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.

What Money, Sex, Time, and Food Tell You About Anyone

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Many of us spend a fair amount of the day wondering what makes people tick. It is an amusing spectator sport, the stuff of daydreams, and hard to avoid in a world of inexplicable human behavior.

Here’s a little help in performing this pastime.

If you understand how a new acquaintance deals with money, sex, time, and food, you capture a lot about his essence. The same is true of your boss, your date, a co-worker. Anyone.

Let’s begin with MONEY. The dollar takes on layers of meaning beyond commercial exchange. I had a tall, thick-wristed uncle who lifted large checks off a restaurant table with ease and was always first to get to them. He wanted to be the “big guy,” the successful man with a reputation for generosity. He had a wad of bills in his pocket, as you see in a “man’s man” who wants to leave an impression. No pencil-necked, uncertain male need apply. Nor a “coupon-clipper” who, as Mike Ditka famously said about his boss, George Halas, “throws around nickles like (they are) manhole covers.”

Not coincidentally, Uncle Sam had been a poor kid during the Great Depression. I have a photo of him as a young man, banknotes pasted all over his body. Financial independence from his family must have been the making of him, his transformation from a boy to the man he wished to be.

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To this good guy, money was about more than money.

Money and security turn up in the same sentences; so do money and risk taking. If you need a safety net woven out of greenbacks, you won’t take much risk. At least about your finances.

Financial transactions tell you about trust. Will you repay a loan? Can I trust you to manage my money? If I buy your car, will it perform as well as you say?

Dollars are used to influence and control. Will money make you do what I want if your salary bonus depends on it? Might I purchase your vote by making big contributions to your campaign? May/December romances — one spouse younger and the other much older — are sometimes barely disguised financial transactions.

Money has been known to burn a hole in one’s pocket, or so my dad used to say. Can you delay gratification? Are you a spend-thrift or a miser? Money, money, money.

Then there is the question of whether you give any of it away: to the homeless or to charity or even to others in your family. I’ve known parents who stole their kid’s college money, the opposite of a give-away. And then there are the mom and dad who fund a university odyssey long enough for the “child” to get two degrees, but ends without achieving one. The parents wanted the sheepskin more than their not-so-little lamb.

Currency tells you what you value: a big house, building a business, your children’s future. Or maybe a fast car and some nice clothes. Or making the world a better place. Money also tells you how much you value other things in comparison, especially the time it takes to earn it and the activities you prioritize above or below working for your wages.

Riches are a metric to gauge one’s relative standing in the world. We hear a famous athlete saying he is being “disrespected” when his team offers him a salary of only $10,000,000 per year. Objectively, there is no slight. But, if comparable sports heroes are getting $13,000,000 for the same work, perhaps he is on to something.

Money is a tease. At least in the USA, it promises happiness once you have enough of it. Yet most find there is never quite enough to reach this point. They keep looking for more, working for more. Perhaps money, then, is a kind of practical test of your wisdom and understanding of its real value. Johnny Carson said, “The only thing money gives you is the freedom of not worrying about money.” Happiness will take something else. Carson, by the way, was not a happy man.

Larry Adler, the 20th century’s most famous harmonica player (a contradiction in terms) said, “You should always have enough F… YOU money.” In other words, enough money to allow for the freedom to say what you please — end a relationship with a boss or anyone else, no looking back. Too little gelt and most of us experience constraint of our actions; too much and we might believe we own the license to do things others won’t.

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SEX! Beyond the biological urge to procreate — pushing, dragging, and demanding we get naked — sex takes on much extraneous meaning. I’ve already implied some people marry as a thinly disguised exchange of beauty and passion for money and status. Kind of like trading baseball cards, isn’t it? Of course, an older man with a “drop-dead-gorgeous” younger woman also acquires higher standing from her presence in his company. Perhaps this supports Wallace Stegner’s comment about romance not being of much concern to the “60s generation: “In their books, and perhaps in their lives too, love is about as romantic as a five-minute car wash.”

Now think about sexual allure as a measure of control. Some men envision sex as a kind of test — an encounter to determine whether he can bend a woman’s will and dominate her — get her to do what he wants. At the extreme such brutes seek humiliation, homage, and submission — sex that is in no way about love, but something else entirely.

Just as well, for more than a few women the allure of sexuality and the act itself are ways of manipulating men.

Victims of sexual abuse, once well past the violence, sometimes learn to use their attractiveness to control males. The goal is to dictate if, when, where, and how any physical contact will occur, so as to avoid assaults. They are trying to master the terror of their history.

No wonder we read about “sexual politics,” the likeness between political negotiations in the non-sexual world and those in the sexual marketplace. Sometimes sex is about sex, sometimes love, but sometimes resembles two sides across the bargaining table, looking for an agreement — a social contract.

Then comes the matter of intimacy and adequacy. Are you comfortable and unselfconscious in a sexual encounter, or closed off, fearful, deadened and inhibited?

There is a very old joke about the importance of sex in any relationship: if you put a coin into a jar for every time you have sex in the first year of a match, and then remove a coin each time you have sex thereafter, you will never empty the jar! An exaggeration, of course, but the sexual candle tends not to burn with the same intensity late as it did early. Those who can’t imagine this need to spend a little more time on the planet. The process is called “hedonic adaptation,” meaning pleasure usually wanes, whether it is the delight of a new Christmas toy, a new car, or the consuming passion of lovers for whom the cellophane of freshness has not yet been broken.

Withholding of conjugal relations is not unheard of as the pages of love yellow, a passive-aggressive method of expressing anger; a way of conveying, “I’m unhappy,” slighted, or taken for granted.

Regarding adequacy, sex is a “performance” issue. We wonder if we are “good enough.” Too much focus on this, of course, makes performance impossible, especially for the man.

Sex*, like money, takes on a tape measure quality, evaluations and comparisons betraying insecurity and fear of rejection. In other words, self-esteem concerns are intermingled with the reproductive act.

There are people (women more often than men) who want intercourse daily to confirm their spouse still finds them attractive. Again, the fear of rejection or abandonment weighs on the sexual encounter.

Like money, sex morphs into things non-sexual. A shape-shifter.

I’m at a loss for TIME, which is the next topic on my list of items that tell us about personality. I’ll address TIME and FOOD in the coming essay. See you then.

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

The above image is Sexy Mouth by Nyki m. The final illustration is a Sex Stub from sexualni-pahyi.png: Akton. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.