I’ve never mastered the art of maintaining mystery in my relationships. Or mystery in general for that matter. Though I try to refrain from oversharing when I first meet a guy, I’m a writer, and therefore my entire life story can essentially be Googled. Plus I’m curious by nature, so I ask questions, listen, remember and observe in order to learn more about people. For that reason, I tend to get to know people well and I don’t mind people knowing me. In fact, while dating, I always looked forward to the newness wearing off as novelty gave way to familiarity.
Yesterday, I was watching last week’s episode of “The Office” and two of the main characters, Jim and Pam, half-marveled and half-lamented about the fact that they know everything about each other. They were talking about how being married means that sometimes there aren’t any more surprises and there’s nothing left to discover.
When I thought about it, I realized that was kind of true for my own relationship. Being married is like living in a house without any walls. Between discussions, observations and simply being around each other all the time, my husband and I know a lot about one another.
But is a relationship devoid of mystery a bad thing?
I actually like knowing my husband. The look he gets when he’s ready to go. The kind of milk he likes in his cereal. His Sunday afternoon ritual of falling asleep in front of the Cleveland Brown’s game. What makes him tick. It’s taken us a while to get to the place where I can read his expressions and interpret his tone. He’s more reticent than I am, so I pride myself on being able to pick up on things about him now that are imperceptible to others. He also notices stuff about me that I don’t even realize until he points it out. I think of it as evidence of our closeness.
Most women’s magazines would say the mystery is for him though, not me. Women thrive on comfort whereas men enjoy the thrill. Therefore as a relationship progresses, they say men lose that feeling of uncertainty that drew them to a woman in the first place and thus they lose interest. Those sorts of generalizations and infantilizing grown men are the things I don’t like. Sure some men bore easily and thus need a new woman every other day — and those men are incredibly immature and likely not fit for long-term relationships anyway. Besides, just because a couple knows a lot about each other doesn’t mean that they know everything there will ever be to know. We’re constantly evolving and learning more about ourselves, so the discovery in relationships doesn’t end.
Maybe when people admonish couples to “maintain the mystery” they’re really saying that couples shouldn’t abandon their separate interests because that makes them more interesting to each other. I can agree with that. I do my thing and he does his, not because I’m trying to be mysterious but because there are things I genuinely like to do that have nothing to do with him and he likes to do things that have nothing to do with me. Still, we’re not finding out something new every day about one another and that’s okay.
Recently, researches surveyed couples married ten years or more on the state of their love life. According to the results of a study in Scientific American magazine, a large percentage of those couples claimed to still be “intensely in love” and some attributed that to shared experiences.
Couples intensely in love reported participating in novel, engaging, and challenging activities together. Some of the greatest moments of intimacy in a relationship come from the simple joys of cooking or exercising together, exchanging intellectual ideas over common readings, learning a new and challenging skill like skiing, sharing spirituality by attending church or meditating, and going on travel adventures. That togetherness may create a shared thread of life experience and memories.
So it’s not the mystery that matters in the long run, but the shared life experiences. Novelty is fun for a few minutes, but after being together for a while, mystery inevitably fades anyway unless someone is making a concerted effort to maintain it. In that case, secrecy is overrated and a man full of surprises is a man I’ve learned not to trust. Honesty is paramount and intentionally withholding information is not the way to strengthen a relationship.
Unless you’re dating Sherlock Holmes, Elliot Stabler or someone else whose livelihood depends on solving mysteries, then there’s nothing wrong with knowing everything about your partner. That doesn’t mean you can’t surprise each other or be spontaneous, it just means that you’ve gotten past the charades to form a real, lasting bond. No sleuthing required.
What do you think? Is “mystery” necessary in long-term relationships?
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