NYTimes 17

What You Learn in Your 40s

PARIS — IF all goes according to plan, I’ll turn 44 soon after this column appears. So far in my adult life, I’ve never managed to grasp a decade’s main point until long after it was over. It turns out that I wasn’t supposed to spend my 20s frantically looking for a husband; I should have been building my career and enjoying my last gasp of freedom. I then spent my 30s ruminating on grievances accumulated in my 20s.

This time around, I’d like to save time by figuring out the decade while I’m still in it. Entering middle age in Paris — the world’s epicenter of existentialism — isn’t terribly helpful. With their signature blend of subtlety and pessimism, the French carve up midlife into the “crisis of the 40s,” the “crisis of the 50s” and the “noonday demon” (described by one French writer as “when a man in his 50s falls in love with the babysitter”).

The modern 40s are so busy it’s hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new “rush hour of life,” when career and child-rearing peaks collide. Today’s 40ish professionals are the DITT generation: double income, toddler twins.

The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on it.

I think the biggest transition of the 40s is realizing that we’ve actually, improbably, managed to learn and grow a bit. In another 10 years, our 40-something revelations will no doubt seem naïve (“Ants can see molecules!” a man told me in college).

But for now, to cement our small gains, here are some things we know today that we didn’t know a decade ago:

• If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them. You no longer leave conversations wondering what just happened. Other people’s minds and motives are finally revealed.

• People are constantly trying to shape how you view them. In certain extreme cases, they seem to be transmitting a personal motto, such as “I have a relaxed parenting style!”; “I earn in the low six figures!”; “I’m authentic and don’t try to project an image!”

• Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.”

• There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.

• There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.

• You will miss out on some near soul mates. This goes for friendships, too. There will be unforgettable people with whom you have shared an excellent evening or a few days. Now they live in Hong Kong, and you will never see them again. That’s just how life is.

• Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. At a wedding many years ago, an older British gentleman who found me sulking in a corner helpfully explained that I was having a G.E.S. — a Ghastly Emotional Scene. In your 40s, these no longer seem necessary. For starters, you’re not invited to weddings anymore. And you and your partner know your ritual arguments so well, you can have them in a tenth of the time.

Forgive your exes, even the awful ones. They were just winging it, too.

• When you meet someone extremely charming, be cautious instead of dazzled. By your 40s, you’ve gotten better at spotting narcissists before they ruin your life. You know that “nice” isn’t a sufficient quality for friendship, but it’s a necessary one.

• People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What’s adorable at 20 can be worrisome at 30 and dangerous at 40. Also, at 40, you see the outlines of what your peers will look like when they’re 70.

• More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.

• But you find your tribe. Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview last year that his favorite part of the Emmy Awards was when the comedy writers went onstage to collect their prize. “You see these gnome-like cretins, just kind of all misshapen. And I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.’ ” By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.

• Just say “no.” Never suggest lunch with people you don’t want to have lunch with. They will be much less disappointed than you think.

• You don’t have to decide whether God exists. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. But when you’re already worrying that the National Security Agency is reading your emails (and as a foreigner in France, that you’re constantly breaking unspoken cultural rules), it’s better not to know whether yet another entity is watching you.

Finally, a few more tips gleaned from four decades of experience:

• Do not buy those too-small jeans, on the expectation that you will soon lose weight.

• If you are invited to lunch with someone who works in the fashion industry, do not wear your most “fashionable” outfit. Wear black.

• If you like the outfit on the mannequin, buy exactly what’s on the mannequin. Do not try to recreate the same look by yourself.

• It’s O.K. if you don’t like jazz.

• When you’re wondering whether she’s his daughter or his girlfriend, she’s his girlfriend.

• When you’re unsure if it’s a woman or a man, it’s a woman.




NYTimes 16

Learning to Silence My Inner Editor

I am trained to be a critic. After several years of graduate school, I started to enjoy pointing out flaws in people’s writing, a ruthless activity with all the destructive pleasure of picking at a scab. The voice of my inner editor had become so powerful that it almost kept me from finding the love of my life.

