Intellectual Foreplay

How well do you know your partner? Maybe you know his or her favorite TV program and favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but have the two of you discussed the big issues?

According to Eve Eschner Hogan, co-author of Intellectual Foreplay: Questions for Lovers and Lovers-to-Be (Hunter House, 2000), the following questions can help partners get to know each other better and judge their potential for lifelong relationship success:

  • "Define what romance means to you."
  • "What lessons have you learned from each relationship you've been in?"
  • "Which direction do you prefer the toilet paper roll to turn?"

Whoa. Does something as basic as toilet paper really factor into compatibility?

"It's not which way the toilet paper rolls. It's whether partners get into a control battle over it," says Hogan.

Hogan created the concept of intellectual foreplay more than eight years ago, while she was in a long-distance relationship with her co-author (and now) husband, Steve Hogan. "I wrote the book I needed," she explains. Divided into chapters such as "Sex," "Money" and "Home," the book offers lists of open-ended questions designed to facilitate getting to know your partner and yourself.

Of course, you don't need to buy the book to practice intellectual foreplay. You can do it by simply thinking about what you want out of life, what you value, and what are your "nonnegotiables" (for example, you don't plan to have children, or you'd like to have six kids). "The process isn't someone else's assessment of you, it's your own assessment," explains Hogan.

Next, create a series of questions about these values ("How important is it to you to have children?") and take turns answering them with a partner or potential partner. Sharing your responses will reveal areas in which you are or aren't compatible.

Hogan is quick to point out that Intellectual Foreplay isn't a tool to help you end up with someone who shares all of your tastes and preferences (like the direction in which your Charmin rolls). Partners who learn to negotiate their differences over things such as household chores early on will be better prepared to weather the bigger conflicts they encounter later on. The idea isn't to get your partner to embrace your views, but for both partners to accept and appreciate each other for whom they are. "If we go in trying to change someone, we're going to get some gnarly results," warns Hogan.

Some of the people who might benefit from the practice of intellectual foreplay include the following:

  • Internet Daters: "On the Net, it's all intellectual foreplay," says Hogan. The questions are a good way to get to know your online admirer and decide if the two of you have a chance of hitting it off in real life.

  • Long Distance Relationships: When the phone is your primary means of staying in touch, it's easy to fall into a routine of "I had a microwave burrito again for dinner. It's raining here." Having a few provocative questions at the ready can invigorate a dull conversation.

  • Shy People: For someone who never knows what to talk about on dates, Intellectual Foreplay can be a conversational lifeline. Just leafing through the questions can provide ideas for dozens of conversation starters.

  • Platonic Partnerships: While it was created for romantic partners, Intellectual Foreplay can be a great tool for choosing roommates and business partners, too.

You can be as coy or as up-front as you like when practicing intellectual foreplay. You can adopt some of the practices without announcing that you're on a mission to reveal yourself to your partner while also getting to know him or her better. Other partners make the process into an ongoing relationship project. Hogan has known people who photocopy a couple of pages and stick them in their purse or pocket to bring along on dates, just in case they get tongue-tied.

No matter how you practice, make sure you start with tamer subjects, such as "pets," "religion" and "family." It may be tempting to move right into the juicy questions in the sex chapter, but hold off. Starting with sex questions ("On a scale of one to ten, rate your sex drive" and "Do you think both people should initiate sex?") can heat things up considerably, warns Hogan. Before you know it, may find yourself engaged in physical foreplay.