It's so true. Yes.

Hara Marano: And one of the ways it comes out is exemplified in this article I just published in Psychology Today on affairs, and in this article, I talk to a psychologist and a leading divorce lawyer in New York who are seeing like the cutting edge of "splitsdom" in couples. And one of the things they're seeing is that … and New York may be a little unusual and maybe a little ahead of the rest of the country, but here's a phenomenon. We all know that women, maybe at least 50% of women are making as much as or more than men are these days. And in New York, there are really some very high power, high earning women.

Transitional Templates of Gender

Hara Marano: And they're in relationships, in marriages, where they've made a conscious decision with their partner based on needs and every day needs and every day realities where the woman is an even higher earner than her high earning husband.

Hara Marano: So they together make the decision where he's going to stay home with the kids, and she's going to go out there and conquer the universe. And, so these couples are making a decision based on their own every day needs, and what happens is that the women wind up in affairs that destroy the marriage, and it turns out that the women lose interest in their partners because they're not fulfilling the template of what a man is that ingrained template that they got growing up, that the culture gives all of us before we're even aware that we're receiving all these messages.

Hara Marano: And so, these women, these couples founder on sort of the transitional templates of gender. And in the many couples where that's not the extreme case, couples are just having arguments over and over again about gender roles, and what each person does and how they contribute and every couple is reinventing the wheel and devoting enormous amounts of energy to solving this problem in their own households.

Ken: Yeah. There's just so, so much in this. One thing I just want to jump in and say kind of on a high level is that something I see again, and again in dating, in relationships, in my own relationship in my own life, is that there's an ongoing necessity for rewiring. And that is hard work.

A Giant Cultural Rewiring

A Giant Cultural Rewiring
Photographer: freestocks.org | Source: Unsplash

Ken: Rewiring the ways you've been built to be attracted, engage, relate and that rewiring that becomes necessary as you grow is really hard work and now you're talking about a giant cultural rewiring.

Ken: It's so sad because these women, and these men in these relationships are being heroes. They're letting go of old gender roles, and they're going with what's new, what's wise, makes sense, and then it bites them in the butt. And that's just so poignant, and of course it doesn't mean that the toothpaste has to go back in the tube, but it means that like as a culture, we are on the edge of this incredibly difficult process.

Hara Marano: I know. How do you envision couples doing the necessary rewiring?

Ken: I think that it's all about hard conversations done in a loving way. Because I just think again, and again, and I'm going to talk about my relationship with Greg, my husband. Again and again, we come to junctures that just seem like well, the Earth is going to end here. Like, we're are on a precipice. We aren't going to figure this one out. And Greg's so good. He always says we always figure these things out. We'll figure this one out.

Ken: And somehow, in the act of communicating and this is something you've talked about with me personally, Hara. Your belief about the importance of bringing goodwill into a relationship. In the presence of that kind of goodwill, somehow new worlds open up. The rewiring happens by both parties getting vulnerable and saying, "I love you. I care. And I am stuck as all hell. What do we do?" And we rewire in real time in those conversations.

Demystifying the Mythology of Romance

Ken: Not alone in our heads, but in real time, in the context of the relationship. But man, it's hard. And I wonder in those relationships, like do you feel in those relationships if you can comment on this, that the husband and wife were too shy and too embarrassed to talk about this, particularly the wife? Or, did they have extensive conversations where they tried to work this through? Or somewhere in between?

Hara Marano: In the couples of which I was made aware, the partners did not have the extensive conversations. They acted to create an inevitability, the end of the relationship, on their own without having the conversation. In other words, they avoided the conversation. And what I think happens is that there's just this general avoidance of the difficult conversations partly because of the mythology of romance that everything should fall into place.

Ken: Yes. Yes. And this is so interesting, Hara, because now we're talking about the same theme in dating that we're talking about in relationships. We came to the same place. The person saying, "I can't do that hard thing because it will make the other person feel too bad. It'll make me feel too bad about myself, so I'm not going to do it." We're talking about the same theme, interestingly enough in both places.

