The Hook Up: Can a long-term relationship get its intensity back?

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I’ve been with my girlfriend for a little over two years. She’s perfect and wonderful and I love her to pieces. The problem, you ask? Well, since it has been two years, (and we’ve lived together for one), I feel like the passion and intensity we had at the beginning is gone — the days we’d spend in bed, the adventures, the never being too tired for sex, etc. Our love is still there but is there a way to bring back the first blush of love after so long? —Longing for Yesterday

Anna says: Not without a time machine, I’m afraid. But wait, before you go putting on the Boyz II Men mixtapes from yesteryear and having a good cry, let me explain.

It’s impossible to sustain the kind of intensity and passion that first love creates. Because we’d probably die of pleasure comas and lose our jobs and never pay our cable bills if we were constantly fawning over and boning our lovers all the day long. Not that it isn’t lovely — it is! — but in order for first love feelings to occur, a chemical cocktail in our brains must occur also. Good shit like oxytocin (facilitates bonding), dopamine (pleasure), and norepinephrine (adrenaline, appetite suppressant) are unleashed in our unsuspecting brains, causing us to annoy all of our friends and use gross nicknames like “precious tater tot” in public with zero irony. First love is like a drug to our brains, and it’s totally normal for that to fade over time, and for it to be replaced by a deeper, less addict-y kind of love, which is what you appear to be experiencing.

As The New York Times put it in the aptly titled “New Love – A Short Shelf Life:”

American and European researchers tracked 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over the course of 15 years. The findings were clear: newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years. Then the special joy wears off and they are back where they started, at least in terms of happiness. The findings, from a 2003 study, have been confirmed by several recent studies.

Science! What a killjoy, amiright? The article goes on to talk about how you’ll get the new-love bliss back if you can stick it out for 18-20 years, “after the kids are gone” (clearly this was written by straight people).

But just because you can’t get the chemical cocktail feeling back RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean you’re doomed for a life of boredom and re-runs of The Sopranos. Here are some things you can do fall in love a little bit again and again with the same person:

Experience new things

According to a TED talk I watched recently (I can’t quite remember which one, unfortunately! I think it’s this one.) Anyway dot com, the point is that experiencing new things with a person helps to facilitate bonding, even if it’s something small like trying pig ear pizza (it’s a thing!) or going on a hike you’ve never done before. Creating new memories with someone you love further cements those fun bonding chemicals we talked about earlier, and brings you both closer together.

Take a trip

Piggybacking off of the last point, if you have the time and resources, get out of town, even if it’s just for a weekend. This changes up your usual routines, gives you a renewed sense of adventure, and let’s not forget about the awesomeness that is hotel sex (or tent sex or hot tub sex, depending on your proclivities and sensitivity to dehydration). I don’t know about you, but half the fun of vacationing, for me, is getting to have sex somewhere new. I think this is because I don’t do daredevil stuff anymore like jump out of planes or go cliff diving. “Sex in a different bed” is my new Thrilling Thing. Do you feel better about your own life yet?

Get a life

Being part of a couple is great and all (double the wardrobe, half the rent!), but don’t forget that you’re a special snowflake with interesting hobbies and friends of your own and probably a gym membership you’ve been neglecting. Be sure you’re taking the time to do things apart from your partner that you enjoy and that are good for your health and well-being. This is good advice in general, but especially if you’re trying to keep that love spark going. Having a life gives you interesting things to talk about, and exercise helps your libido. So get on that, and she’ll get on you.

Experience the same things but in a new light

The more we spend time with someone, the higher the tendency that we’ll take them for granted. To put it in a more new-agey way: the traits that make us fall in love with people can go unappreciated if we don’t take the time to nourish them. To that end, do things that make your partner seem hot to you. For instance, if your girlfriend is a phenomenal dancer, then surprise her with two tickets to the homo hoe-down dance party. If she sings, take her to karaoke. If she’s witty, let her shine in a friendly group wine bar outing. If she’s geeky, take her to Star Trek trivia night. If she’s photogenic, go have her picture taken at Glamour Shots or some other cheesy portrait place. You get the idea. Go on dates that allow her awesomeness to shine through and it’ll help you to experience each other in a new-old light.

Do one nice thing a day

Speaking of taking people for granted, after we’re in relationship mode for a while, we sometimes forget that romance exists on days other than February 14 and your anniversary. But it doesn’t have to! And “romance” doesn’t have to be dictated by Hallmark either. Doing little things for our partners — a massage, a cute note, posting pit bull puppy photos on their Facebook page, etc. — helps them to feel special and that they are more to you than just a roommate and a closet you borrow from.

In summation, it’s totally normal to feel a relationship lull from time to time, but it’s not the end of the world. Readers, do you have other suggestions for Longing for Yesterday or Boyz II Men videos to share? If so, let’s have it.

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com.

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