Relationships are going through a complex cultural shift. Expectations on intimate partnerships are at an all-time high, yet we lack the tools and resources to reach this new Olympus. Join iconic couples therapist Esther Perel as she shines a light on the state of modern love, the importance of erotic intelligence, and how listening to the stories of others helps us navigate our own relationships.
NOTABLE QUOTE FROM THIS TALK:
“Relationships, people, they are your story. Write well and edit often.”
Below is the full text of Esther Perel’s talk at SXSW 2018.
You’ve just entered my office and these clips are from the podcast: Where Should We Begin?
I’m Esther Perel, and I am a couples therapist. For the past 35 years I’ve been helping couples and people navigate the challenges of relationships. And until not too long ago, there was no such a thing as a couples therapist.
Basically you got together with somebody you married, and that was it: you were stuck for life. If you didn’t like it, well you could concern yourself with an early death. It was till death do us apart. Not as we have it today as till love dies.
Never before has the survival of the family dependent on the happiness of the couple and this has made the couple such a central unit. Also the unit of relationships that is probably undergoing the most changes in a very short amount of time.
Never have we invested more in love and never have we divorced or broken up more in the name of love. I imagine a world in which we can experience our relationships with a sense of vitality and aliveness and vibrancy.
Because I live with one perennial truth. The quality of your relationships is what determines the quality of your life, and the bonds and the connections that we make with other people that we established with them gives us a greater sense of meaning of happiness of well-being than any other human experience.
So let me ask you just for a moment. How many of you are in a relationship at this moment – a romantic relationship, let’s put it like that? And how many of you would like to be in a relationship?
And now I would like some more light on the house for the next question. How many of you would like to be out of the relationship that you’re in at least sometimes? You can leave the lights on at this moment. So we we can actually really relate to each other too, do here what we’re talking about.
Relationships at this moment are undergoing such a massive shift. The norms are literally changing under our feet, and we have to make up the rulebook as we go.
You know for a long time, our relationships were pretty simple because they were dictated by rules. Religion had clear strictures, and it had structure and it had incentives and it had prohibitions. And social hierarchy was also very clear and it told us how parents had to talk to the kids, how children had to respond to adults, how husbands had to talk to their wives and how wives didn’t have to answer their husbands.
Things were clear. All the decisions were made for us – the big decisions. Who was going to be the breadwinner? Who was going to wake up at night to feed the baby? Who has the right to demand for sex?
What you did is what you father did and at this moment we have unraveled this system, and we have created a world of options and choices and unprecedented freedom. But as a result, we have to negotiate everything.
It’s all up for grabs. It’s no longer clear who’s going to be the breadwinner. In fact, whose career is going to take priority at this time, who’s going to wake up tomorrow morning to feed the baby? Who’s responsible for anything sure initiating sex next time? Who’s going to plan the date?
What gender should I be dating? How many people should I be dating at the same time? Should I tell them about the others? Am I ready to have children? Do I even want to have children? Should I move east? Should I move West?
Where am I going to go on vacation next? Are my needs getting met in this relationship? Am I happy, am I happy enough?
All these big decisions that have burdened the selfs like never before we have to figure it all out and because of that, conversations have become the heart of relationships. We have to talk about stuff that we’ve never talked about, that we don’t know how to talk about, that we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about, and most of the time we’ve even never said it to ourselves.
Are we up for the right people? So I want to unpack this conundrum with you. And the way I think is this: I’m imagining you sitting there saying so what is she going to tell me? What are we going to do? You know and I’m going to tell you right up front so that you can relax in your anticipation. I do not have three easy steps for what you need to do.
And I don’t feel bad about it, because as you may have heard I have an accent which means that I’m not from here. And one of the things that non-Americans sometimes say is that for some reason Americans think that every problem needs to have a solution, and I don’t have a solution because many of these things are not a problem that we have to solve. But these are paradoxes that we need to manage.
And for me to understand the confusions and the pains that we are experiencing in our relationships at this point demands that I kind of put it in context: How did we get there? What has happened? What have been the big social and cultural shifts that are directly entering our sheets at this moment?
