I had the pleasure of interviewing Drs. Ed Locke and Ellen Kenner, authors of The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason. Edwin A. Locke, PhD, is an internationally known psychologist who has published widely and given numerous talks and courses at Objectivist conferences. Ellen Kenner, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show The Rational Basis of Happiness. She has been a speaker at Objectivist conferences for many years and specializes in applying the rational, pro-happiness philosophy of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to mental health issues, including self-improvement, romance, parenting, and communication. —Jason Stotts
Jason Stotts: Let me begin by thanking you both for writing The Selfish Path to Romance. I’ve read many books about love and relationships, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is by far the best book I’ve ever read on these topics.
Ed Locke and Ellen Kenner: Thank you.
JS: Would you provide a quick overview of your book, including what makes it unique?
EK: Our book invites you to learn skills to make your romantic relationship thrive. We cover what love is, how to value yourself and make yourself lovable, and how to chose the right partner. We then cover how to cherish one another to keep your emotional intimacy alive and enjoy each other’s companionship. We discuss how to communicate openly and resolve conflicts reasonably, and how to make sex enjoyable for both.
EL: And our book is based on certain fundamental principles identified by Ayn Rand:
- Love is based on self-interest, and is destroyed by self-sacrifice.
- Moral character is essential for romance.
- The visibility principle (originally from Aristotle).
- Emotion and reason are not inherently opposed; you can achieve a harmony between the two.
- Successful romance involves active, ongoing, and sometimes difficult mental work.
These fundamentals make our book unique. However, Ayn Rand wasn’t a psychologist or marriage counselor, so the details in the book are from our personal and clinical experience.
JS: Are relationship books typically based on a philosophy?
EL: The main philosophy I see in such books is altruism—the idea that you should be selfless—and religion.
EK: And some relationship books encourage a philosophy of manipulation in order to get what you want, which is usually called “being selfish.” That’s not what we mean by selfish. Manipulation is immoral, self-destructive, and destructive of relationships.
We mean by selfishness what Ayn Rand meant by it: valuing yourself; building good moral character through, for example, being honest, having integrity, being productive; and learning how to cherish your loved one. That’s a healthy philosophy.
JS: Can you elaborate on the kind of selfishness you advocate?
EL: Ours is based on reason and reality, not whim. Not, “How can I manipulate people to get what I want?,” but, “How can I establish a trusting relationship and create good character for myself, for this relationship, and for life?”
EK: What you hear often is, “My husband is so selfish—all he does is think of himself!” Or, “My girlfriend just does her own thing; she’s so selfish!” That’s the traditional use of “selfish,” and that idea thwarts people’s ability to think clearly and act in a way that is good for their own life. We’ve grown to believe that we should feel guilty doing anything for ourselves. But then we live our lives doing things for other people and sneaking in things for ourselves.
As Ayn Rand emphasized, the word selfish means concern with your own interests. You can be concerned with your own interests in a rational way, you can pursue your dreams without violating anyone else’s rights or trust—or you can pursue irrational goals, like a robber, a drug addict, or a physical abuser does. Such people are not truly selfish; they are self-destructive: they destroy their own character and lives in their dishonest pursuit of irrational goals.
Rational selfishness is about pursuing your own happiness. It’s about pursuing healthy goals, and if one of your top goals is your romantic relationship, then it’s in your interest to understand the principles that will make your relationship special.
EL: Ellen’s use of the term “sneak” is perfect, because if you think altruism or selflessness is the ultimate virtue, then all self-interested activities need to be sneaked in. So, immediately you feel guilty. You feel, “If I’m going to have any fun, I’m going to have to deceive my partner, because if I do something for myself out in the open it’s considered immoral.” Altruism forces sneakiness.
EK: As children, most of us learned that it’s important to dutifully please others—not to genuinely please others in a way that also makes us happy, a win-win situation, but to sacrifice ourselves. That’s tragic. Children need to learn how to properly value themselves. And adults who have been damaged by such ideas need to learn how to liberate themselves with healthier ideas.
JS: You mentioned the “visibility principle.” What is this?
