Subtle Predictors of Relationship Success: What Time and Food will Tell You

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“Time will tell,” but not the way you think. How a person relates to time, not the passage of time, is telling. Immediately telling.

When you ask what kind of partner you need in a roommate, love mate, friend or boss, it’s easy to miss subtle signs. “Chemistry” is insufficient in a long-term love match, however necessary. Nor is it enough that “He’s a sweet guy.” How he relates to time and food is no less important than matters of money and sex, which I discussed just last week. My essay on the importance of cash and the conjugal to relationship success is here.

What might TIME tell you? Years ago, an (East) Indian acquaintance said, “Americans view time as the enemy, while we value time as our friend.” No wonder Westerners are in such a rush by comparison to some South Asia denizens, although I suspect their “westernization” has made time less friendly.

People obsessed with time are over-driven, insecure, fearful of failing or being left behind, unable to relax. They worry time may “run out” while someone else is ahead. Mortality concerns can drive this. The Death Clock’s ticking will not make your life more easeful, although some amount of mortality awareness encourages good use of the time you have.

Meanwhile, the chronically late — indifferent to the hour — display a lack of responsibility and consideration; at least on occasion expecting you to wait, thinking themselves entitled to tardiness. Delay controls others (intended or not), as in the CEO who makes you sit in the lobby long past your scheduled appointment. Lateness is his method of putting you in your place, affirming his dominant position.

Clock-watching has a short history. “On time” arrival only became possible when most everyone had a pocket watch or a clock nearby, and transportation (trains) capable of keeping to a schedule. Even into the tenure of President Lincoln, a precise start for a conclave was impossible if someone were coming from a considerable distance. The phrase “on time” didn’t exist until travel schemes were predictable.

The tyranny of the clock starts from that moment.

Knowledge of how a spouse or an employee deals with timeliness and deadlines is important to any successful home or work situation. A mismatch between two people in their response to time-pressure is like sitting a right-handed person to the left of a left-hander at dinner: they will often bump arms and hands as they eat.

Car trips taken by the time-incompatible couple unsettle both. One races to get to the destination ahead of schedule, while the other sits in fear of his life. Yet a good partner can calm the overstressed clock-watcher, providing the balance he needs: a person with perspective that not everything is a matter of desperate urgency.

Preoccupation with the seconds demonstrates little patience, triggering abruptness or irritation when things don’t move fast enough.

The minutes also figure into whether one can delay gratification. Parents dare not assume their small children will be responsive to the promise of distant rewards in return for good behavior. Most small kids are incapable of waiting the (for them) psychological eternity of a month or a year.

Even some adults find a challenge in the self-scheduling required to achieve long-term goals. They live unfocused lives, unable to structure the day to, quite literally, make the grade in college or graduate school classes, with their payoff of a distant reward. The academic equivalent of the Bataan Death March surely is a Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. Completion Project’s 2008 report on the success rate within 10 years of beginning that trek is 57 percent over all. The best advice I ever received was this, from my dissertation advisor: “The most important thing about your dissertation is to finish.”

Time fools us. We have a bucket list, but might kick it before we get to the carefully considered written items. We assume a dream deferred will be as fulfilling in twenty year’s time as it is today. Heraclitus knew otherwise. “You cannot step into the same river twice.” Why? The river has moved on and you have changed, as well. The guy who steps into the river at 60 isn’t the young man he was at 20, either inside or out. Ripeness is all. The attractiveness of the bucket list items can alter, just as the 18-year-old prom king and queen might not set you afire 30 years later.

Finally, the ability to endure a long delay for worthwhile goal finds the greatest challenge in matters of sex, especially for young people. However much some wish to practice abstinence, remember that our ancestors had strong sexual urges. Those who put off having intercourse reproduced less than those who didn’t. We have been tilted toward the sex act by evolution — sooner, not later. The coitus-deferring cave man is not the ancient father of our tribe.

