Love, sex and relationships have been considered by many to be some of the most mysterious and confusing human experiences in existence. Books, podcasts, seminars and whole classes have been dedicated and manufactured in order to help people piece together the enigma of love and relationships.
Naturally, with relationships being mysterious as they are, there has been a lot of misinformation circulating for decades about what a healthy relationship looks like and what it does not. While there is no road map to a successful or fulfilling love life, there are a couple of myths concerning relationships that could stand to be debunked.
“Never go to bed angry”
This old relationship adage is so old, it’s biblical. For decades, well-meaning grandmothers have been telling young people that the No. 1 rule in a healthy relationship is that a couple should never go to sleep when angry with each other. The exact biblical quotation ends with “lest you let bitterness take root in your heart.” Despite the definite logic that comes with the old saying, there’s actually a lot of evidence that proves the contrary.
According to Psychology Today and a myriad of other research, people are more responsive to anger and negativity when tired. A night of rest allows the brain to rejuvenate and filter out the stress causing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that can add to tensions and tempers. If a couple’s quarrel breaks out right before bed, there’s no point in withholding much needed sleep in order to argue out a topic when both participants are exhausted from the day. It may simply be better to agree to talk it out the next day after both of you are able to sleep on your current feelings. Then, you can wake up ready to hash out the conflict like mature adults.
“Love and lust are completely different concepts”
Years of abstinence-only sex ed and well-intended youth group conferences have managed to convince many that the experiences of love and lust fall eons apart from one another. In reality, romantic love and physical lust are activated in very similar parts of the brain and therefore exist on the same spectrum of human experience.
In 20 fMRI analyses, psychologist Stephanie Cacioppo and colleagues found that the brain processes romantic love and sexual desire in the same part of the cerebral cortex called the insula. The insula allows the brain to fully process and feel emotions as they come. The same study found that, while both love and lust occur within the insula together, they also light up different parts of the brain known as the striatum, which deals with motivation and pleasure.
The findings insinuate that while both experiences can cause different kinds of brain activity, they do not exist without the other on a neurological level. Both romantic feelings and desire lie on a continuum that requires one for the other to be fully processed.
What can be taken away by these studies is that there shouldn’t be any level of shame in a relationship when physical desire manifests itself. Sex is an important aspect of a healthy relationship and an integral part of the human experience. While it shouldn’t be the foundation of a coupling, there’s no reason that lust can’t be a healthy aspect of a good relationship.
“The cool girl”
Years of misogyny and patriarchal values have manifested themselves in plenty of ways within society, one of which is in the myth of the cool girl. While this concept can apply to all genders, its basic principle is that in order to be likable and attractive, women must be controllably aloof and mirror the behavior of the guys they are around. Essentially, it’s the pressure to be “one of the bros” without the ability or validation to communicate one's own feelings.
While this idea may not be inherently present in every social setting, it certainly manifests as TV tropes and even behavioral advice from some “relationship experts.” The truth is that women don’t have to act like perfectly detached Barbie dolls that can play on the same team as their dude-bro counterparts. People in general are complex, emotional beings who deserve to show and communicate what they are feeling. Don’t play into a part because you think that it is the ticket to attractiveness. If something is worth pursuing, you won’t feel pressured to act as anything other than yourself.
“The quickest way to get over someone is to get under someone else”
I don’t know who came up with this straight-up lie, but from personal experience it is one of the least helpful sayings out there when it comes to the most defining part of a relationship — the breakup.
According to WebMD, love, in its many forms, occurs in the brain the same way hard drugs do. We associate the person we are dating with the rush of dopamine that we receive from what I call the three C’s: cuddles, compliments and coitus. Once a breakup occurs, our bodies stop feeling that dopamine and start experiencing something very similar to withdrawal. When you’re craving a drug you can’t get anymore, it makes sense to try to get your fix from a similar source, i.e., a stranger from a dating app.
While this may check out logically, it is simply a Band-Aid for a bullet hole, and the only real way to get over someone who broke your heart is to fully process the break-up with the courage to adequately feel the difficult emotions that go with grieving a relationship. Only then is it healthy to begin to pursue love once again.