EL: It’s the idea that it’s important to be able to see yourself in the actions and reactions of your partner: specifically, moral character, emotions, values, appearance, sexuality, and intellect—and to recognize those in your partner and exhibit them in your own character. This is not the same as approval. A person of self-esteem doesn’t need to be validated in the fundamental sense; he already knows he’s good. Visibility strengthens the bond between partners. A rational meaning of the term “soul mate” is: “We share values, we share good moral character, we share our feelings and emotions, we both take care of our appearance, we enjoy each other sexually, we respect each other intellectually, and we make one another aware that we see and appreciate the good in them.” Psychologically this enables you to see yourself in a way that you can’t from the inside. It’s like objectifying yourself through the actions and reactions of another person. As Aristotle said, a friend is another self. When you feel invisible, you feel alienated from your partner; romance won’t flourish.
EK: When you’re with someone you love, they see not just your physical body, which is important; they also see your psychological character, and they reflect that back—a warm smile, they like who you are, they’re happy to see you. You feel visible, you feel cherished, you feel immensely important to your partner, and hopefully you give your partner a similar mirror. Such visibility makes a romantic relationship warm and wonderful.
In contrast, if your partner never looks you in the eye or smiles at you, or asks you how your day was, you won’t feel visible to them.
JS: What does lack of visibility do to relationships?
EL: It destroys them, as do things that often accompany it, such as lacking character, or lacking self-esteem, or not doing the work of thinking, or not understanding emotions in yourself and, therefore, making it impossible to understand emotions in others.
EK: Clients painfully complain: “I feel invisible, like I’m not there,” or “He always sees me as a person who’s (something negative), but I’m not that way!” To feel mischaracterized is painful. To feel invisible, like you don’t matter or don’t exist, is awful. In rocky relationships, you get that feeling of invisibility: “I’m not important anymore; I don’t feel cherished or valued; she never spends time with me.” That feeling of invisibility can hurt deeply. It can make you question yourself. We discuss in our book how to recover from such blows to your self-esteem.
JS: The title of your book, The Selfish Path to Romance, probably throws off a lot of people. Yet, you argue that relationships must be based on selfishness or egoism in order to truly flourish. Why is that?
EL: If you don’t have a sense of yourself, a firm identity, and firm values—my meaning of the term ego—then you have no self and nothing to offer another person. You’re a void, and the other person cannot fill it. If you don’t have a sense of “I,” a sense of yourself as a person holding firm values, then what do you have to offer in a relationship except dependency?
EK: We’re not accustomed to hearing the word selfish used in a positive context. Most people are unfamiliar with the idea that properly valuing your self is good and moral, so people can be puzzled by the title.
On the other hand, some people respond enthusiastically when they hear the title because they thirst to value themselves more. The title, for them, is alluring and intriguing. They implicitly, if not explicitly, understand that tending to your self is good.
I think our title causes people to think about their definitions of the word “selfishness,” and our book helps readers differentiate the two opposite meanings attributed to that word: self-destruction and self-valuing—and proudly adopt the latter.
JS: So one of the major points of egoistic love is: How can one find love if love is based on values and one doesn’t have values?
EL: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it.
JS: You talk about a person’s character as being important for love. Are you saying that love is conditional? What about the common view that true love is unconditional?
EL: Here we have to make a distinction based on age. For infants, the issue doesn’t come up because they haven’t established any character and can’t make fundamental conceptual choices. Obviously, babies are not going to be able to “earn” anything; they’re your baby, so you simply love them. With children, the way you would frame the issue is if they do something inappropriate—let’s say, they lie to you—you explain to them that lying is inappropriate and against their own interests and life, and you help them understand this by means of appropriate consequences. But you don’t make fundamental judgments of your whole child from a few actions.
For grown adults, love is absolutely conditional. Would you fall in love with a murderer? A thief? A con man? A person who constantly cheats, lies, or steals? You wouldn’t, unless you’re so desperate you would take anyone. Love, for adults, is absolutely conditional on the other person’s character and actions. Your character, your basic moral values, affects everything you do in life, whether implicitly or explicitly. If that’s not there as a base, then why would you love the other person?
