Relationship Advice: Apologies, Sexual Chemistry and Politeness

In need of some sex or relationship advice? Look no further! David Eddie, author of Damage Control, explains his thoughts on courtship, marriage, sex and how to apologize properly.

Q: If you had to generalize, what would you say are the most common sex and relationship issues related to the courtship phase that people ask about?

A: In the courtship phase, the problems that come up the most are a little different for each sex. For men, blowing it in the early stages often has something to do with coming on too strong or not strong enough. In the book, we say that in the beginning men should go strong to the hoop, but you don’t want to get too intense. We had one question from a guy who said that his first date involved going out to play ping pong with this girl he was trying to woo, and he wound up getting too intense about the game and doing fist pumps and victory dances. And now she won’t return his calls. But one of the worst red flags for women in the early stages of a relationship is poor impulse control. Women put men through what I call the “fortnight test” — a two-week-long (minimum) test that you have to pass. They ask basic questions like, “Can he control his aggressive and sexual impulses?” If he can’t, ten years down the road he’s going to be one of these guys who hits me, or talks louder than me, or ticks off points on his fingers…

The other side for younger people is what I call “generation hook-up.” Everything’s so vague and hazy; they’re just hanging out and hooking up and doing “booty calls.” The line between dating and not dating is very fluid, and they think it’s cool. But I think it also creates a lot of problems. I get a lot of questions from young people — “Hey, I cheated on so and so and I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I guess he does.”

I think the old-fashioned values that people can bring to this stuff actually work: You should be faithful and you should target one person and go strong for that person. Whenever people come up to my wife, Pam — who’s a real hot babe — and ask what she saw in me, she always says that she never had any doubt that I liked her. These days, men seem too namby-pamby and ambivalent.

Q: And for women?

A: One of the mistakes I see, and I think it would come as a surprise to a lot of women to hear this, but it’s their general attitude toward men. Men, or at least the ones I know, are smarter, subtler and have more attuned antennae than women realize. Just as women love men who love women, so do men love women who love men. The short version of that is: we like women who like us. I think male-bashing has become such a reflex in society, and there are a lot of women who don’t realize that they’re doing it. If you were to see a man at a party who was angrily and bitterly making generalizations about women, you would tiptoe away from him. We’re the same way. Those of us who care about anything other than sex will moonwalk for the exit. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep saying that men only care about one thing, the only guys who will stick around are the corny cheeseballs who don’t give a damn what a woman has to say as long as they get some.

Q: How about when it comes to long-term relationships?

A: Yeah, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. No one should set themselves up as an expert for how to conduct a long-term relationship because it is so hard. But I’ve been with my wife for 17 years and we’re having a very nice time. I think a lot of it is about cooperation. If things go well and you can actually work things out, you find that the relationship actually gets better. There are things we just don’t argue about anymore. I’ve also found that an apology can be a very powerful tool if you mean it. In the book, we identify four levels of apology:

1. The make peace apology — “I’m sorry you feel that way” — which isn’t the world’s greatest apology, but can be transitional.
2. The genuine “I’m sorry.”
3. The type my wife is always trying to squeeze out of me: “I’m sorry and I promise I’ll never do it again.”
4. The new, cutting edge apology my wife wants me to work on: “I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again, and thank you for pointing out the error of my ways.” Which is a bit much.

But when you get into an argument, it has to be more about wanting to resolve it than wanting to be right. Who cares who’s right? It’s not like the UN is going to base decisions on your argument. We once had a terrible, 24-hour fight about a tomato.

Q: And when it comes to other people’s relationships?

A: As for other people’s marriages, who knows what goes on behind closed doors? I have one little tip, and it’s based on something I see a lot. I got a question once from a woman who said that whenever she goes into a social situation with her husband and he’s around people he doesn’t know that well, he demonstrates his wit by zinging me. I think intra-couple zingers get a lot of people in trouble. Somebody ends up genuinely stewing. I want to write a book someday called “Manners for Marriages.” People drop their manners a lot when they’re dealing with intimates, but manners are important and they’re there for a reason. I think you should be polite to people.

Q: What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were still single?

A: I’ll tell you, but it’s sort of counter-intuitive. I feel like there’s a lot of guff out there about people getting along. Of course, it’s nice to have a wonderful friendship with the person. But I had a friendship with a girl I lived with in New York for a year and a half, and what nobody told me (but I wish I knew) was that the sexual chemistry just wasn’t there. She had been my best friend in grad school, we did everything together, and then we ended up involved. But it just never had the heat. I think that if you have the sexual chemistry, you can work other things out. When you don’t have that, you’re doomed. Don’t underestimate passion. And it’s not just passion — some of that burns off a few months down the road. But you need to still enjoy having sex. In the long-term, a lack of sexual chemistry between couples seems like a death sentence. I’m in my 40s now, and people will tell me that they haven’t had sex with their partner in three years. That just leads to all kinds of tortured problems. You’ve got to have sex.