Some of the seniors dropped in briefly for coffee after Lonnie Many Bears and his grandson left the saloon by the trout pond. Other than that, it was quiet for a couple of hours until a group of a half dozen riders pulled up. They were dressed like all the other Harley riders in black leather and denim, but their clothes were clean. Also, they were about twice as old as the rest of the 20s and 30s Sturgis crowd. Their boots clomped on the wooden floor as they made their way to bar.
They were disappointed we didn’t carry any tap beer, but made their choices from the bottles set in a row behind the bar. They didn’t talk about bikes or women like what most of the other guys talked about; they discussed medical issues. But not the kind of medical issues that plague old men – turns out they were a bunch of doctors who gathered every year in Sturgis.
As they ordered their second round of beers, I asked where they were from. They hailed from the East Coast, the West Coast, and points in between. They’d met at various conferences, and when they discovered there were several bikers among them, they started organizing rides to Sturgis.
“This is a perfect stress reliever,” one of them said. “It’s our ninth year.”
“Your wives don’t object?” I asked.
“Some of us are retired and our wives are happy to have us out of the house for a while.” They laughed.
“Well, except for Connor. He’s been married for 32 years and they are still like newlyweds. His wife hates to see him leave.”
“I’m still working, so I’m not hanging around the house all day like you Fred,” Connor responded. They all laughed.
“So how have you guys stayed in love for so long, Connor?” Fred asked.
“When I was a little kid, my father taught me that people love each other to the degree to which they meet each other’s needs. Conversely, they stop loving each other when they stop meeting each other’s needs. That’s the best marital advice anyone could receive.”
“God, that sounds so mechanical.”
“My mother hated that saying, because she believed that love was magical. The example she liked to use was the mother/baby bond. But there’s been some good studies which show that that bond is not sacrosanct. If the mother stops feeding the child, it’ll soon bond with whoever will.”
“So, what’s in it for the mother?”
“The mother’s brain is flooded with dopamine when she cares for her child. That’s the reward hormone – same hormone that is stimulated during sex, winning competitions, and some legal and illegal drugs.”
Fred asked, “What about friendship? There’s no sex or competition there. Why do guys like us ride all the way to Sturgis to party with each other?”
“Most males won’t admit it, but the imperative for male bonding is as deeply embedded in the male psyche as maternal instincts are in the female psyche. Adult males have a psychological need to gather in groups on a regular basis. Lack of that bonding expresses in destructive, or more commonly, self-destructive behavior.
From an evolutionary perspective, male bonding makes a great deal of sense. In hunting or war, groups of men who were bonded to each other were more likely to be successful than those who weren’t. The military has capitalized on this fact for millennia. The need for camaraderie is, in part, what makes motorcycle trips like the one we are on so special. That also applies to team sports, fishing and hunting trips and so on.
I once counseled a couple where the wife resented her husband for spending so much time working on hot rods with his buddies. She was convinced that hot rods were more important to him than she was. That feeling threatened their relationship.
He couldn’t understand why she wanted to deny him the relaxing pleasure of putzing with hot rods in his free time.
Once I explained the imperative for male bonding, she didn’t feel threatened anymore. He agreed to limit his avocation to Saturdays so they’d be together in the evenings.”
“So, what do you do to keep your romance alive, Connor?”
“I’ve got a whole theory about that John, and it’s pretty long. You sure you want to hear it?”
“You bet,” Fred interjected; “you’re the psychologist.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
“OK,” Connor responded, “Other than health, I believe there’s no greater boon to a man’s life than a loving, devoted spouse. Men tolerate poverty with a loving spouse much better than they enjoy wealth alone. You don’t want to end up living in filth in a Las Vegas penthouse like Howard Hughes. So, I think men should spend as much energy on sustaining a loving spousal relationship as they do on their careers.
Some men think a marriage is like an alarm clock radio. You get one, plug it in, set the time and it’ll sing to you on cue for ever after. But relationships are much more like gardens. They need constant tending.”
John asked, “What do you mean by that – what are we supposed to tend?”
“You should tend to her needs John; most importantly, her emotional needs. Think about this. The happiest time in a woman’s life was when she was the apple of her daddy’s eye. She felt the most secure, loved, and cherished while bouncing on his knee. Women spend the rest of their lives looking to recapture that cherished feeling, and the man who knows this has the key to the kingdom of marital bliss.
If she cannot rediscover that feeling in her marriage, she’ll act out in ways that seem illogical and irrational. Her man will be constantly perplexed by her volatility. No matter what he does or what he gives her, it’s just not enough.
If, on the other hand, she feels cherished, she’ll put up with almost anything from him – like disappearing for 10 days to party with his motorcycle buddies in Sturgis. She’ll also tolerate his obsession with vintage cars, football, or audio equipment. She may even make an effort to share those passions. I can’t get my wife on the bike, but she’ll listen to classical music or watch the Super Bowl with me.
“If you cherish her, she’ll value you and indulge your passions. So I go to great lengths to convince her that she is cherished. I remind her constantly how much I appreciate her for who she is, and what she does to make our house a home. I address her by pet names and send her flowers and cards for no special reason. I engage her in dialogue often so she has a chance to share what’s important to her. I keep her car washed and gassed. I kiss her goodnight all over her head like her daddy would, which makes her chuckle like a little girl. I often bring her coffee or breakfast in bed. I hug and kiss her every time she arrives to, or leaves the house. Most importantly, I always compliment her around family and friends, which makes her beam. I do whatever it takes to make her feel cherished.”