EK: Imagine your partner refuses to work, lives off of you, and spends your money on gambling, drinking, and drugging. How could you not judge that? How could you say, “I love you unconditionally” when you’re working one or two jobs to make ends meet and your partner is doing nothing, by choice? You’re going to make judgments and have feelings about that. And when the alcohol and drug abuse mess up your home life and your kids, would you say, “I love you unconditionally, honey; I love you and will not judge the devastating effect that your laziness, your drinking, or drugging is having on my life and on our children’s lives”? It makes no sense. Unconditional love would require that you suffocate your mind; you don’t evaluate, you don’t judge, you shut up and put up.
Our subconscious always evaluates things, other people included. We need to become conscious of the process. When we see good, admirable traits in our partner, we will love them for those reasons. And, hopefully, our partner will love us for our good traits—that’s win-win. When we find things we don’t like in our partner, we need to address them together. This doesn’t mean that we’re inappropriately judgmental or critical in a nasty way. Our manner of delivery doesn’t need to be crude or cruel. We can learn to express ourselves assertively, without attacking our partner’s character.
EL: Observe the connection between the conventional view regarding judging others and the fundamental prescription of altruism. On the premise of altruism you can’t have selfish values—you’re only supposed to serve others—so it’s your “duty” to support and love your spouse no matter what. Most Christians I’ve talked to say that it’s only moral to get divorced in extreme cases, such as physical abuse; otherwise it’s your duty to put up with whomever you chose. So selflessness is very closely tied to unconditional love: Love is not something they earned; it’s a “duty” on your part.
JS: In your book you state: “physical looks betray one’s self-evaluation.” Does this mean that you think beautiful people are morally superior?
EK: [Laughs] Absolutely not! Your looks are in some ways a given. Some people are naturally gorgeous, whereas others are less beautiful or even a little homely. But I don’t think you could have any better evidence that the physical doesn’t necessarily reflect your view of yourself than a recent example on Dancing with the Stars. A contestant named J. R. Martinez danced with one of the pros. He was disfigured and burned over much of his body, even missing an ear. I voted for him time and again, and he won! It was his character, not just his dancing, that made people vote for him. He makes the most with what he has; his character makes him a winner.
What is rationally non-optional with physical looks is that you take care of yourself. We all know slovenly, unhygienic people who make the least of their looks deliberately. That speaks to their self-evaluation.
If you have a decent level of hygiene, then there are many optional ways of stylizing yourself, and we all vary our looks. When I play with my dog, I wear old, worn-out clothes. In therapy, I wear conventional clothes. At a ballroom dance, I sometimes wear glamorous or sexy clothes. Character is what is important, and part of your character is your level of hygiene and how you choose to stylize yourself. By stylizing yourself, we don’t mean being obsessed with looks, which is often a sign of insecurity.
EL: Religion has been very harmful here because it focuses on the spiritual and often denigrates the body. Should you take no interest in another person’s appearance or even your own as long as you have spiritual qualities? I read an advice column in the newspaper recently where a woman had gained more than one hundred pounds, and the man wouldn’t sleep with her anymore. The columnist was outraged on the grounds that this was superficial, but the man was right. The woman deliberately allowed herself to become unattractive, and it affected his response to her.
Part of being responsible for your appearance is making yourself look reasonably attractive. Weight control is an element of aesthetic attraction, in addition to being a matter of physical health. We don’t believe in the spiritual and reject the body; we believe in the proper integration of mind and body, which is another unique aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
JS: A common assumption in our culture is that love is blind, and that reason and emotions are opposites. How do you reply to this?
EL: There’s no innate conflict between reason and emotion, as emotions come from subconsciously held ideas. Every emotion has a cause. When you learn to introspect, you can identify the ideas underlying the emotion. For example, a guy meets a woman and he’s crazy about her, but he’s focusing only on one trait, say, looks or charm. If he introspected, he’d realize his whole attraction is based on just this one thing. If he looked at the rest of her character, he might find that she is totally lacking (perhaps she’s deceitful). The key is not trying to overcome emotions with reason, but working to understand your emotions with reason, by identifying the ideas and values underlying them. Love is not mysterious, if you introspect carefully and identify what’s behind your emotional responses.