 

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FOOD is more than a necessity. It can be sensual (as in the movies Tom Jones and Big Night). Meals and munching soothe. They are one way to appease internal emptiness, or attempt to do so. Butter and bread (choose you poison) calm the nerves. The offer of sustenance shows affection, from a mother to a child or a host toward guests.

Food (as in lavish dinner parties) takes the form of ostentation: look what I can do! Victuals are a medical intervention — chicken soup, of course! Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant self-medicating edibles can kill you, on the other hand, if you are morbidly obese.

Observe people eat. Speed-diners “chow down” too fast to experience the sensual pleasure of their fare. They attend to the business inside the brain, or read or talk. Their opposites consume slowly, preoccupied with holding court; as if the train (and their audience) will wait for them.

Food for the body builder or the anorexic positions mind over matter to bring the corporeal to heel — to make the flesh do one’s bidding against its wishes. By gaining control of nourishment and the cravings created by the metabolism, one controls or constricts distress, intended or not.

In places where starvation is occurring — think famines — the absence of food causes a severe dampening-down of feelings. In that circumstance, one cannot allow the emotions to gain sway lest they become unbearable. Those who “feel” too much do not survive.

My mother had an unhappy experience in high school during the Great Depression. With only enough money for a candy bar at lunch, food became a life-long preoccupation, well past the time of her malnourishment. Even into early old age she would shop for groceries every day, to reassure herself of an adequate supply.

Food is a dependable friend in an insecure world. Taste and mass quantities will never let you down. The sex-starved sometimes substitute this pleasure for that.

Last, food provides a protection against sex.* I have known female patients who wanted to keep themselves overweight for fear of attracting male interest, with its potential for rejection and heartbreak or sexual assault. Copious flesh was a necessary barrier, the walls of a citadel.

The next time you are on a date, rather than the usual questions, try those that might offer you a secret passage into the soul. Chemistry shoots off skyrockets, looks and “values” are crucial. Still, the things you miss in your dating intake interview will either eat you up on a daily basis or make routine events funny, joyous, and reassuring.

Most of us expect others to know themselves, so we ask questions hoping for enlightenment about mutual compatibility. Self-knowledge, however, is rarer than diamonds. In reality, we learn as much or more from the words unsaid and unknown to the new person himself, not to mention his behavior.

The sex of things is like quicksand, pulling you in. The pheromones intoxicate. The brain’s response to the chemical content of a first kiss says, “She’s the one!” But most of a life lived together is comparatively mundane. Compatible attitudes toward money and time are the breaking or making of affection. Sex and food mean more than pleasure and nutrition. Time and money concerns cannot be easily trumped by visceral attraction alone — in the short run, yes, in the long run… Marriages are for the long run, at least we hope so.

A relationship menu has two columns. One shows all the qualities you think you want: a good provider, a sexy partner, babies, etc. Column B is initially almost invisible, dwarfed by the giant font in Column A. Best to learn how to read the second column before you make your choices from the first.

*For additional commentary on the various psychological forms sex takes, please read this: Sex and Its Functions.

The Daylight Savings image comes from the U.S. Federal Government. The Supreme Pizza with Pepperoni, Peppers, Olives, and Mushrooms is the work of Scott Bauer. These are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

7 thoughts on “Subtle Predictors of Relationship Success: What Time and Food will Tell You

  1. Very interesting insight! Reading the second column …hmmm. I think I’ll have to think more about this one. Maybe that’s what I’ve been ignoring for too long.

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  2. Here is some amusing relationship advice from a little different perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc3LUCu8-IU

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  3. A very interesting post, Dr. Stein. How we relate to time and food sure says a lot about who we are as individuals.

    I’m a time freak. I have a very low tolerance limit for chronically late individuals. It’s a relationship killer.

    I’m a food-is-for-nourishment person. I suppose that makes me a corporeal controller 🙂

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