The summer after graduation I had a temporary job teaching, but no idea of what to do next. Meanwhile, I lectured my writing students on the power of words: “Beware the thoughtless adjective. Beware the vague pronoun.”

I drew X’s over entire paragraphs. I pointed at their pages and said: “Imagine you’re the editor who pulled this from the slush pile. Is there a glaring typo in the first paragraph? Bam! Rejected.”

The students, a motley collection of high school juniors, stared back at me blankly. They enjoyed writing and saw no need for histrionics.

“You have to be vigilant,” I said. “Every cliché is a chance for the reader to leave you.”

I rescheduled my classes to attend a friend’s wedding in Hawaii. After a three-hour bus ride up the windward coast to the town of Laie, I had tangled hair but no brush, so I ran my fingers through the worst of the knots and walked up the hill to the ceremony.

James was the groom’s brother, the second oldest of five boys. All I knew was that he was single, attractive and didn’t care that my hair was a mess. We spun around on the grassy lawn, and afterward he took me to a bench overlooking the bay. Facing a sea too blue to be real, James held my hand and said I was beautiful.

I stuttered, unnerved by such a direct compliment. In my previous life of dive bars and urban rooftops, it didn’t matter what you said or whether you meant it, as long as you twisted your words into something clever.

“You are also attractive,” I responded, about as naturally as a robot. I had spent so much time in New York hobnobbing with wordsmiths I had forgotten how to speak without innuendo. Sure, I was fluent in flirtation, but to forgo the game and lay my cards on the table? That felt like a foreign language. I was almost 30 years old — definitely an adult. Was this really my first time telling a man that he was cute?

James and I stayed up all night, talking and kissing but making no promises. In the morning his parents drove us to Honolulu, where James flew to the Big Island, though he would soon be returning home to North Carolina. I caught a flight to New York, and I didn’t expect us to meet again. Just a wedding-night fling, I thought.

Then the postcards began to arrive.

“I can’t stop thinking about you, Aloha!” James wrote, but the handwriting was scrawled and the spelling was terrible. He cares, I thought, but not enough to proofread.

That may sound harsh, but to an aspiring writer, proofreading is the hallmark of caring. I cannot write an email or add a Facebook update without subjecting my words to tedious revision. If I send a story to a magazine with a missing period or uneven spacing, I feel as if I may as well have submitted a dirty pair of underwear.

The day before my 30th birthday I received an email from James, who was still in Hawaii. I opened it to see a photo he had taken of a ginger flower bouquet on a black lava beach. He had written: “Love and beauty, To: Jessy From. James”

The picture was lovely. The text, however, had irregular punctuation. Not to mention he had misspelled my name.

Despite these mistakes, I wrote him back immediately. The man had sent me flowers! I told him it was my birthday tomorrow. He responded: “Yeah! Happy birthday! Hauoli maka hiki hAu.”

Now, I’m no expert on the Hawaiian language, but I’m pretty sure they don’t insert random capitalization into the middle of words. Still, he had sent some selfies from the Big Island, and I was reassured by his handsome, friendly face.

The openness of his next email disarmed me: “Aloha, Jessie I cried on plane, I had to leavy seat. I love Hawaii.”

O.K., so “leavy” isn’t a word, but he had gotten my name right. And best of all, he wanted to see me again, despite the difficulty and distance.

“As you must feel from my letters,” he wrote, “I adore u bc of your smiles while we danced, your songs, voice, body, and beauty. Let’s meet in the middle between southport and Brooklyn, someplace, there must be a sweet place?”

So romantic, right? If only I could get over that syntax.

I brought the case to my writer friends. In the kitchen of a Park Slope apartment, I read a few of the messages and asked them to tell me the truth: Was my new suitor sincere? And even if he was sincere, was he stupid?

After the obligatory teasing, they argued in favor of James — and in favor of hope. Sure, things might not work out. But why not give it a try? My friend Lynne was particularly adamant: “He’s not stupid,” she said. “He’s incredibly nice and appreciates you and wants to show it.”

