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MAYBE SPARRING COUPLES STICK IT OUT FOR `LOVE' - OR DUE TO BRAIN CHEMICALS

Question: Why do some marriages last for years and years even though the husband and wife clearly despise one another and the kids are long gone?Answer: Married couple is playing golf. Husband slices badly, off the course entirely and into an adjacent barnyard. The wife points out that he can get back to the fairway by hitting the ball right through the barn, which has open doors on either end. Husband hits the ball, it ricochets off a rafter in the barn and strikes his wife. She dies. Years later, the widower is playing the same course and once again slices into the barnyard. His buddy says to him, "You know, I think you can get back to the fairway by hitting it right through the barn."

"Naw," says the man. "The last time I tried that I bogeyed this hole."(Pause for laughter.)

It's sad when a couple gets divorced or separates. But it's even sadder, and a whole lot weirder, when they stay together even though every time you go over to their house you see hemi-disks of dinner plates jutting from the walls. Why do couples who seem to abominate one another hang together for so long?

There are four reasons, according to Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology at Yale University:

1. Attachment. This is an emotion totally different from love. "It's like being attached to a blanket, it gets old and grungy, it gets smelly, you really don't need it anymore, but you don't want to give it up."

2. Fear. Life could be worse. A known evil is sometimes preferable to an imaginary evil.

3. Secret rewards. Some people like fighting. Or they like being able to go to their friends and tell war stories. Or misery confirms their self-image: They figure they deserve this.

4. Love. If you really love someone, you can tolerate the fact that you also hate him.

We are surprised to learn that divorce is most likely to happen to people in their 20s. For women, 82 percent of divorces occur before the age of 45, says Helen Fisher, author of the forthcoming "Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce." She says, "Divorce around the world is for the young."

People get married because "pair-bonding" is an evolved trait of the species, a strategy for successfully raising children. The marital stakes are highest, therefore, when people are in their youth, having babies and raising them. Common sense would tell you that couples would be more likely to split after the kids leave the nest, but competing against that is the biological reality that they aren't likely to have more children with another mate.

Fisher also gives a neurochemical explanation for why couples stick it out.

"There are two stages of love, the first being attraction. During that stage, you get a brain bath of three chemicals that are natural amphetamines. You can stay up all night and talk 'til dawn and feel giddy and euphoric. In time, these wane, and the second stage of love kicks in, attachment, and that's associated with a different brain chemistry, the endorphins, which have natural narcotic-like qualities," she says.

So over time, you become narcotized in a relationship. The cocaine buzz of infatuation gives way to a dull, blissed-out heroin addiction.

But don't panic! There are millions of happy couples out there. And in any case, there's always golf.

Question: Why do bananas spoil if you put them in the refrigerator?Answer:. No no no, they don't spoil. The peels turn black. But the fruity part stays perfectly fresh.

The peels turn black because the cold temperature of the refrigerator kills the surface cells. "They're grown in the tropics, and when you put it at 42 degrees, obviously it's going to kill some of those cells," says Ernie McCullough, a spokesman for Chiquita Brands International.

The prohibition against putting bananas in the fridge is mostly jingle-inspired, he says. The Chiquita Banana Song includes the lines, "Bananas like the climate of the very very tropical Equator/So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator."

The Mailbag:

Fran V. of Golden, Colo., writes, "What is the scientific thought on the meaning of: Creation Cosmos Universe. I simply do not believe my dictionary!"

In civilian life it's probably safe to use "universe" and "cosmos" as synonyms, but "the cosmos," to our ear, refers not merely to a thing (the universe) but to an orderly system of things (galaxies and stars and planets). Thus a "cosmologist" studies the way the universe is put together.

"Creation" is a term of both natural and supernatural significance. Religious scholars have long debated whether the Creation was a singular event or an ongoing process that continues today. Scientists are a bit confused, too: Their Big Bang theory seems to resemble the religious notion of Creation, but when you look more closely you see that the pre-expansion universe is so dense that space and time are dimensionless and effectively non-existent. If there is no time, it's hard to figure out when the universe "began."

St. Augustine once wrote that God created the world with time but not in time. Fortunately this column has run out of space. (Just in time.)

Washington Post Writers Group