HISTORY OF RELATIONSHIPS
So allow me to take you on a quick tour in history. For a long time as social animals we lived in tribes. We lived in villages. We lived in communities, and in those villages we were told what to do and things were clear. In return for allegiance and for obedience I would get a sense of belonging, I would get a sense of continuity, I would get a sense of identity.
I got a lot of certainty. I got very little freedom, but I was never alone. And we moved to the cities and in our urban lives we are for the first time so much more free, but also so much more alone.
And for the first time we are turning to our romantic partners to help us with that aloneness to help us transcend that existential aloneness. We still want all the same things that traditional marriage was about: we want family life, some of us; we want companionship; we want economic support; we want social status but now I want you also to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot and all for the long haul and the long haul keeps getting longer.
What we have created in a romantic ambition is one person to give us once an entire village used to provide. As I have sometimes said you don’t solve this problem with Victoria’s Secrets. And since there is no victor secret we all know where the responsibility has lied.
This shift from the collective life where we had belonging but very little freedom to where we have a lot of freedom, but everywhere we talk about relationships today we hear about the fact that we no longer have a deep sense of anchoring and belonging and rootedness like we used to have, and that we are facing a modern massive epidemic of loneliness which in America today has become the number one public health crisis more than obesity.
A few other major changes took place. In the old model when marriage was primarily an economic enterprise, intimacy had to do with sharing the life together. You milked the cows, you watered the land, you’d raise the children. It was about economy.
But today when I talk about intimacy I talk about it as into-me-see. And what I bring to you is not my dowry. It’s not my commercial assets. I bring to you my inner life. I bring to you my wishes, my feelings, my aspirations, my anxieties. And when I talk to you I want you to look at me. No, this (typing). I want contact. I want connection.
I want you to make me feel that I matter. I want you to reflect and validate me and I want to transcend this life of growing atomization.
I also want you to help me or to help together actually achieve what is probably one of the most amazing challenges of relationships today. This is where we want to bring under one roof contradictory ideals and contradictory needs.
On the one hand, our need for security, for rootedness, for belonging, for anchor, for predictability, for safety. And on the other end, our need for adventure and novelty and change and mystery — every living organism straddles this polarity between change and stability. Every person, every relationship, every company.
And thriving relationships are the ones who know how to reconcile these two fundamental sets of human needs. If you think for a moment, all of you have grown up needing both: Security, safety, and adventure, exploration.
And some of you may have come of your childhood needing more protection and some of you may have come out of your childhood needing more space and autonomy. And if you think about how that enters into your relationships you will notice that very often in a couple there is one person who is more in touch with the fear of losing the other. And one person who is more in touch with the fear of losing themselves.
One person more afraid of abandonment and one person more afraid of suffocation. Reconciling security and adventure, reconciling love and desire in one relationship has become one of the great challenges.
We today — when we look for that person with whom we want to have everything we call that person the soulmate. Have you heard of the soulmate? How many of you think that you’re looking for a soulmate or have found a soulmate or are living with your soulmate?
You know the thing that really interested me about the soulmate is that it’s called the one, the one and only, all of that. But the soulmate was an interesting concept because for most of history the soulmate meant God, not another human being.
And in our secularized society in the West we have basically taken romantic love to replace the role of religion many times. We look to our partners to give us transcendence and meaning and ecstasy and wholeness — all these things that we used to look for in the perfect world of the divine.
And not only do we bring this zeal for the soulmate but the way we are looking for this soulmate is mired in a romantic consumption economy. I am going to look for the one and only through that thing where I have a thousand people at my fingertips.
What does it mean to look for the one and only in the swiping culture? In the village you had two choices. Later you had six choices. Now you have a thousand choices. Do you know what it means to meet the one? The one means that this is the one that’s going to cure you of your case of FOMO.
When I find you I no longer think I could do better. Phenomenal! You know for you my beloved I will delete my apps. It’s the new ritual of commitment. And all these decisions by the way, you know that we have to make: is it time to delete my apps and are we study enough at this point you know?