Hara Marano: And I think there's another aspect to it, and absolutely goodwill is important. But so is commitment. Having a sense of commitment to the very end, which means trying every remedy to repair the relationship.

The Avoidance Method

Hara Marano: So sitting down and having that hard conversation but instead what happens is, you're home or you're in your office, and you've had a miserable night and a miserable argument, and you go online and it's so easy to just flip the switch onto a dating site and begin a conversation that's so easy and takes you down a path and before you know it, you're out of the relationship.

Ken: I have chills hearing you say that because you're just speaking those words step by step of what happens for so many people.

Hara Marano: Yeah. And people don't intend it, but there's an emotional ease in online relationships. People don't in a sense really understand how emotions are operating in a vacuum there and all of a sudden, that becomes more rewarding than one's home life.

Ken: Absolutely! It's kind of like porn.

Ken: An idealized version of something that just doesn't carry any of the weight, the burden, the work, the challenge.

Hara Marano: Right. When porn is often used as another one of those escapes from doing the work of a relationship. Well, here I can get what I want. I don't have to bother with the messy interaction with another human being. I'll just look, take care of my own needs and I'll be a happier person in the morning.

Ken: Right. Exactly.

Hara Marano: But it's all the same thing, and it's avoiding the difficulties and side stepping them. And that's not really respectful of a partner.

Ken: No. And it's so interesting because in the case of dating that you talked about, and in the case of relationships, both of the escapes were online. All those escapes that you described in these particular cases were all online.

Let's Talk About S.E.X

Let‘s Talk About S.E.X
Photographer: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen | Source: Unsplash

Hara Marano: And I think that becomes sort of the basic exit ramp for relationships these days.

Ken: Well said! That's great. Yes. Yes.

Hara Marano: Not that work, and being at work every day doesn't also create opportunities. It creates lots of opportunities.

Ken: Absolutely true. Absolutely.

Hara Marano: Yeah. But, if you have a commitment to a partner, where I'm going to work on this thing until I have no more energy left.

If you have that commitment, you don't even see alternatives.

Hara Marano: I mean, there are studies done that show that you're just not interested. People who have a commitment to a partner, don't even notice when other people are coming onto them. It's really kind of interesting.

Ken: I love that. I love that. I'm in deep agreement. And now I'm thinking of two different things. I'm thinking of the issue with monogamy versus polyamory. But I'm also just thinking about sex, and I think I'm going to talk about like I'm going to ask you some questions about sex first.

Ken: Yeah. So I know that you have talked to the top experts. You've talked to so many people who are in the trenches in dealing with these things. But I think another area of hard conversation is around sex. And I think that online, people can share and these are always the two questions that I ask people to consider. What turns you on the most in sex? Really, honestly admitting that. And also, what touches your heart most deeply and makes you feel the most safe in sex?

Do It to Me in Loving Ways and Guiding Hands

Ken: Those are the big, big questions and often, it just feels too mortifying to talk about those things with our partners. But when we don't, we're headed down a ramp, away from our extraordinariness as a couple.

Ken: But those conversations are so hard and I just would love to hear your thoughts about that issue. Couples finding a way to talk about sex in ways that allow them to really be authentic, vulnerable and safe in bed.

Hara Marano: Well, as you're talking, I'm sitting here thinking about a woman who wrote to me in my advice column who was not married, but was in a long standing relationship of a couple of years and was no longer attracted to her partner and couldn't tell him because his hygiene was awful.

Hara Marano: And she was ashamed to tell him.

Hara Marano: I mean, shame permeates everyone's sexual needs, as if there's something weird and wrong with saying to someone. So imagine, you're sleeping with someone for two years and you can't tell them to brush their teeth. I mean, what kind of weird universe is that?

Ken: Yes. It's so true. Or please touch me in this way. Or don't touch me in this way. It's so explicitly hard and then when we don't do it, there's this kind of decline in magnificence in the couplehood.

