Getting Under to Get Over: Could It Possibly Be True?
In the year since my divorce, friends have commented “Lynne, to get over, you have to get under on more occasions than I can count. I didn’t fully understand what that saying meant until recently, when within the same weekend I felt outrageous levels of aggravation toward my ex-husband, and a few hours later spent a night having outrageous sex with a hot paramedic. The following day my rage was nearly gone. Maybe my friends are onto something.
Because I am so rarely angry, I have been surprised by the intensity of my post-divorce anger. Generally, I am prone to apologetic servitude and avoid confrontation at all costs. Sure, like everyone I have had moments of fleeting anger or rage, but I have not experienced the deep-seated vitriol that emerged after my breakup, including this last weekend.
Two years ago, my husband left our marriage to be with another woman, a woman who owned our local Chinese restaurant. He lied about his whereabouts, put expensive hotel stays on our credit cards, and denied all along that he was seeing someone. The final straw came when I learned that a two-week trip “for work was really spent in five-star Grecian hotels with her. Rageful? Hella.
For me, dealing with the resulting anger and sadness has meant hours of therapy, exercise, zen podcasts, and music cranked to eleven. Besides work, I fill my schedule with meditation, mid-day naps, and as many pedicures as my bank account allows. Those strategies help to decrease the rage. Well, a little bit. At least, those strategies seemed more effective than sending texts calling him every possible horrible name I know, like “rat bastard. Nor do I want to get wasted on tequila, binge eat on cookies, or cry my way out of the aggressively negative feelings.
So just this last weekend I began considering what “in order to get over someone, you have to get under someone might really mean. I have a few thoughts. First, it’s not easy to find someone to “get under, in particular if you maintain a reasonable threshold for partners. While a handful of strangers, all men, have invited me to their bedrooms or hotels “to screw after a five-minute conversation hosted on a bar stool, I require some level of physical chemistry and a modicum of familiarity (like, maybe a last name?) before I will participate in the “get under.
Second, I am curious about the application of this principal. Does it apply to all sexual activity, like would it work for making out on the couch in front of a movie or is exclusive to intercourse? Does it work the same for women and men?
Finally, it seems like the partner that you “get under is likely to matter. Getting under just anybody doesn’t seem wise. Getting “under a person who has the same aversive qualities as a former partner would be futile. Selecting a partner who you find attractive, who compliments you, or who is really nice to you might be part of the equation.
Arthur is that kind of man. We had had a few dates, for drinks, for a dinner out, for a football game. He has a fabulous smile and a great body. Or maybe that’s a fabulous body and a great smile. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. He is fun to be with, genuine, smart, and low-key. This past weekend we spent an evening tasting Pinots at a wine-tasting in San Francisco. We followed that up with amazing sex at his place. I woke up snuggled next to his soft skin and masculine scent. He took me again, hot and heavy, before he headed to work. Later that day I realized that the aggression I felt toward my ex was gone. Really gone. The aggravation was replaced with lovely memories of Arthur complimenting me on my wicked memory, of watching him undress, feeling the kisses down my back, the moan when he climaxed.
There are several possible, and scientific, reasons why “getting under to get over is likely to be true. First, let’s think neurochemically. As with watching a great sunset, sex and early love provides a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters, like oxytocin, dopamine, prolactin, and acetylcholine. Skin-to-skin contact and orgasm promote oxytocin, a hormone that has been related to pair bonding, decreased anxiety, increased trust, and calmness around a mate. Oxytocin emerges for women during activities like nursing and sexual activity, including self-stimulation. The relationship of sex and oxytocin appears to be greater for women, then for men (Sorry guys!), though there are reasons to believe men also benefit from oxytocin. Research supports that oxytocin production helps people heal from physical wounds. For a person who has been “wounded by a previous relationship, feeling secure and trusting of a new mate could be particularly powerful.
As for the neurotransmitters, dopamine has been associated with sexual reward and prolactin has been associated with sexual gratification. Burgeoning sexual activity in a relationship is associated with increased levels of both. Dopamine is akin to the tingling sensations when craving a partner’s touch, like the anticipation of watching Arthur unbuttoning his shirt one agonizingly slow button at a time revealing the muscular chest for which he spends hours at cross-fit. Levels of prolactin are associated with that post-sex glow, the kind of fuzzy feeling that kept me warm under the covers while he showered and prepared for work. Acetylcholine, another neurotransmitter, is associated with helping the brain focus on the activity at hand (maybe a great hand job!) and also with sharpening memories in the process of creating new ones. I recall nearly every moment of my night with Arthur, though I can barely remember why I was aggravated with the rat bastard.
When looking to “get over a previous partner, the reward or gratification of subsequent sexual experiences, along with creation of new sexual memories, can work to erase old or painful experiences. Experiencing surges of neurotransmitters, such as those associated with sexual activity, helps to create pathways that associate early experiences with positive feelings. Those feelings are then globalized to provide more pleasure from the world around us, like how good the coffee tastes following a great night of sex. Those pleasure pathways also make it harder to experience feelings of pain or aversion. Thus, there may be chemical explanations for why “getting under makes it easier to “get over, both by proactively providing positive sensations and at the same time deterring the experience of negative sensations.
Aside from chemical connections, it is also likely that some level of psychological bonding occurs when partners engage in consensual sexual intercourse. Thinking in caveman or Darwinian terms, sexual activity brings partners closer for increasing the size of the pride and perpetuation of the species. Thinking culturally, most modern societies are socialized to see sexual activity, in particular intercourse, as part of coupling behaviors. Indeed, being with someone who has appreciation for your body and your very being, provides a boost to self-esteem and can remind us that we have sex appeal and value. For myself, having my sexual self embraced and praised, has helped me to negate some of the sexual rejection that was part of my earlier relationship.
Some people argue that “getting under to get over is fleeting or takes advantage of a new partner. This post is in no way meant to inspire you to take on a fleet of new partners, nor to suggest any one take advantage sexually or otherwise of another person. I am not supporting sex as a solution, rather just questioning whether it works at all. Being connected tangentially to partners, old and new, many or few, could serve to increase anxiety and confusion. Indeed, unpleasant sexual encounters could have reverse effects, increasing neurotransmitters associated with “fight or flight reactions or damaging self-esteem. It also seems this strategy would only work after a previous relationship has terminated. Getting “under when the relationship is not yet “over, could lead to mixed feelings and confusion, rather than clarity and freedom. Yet, it does seem that there are legitimate reasons for why “getting under to get over with a strategically-selected partner, after a previous relationship has terminated, could have solid neurological and psychological justification.
It has been my experience that embracing a new partner, someone who shares my values and to whom I am attracted and who is attracted to me, regardless of whether the relationship is exclusive or casual or short-term or long-term, has created some highly pleasurable new pathways that replace anger with pure unadulterated pleasure. Nothing works to rid the mind of anger quite like waking up in the arms of a partner you like, who helps you feel good about yourself, whose body fits nicely up against yours. That softness, as the morning sun streams into the bedroom, and you get the first morning glance from someone still relaxed from your touch? Bye bye, vitriol.