Length Don't Matter


Marshall wouldn't have been surprised if a spark had jumped the air between them. This was the moment of truth. But they just sat there, on the sofa, chatting about her day teaching kindergarten class. Neither of them made a move. Then, to their mutual surprise, Lily reached back and turned off the light. After a moment's hesitation, Marshall leaned in …and head-butted Lily in the nose. When the light went on again, blood and clothes scattered the lounge room. Marshall dabbed Lily's face clean with a warm sponge, they put the pillows back on the sofa, and they were back where they started, ready to do it again.
This is the fifth in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

Marketing is the business of passionate relationships

If all goes well, the moment will come when you are called to deliver on your promises –when you must perform. When that time comes, your goal should be to establish your performance indelibly in your partner's mind. Your performance must be memorable. Recent advances in science tell us how to do this.

Length doesn't matter. The duration of an experience makes very little difference to memory. Research into the phenomenon of duration neglect shows your partner's memory of the experience is determined by only two factors: i) the quality and intensity of the climax, and ii) the concluding moments.

play's the thing!
Whether it’s a 3-act theatre performance or unexpected intercourse with a colleague over the ice machine at a team-building event, the human brain assembles all experiences into stories. Experiences are most memorable when they are already structured as stories.

The timeless essence of memorable stories is visible in the narrative structure of Classical Drama. According to Aristotle, the function of Dramatic performance is catharsis, or release. In Classical narrative structure, the first part of the play builds to a release at the peak. The intensity of this climax can be enhanced by extending the fore-part of the play; but the duration of the foreplay is not important in itself, only the intensity of the climax.

The post-climactic phase of falling action, or resolution, tidies up any loose ends to provide a reassuring sense of closure. Modern dramatists prefer to keep the resolution phase as brief as possible, just long enough to put the tissues away. The emotional tone of this concluding phase will color the audience's future memory of the performance. This is why movies so often end with an up-beat song, and news articles with a pithy witticism.

Classical wisdom and modern science agree: the structure of your performance is critical. A strong climax and a reassuring resolution will leave your partners begging for an encore.

next post: the limits of decency

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If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.


  1. True. Yet, the balance needs perhaps more clarity. (ok, art isn't to be quantified at any cost)

    Would a 1 min classical symphony be able to leave me with a great experience.
    How much, how little to reach the right climax?
    Good examples and a good definition of "reassuring resolution"?

    The Einstein quote comes to my mind: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    1. The Woody Allen quote comes to my mind: "Is there such a thing as a bad orgasm?"

      You make a good point. For certain experiences, a minimum duration is required in order to achieve the requirements of a moment of high intensity and reassuring resolution. Nobody likes premature catharsis.

      Nevertheless, the key focus should be on peak intensity and quality of resolution, with duration only a dependent variable.

      Thanks for the comment!


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