“When do you have time for work, Connor?” Fred snarked. Everyone chuckled.
“Most American men spend three to four hours a day in front of the TV, Fred, but spending an hour a day of that time on your marriage is a much better investment.”
“You’re assuming of course, that the two parties are madly in love with each other.”
“You were madly in love when you got married Fred. You’ve got to feed that flame to keep it alive.”
“In all fairness, that assumes the two parties are well-matched.”
“You’ll be surprised at how much the match improves if you both make a conscious effort to meet each other’s needs.”
“My son is about to marry a woman who, we believe, is just not a good match for him. What qualities do you think makes a perfect match?”
“No such thing as a perfect match, Darren. You have to learn to tolerate each others’ foibles. But if you’re a young man looking for a spouse, the last thing you should seek is movie star beauty. Beauty is fleeting anyway. My first wife was a fox and she’d been spoiled all her life. She was a single child and her parents doted on her. Her attitude towards marriage was, ‘Hey, my job is to look good; the rest is up to you.’ I got to hate the fox I once adored. That marriage lasted just over a year.”
“I’ll bet it was a fun year though, Connor.” Fred laughed.
“It was the most frustrating year of my life. So, I did some research into what it takes for two personalities to succeed in a marriage.”
“I thought you might have some ideas on that subject!” Darren exclaimed.
“Ideally, both spouses should have grown up with positive role models in their parents. That’s not often the case, but that’s the ideal. When kids learn nurturing behavior during their formative years, those lessons stay with them for life. If a man finds a potential spouse with an upbringing like that, he should hang on to her.
Secondly, the odds of a successful marriage are far better if their backgrounds, beliefs, and interests are as similar as possible. They’ll have a tough time understanding each other if one was brought up in wealth and the other in poverty; if one was brought up religious and the other irreligious; if one was brought up with family values and the other with hippie values; if one has always been active in sports, and the other is a bookworm.”
Fred commented, “I thought opposites attract!”
“It’s true that opposites attract, but only in temperament. If one is a Type A, the other should be a Type B. Two Type As will constantly be at odds, two Type Bs will bore each other to death. Other than that, they should be as similar as possible.
Understand that I’m making generalizations here. Of course there will always be exceptions. But a man looking for a spouse would be wise to keep these factors in mind.”
“My son married a very sweet girl and he treated her like a queen, yet she turned into an ogre. What can he do about that?” John asked.
“I haven’t met your son nor his wife, so I don’t really know John. But what commonly happens in deteriorating relationships, aside from failing to meet each others’ needs, is that the spouses don’t make clear where their fences are. Good fences make good neighbors, but if there is no fence, or if the fence is moved all the time, confusion and resentment develops, and that tends to escalate frustration and alienation over time.
For example, the wife of a couple I once counseled was infuriated every time he failed to close the garden gate. Sometimes, he’d leave the house with the gate wide open, which she felt threatened her security. “Anyone could walk into the back yard and enter the house through an open window,” she said.
He knew she didn’t like the gate being left open, but had no idea how much it irked her until she blew up in my office and expressed her anger. He was surprised. He hadn’t believed this issue was such a big deal.
I explained to her that it’s not enough to tell a man something, it’s just as important to tell him how important it is. Unlike women, men do not have a sixth sense about such things. They need to have it spelled out.
The husband agreed, and explained that he went to great lengths to meet some of her other requests, only to find out they weren’t really scoring him many points. He was frustrated by her failure to clarify things.
So, we set up a simple exercise to eliminate this problem. Anytime either of them made any kind of request, it would be accompanied by a numerical value, 10 being extremely important and 1 meaning a slight preference. I suggested they use this method while trying to negotiate agreements as well, each partner adding a numerical value to their argument to indicate how important it was.
If she wanted to them to attend her nephew’s birthday party, and he wanted to watch football at a friend’s house, the higher number would prevail. This required them to be totally honest with one another.
The husband was grateful because it allowed him to make better judgements. The wife was pleased because she finally felt she was being heard. She said in a subsequent session that he never left the gate open again. He felt she was being more reasonable in her demands. This technique eased a great deal of tension in their relationship and as a result, it noticeably improved.”
“Did you write this stuff down on paper somewhere, Connor?” John asked.
“I’d love a copy.”
“Me too,” the others piped in.”
Melody’s dad came in just before 6:00 pm to close the bar, but there were still so many patrons, he started to clear tables instead.
The doctors kept ordering more beers, so I suggested it might be time for something to eat. They asked to be shown the menu, so I proclaimed: ‘Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, and bacon cheeseburgers.”
“I’ll have the oysters!” Fred joked.
They all laughed and ordered burgers.
Connor asked if we had any cabins available.
“I’ll find out,” I responded.
I talked to Melody’s dad, who referred me to Melody’s mom, who was now in the kitchen with Melody.
“You’re in luck, Connor, we’ve got three cabins available and they all have a pair of twin beds. If you guys double up, there’ll be room for everyone in your party.”
He gave me a credit card and said, “Just book ’em. I don’t want these guys riding back to Rapid City in the dark.”
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Sofia Shultz.