EK: You want to achieve a harmony between your thoughts and your feelings. On my first date with my husband, I felt we were romantically compatible. I told my parents and sisters: “I want to marry him.” I obviously didn’t yet have enough details to fully evaluate whether we would be romantically compatible in a marriage, but there were key things I was looking for in a person and he had them. I felt at home with him. I loved his sense of life. I still needed to do what Ed is talking about: introspect to understand the causes of my positive emotions, to make sure they were grounded in rational values, not just off in fantasyland. And we didn’t marry until we knew each other more deeply.
JS: You mentioned “sense of life.” Would you explain what that is?
EK: Your sense of life is your implicit, deepest evaluation of yourself—including your appraisal of the efficacy of your own mind—of others, and of the world. When we meet anyone, we have an emotional response to him. Where does this response come from? Say a client comes to my office looking severely depressed: his head is hung and his shoulders are slumped—he projects a certain view about himself, others, and the world—none of it is positive. In contrast, a child may come bounding down the hall, eager to get to my office, eager to tell me about school or friends, or use the colorful markers on my whiteboard. These individuals have very different senses of life, different implicit premises about themselves and what’s important in life. They might not grasp that these are fundamental premises, but the depressed person might implicitly hold, “My mind is no good, people are useless, the world is a depressing place and—oh, what’s the use anyway!,” whereas the child is thinking, “Goody, I’m here (in the world)!” His life is filled with adventure. He feels efficacious, and he is eager to talk; he’s outgoing. Sense of life is an implicit view of reality, of your self, and of your relationship to reality: Are you good? Are you efficacious? What is your view of others? Of the world? Of your future?
EL: And it’s immediately involved in your emotional connection to people; it’s something that you experience early on when meeting or dating someone. If you like their sense of life, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be a good match. It’s one of the earliest things you experience about a person, whether positive or negative. It’s hard to put into words, so you have to take the time to get to know the person better and to reflect on your response.
EK: In my dating years, I would sometimes meet a person whom I immediately didn’t like, even in the first few seconds. I hadn’t yet identified what was off-putting. Perhaps the person didn’t seem genuine, or had a shifty look. I hadn’t yet identified what seemed fake or shifty. But on an implicit level, I was picking up information about their character.
Your sense of life response can tell you quite a bit, but it still needs to be validated by careful reflection, by introspection. A potential partner’s sense of life can be delightful, and it can give you a lot of implicit positive data about someone—such as my initial jubilant response when I first met my husband.
JS: Is sense of life the source of what people call “love at first sight”?
EL: Yes, but you have to be careful to separate love at first sight from infatuation, because it’s much more profound than that. Real love at first sight does have a big element of sense of life in it.
EK: Yes, I responded to my husband’s sense of life immediately. When I first met him, I was in college, and I could not wait until the evenings when Harris picked me up after my classes and we spent time together.
JS: Some people talk about intense, passionate love as an “immature” kind of love, whereas mature love is warmer and more fulfilling, less intense. Your thoughts?
EL: I disagree that passion is immature.
EK: I disagree that you necessarily lose that intense passion with mature love. With Harris, I experience those incredible moments. It’s true that it’s not 24/7, but there are many times when I’m sitting at work and I know we’re going out later and I can’t wait. It’s that same charged feeling—“It’s Harris, and I love him!”
EL: I think one reason that the intensity can fade is because the relationship wasn’t as good as you thought; perhaps it was partly infatuation, or perhaps you didn’t work to keep it going. If you’re on an altruistic or selfless premise, your relationship erodes, little by little, into a “duty” rather than a life-serving value. Love can fade because your partner or you change, and can be different, years later, from how either of you were when you first met. But I strongly disagree that fading is inevitable.
A word on teenage love: The first time you fall in love, you’re typically not that mature, you’re not able to hold the full context, and you don’t have your own character and values fully developed. When you first fall in love, it’s usually based on something fairly narrow. That’s why it typically won’t last. But, assuming your self is pretty well developed, you have the right match, and you do the work, then it’s my opinion that love only gets stronger with time.