But I couldn’t silence my inner critic. How could a man I hardly knew be so into me? Me, with all my messes and mistakes. Maybe James was crazy. Clearly, he was capable of falling for a fantasy no flesh-and-blood woman could fulfill. But I couldn’t ignore how his words made me feel.

The men I had met in New York could spout a few good lines to get a girl into bed, but only James could write a messed-up sentence that got my heart pounding: “To nite I can not sleep so I will play songs to u, for Jessie, about Jessie, my inspiration.”

I had to see him.

I flew to North Carolina but delayed getting off the plane because I wanted to primp in the bathroom. I even asked the flight attendant if she had any lip gloss; I was so concerned with my appearance and how I might be judged. But as it turned out, James didn’t care about lip gloss. He didn’t care about my spelling or grammar. All he wanted was me.

I found him in the terminal, sitting on the floor with his hat in his hands. When he saw me, he leapt to his feet.

“I was so worried,” he said. “When you didn’t get off the plane, I thought you decided not to come.”

We walked to the parking lot and found his car, an ancient, pea-green Benz with a broken passenger window. He ran ahead to hold the door open for me. Sure, the scene didn’t look that good from the outside, but (if you’ll pardon the cliché) I felt like a queen stepping into her carriage.

The next three days were the most romantic of my life. We shucked oysters, played the guitar and surfed. When I got a nosebleed, he held me in his arms and raised me above the waves. After a homemade dinner of shrimp, wine and fish, I told him it was time to go “in there,” and gestured toward the only other room in his tiny cottage.

He was nervous. “I feel like I love you,” he said. “I know it’s crazy, but I do.” Then he carried me to his bed.

At some point during our love fest I borrowed his iPhone, and that’s when I realized he had been using it to send me messages. Everyone knows the mistakes that can lead to. James wasn’t the best speller, but technology wasn’t doing him any favors, either.

At that point, of course, it didn’t matter. I had already fallen in love with his candor and affection and unedited heart. At the airport we shared a long goodbye in the parking lot. On my way to the security line I saw him outside and went to him again. We joked about a hurricane. Then I pointed to my heart.

“I carry you there,” I said, a sentence so saccharine I never would have let myself get away with it on the page. But I didn’t care. It just felt true, so I said it.

He touched my chest, resting his hand above my heart. “You read my mind.”

A few months after I visited him in North Carolina, James and I moved to Hawaii. We were married four years later on the Big Island, and now we’re building a home there on an old plot of farmland.

I have a job teaching English at a local school, where I argue for the importance of proofreading and revision. I encourage my students to write precise sentences and help them strengthen their inner editor. But whenever I get a text from James, my heart starts to pound, and it’s hard to remember the rules.




Integrated 1

1) The author explains that Earth’s temperature is rising as a result of human activity, which is known a global warming. The speaker strengthens the point by providing some examples and possible consequences.

The author explains why global warming is a serious problem. Likewise, the speaker explains the impact of global warming in the northeastern United States.

2) The author points out that human activities increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution and this leads to the increase in Greenhouse gases and these gases hold heat on the atmosphere, which was the main cause of a rise in temperature.

3) For instance, during the twentieth century, the average Earth’s temperature rose 1.5 Fahrenheit, and it is predicted the temperature will rise several more degrees. The rise in Earth’s temperature can have several consequences, such as changes in the weather pattern, ice covers and sea level. Changes in weather patterns may lead to economic losses, especially in the agricultural and transportation sectors.


The authors explains that human activity, such as industry and cutting down forests, has resulted in an artificial increase in greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, with serious results. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, hold heat in the atmosphere and result in rising temperatures on Earth. As average temperatures rise, there are a number of effects. First, scientists predict that weather patterns will change. In addition, snow and ice will melt and sea levels will rise. This can read to flooding, drought, and powerful storms. It can also affect the economy, particularly agriculture and transportation. Economics predict that global warming will lead to a drop in gross national product and consumer consumption in countries around the world.