If your parents didn’t know any of this, but your grandparents they would be turning around in their graves, you know. We have very few guidelines and a lot of options and all these options are giving us quite a bit of uncertainty and quite a bit of self doubt as well.
How do I know? How do I know that I have found the one is a question that people ask me all the time?
When we talk about sex, which is really an enormous series of changes that have taken place in relationships. First of all there are three primary sexual revolutions: the advent of contraception without which women could never experience sexuality without women and men could never experience the freedom of separating sex from reproduction, the women’s movement which took on the abuses of power and the gay movement which introduced the concept of sexual identity.
For most of history sexuality was seen as a part of our biology. Today we have socialized it; it is a part of who we are of our identity of, how I see myself of, how I express myself. It is a sovereign piece of who I am and for that matter it has become a fundamental human right.
We no longer just have sex for reproduction; neither is it in long-term relationships or in relationships that are with some some length. And it is no longer just a woman’s marital duty.
Today sexuality especially after two kids if you have two or three which is the average Western thing, it’s basically for pleasure and connection, no other motive. So it better be good. Because in order to want sex it needs to be sex that is worth wanting. This is really a major shift to have sexuality that is based only on my wanting which is the definition of desire is to own the wanting.
And hopefully I want you and you want me and it happens to be at the same time. So a lot of conditions to fulfill.
But we have taken this now recently to yet another level — a very very important and promising level. Because we are taking on for the first time again, maybe not for the first time, but again one of the oldest power dynamics related to sex and power where men have historically leveraged their social power in order to gain access to sexual favors.
And women have leveraged their youth, their beauty, their sexuality which often was the only power they had in order to access social power that was otherwise denied to her. This examination of this power structure is concurrently under intense scrutiny. And it is also giving us a unique opportunity to finally open up the narrow boxes in which masculinity, femininity, male and female have been locked up for way too long.
For the last 40 years we have done in the West and everywhere else a little bit of the beginning work, but very significant work to help women find their power and their voice. But we have often left men stuck in a complete definitional void of manhood.
Patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts us all. And to take four year old boys and stop touching them less than we touch our daughters and begin this systematic dismantlement of their emotional lives so that we can make the making of modern masculinity highly performance-based rooted in self-reliance and autonomy and fearlessness and competition.
All kinds of things that have actually made men way more vulnerable less likely to live long and not always the best partners. If we are going to work towards true equality we will match our intense efforts in helping women find power and voice with our intense efforts to help men be able to share their heart and their vulnerability. And in such we will give people — human beings the opportunity to be more whole rather than defined in this very narrow binary gender constructs.
So for that when paradigm changes happen things are difficult. It gets messy. It gets confusing; there are misunderstandings. There are judgments and more than ever we need conversation and we need nuanced conversations.
And as it happens often we therapists get to hear these conversations in our offices. But we don’t get to share them with the world because generally, this is a room of which nobody ever enters except the people themselves the couple.
And so with the podcast I wanted to create a space where you can hear the conversations that maybe you will want to have at some point. People who talk about things that they’ve never said to each other and rarely to themselves.
You see fake news isn’t just for politics. It also applies acutely to the curated Instagram lives where we craft and filter these perfect fictitious stories and nobody really knows what truly goes on in the lives of other couples.
And everybody comes into my office and you may be asking yourselves: am I the only one that experiences this? And I am here to tell you: No, you’re not. In fact it is set up in such a way that when we deal with imperfections with pains with longings with yearnings with frustrations, instead of knowing that they are part of a collective yearning or a social ill, we privatize the problem and we make it our own.
The podcast was a way to recreate a virtual village where we get to know what goes on in the lives of others. You know the village you could hear every fight and every fuck. The walls were porous; it was simple.
But now you have friends, they come to tell you that they’re breaking up, and you didn’t see it coming. Miscarriages, and you didn’t know about them. Affairs, and you certainly didn’t know about them. It’s like nobody knows what is really going on in the lives of another couple and that isolation, that loneliness doesn’t help us. It’s actually quite damaging.