JS: Why do some people settle for less-than-ideal relationships?
EL: There are many reasons, like desperation (everyone expects me to be married), self-doubt (marrying for the illusion of self-esteem), or ignorance (you think it’s the right person, but you missed significant things). It’s high risk to get married early in life. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t because partners may not be fully developed and their motives aren’t clear, since they don’t have a full sense of self yet. Maturity is certainly a relevant factor, in addition to other factors we cover in our book.
Also, you may have made an innocent mistake in your choice; perhaps you weren’t as matched as you thought you were. You were matched in certain ways but not in other ways, and you didn’t see that. Over time, certain personality issues may come to the fore and undermine the rest. Or perhaps you were too young, or there was a lot that you just didn’t know.
JS: What would you say is essential to maintain love in a relationship? What does each person have to do?
EK: Begin by not taking yourself for granted. Many of us get into ruts in our own lives, and we don’t make our lives exciting or interesting, or we embrace selflessness as the moral ideal. If you learn to value yourself, you’re more likely to value your partner. You both want to grow as individuals.
And keep your relationship interesting. You want some shared interests and hobbies. You want to communicate well so resentments don’t build and are quickly resolved. You want to be genuine and refuse to be motivated by a sense of duty, or to fake niceness.
Sex and intimacy are important for maintaining love. If you don’t know how to communicate what feels good to you, that will undermine your relationship. If the woman does everything to please the man or vice versa, or if either is too embarrassed to talk about what is pleasing, or if they just do it the same dull way all the time, like going to the same restaurant all the time, intimacy is destroyed, and sex can become another “duty” on your “to-do” list, or nonexistent.
JS: I find it ironic that our culture is so set against premarital sex, since many relationships fail because of sexual incompatibility. What are your thoughts?
EK: Premarital sex covers a spectrum of activities. For young adults who are just “hooking up,” it can undermine their relationships and be confusing. For example, one partner is genuinely interested in emotional intimacy and the other is engaging in sex for an evening’s pleasure without any desire for commitment.
However, if two people are genuinely in love, then they can come to know each other better when they know each other sexually. For example, I slept with my husband before we were married. Interestingly, my father encouraged me to, saying that you need to know a person in depth before you commit to marriage. Harris and I lived together for a while, and we learned a good deal about one another, including how to be open and communicate well. It helped us make a more informed decision when we decided to marry.
EL: Many sexual problems are actually emotional intimacy problems. A lack of closeness makes sex less pleasurable. There can be problems with sex alone, but many times they are symptoms of relationship problems. Since sex is a very intimate activity, if you are not in sync emotionally (especially for the woman) you are not going to feel that interested in sex.
Even “strictly sexual” problems can be due to a lack of communication, which should be part of the entire relationship, that’s now taken into the field of sex. A couple might communicate about money, kids, schedules, household chores, but when it comes to sex (again, often due to religion) they clam up, and they don’t maximize the pleasure that they can get from it. If that happens enough it can redound in the other direction and cut into the emotional closeness. It’s a reciprocal relationship: closeness facilitates good sex, and good sex facilitates closeness. If you break that cycle one way or the other, then it’s going to be harmful to the relationship.
JS: A lot of people think that sex is a mindless act driven by instinct, but you emphasize that sex is tied to values, and that we can understand sex rationally. Would you elaborate?
EL: Romantic sex is experienced with the entire person, so everything about the person enters into sex: values, character, looks, dress, communication. Everything about the relationship affects sex. It affects the closeness of the two people. On the other hand, mindless sex is not real intimacy. It’s just animalistic. Real sex—by which I mean intimate sex—involves the entire person: all the values that you see in the other person, their sense of life, and the closeness that you’ve developed with the other person. All that enters into sex. If the sex is, in fact, mindless, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not going to last, it’s not going to mean anything.
EK: Contrast that with truly connecting with your partner, whether you’re enjoying a fantasy together or experiencing a close emotional connection. If you value your partner, it gives you a heightened experience of pleasure, and such intimacy can leave you with a wonderful afterglow that can last for days.