4) The speaker reinforces the point in the passage by providing some factual data. There’s a report stating that in the northern eastern part of America, the months during December to March, the average temperature increased in 2005, and it snowed 9 days less. The less snowfall affects skiing industry because it means less snow and less business days for the industry to make a profit. Also, if the winter gets warmer, the colored leaves in the fall will be less colorful and it will affect less tourists. There’s a prediction that the days of snow will decrease 25 to 50 percent. (234)


The speaker explains the effects of global warming in the northeastern part of the United States. This is a cold and snowy area. Since 1965, temperatures in this region have risen. There are also fewer days with snow on the ground than there used to be. This has had an effect on the economy for people who depend on the ski industry to make a living. The predicted effects of global warming that the author described are already coming true, at least in the northeastern United States.




NYTimes 14

Romance at Arm’s Length

IN Spike Jonze’s mesmerizing new movie “Her,” a man falls in love with a sultry-voiced computer operating system whose presence in the film is so lifelike you have to keep reminding yourself she doesn’t actually exist. To make it easier for the audience to believe that a computer might be able to mimic human thought, emotion and speech so convincingly, Mr. Jonze sets his story in the not-so-distant future.

I don’t know why he bothers. Other than the sci-fi wrinkle of the woman’s being a microchip, the couple’s ill-fated romance, which involves zero physical contact and relies on electronic communication for emotional sustenance, isn’t futuristic at all; thousands of people are having relationships like that right now. True, they involve a real human being at the other end of the line instead of an operating system, but otherwise it’s the same deal: The romances they pursue are emotionally rich but physically barren. And these kinds of relationships are surging in popularity.

As editor of The Times’s Modern Love column for the past decade, I have been privy to the love lives of tens of thousands of strangers through the stories and letters they send my way. It’s a vantage point that provides a panoramic view of what people are struggling with in matters of love, especially when it comes to how technology is altering our romantic landscape. And among the more pronounced trends I have noticed in recent years is the rise of online-only relationships, a phenomenon I’ve begun to call Soul Mate in a Box.

A Soul Mate in a Box (Smiab, for short) is a person we rarely if ever meet and in some cases never speak to, but to whom we feel closer than anyone else. Maybe the relationship exists through instant messages, or over email, or via Skype, FaceTime and texting. Perhaps Snapchat allows the couple to exchange racy pictures, adding a glimpse of sexuality, if not sex. One couple liked to view each other on Skype but weren’t comfortable talking that way, so they’d instant message instead, watching each other click away at the keyboard as they swooned.

How do these relationships start? Typically with two strangers crossing paths via social media: on Facebook, through dating sites or by retweeting and “favoriting” until tweeting turns to flirting. At the start it’s just harmless fun, a distraction. No need to think seriously about it, because what could happen? He or she lives 2,000 miles away!

Ironically, it’s often this presumed lack of possibility that enables the couple to grow so close so fast. Just as Theodore Twombly, the character in “Her,” grins dismissively at the idea of falling in love with the voice of his new operating system (before doing exactly that), those who meet a potential Smiab online tell themselves it can’t go anywhere. Which then frees it up to go somewhere. And soon their once dismissible flirtation has snowballed into the most obsessive relationship in their lives.

We’re always searching for new ways of finding love that don’t involve having to feel insecure and vulnerable, because who wants to feel insecure and vulnerable? That’s the worst part of the whole love game, putting oneself out there to be judged and rejected. So when we get the chance to hide — whether through typed messages we can edit and control, or by saying whatever we’d like over Skype without expecting the relationship to ever turn physical — we’re freed from much of that anxiety, and we’re fooled into thinking this may be a better and truer way of having a relationship.

