Hey Carolyn:

I'm male, nearing 30 and I can't seem to jump-start this adult maturity I hear so much about. I've got this pattern. I meet a wonderful girl, we date, get along, have a lot in common. Love creeps in. Then I meet a girl I know will put me through the emotional wringer and I throw away the good relationship. The new girl cheats on me, lies to me, in some cases steals from me and four months later I'm alone again. Each time I swear I'm done with it.

I've met this great girl and I'd like things to work out on a permanent basis. The thing is that our relationship lacks the emotional intensity that I get from a more dangerous girl. Is there any way to build that kind of fire in a stable relationship?

-- Trying to Get It Right

No. Mercifully.

You call it "emotional intensity," I call it adrenaline. Dangerous girl is hard to pin down, so you prize her attention, so each day aches with suspense. Ooooh!

You're not going to get this with a stable relationship because a stable relationship is all about not living in suspense. You wake up knowing you're going to like each other, respect each other, treat each other well. You go to bed knowing you're going to like each other, respect each other, treat each other well.

Ah.

When you look at that description and your first impulse is to yawn and flip on "SportsCenter," that's when we introduce this adult maturity you hear so much about.

Stability is not synonymous with boredom, not entirely, and maturity is not about forcing yourself to kick your adrenaline habit, not entirely. Both merely demand that you be brave, and patient, enough to find a whole different rush from a whole different kind of naked. (Though the old-fashioned kind still has its place. Winkwink.)

You find someone, get to know her, get to like her . . . the progression you cited, more or less -- except you stopped at love as if that were the ultimate goal, and that's the skip in your broken record.

No doubt you love your hot little head cases, in your way. What you don't, can't and will never do is trust them.

That means you're never making yourself fully vulnerable, and that means you're never getting close enough to feel love's full potency, to throw your entire self open to someone -- dreams, fears, frailties, stupidities -- and find out she still really likes you. And wants you. And wants to watch "SportsCenter" with you. And isn't cleaning your wallet. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

Will you still be drawn to head-case hotties? If you're with the right person and intimate and happy, then not as much but, sometimes, yes. Obviously. And I want four doughnuts for breakfast, but I'm happier when I say no.

Think of it this way. A mature love actually runs on a similar attraction-risk-suspense formula as your head-case encounters, just with delayed gratification. The attraction is to each other, not to the risk -- and the risk is of losing each other one day, which is both unthinkable and inevitable. The slow, sweet rush is in sharing your days until then.

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