So I want you to look under your seat — every one of you — you will find a blindfold. I ask that you put the blindfolds on. So you can put everything else down and put on the blindfold. Please don’t cheat. Because we are going to listen together.
You see when you limit one sense like sight, it often activates the other senses and the first one that it activates is actually listening. Listening is the first sense that any baby experiences in utero. It is the recognition of the mother’s voice; it is our first most primal connective sense.
When we listen deeply to other people we reach into their humanity. We also get to see ourselves, and we certainly get to understand otherness, difference. Let’s listen together intensely, and if you get uncomfortable, if you feel the vulnerability of having your sight limited just breathe and accept it, notice it.
The couple I want you to listen to to meet, they have been together for about ten years. They’ve just gone through a major crisis. They have two children. They are wondering when trust is broken: Can it be brought back? And they are in the midst of this conversation for the first time understanding that the legacies that they bring are not only the ones of their families but also the large scripts that they so beautifully internalized both of them.
Clip number two. Can we play?
You can take off the blindfolds, and if you want you can keep them for tonight. So it blows my mind that I get to hear these conversations and nobody else does. Because I know that when we listen deeply to the experiences of other people, we often actually find ourselves standing in front of our own mirror and we can see ourselves,
And we can also get inspiration for the courageous conversations that we need to be having.
So, what did you hear? Just take a moment where did it take you? And just notice it.
I want you to reflect for a moment on some of these questions: How do you show up in your relationships? And how often do you avoid showing up with emojis?
What are some of the things that you do to disconnect from others? When’s the last time that you read a book or did a workshop or for that matter came to a talk like this one, in order to learn to become a better partner or a better lover?
Is there someone that you would need to call at this moment to whom you owe some apology? Or to whom you simply owe a checking in, how are you?
We are at survey and you are all creatives and innovators; many of you are part of the architecture that is aiming to redesign just about every part of our lives.
But recently when I went to one of these big tech conferences they did a series of moonshots — the future of food, the future of fashion, the future of transportation, of education, of cybersecurity. You name it. None of them on the future of relationships. How can that be it’s almost irresponsible?
Especially when we know that the quality of our relationships is what determines the quality of our lives. I want you to bring relationships to the heart of your occupations and preoccupations to bring it back to have its centrality acknowledged so that loneliness isn’t just something that hides in plain sight.
And in this week that you are here when you see somebody standing alone, talk to strangers. Touch them, ask them, look at them, just check in with them. And if you’re here because somebody made it possible for you to be here, be it from work or from home. Call them. Call them and thank them for making it possible for you to be here because they’re manning the home front of the front whichever.
Don’t just say I’m sorry for not being there because if you’re sorry for not being there it’s more about how important you are. You get that.
But if you actually say, thank you and you show appreciation for what they do that allows you to do what you do, then you enter into the fundamental understanding that relationships are complex systems that are made up of interdependent parts.
You can be here because somebody is there. And in the course of this week, maybe one time instead of sending a text, call and maybe one time when you go, and you have a meal with somebody you leave your phone in your pocket. And don’t just walk with it to the bathroom to do all the things… you get what I’m saying.
Relationships, people, they are your story. Write well and edit often.
So this is only part one. Can we get some light in the house and let’s talk together. So Let’s talk, ask questions. When your question is no longer a question I will tell you.
But I think that this is just the beginning of a tableau just etching of the landscape and now we can begin to cook. So there are mics in the aisles. You’re going to need to get up and come to the mics so that we can all hear you and just let’s go.
Yes. Where are you? Yeah, right in the middle it’s okay I will see you there.
Audience: So I was recently in a conversation with my friends, and I work in a corporation and a lot of feminists etc etc and we had a conversation about men missing from the conversation. And I heard them say we need to stop talking about men. You know it’s we need to focus on women right now. It’s just a cop-out and I love your talk about how do we bring men into this conversation in relationships? So what would be your advice when you’re having those conversations and you hear a lot of —
ESTHER PEREL: I would say is this — it’s one line. And it’s not a line that is new for me. I’ve been saying it for quite a while. The lives of women will not change until the men come along. The lives of women will not change until the men get the opportunity to also examine and define and change their lives.
