The older we get the harder it is to start new lasting romantic relationships. I can explain it by way of an old joke, a fundamental principle, and a new parable.

An old joke:

A little girl, sitting on her grandpa’s lap asked “Did God make me?”
“Yes,” said her grandpa.
“And did God make you too?” she asked.
“Yes,” said her Grandpa.
She reflected and said, “He’s getting better isn’t he?”

A fundamental principle:

In living systems, attachments and dependencies grow. The longer you’ve lived in your community the harder it is to leave.  The longer a creature has been domesticated the harder it is to be released into the wild, the longer you’ve had a cell phone, the harder it is to do without it, the longer you’ve had a habit, the harder it is to break, and the longer you have been married the more complex your divorce settlement is likely to be. The challenge to long term relationships is not finding the raison d’etre (the function, the reason to be or stay) but the raison d’entre (the reason to enter in the first place).

A new parable:

God was experimenting.  She had made many fine creatures. Her first were fully programmed at birth.  They were like robots.  She made large numbers of them because, being preprogrammed, they couldn’t adapt.  If they wandered into an environment where their programmed behavior didn’t work, they would die. As long as there were lots of them though, that wasn’t a problem.

Her next creatures could learn by trial and error. If they had a close call with something deadly they could learn to avoid that danger in the future.  They could only learn from close calls–near death, not real death experiences–but that made them a lot more adaptable to changes in their environments.   These did well. God was getting better, and more daring too.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup

God decided to see what would happen if he made one with hindsight, foresight and sidesight, the ability to imagine back into the past, forward into the future and really anything on any side, and from any side. It wasn’t just that they could imagine anything. They could sew all of their imaginings together into one big overview of God’s works, really a glimpse of what God herself saw.  This overview would make the creature highly adaptive, able to anticipate danger not just from near death experiences but from weaving all sorts of twos and twos together.

For the second time ever–God being the first time–there was a creature that could ask and answer the question “what’s this all about?”

The trouble was that there was plenty of danger, behind, in front and on all sides. Being able to see so much at once is not for the faint of heart. God could handle it but that’s because she was above it.  She was the one who set up the game of life this way originally, with things falling apart, and life resisting falling apart but only for a while, a competition in which each creature is both an individual trying to survive in a dangerous environment and the dangerous environment to other creatures.

These new ones were creatures who could remember terrible things that had happened to them.  They could foresee their own deaths. They could see threats on every side of them.  It made them anxious, clingy, quirky and even a little more dangerous than the other creatures.

It’s true, God’s new breed were better at adapting. They were good at figuring out what was dangerous and steering clear. Indeed, so clear, that they weren’t very good at mating. Their foresight enabled them to anticipate trouble with their fellow anxious quirky creatures. Their hindsight made them remember dating troubles past.  Instinctively they were drawn to each other, but then their imaginings made them shy away.

So God started playing around with the variables.  She invented some painkilling, bliss-wakening drugs that would fire off just as potential mates were getting to know each other.  That helped.  Then she started to play with triggers for the drugs.  For this she made the young ones drug-inducingly beautiful.  To look at one of these beauties set the drugs aflowing. It filled these young ones with a false sense of security.

This beauty triggered the drugs that made the creatures think they were looking at the unconditionally permanent safe, true good and perfect but really it was ephemeral, merely a cosmetic appeal that visited the creature’s bodies but did not stay long.

That the beauty didn’t last long didn’t matter. The point was to cause an initial union, that’s all.  So long as it got the creatures over their initial aversion, then their basic clinginess would keep them together, even though they were anxious.

This new design worked fabulously well. God had found the formula.  Make the creatures visionary, even though it has the side effect of making them anxious.  Overcome their resistance to mating with each other with drugs that make them forget the danger and feel great bliss and trigger those drugs with compelling, convincing beauty.

As they aged the creatures became sadder, wiser and not quite as pretty. So they would naturally approach each other with more trepidation, and less first-blush rush. With their hindsight, foresight and sidesight they could anticipate trouble and it would make them ambivalent about mating.

If they mated when they were young beautiful and drugged that wasn’t a problem because the drugs and beauty were enough to get them over the hump and into the groove. They could lose both beauty and drugs and still stay together.

But mating from scratch late in life was not as reliable.  God saw the problem with the older ones mating, but she was OK with it. Her design just had to ensure that there would be babies. For that you just needed the young ones mating.  It didn’t matter to God whether the old ones mated.  But it mattered to them, because with hindsight they clung to the joy they had in matings past and wanted more of that.  With sidesight they saw other people being beauty-drugged and they could imagine themselves back in that state. And with foresight enough to see their own deaths, they clung. They wanted to feel what it is like to be blissfully alive while they still could.