Hara Marano: Right. And it's, admittedly, it's hard to do it in the heat of passion because there's the danger it's going to turn someone off if you start giving them directions.

Hara Marano: But it can be done in loving ways by guiding hands. By touching places. And touching tentatively, and gauging response. I mean, again-

Be Tender: In and Out of the Bedroom

Hara Marano: … it's kind of trial and error. You want to try everything and be sensitive to what the response is, both verbally and non-verbally and nerve endings and how someone jumps and positive reaction to it. There are a lot of ways to do it, and also, I mean, one can have an out of bed conversation too. But here's the other thing, I think that …

What goes on outside the bedroom reflects what goes on inside the bedroom.

Hara Marano: And people have to be tender outside the bedroom, otherwise they can't be tender and receptive inside the bedroom. So, it's not like, oh there's one set of operating instructions for the kitchen and another set of operating instructions for the bedroom.

Ken: I love that.

Hara Marano: Yeah. Life doesn't work that way.

Hara Marano: And so, here's what happens. So, when there's tenderness in all areas, you create a bank of goodwill, and a partner is willing to hear. I wouldn't frame it as a correction but as gentle guidance as to what you need, and here's the message that everybody should have. Nothing, but absolutely nothing is taboo, if it doesn't hurt one's self or a partner.

Hara Marano: I mean, and there should be no shame about what one likes, or what one wants. Sexual needs and interests are just so globally varied, that I just wish everybody could drop their shame about what they want, and say, "Hey, you know what? I really like this. Would you mind if we tried it?"

Hara Marano: I mean two people may not like the same thing, but it's certainly worth bringing up.

Dancing Around the Volcano

Dancing Around the Volcano 100%
Photographer: Radek Pestka | Source: Unsplash

Ken: One of the most wonderful stories that I remember around this exact subject, and what you said about creating that bank of goodwill was just stunning. It was great. So, there's an author named Guy Kettelhack who's work I really love. He wrote a book called Dancing Around the Volcano and it's about gay men's sexual lives. The story just touched my heart so much.

Ken: It was a guy who had a fetish for thin, black dress socks. He would not get turned on by guys unless they were wearing thin, black, dress socks. He felt like a freak, like a mutant. Like he could never have a normal life in this world. He talked about the person who kind of saved his life around that. It was someone he dated that he didn't end up staying with. He just couldn't help himself because he loved this guy. The guy loved him.

Ken: Everything was sinking because the guy didn't know about the socks. So in a state of complete mortification, because he didn't want to lose this opportunity, he told the guy that this is something that is essential for him, and really turns him on. He said, "I can never, for the rest of my life, thank this guy enough. Because he just said, 'Sure. Let's get some!'" It was not a big deal. It wasn't his turn on.

Ken: That allowed them to be a couple and allowed him to do two things. One, embrace that part of himself. Two, because he didn't have to hold on so tight, that part could loosen up a little bit and became less absolutely required. I just thought that was the most precious story that kind of captures this.

Celebration of a Potential Banquet

Hara Marano: That is lovely. I also happen to know Guy Kettelhack. He worked for my late husband years ago.

Ken: Oh my gosh.

Hara Marano: Yeah. The world is small.

Ken: That's amazing.

Hara Marano: And what shame could there possibly be in thin, black socks? I ask you.

Ken: Yes, yes. Such a metaphor. Such a metaphor.

Hara Marano: Right. Yeah. I'm going to have to remember that one. Thin, black socks as a metaphor.

Ken: Thin, black dress socks.

Hara Marano: Yeah. Right. For all those kinds of things.

Ken: Right. And then for us too is kind of like just being more open and flexible with the things that our partner secret wants as well.

Hara Marano: Oh, yeah. And, they're can be conversations. Even in the heat of things, of okay, tell me what you most want. Tell me what you've never told anyone before. I want to do what you most want to do. I mean, that's such a loving gift to give to somebody. How could it not be received wonderfully? Embraced?