In many ways I sometimes think that the 20th century was the century where the women made all these massive changes and the 21st century will be the changes so that men will make partly and adapt to the changes that the women have done. I don’t think that you get to be safe by excluding, you need moments when you are alone, but you need plenty of new conversations, nuanced conversations, uncomfortable conversations that tolerate ambiguity and deal with the profound ambivalence that some of us have over the status quo.
Audience: Hey Esther, thanks for being here today. I think you’re such a rockstar.
ESTHER PEREL: You would tell this to my mother, please. She did not think like you.
Audience: I actually have a personal question. I was wondering if in one of your relative roles as a mother or a wife or a woman or whichever, you have ever suffered from shall I say loss of identity?
ESTHER PEREL: Oh a beautiful question! Yes continue your sentence.
Audience: Sorry if so, then how have you dealt with it?
ESTHER PEREL: Yeah. I Think that this question that you asked is actually one of the fundamental challenges in relationship. How do you maintain connection and separateness at the same time? How do you experience togetherness and individuality at the same time? How do you stay connected to yourself? You need your sensations, your body, your pleasure, your — whatever it is and at the same time are close to somebody else.
Whenever I — this is totally personal — in 35 years with Jack with the same partner I have two sons 21 and 24 and when I felt like that sentence that would come up in me was I’m not made for this, I would literally leave for a week which I thought was very good. It made it very clear that I’m not merely so needed and that important and everybody seems to do quite well when I’m not around. So that is very good for the grandiosity.
And then the second part was I went to meet people, friends that gave me back, they are the parts of myself that were not the ones that live at home. We need community, we need our relationships to exist within a larger social context. That has been always very very clear to me.
And the nice thing is that generally I think I’ve never worried otherwise, my husband would say to me, have a great time so he was not unhappy about it.
Audience: Howdy! I really loved your insight into how there are all these different dynamics that are sub layering on how everything now is the negotiation and a conversation. And just this past week with my own therapist, we talked about how she actually really likes ultimatums as a way to move things forward.
ESTHER PEREL: Yes and the negotiation.
Audience: So I’d love your perspective.
ESTHER PEREL: You have an ultimatum that you need to put on somebody who is not making a decision that you would like him or her to make?
ESTHER PEREL: I will use this hypothetically.
Audience: He is here.
ESTHER PEREL: So that changes the whole thing, I just went from an individual session to a couple session. The ultimatum is not to the other person. The ultimatum is it’s not even an ultimatum. You need to know what you can live with, how much uncertainty, how much — You know there’s a term I sometimes used to describe what happens in relationships these days. It’s called stable ambiguity.
Stable ambiguity is that we are together just enough so that I don’t have to feel alone, but not too much so that I don’t have to feel committed. Any of you know what I’m talking about. You need to know how much of that stable ambiguity you know too afraid to be alone not mature enough to really delve deep and it’s for you.
You don’t say to the other person April, March, the summer, Christmas, my exam, my promotion. You know all these ultimatums. You just simply at one point you decide I don’t want this this this and I don’t want it for a multitude of reasons. It makes me you know it makes me doubt myself. It makes me doubt your connection to me. I would like this project to start and you decide — you don’t put yourself in a position where you make the other person decide and you wait helplessly till they let you know what they want, which they don’t know what they want.
Audience: Hello, ma’am. I’m a huge fan of yours. I’ve watched both of your TED Talks multiple times. Yes, I do I mean I like to hear it. You know it’s a waste of time. I can tell you more about anyone.
So the first I guess one I guess two questions — Okay, lovely, so this is the question; it’s a hard one, but we’re going to go there. So I’m black as you can tell and I’ve noticed within especially black Millennials a lot of my white friends in college a lot of them are mostly getting married. My black friend to see they’re not happening or it’s happening later. And I don’t know if this is something you’ve studied or if you read any literature on it.