Every time you have sex, it might not be electrifying. It might be gentle and quiet, or it might be a case in which your partner enjoys it more this time, and perhaps another time you enjoy it more. You don’t have to have everything equal all the time. It’s unrealistic to expect that.
JS: Earlier, you mentioned sexual monotony and that one doesn’t want to always “eat in the same restaurant.” Would you comment on whether and to what extent a person should be willing to step outside their sexual comfort zone and try new things with their partner?
EK: Oh, that can be tricky. If the idea comes from one partner saying, “I’d love to try something new,” and it’s mutual, and not harmful—that’s healthy. If it comes from one’s partner saying, “Hey, you should try this,” or “You’ve got to do this,” that’s controlling. There’s no mutual consent. That’s a recipe for disaster.
EL: People differ enormously in what they’re willing to try. For example, some women are completely turned off by even thinking about anal sex or being touched there, whereas others think it’s an exciting thing to try. If you have good communication and mutual respect, you will respect your partner’s decision and find something that you both enjoy. Even if you ask it in the nicest way, everyone has limits, and you have to accept it without being whiny or petulant. Instead say, “We’ll find things that we both like.”
EK: I’ve heard people argue: “I’m not going through life without oral sex, honey!” They might have to, and if there was any chance for it, they just killed it. They need to approach it differently, as a warm invitation and at the right moment. They need to realize that maybe that’s something that’s a trade-off in their relationship.
Let me offer a nonsexual example: When I married my husband, he had no interest in dancing, whereas I loved dancing. What should I have done? Continually nag him? Make him feel guilty for not dancing? Divorce him? Or was this a trade-off, something I needed to accept? It certainly was not a relationship-breaker. There’s no way in the world that I would divorce him because he didn’t dance. We discuss such trade-offs in our book.
EL: Going back to sex, if a partner has goodwill, many times they’ll be willing to try something that isn’t their favorite because they love their partner. They may be willing to experiment—up to a point. For many, there are things they just won’t consider.
It’s also important not to let yourself be prudish, unwilling to try anything to spice it up; that’s something that you want to address. That doesn’t mean you don’t have certain things that you absolutely can’t stand. With good communication and a warm, loving relationship, you can usually find something that works for both.
JS: How important do you regard spontaneity? Some say that planning and setting time aside for sex spoil the magic of it. What are your thoughts on this?
EL: We don’t think sex is magic. We just think it’s extremely pleasurable. Spontaneous is fun when it’s possible, but that doesn’t mean that planned is not fun. Some people are more comfortable and find it more pleasurable with planning. People differ. Some are unable to suddenly get in the mood, and so it has to be more leisurely and more planned. Explore what works best for the couple.
EK: It’s the same with any activity. If my sister called and said, “Let’s go to the gym now,” and I was in the middle of doing some office work, I might not be in the mood to go to the gym. Spontaneity wouldn’t work here. Whereas, if we’d planned in advance, “Tuesday morning, let’s go to the gym,” I’d mentally prepare for it and more likely get excited about it.
It’s fine to plan for sex. But you don’t want it to be robotic or dutiful. We’re against the dutiful approach to anything in life; we want it to be value-oriented, something you want to do.
Also, plans can fall apart. You’ve set aside Friday night, and then you get a bad case of indigestion and you’re in no mood for intimacy. Replan it, and that’s OK. Planning also allows for reducing distractions; you can plan to have your children stay overnight with grandma, and give yourselves an uninterrupted romantic evening.
JS: Besides reading your book, which I encourage everyone to do, what other advice would you offer couples to help sex thrive?
EL: Be very, very communicative and supportive, and be willing to be creative within the limits your partner sets. Creativity shouldn’t be confined to just when you’re at work. There are lots of creative things you can do during sex that would be mutually enjoyable.
EK: Carefully listen to one another and talk about what feels good and what doesn’t feel good without attacking your partner. You want to say, “It feels a little better here, Hon,” rather than saying, “Why the heck are you doing that?!” That will ruin the whole mood.
