Old is new again
fresh look at a long-term love can rekindle romantic sparks
makes old love new? Scientifically speaking, perhaps nothing.
New love excites the reward center of the brain, an area that
also responds to alcohol and drug use. Long-term love and
attachment, however, when observed in the lab, work elsewhere
in the mind, in an area associated with emotions. So how,
when you’re in a relationship that is weathering the test
of time, do you rekindle the sparks that started the fires
The answer to this question wasn’t on the tip of my friends’
and family’s tongues.
Desperate Housewives,” my best friend joked. This is
the 10th year he’s been in love with the man who is now his
husband. But if watching racy, raunchy TV shows holds no romantic
promise for you and your mate, how do you bring back that
Nostalgia is a good route. Think of the things that sparked
those fires. For me and my man, Dutch gin was a tonic. When
we met, I had a bottle of Genever I bought in the airport
in Amsterdam. He knew and liked this syrupy, liquerish brand
of gin, which became an emblem of our beginnings. Genever
is no longer sold in the United States, as far as we can tell,
so we have to resort to other ingestives that remind us of
our first days together: corn pancakes, which I made from
corn on the cob that was in his refrigerator, and the Cornelian
Cherry syrup we poured on top of them. The syrup made me think
he was long-term material because his domestic skills outdid
mine. Though I’ve since taken over preparing this concoction,
we still harvest the garnet fruit together. Just thinking
about these foods makes me feel fondly toward my mate.
Another route we’ve pursued toward rekindling is not as easily
applicable. When my husband suffered an on-the-job injury,
we had a honeymoon in the hospital. While the hospitalizations
and recovery were lengthy and stressful, the crisis made us
drop the emotional shorthand we’d developed in our relationship.
He joked about offering Trauma Introduction Service Kits (TISK)
to reignite romance, or jump-start people stalled at midlife.
Of course, you can find novelty in love without going to the
hospital. Try new foods, sports, or books. If you always watch
TV, play a board game instead. If you always work after dinner,
take a night off and work on each other. You will feel like
other people because of the change from routine. The feeling
might be strange, but that’s good. Shut your eyes and tell
each other something that means a lot to you. Go out on a
limb and reveal yourself. Hold hands. Sing lullabies.
For a really cheap date with big potential, pretend you’re
renovating a room. Surveying paint-color names is pretty wild.
If “Heartthrob,” “Ardent Coral,” or “Ablaze,” and the colors
they correspond to, don’t tickle your mutual fancy in one
way, perhaps you and your mate will get a kick out of the
suggestive word pairings. Maybe you’ll both be amused in the
way you used to be, back when you were discovering the unique
ways your hearts locked together and you thought the two of
you could create your own island within the world.
If couples I quizzed were stumped about how to name the elements
that keep love alive, advice on what not to do flowed.
Figure out what habits of yours are completely untenable to
your lover. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t be shy about sprinkling
verbal endearments. Don’t forget to hug.
These things sound simple, but once you have a dedicated partner,
your interests move to other, more pressing pursuits, like
earning a living, maintaining a household, or digging into
personal hobbies or charitable causes. That’s why it’s necessary
to find excuses to remember, and rediscover, why you love
the person you do.
Valentine’s Day is a good time to reconfigure romantic habits.
Take the traditional elements and reframe your celebration:
Don’t just get a bag of dark chocolate, but capitalize on
the neurochemical it contains, dopamine, which is also lively
in the brain areas that are stimulated by lust and new love.
Build a new memory: hide the chocolates in the sofa and administer
them during a lengthy make-out session.
Make an at-home restaurant: Get a cookbook from the library,
and plot out a wonderful meal. Do every bit of the work for
the feast together, from shopping to licking the whisk from
the whipping cream.
Invite your mate to meet you for coffee in the afternoon.
Interview him or her the way you used to before you knew the
names of siblings, and had a chance to forget his or her cousins.
Compose a list of things you might not know: worst childhood
memory, worst adult memory, best adult and childhood memories.
What did you want to be as a grown-up when you were 5? When
you were 10? Where did you dream of traveling? Listen to your
mate. Respond to the responses. Practice, if necessary, responsiveness
beforehand; watch yourself in the mirror as you pretend to
listen. Can you hold your lover’s gaze? Can you still believe
that he or she is the only person in the room worth hearing?
In short, make a moment. Take a moment to look sideways at
the person who shares your pillows. There is so much more
to know than you think. Seeking new information can cement
new interactions, and turn on that center of the brain that
was doing somersaults 10, 20, or 40 years ago. Intimacy happens.