But I think that our history as a community in this country affects my generation’s ability to get out of that stable ambiguity that you talk about. So I don’t know if there’s resources things you’ve read about that or just general tips for how people in my generation to get away from that stable ambiguity and to move forward and to get rid of whatever fears or things —
ESTHER PEREL: Great. What a beautiful question! Thank you first of all.
So I think that one of the things that needs to happen is you having this conversation first of all with multiple other men of all colors for that matter, but maybe first with your own. And your own is a broad group — that’s a whole other conversation, but you know I think you know what I’m saying.
So that’s the first thing is that — what you will realize is that it’s not you know is there something wrong with me that I want to be doing this, everybody else seems to be perfectly content with that and you know and they are into the optimization and I would like something else. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is you open the conversation. This is where you use the tools and you say you know in our community we have an issue. In our community you have an issue. We are not meeting — many of the women of color do not go to with men of color. We have discrepancies of education and this and that we have a long list of what black men should represent. And it is not what I want to be and anybody else out there, and you make this become something that is echoed communal and from that place I think at some point you will realize my experience — when somebody wants something else is that there are plenty of other people who want that same thing but they don’t know each other.
You know sometimes in my office I think I should take this one and mix them with that one and do this, you know. I feel like I’m dying to change my practice into a dating service on occasion. You know because I’ve sat with men that tell me that story, and I’m thinking but this one you know I wish they — maybe I can schedule them at the same time so they can live in the waiting room. You know something like that.
But I think the first thing you do with something like this is you take it out of its hidden secret shameful unacknowledged place, you normalize it, because what you want is a beautiful thing and it shouldn’t have to be the exception.
Oh, we have good 11 minutes, people have never had so much fat.
Audience: You talked a lot about loneliness. And how people aren’t really — don’t know what’s going on in other couples.
ESTHER PEREL: Do you agree?
Audience: Yeah, and I also feel like there’s also this issue with community, like what community because like I come — have community people that I was where before I met my girlfriend. She has her community of people and so I wonder what your thoughts are on how a couple really should really start establishing a community and finding people who you can connect with and how — whether that should be coming from the groups that the individuals have, whether you should still have individual communities, how to play with that?
ESTHER PEREL: One thing that you will notice if you put in Google friendships between men and women and the American Google is that the first whatever 30 articles all tell you it’s impossible. This is weird just so you know this is not true. This is a cultural script.
You know this is a cultural script in a society where sex is always deeply uncomfortable and where as a culture we are at the same time completely obsessed and embarrassed by it. So that’s why there is this notion that you can’t be because there may be an attraction, and if there is an attraction what are you going to do with it? You know you could lose it as if people can’t just you know — keep their hands in —
I think that you have friends that come with you, each of you bring people, colleagues, mentors, other people that you meet at events like this that are not in your inner circle but they are acquaintances with whom you share certain things. You want a village — a big village actually. You want friends that are together and friends that you have alone. Because the friends that you have alone often help you be together.
You know I call my bitch about my partner, and then they say yeah mine too, and then I think where am I going? It’s just as bad there. You know marriage is marriage. It’s like you know all right.
The other part that’s it shit I have it actually so good. You know he lets me be. You know for the life of me I couldn’t have somebody who wants so many things and criticizes me all the time. I loved it space. It’s like you need to step outside of your own narrow dyadic frame to get perspective and with that perspective comes the things you want to change and the things you want to keep.
And I can’t emphasize it enough — You know in this country this is just one example. We could do an entire talk on it. When people need help especially when it’s a family stuff, first they look for an option to pay. Then if really they can’t find someone then they may go and ask a friend with utter reluctance that it would impose on them. Who doesn’t like to be helpful? Who doesn’t feel more connected and more important in the lives of others because other people need you; this is warped.
So for that connection to take place and all the other community thing it’s about really acknowledging that we are profoundly interdependent people. Nobody goes at it alone, and if they do they don’t do it well.
Audience: What is your opinion about and resolve the childhood trauma on relationships?
ESTHER PEREL: What is my opinion about unresolved trauma in childhood? I’m going to answer you differently because otherwise I’d need to know more about it in order to make an answer that says something. But I will answer you more personally.