These kinds of self-protective impulses were on full display in the thousands of stories I received during the two Modern Love college essay contests I held, in 2008 and 2011. In the first contest, the most common theme among the undergraduates’ submissions was their struggle with the seemingly ubiquitous practice of hooking up — having casual sexual encounters with no strings attached. Intellectually, the behavior made sense to them. Sex was fun, or could be, but relationships can get messy and demanding. So why not try to neatly separate the simpler and more pleasurable part from the messier and potentially more upsetting part? Slicing their actions from their feelings, however, wasn’t turning out to be such a clean cut.

Three years later, college students were already trying something else. The most commonly written-about topic in 2011 was online-only love affairs. Rather than trying to figure out how to navigate a sexual relationship that excluded emotion, they were trying to figure out how to navigate an emotional relationship that excluded sex.

In love’s newest incarnation, students might spend their evenings Skyping and messaging deep into the night with someone they met online who lives five states away. Eventually they drift off to sleep with their laptops open only to wake up hours later, dazed and bleary-eyed, whereupon they tap their screens back to life and say a warm hello to their e-lover in another time zone.

UNLIKE hookups, these relationships are all about sharing your every thought, idea and emotional burp. But they are also, crucially, about being able to close your laptop and turn off your phone whenever you want to and continue about your life as you wish, unencumbered.

When a couple involved in an online-only relationship finally decides to meet in person, their experience often mirrors what happens in “Her” when Theodore tries to have sex with his OS via a human surrogate, but then backs out when the experience feels too weird. Same with real couples. After all that cyberintimacy, being together physically simply doesn’t feel right. The body doesn’t match the sensibility. It’s too hard to square the person to whom they’ve been baring their heart with the one who’s suddenly sitting next to them. Such encounters crash and burn with surprising frequency. But if the couple felt as if they had gotten to know each other so well online, how could that intimacy suddenly drain away?

One explanation: They didn’t actually get to know each other so well. They only got to know what was served up, a two-dimensional collection of images, text and, for some, audio. When the messy parts of us aren’t on display from the beginning of a relationship — when awkwardness and fumbling and being forced to be present without a mouse-click escape hatch all enter the scene — it’s hard to catch up. As good as it felt to be able to create an ideal version of ourselves, it can feel jarringly worse to have that control suddenly yanked away.

Which leads to a second explanation for the high failure rate: For many, the urge to seek pleasure through a device rather than through a person who’s in the same room can be a hard habit to break. In this wondrous world of the Internet, we often find the object that’s far away to be more enticing than the one that’s nearby.

One woman I heard from had been reveling in a monthslong online relationship with a man who lived hundreds of miles away, and their bond had grown so intense that they finally decided they had to meet and see if their online magic could translate into an actual relationship. So one Friday she rented a car and drove nine hours to spend a long weekend with him. And it went O.K. at first. But soon it became clear that their online chemistry wasn’t happening in real life. Their once urgent conversations had dribbled away to nothing. Now that they were physically together, it was as if they each had become the person to escape from instead of the one to yearn for.

Before long he began sneaking glances at his cellphone when they were at a restaurant and drifting away from her to his open laptop when they were back at his apartment. Until eventually, in a perfect tableau of their relationship’s demise, she was left to sit quietly aside as he searched online for the emotional fix he’d grown accustomed to finding there, scrolling for something, anything, to capture his attention.




NYTimes 13

Good Enough? That’s Great

What’s the best way to recalibrate a marriage as the years pass? I wish I had the answer, because clearly millions of us would like to know.

As the editor of the Modern Love column for nearly a decade, I have sifted through roughly 50,000 stories that have crossed my desk. I have noticed people wrestling with two questions above all others. From the young: “How do I find love?” And from those wallowing through marital malaise: “How do I get it back?”

Though it’s not really love they want back as much as attention, excitement and passion. No one doubts the enduring benefits of long-term relationships. But marriage can also get boring, punctuated with deadening routines, cyclical arguments and repetitive conversations.

In my own 21-year marriage, my wife has a habit of asking me to do something and then saying: “You’re not going to forget, are you? Just tell me now if you’re going to forget so I’ll know to do it myself.”