Ken: Yes. Yes. And this is why Gandhi said,

"Love is the prerogative of the brave."

Because it's hard and it's beautiful and it's love.

Hara Marano: Right. And it may be something that you are, for whatever reason, uncomfortable doing. It may not be. But if it is something you're uncomfortable doing, it's possible to have that conversation and say, "You know, I know you like that. I'm not crazy about doing that." You can switch it off with other things that you like or that you both like. But you need to open up that area.

Ken: Beautiful. Beautiful. It's a celebration. It's an invitation to a potential banquet that is also a metaphor for everything in relationships, right?

Effects of Emotional Affairs

Hara Marano: Everything in relationships at every age because if you're like me, and you are dating after widowhood, you're meeting new people and new people have new interests and new likes and desires and wants and needs, and so it's an eternally ongoing conversation in life. And even if you're in one relationship for 60 years, needs and wants evolve. And there are just always new paths to intimacy.

Ken: Beautiful. So, Hara, I want to jump into something else now that feels like to me, and I don't know if you've experienced the same thing in the last 15 years, it seems like couples are wrestling more with emotional affairs now than in the past. I don't know if you're experiencing that too, but whether you are or not, I do want to talk about emotional affairs.

Ken: And how those, what is the effect emotional affairs on relationships?

Hara Marano: Tell me what you literally mean by emotional affairs.

Ken: Well, in my work, I have seen more and more people talking about a profound sense of betrayal because people are engaging in non-sexual, almost kind of romantic intimacy, but not directly romantic, and definitely not sexual. A deep sense of intimacy with other people of the gender that that person is attracted to. The kind of betrayal that people feel and I've seen so many relationships break up because of emotional affairs.

Hara Marano: Are you referring to emotional affairs that are happening online or in person, in real life? Or all of the above?

Ken: All of the above. Yeah. Relationships in which eros, in its most general form, like romance in its most general and non-specific form is kind of cultivated and there's a sense of deep, unique specialness between those two people that leaves the partner out.

Dealing with Speed Bumps

Hara Marano: Yeah. I think a lot of things are going on. I definitely agree that there's lots of this happening. I think part of it is the ease of going online when there's a speed bump in a relationship. It's like, okay, I'm going to go online and look for something that's going to be rewarding. Or I'm just going to fool around and you fall into something that's erotic, and arousing and it's just much easier than facing the issues in your relationship. I also think that things are happening in person and it's not all acts of commission because I do think that there are really two sides of what's going on.

Hara Marano: I do think that people have unreal expectations of what love is and there's almost a narcissistic need to have all the attention of one's partner, and that's really too demanding and unrealistic and can drive away a partner.

Hara Marano: I think that one's definition is part of the problem. I also agree that you hit a speed bump in a relationship, and you begin to invest a little bit too much. Maybe don't draw the right boundary around your other relationships. And again, Ken, it's really all part of this general opportunity to avoid the difficult parts without obvious penalty at first.

Ken: Yes. So true. I'm thinking of my training as a therapist and the definition of crisis is where you hit a challenge that you don't have the tools to handle. And what's amazing about crisis is we build the tools that we didn't have before. In a way, relationships experience constant crises. Those are opportunity points to build a new set of skills. When we take the exit ramp, we don't get to build those new skills.

Monogamy vs Polyamory

Monogamy vs Polyamory
Photographer: Sharon McCutcheon | Source: Unsplash

Ken: Now I want to jump into the issue of polyamory and just hear your thoughts about monogamy versus polyamory, and I'll share my thoughts too. But I just love to hear your thoughts from the broad perspective on all different levels that you get to see.

Hara Marano: Well, I certainly have been asked a lot more questions about polyamory in the past couple of years. I can't speak from personal experience on this one, because I'm the last person to even want to be involved in a polyamorous relationship. It's just my nature. I just jump in. I'm a 200 percenter.