Because I am a child of Holocaust survivors. So I actually know the question that you’re talking about. My two parents were both in concentration camps for five years each. And they both were the only people that survived from their entire family. So I would kind of say that trauma came with mother’s milk and literally I kind of absorbed it with osmosis and then many other things.
And the thing that I want you to understand is that every time you think PTSD, you also have to think post-traumatic growth. We are resilient people. We we know to suffer and we know to sometimes take that very suffering and turn it into our resources and into our strengths. But sometimes when people had experienced massive trauma they can land in two places.
Some people didn’t die and some people come back to life. Some people end up surviving and some people just manage also to thrive. And what I hope for you is whatever you experience that you can take that life force that is in you and give yourself the permission to both cry and yearn and mourn and all of that on whatever it is that happened and give yourself the permission to experience full joy and connection.
Audience:Hi, I’m part of a group that designs for long distance relationships. And so the core question we have is how do we create and maintain intimacy and support when you can’t physically be with someone?
ESTHER PEREL: Right, great. I’ve done a bunch of articles about this actually. You know I think that one of the things that is very interesting is to really understand the difference between intimacy and surveillance. Do you know what I’m saying; you seem to know — as in where were you today? What did you do? Where did you eat? Did you finish your meal; was it good; was it well cooked; you know it’s like who cares and what does it tell us.
You know I think in a very interesting way that you want to use the distance, one of the beautiful things is that we know that desire is rooted in absence and in longing as well as it is in having. So I think that the way you work on the distance is you — instead of trying to minimize it you actually completely make it front and center, and you connect every few days. But when you do you do it meaningfully you write, you write letters, the Face time is nice and the Skype — But there is something about writing letters that is by the way — the previous question — when you write a letter you are at the same time with yourself and with the other person. We’ve lost that.
You know it’s very different from a text. It’s also nice texting but there is something about going internally and inviting the other person to accompany you there for a while that is much more interesting than how is management inc doing.
Do you have questions that I could answer, every one of them — an hour talk, but yes.
Audience: Hi, I have a question. I’m in graduate school, and I’m graduating in May to become a therapist and the entire curriculum, no one has ever talked about sex therapy — and I really love to hear your perspective on monogamy and long-term relationships when infidelity is so common? And having those that paradox of wanting adventure and wanting stability and basically how you handle that?
ESTHER PEREL: I just wrote a whole book about this. It’s called the State of Affairs. And it looks at the number of things around monogamy. You know the interesting thing about monogamy by the way is that monogamy used to be one person for life and today monogamy is one person at a time.
So people tell me very often, you know I am monogamous in all my relationships. Plural. It makes perfect sense. You know monogamy had nothing to do with love; it was basically an economic imposition on women and today it has everything to do with love. And people used to cheat because relationships, marriages, were not meant to provide passion and love and today people cheat sometimes because the marriage or the relationship they’re in doesn’t give them the love and the passion that they wanted or that it promised.
So I think that as a whole I would simply say this. Infidelity has always existed, it has existence since marriage was invented. It’s very complex, and we can’t reduce these multi-layered human experiences into good and bad, victim and perpetrators, and black and white.
And anything I will do in working about relationships all of your relationships is to help bring back complexity, nuance and less judgment and more reflection. So the rest you will find in the book but also by the way the podcast has quite a few episodes on that and I don’t know if I mentioned it. But today, Friday, March 9 is when season 2 goes on iTunes. For all of you to enjoy.
Audience: Hi. So do you believe that every human being has the same capacity for emotion? Do we all feel with the same potential or do we all have different minimums and maximums?
ESTHER PEREL: The latter. We all have the same — we all pretty much share the six basic emotions. But the way we experience them, the way we narrate them and the room we make for them is very diverse.
People I am very very sorry. I see that the doors have opened and so I have literally a few seconds to say sorry for the questions I will not answer, and thank you for all of you for being here. I’m here for two more talks one with bumble and one with Vox and one with redo. So if you want to hear more we can continue to be in conversation and Where should we begin?
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