By Amy Alkon
Q: My boyfriend mistakenly sent me a text meant for somebody else—a real estate agent with my same first name who’s showing him apartments. This made me feel like I’m unimportant—easily confused with just anybody—and I got really upset. Of course, I know that he was just busy and multitasking. And despite knowing that he really loves me, I blow up like this a lot.—Overreactor
A: Assuming that your boyfriend isn’t 11, “Do u have any openings?” isn’t a sex question.
Your boyfriend’s mix-up was the sleep-eating version of texted communication. You ultimately know that, but no sooner did you get that text than your feelings started hammering on you. It’s like they were waiting to do it—like those people in folding chairs with umbrellas lined up outside some concert ticket venue. Pound! Pound! Pound! “My watch says 10:31! What the eff?!”
Because fear comes up fast and there’s all this energy behind it, it’s easy to believe that it’s telling you something you need to hear—and follow. But it helps to understand what neuroscience has discovered—that emotions are automatic reactions to something in your environment. They rise up (out of a sea of biochemicals) without your doing a thing. (It’s not like you have to nag, “Hey, life-sucking depression, you never visit anymore.”) Rational thought, however, takes work. You have to coax it up and give it an assignment, and then (lazy bastard) it right away starts pushing for a nap.
It is possible to pull reason into the mix before your emotions drag your boyfriend off for a beating. This takes pre-planning—and the use, in the moment, of a technique called “cognitive reappraisal,” which involves reinterpreting your emotion-driven view of a situation in less emotional terms. Basically, you explore the boring alternatives. Say your boyfriend’s slow in texting you back. So … lack of respect (boohoo!)—or lack of phone, because the dodohead dropped it in the toilet again?
This isn’t to say that your alternate explanation is correct. But the immediate goal of cognitive reappraisal is not judging the truth, the whole truth, blah, blah, blah. Through your considering alternate possibilities, cognitive neuroscientist Jason Buhle and his colleagues find that you divert the action in your brain from the stress and anxiety department (Freakout Central) to the thinky parts—like the prefrontal cortex. This allows reason to put on its Coke-bottle glasses and have a closer look at what’s really going on. This, in turn, will keep you from contributing to the notion many men have that we women are operating on one flickering bar of rationality. The way they see it, we have our marching orders—and we get them from outer space, via our hair accessories.
Q: I’ve been married for seven years, and I’m cheating on my husband. I’ve heard that if you’re cheating, it’s because something’s missing in your relationship. But my husband is fantastic. I love him. I just long for something new and different. Help.—Torn
A: Marriage vows are annoyingly comprehensive. Take that “Forsaking all others … ” thing. Do they really mean “allll others?” Even that hot guy in board shorts in Spin class?
There are people who are under the impression that life should be COMPLETELY FUN AND EXCITING AT ALL TIMES. We call them 5-year-olds. The grown-up view acknowledges that the typical day includes a good deal of bummer management and that choices in life require making trade-offs. Marriage, for example, gives you intimacy, security and tax breaks—with the downside that the nookie tends to lack the zing of boning some hot stranger in the self-help section at Barnes & Noble.
To understand how unfair you’re being to your husband, don’t just look at your cheating in sexual terms. You’re doing what neuroeconomists and anthropologists call “free-riding”—sucking up the benefits of a situation while ducking the costs. Meanwhile, if you get cancer and all of your hair falls out and getting to the toilet feels like the third leg of a triathlon, the man carrying you there will for sure be the one you meet for nooners at the motel.
As for what’s missing, you have no motivation to heat up your marriage if you’re getting your heat on the side. But a relatively new area of research—embodied cognition—finds that action drives emotion, meaning that if you keep acting loving and passionate, the feelings are likely to follow. You also jazz things up by being surprising and going a little crazy—in good ways. As the country song goes, “Sing like you don’t need the money … dance like nobody’s watchin’”—but have extramarital sex like there’s a private detective across the street with a lens the size of something NASA puts into space.
Worship the goddess–or sacrifice her at the altar at firstname.lastname@example.org.