Hara Marano: I jump into a relationship and fight for it to the end. And I'm happy to be in a relationship now as I have been for the past couple of years. And polyamory just wouldn't even enter my mind. That said,

It is entirely possible to love more than one person at a time. I mean, there's just no doubt in my mind.

Hara Marano: What one does with that love is a totally different thing. So, here's what I'm hearing from people on the front lines. From relationship experts who really understand it, talk to people about it, and people in polyamorous relationships claim no jealousy. But jealousy winds up being a problem.

Hara Marano: I think ultimately. I think there are a lot of people in polyamorous relationships where one partner wants it more than another.

Ken: Yes.

Hara Marano: So you have that asymmetry to start with. One tolerates it. One enjoys it or needs it. And the other thing is that there is a constant conversation going on in couples in polyamorous relationships that would exhaust the hell out of me. I just couldn't do it.

Peering into the Statistics

Hara Marano: Where they're constantly talking about their feelings and their feelings for this, and their feelings for that and rebalancing it. I just could not be that self-absorbed, honestly, in a relationship. I would just throw up my hands and walk away from the whole thing, because there are just other things that I need to get on with in life, than spend all that time being so self-absorbed and negotiating the boundaries of all and juggling all these different relationships. So what I hear is that there is a lot of talk that goes on, a lot of energy and while lots of people are thinking about polyamory, only 6% of people, at least in the US engage in it.

Hara Marano: So, as one of my sources told me recently for an article that I'm doing, the fact that lots of people are thinking about and have a positive attitude towards it, are willing to accept it in others without censure, means that we're all kind of liberalizing our ideas about sex, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we want to choose that form of relationship for ourselves.

Ken: Very interesting.

Hara Marano: What's your take?

Ken: Well I have another question for you and then I'll share with you my thoughts, but my other question is, so you said 6% of people in the states are engaging in polyamorous relationships, is that right?

Ken: Yeah. What percent of people are having affairs?

Hara Marano: Oh my gosh. That's the statistic that's unknowable.

Ken: Right. Yes, it is. Yes, it is. What are the best guesses?

Hara Marano: Well, it's really the unknowable because few people will confess to it.

Ken: Right. How about at the least?

We Are Like Steel

Hara Marano: Gee. I don't have the number off the top of my head, but at the very least, 20% of women and the number of women is going up. Let me put it this way, under like age 35, the number of women and the number of men having affairs is the same. In fact, there's some evidence that more women than men are having affairs among the younger cohort.

Hara Marano: Among older ones, more men than women. But it's still about at least 20% of women, and I don't want to put my foot in my mouth and put a number on the number of men. Somewhere there's data but as I said, the data is totally unreliable on that topic.

Ken: Yes. That makes perfect sense. But it's a lot more than 6%.

Hara Marano: Oh, a lot more than 6%.

Ken: Yeah. You know, for me, Dr.David Schnarch's thought about the cauldron concept is one that I really adore. It is that crucible concept that you can actually bend steel because of the incredible amount of heat that it contains without leaking it out. And we are like steel that is not necessarily structured in the best way.

Ken: And in a relationship, as Harville Hendrix says, you end up in a place where the things you most need from your partner are the things they're least able to give you. And that's actually the beginning of deeper intimacy.

Ken: But that means bending the steel of our characterological traits. If the heat is leaking out by other relationships and other affairs, you don't have to because you're getting those needs met that your partner can't meet in another place. You will never have the contained heat to bend that steel.

Coming Up Against the Limits of Yourself

Ken: But that's an extraordinary couple that's willing to do that work. But that's an ideal that I aspire to.

Hara Marano: Right. And David also talks about wall-socket sex, and sex with your eyes open, and these really all important elements of a relationship when you're really willing to do that work in the crucible and contain it in the relationship. And I think there's something about love, and here, I'm really being driven by thoughts, personal thoughts. I think that when you come up against the limits of yourself, and of another person, and can love and respect someone in spite of it, that is when the sex gets electrifying.