I’ll say (for the hundredth time): “I can’t know in advance if I’m going to forget. That’s not how forgetting works.”

“Just tell me,” she’ll say.

Among my 50,000 strangers, I’ve also heard from just a handful of couples who claimed to have maintained sexually charged marriages throughout the decades. The one story I published from this happier-than-thou crowd, by the writer Ayelet Waldman about her still-sexy marriage (with four children) to the Pulitzer-winning writer Michael Chabon, was met with jeers and hostility when she went on “Oprah” to talk about it, mostly because she dared to confess that she puts her marriage ahead of motherhood.

That alignment of priorities, she said, is part of what has allowed her to keep her marriage passionate. And she argued that doing so is also a healthier model for children, most of whom would be better off with a little less time in their parents’ spotlight. As she spoke, the studio audience seemed to regard her as if she were from another planet.

She might as well have been, given how rare that kind of marriage is these days.

So what to do about it? Sneak around, trying to get our needs met elsewhere? Resign ourselves to the limitations of marriage? Confront the issue head on and work together to try to reanimate our relationship? And ultimately, what does each approach entail?

THOSE WHO SNEAK. Sneakers neither sulk nor celebrate; they redirect their attention to distractions that entertain and titillate. As a matter of convenience, much of their sneaking will be conducted online. Sneakers are never without their electronic devices. When sitting, they will almost always be staring into an open laptop or e-tablet. While walking or doing chores, they’ll be staring into a smartphone.

For these gadget-obsessed types, the hardest work of marriage is listening. To their spouses they’ll mutter “What?” constantly, but they won’t listen when the statement is repeated and they are too embarrassed to ask a second or third time.

Sneakers typically log a lot of hours on social media stalking old flames from high school and college. Have you ever received a friend request from a long-ago love who very early in your messaging session either asks leading questions about the state of your marriage or confesses to loneliness in his or her own? If so, you’ve been targeted by a sneaker.

After an opening exchange of how-you-dos, the sneaker will start in: “yeah im married 2 but we do our own thing these days. what about u?”

Target: “lol i know how that is”

Sneaker: “do u really?”

Target: “omg who doesnt”

Sneaker: “u and me used to have so much fun partying right?”

Target: “like 100 yrs ago lol”

Sneaker: “we should get together 4 lunch sometime”

Target: “that would be so crazy to c u again”

Sneaker: “how far away r u? 3 hrs?”

Target: “yeah long drive for lunch lol!”

Sneaker: “so do u really do ur own thing in ur marriage 2?”

Target: “omg you havent changed at all!!!!!”

Will they get together for lunch? And if they do and have a great time, will they: a) rekindle their romance, b) decide to divorce their spouses, and c) marry each other and live happily ever after?

Maybe, but probably not. The complexity and emotional toll involved in getting from points A to C in this fantasy are staggering. Yet this kind of Facebook-inspired daydreaming (“If only I could be with _____, I’d be so much happier”) is among the most common dilemmas I hear.

THOSE WHO QUASH. There are many who choose to quash their unfulfilled desires, to accept their marriage for what it is and figure out how to feel O.K. about it.

Oh, well, they tell themselves, I still have a lot to be thankful for. I love my spouse and my family. I love my house and my garden. So we aren’t having wild sex every day or every week or even once a month (or ever). You can’t have everything, they argue. Be grateful for what you do have.

There’s a temptation to dismiss quashers as being in total denial, but they aren’t. They just don’t see the point of wallowing in self-pity when they have accomplished what they hoped to in terms of marriage, family and career. As with most personality types, there’s a spectrum, running the gamut from the bitterly resigned to the appreciatively so.

The bitterly resigned will not go to couples counseling, because what are they supposed to say? “My life isn’t as fun as it used to be?” They hardly need to pay someone for that.

What a difference a spectrum can make, though, because those at the other end of the quashing range — the appreciatively resigned — seem to be among the healthiest and happiest of the marrieds.