Value yourself. It gets back to selfishness. If you are unsure what you like, get in touch with your own sensuality: What feels good? What doesn’t? Then have the confidence and courage to share that self-knowledge with your partner. There should be mutual sharing here, learning and growing together.
Also, know how to cope well when a sexual encounter is unsatisfactory—to have more of a loving or gently humorous approach to it—I don’t mean silly, but a loving, tender approach, that it’s not a big deal if things didn’t work out. Talk about what would make it better next time. Perhaps you don’t talk about it right after it happened. You may need some time to understand what went wrong and figure out what wasn’t quite right. But avoid the silent treatment.
And it’s especially important for the woman to know what feels good for her. Her equipment’s a little different from a guy’s, and some women have not experimented enough with their own sensuality. Arousal can be more elusive for a woman. Both partners need to know that women typically need clitoral stimulation to achieve maximum sexual pleasure. Partners need to discuss and discover ways to achieve such stimulation so that both enjoy the sexual experience.
They say the brain is the most important sexual organ, and I would highlight that. Your mind requires sensual, or some degree of sexy, erotic thoughts, a willingness to be receptive to pleasurable feelings, and to know what you like and share it with your partner. A view of sex as dirty, sinful, and something to be shunned kills one’s capacity for sexual pleasure.
JS: Good communication is widely acknowledged as one of the most important aspects of a relationship. Would you say a few words about what you regard as good communication?
EK: Absolutely. Many times, a person can feel too embarrassed to tell their partner what they enjoy in sex. More broadly, many times we think we know what our partner thinks or likes—but we can be wrong. It’s very important to feel comfortable and safe giving each other guidance and feedback—to communicate well.
EL: That extends way beyond sex. If one of the partners is angry with the other, it’s extremely important not to let that fester. If you do, it not only affects sex, it affects everything.
EK: Learning communication skills is important, and not just for expressing negatives, but for expressing positives. Observe what you love in your partner, and translate your observations and feelings into words. Share these loving thoughts with your partner. That’s giving your partner earned visibility. Praise isn’t easy. If I said to my husband, “You’re great,” he doesn’t know what I’m referring to. I need to tell him specifically what I think is great. For example: “You were in a tough situation with your family today, and you managed that well. You were calm and never lost your temper, even when provoked.” We’re back to emotional visibility and intimacy.
JS: In The Selfish Path to Romance, you discuss compromising with your partner. When is compromise appropriate and when is it not?
EL: The compromise issue is very important, because it’s often misunderstood. We distinguish between moral compromise and other kinds of compromise. You wouldn’t compromise on honesty: “I’ll be dishonest on Tuesday, and you be dishonest on Wednesday.” You should never compromise on moral issues.
It’s appropriate to compromise, though, on certain issues pertaining to optional values. For example, you like action movies and your wife hates them. You compromise by going to those movies alone, or with male friends, and then you go with her to ones that you both enjoy. That’s a compromise. We’re all for such compromises, as long as they’re not moral issues, and as long as you don’t make them into moral issues artificially.
If you think drinking is evil, then that’s a wrong way of looking at it, as long as the person’s not a drunk. Be careful not to make optional issues into moral issues, which is also discussed in our book.
JS: What final words would you like to leave with readers about your book?
EL: I want to emphasize the core ideas our book is based on: egoism, meaning the propriety of selfishness; the visibility principle; the importance of good character; the fundamental importance of thinking; and the need for harmony between reason and emotion. What’s crucial is to focus on your own happiness and be respectful of others, and reason is your means of doing so.
EK: Making your romance flourish involves a lot of thinking. Our book gives you a self-valuing way to approach romance, which gives you the best chance for romantic happiness.
Naturally, I encourage people to read the book. And if you like it, I highly recommend reading, if you haven’t already, Atlas Shrugged, or any of Ayn Rand’s other works, such as The Virtue of Selfishness. Her books are liberating. Her ideas have changed my life dramatically.
JS: Thank you both for your time and your book. It is one of the best books on relationships I’ve ever read. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a fulfilling relationship and a thriving love life.