Hara Marano: Or can get. It's not going to be … sex isn't going to be electrifying every time out. Sometimes, it's just going to be you're doing it for relief. You're doing it to make your partner happy. But there are times when it's really electrifying for both, and you both know it.

Ken: Beautiful.

Hara Marano: And it's when you really can accept the limits of the other person grow within them and give liberally and freely to each other.

Ken: And that's the magnificent…

Hara Marano: Thinking about that. Right.

Ken: That is just wonderful. That's wonderful. And Hara, in closing, I just want to ask you a question or two. One question I want to ask you is, if you could just … You've spoken with all of the top experts. What's one thing that someone said in all of these decades of interviewing people that kind of at this moment you would say touches you most deeply? The insight that was given to you by a particular relationship expert that kind of went the deepest or hit you the hardest?

Mindless Moments of Relationship

Mindless Moments of Relationship
Photographer: Alvin Mahmudov | Source: Unsplash

Hara Marano: I think John Gottman's work has always been pretty important. One of the things I've always liked about John's study of couples in a home-like laboratory, wired them up for days on end and watched them interact, is this idea of the so called mindless moments of relationship. In that, there are times when two people are together doing maybe their own separate thing.

Hara Marano: It's no special time. And one of them just calls to another person's attention to something, "Hey, look at that boat outside the window." And it sounds like nothing, but these mindless moments really are a kind of glue that holds couples together.

Hara Marano: And the other thing that John talks about and you and I have talked about this a lot is repair, repair, repair. Everybody screws things up and you just stop and you say, "You know? I'm sorry." And you repair the damage before it gets in and hardens the heart, or turns someone's gaze elsewhere.

Ken: So beautifully said. Hara, thank you so much. This was just such an exciting journey and such a rich journey. You’re such an extraordinary person because of all the dimensions that you bring to this, including your own heart and your own life and your own story, and your own experience. Is there anything that you want to say in closing?

Hara Marano: Yeah. I think there's one thing I do want to say. This really goes for everybody dating, and looking for a partner and people always ask me what's the most important thing to look for in a partner. I'm going to say, the three most important things to look for in a partner are character, character, and character.

Save Yourself Some Heartache

Hara Marano: Is someone honest? Is someone kind? These are things that are going to affect the nature of your relationship far more than you can imagine. They're not sexy. But they are critically important. And if your partner is unkind to anyone, gratuitously unkind to anyone, dishonest to anyone, that's going to work its way into the marriage because those are character traits. And you're going to suffer terribly as a result. So save yourself some heartache. You're not going to change your partner on those things, or in most other things, either. And check out someone's values. Check out their kindness, their courage, their honesty. They're really important.

Ken: You are not kidding. Ain't that the truth. That is a fabulous note to leave with everybody. It's sobering, it's clarifying and it's the bottom line. It's the highest, and it's also the ground. So, thank you for that and thank you for everything you've shared and I hope to have you back here again.

Hara Marano: Oh, it's always so much fun talking to you.

Ken: Thank you, Hara.

Hara Marano: You ask the best questions.

Ken: That's great. That's great. So thank you so much, Hara, and everyone, thank you for listening and stay tuned for the next episode of The Deeper Dating Podcast.

Hara Marano: Thank you.

About Our Guest

Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor-at-Large of Psychology Today, and the author of Psychology Today's advice column called Unconventional Wisdom. In addition to writing for many other publications such as The New York Times and The Smithsonian, she is the author of A Nation of Wimps and two previous books, the most recent on the social development of children, Why Doesn't Anybody Like Me?: A Guide to Raising Socially Confident Kids (1998).

Hara has written scores of feature articles for Psychology Today about love, romance, sex and relationships, and regularly taps the wisdom of the world's top thinkers in these fields. Concurrently, she hears from countless readers struggling with every aspect of love and intimacy. Seeing the world of love from all these angles, her vantage point is unique. In addition, she's wise, warm, practical and deeply insightful.

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