Not much sexual passion left in the marriage? That’s offset by what’s left. Like Dr. Seuss’s Whos down in Whoville who hold hands and sing after being robbed on Christmas Eve of all their food and possessions, the appreciatively resigned rise each morning not dwelling on their marital shortfalls but counting their mutual blessings, whatever they may be: a shared sense of humor, an exchange of kind gestures, the enthusiastic pursuit of a mutual interest. Somehow they have managed to grow together rather than apart.

THE RESTORER. When a restorer couple’s marriage starts to feel subpar, they sit down and have a sensible discussion about where their marriage is and where they would like it to be. Then they set goals and seek the means to achieve those goals. Typically affluent, educated and highly motivated, restorer couples almost single-handedly support the vast and profitable marriage-improvement industry.

It won’t take long for them to find out that, surprisingly, the most recommended strategy for reigniting passion in marriage — passion that has waned in part because of the deadening weight of its routines — involves loading up the relationship with even more routines: date nights, couples counseling, dance classes, scheduled sex, 10 for 10s (committing to 10 hugs of 10-seconds in duration every single day), fresh flower Fridays (a boon to the local florist, if not your marriage), required kisses upon parting, lunchtime exchanges of erotic texts, and possibly some creative midday play at the local Holiday Inn involving silk scarves and an eye patch.

Such restorative activities fall into two groups: drudgery and spice. The drudgery, like research and couples counseling, is supposed to be hard work, whereas the spice, such as “creative” bedroom play and kisses upon parting, is supposed to be fun. Depending on a couple’s proclivities, however, the drudgery may turn out to be fun (like reading to each other in bed from marriage improvement books) and the attempts at spice may start to feel like work (having to get out of the car and go back inside because you yet again forgot your required parting kiss).

These attempts at relighting the flame may work for some, but for others they seem to be less about feeling sexy or “rediscovering” each other than they are about demonstrating a nose-to-the-grindstone determination to try anything to stay together and remain vital, which can have a bonding appeal of its own.

After all, you have a lot going for you if you’re willing to commit to learning the fox trot when you hate dancing, or giving up your cherished Saturday-morning run for a regular bedroom session of holding hands naked while staring into each other’s eyes (and seeing where that leads).

Like at-risk teens who are kept off the streets and helped in a positive direction through after-school sports or Big Brother and Big Sister programs, restorer couples who embrace these new routines are also kept out of other people’s beds and focused on healthier alternatives.

What’s more, restorers will want to be able to say they have tried everything to bring the passion back to their marriage, so essentially it’s just a matter of going down the list and checking everything off.

Ultimately every member of a dedicated restorer couple will become a marital-boredom scholar, reading everything that explains why living and having sex with the same person for 30 or 40 years can get boring and what to do about it when it happens to you. In their pursuit of such knowledge, these couples convert their night stands from leisure-reading podiums scattered with travel magazines and suspense novels into social-science libraries stacked with ominous-sounding book titles such as: “I Don’t,” “Marriage Shock,” “Against Love” and “Mating in Captivity.”

From their research they will learn how their boredom may ebb and flow before finally leveling off into the pleasant hum of old age. They’ll become experts in the ways men and women have driven each other crazy for all of eternity. They will have hugged and kissed and danced and date-nighted until they can hug and kiss and dance and date-night no more. And although they will have had some good times that made them remember why they fell in love in the first place, chances are they won’t exactly have turned back the clock in terms of reclaiming that ever-elusive passion.

Inevitably, as the intellectually curious people they are, restorers will return to their original and most perplexing question: How much do we have a right to expect from marriage? Is this simply as good as it gets? We do care about each other. We love our children. Health is generally good. Can’t we just be happy with what we have? And isn’t there a risk that in pressing for more we’ll turn something pretty good into something really bad?

There is, of course. And it’s a risk some will want to take. Others, though, will decide to pull back on the marriage improvement program and instead join the ranks of the appreciatively resigned. They will realize that passion does not equal love, and that the loss of one doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of the other.

With Feb. 14 soon upon us, that’s a realization worth celebrating.