Monday, 1 September 2014

Esther Perel's Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship

This talk has about 5 million views. I love this bit
I want you to be my best friend, and my trusted confidant, and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence, and mystery and awe, all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge, give me novelty, give me familiarity, give me predictability, give me surprise, and we think it’s a given and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that
There’s a lot of applause at the end. What they are applauding is the mood music that she creates with her upbeat manner, ten dollar words and nifty juxtapositions. They are not applauding what she actually says about the secret to desire in a long-term relationship. It starts around 18:00 and the key quote is this:
They have demystified one big myth, which is the myth of spontaneity, which is that [desire] is just gonna fall from heaven while you’re folding the laundry like a deus ex machina, and in fact they understood that whatever is just going to happen in a long-term relationship already has. Committed sex is premeditated sex, it’s wilful, it’s intentional, it’s focussed, and it’s present. Merry Valentine.”
Read or listen to that at least three times. If you want to keep the sex going in an long-term relationship, it needs to be premeditated, wilful, intentional, focussed and present.

Sounds wonderful. All those exotic words. The nice thing about exotic words is that they drift loosely above the ground of actual actions and materials. Ms Perel wasn’t troubling anyone with the details, and the details would have spoiled the music.

Take away those fancy words and use some more mundane ones. LTR sex needs to be planned - that’s what calling “spontaneity” a myth means, and it’s what “premeditated” means. It means Nookie Nights go in the diary. You both have to show up ready to do your bit. No moods, no headaches, no bad tempers, no rows to give you an excuse to avoid it. You have to show up as agreed, and you need to put yourself in the mood, and help your partner get in the mood. That’s what “wilful, intentional” mean. It means she leaves her work-and-family yakkity-yak at the door of the “erotic space” (aka “bedroom”, usually), as well as any resentments she may have about toilet seats being left up or lawns being left uncut. That’s what “focussed and present” means. It means they are thinking about nookie, not the bullshit of their lives outside the Nookie Zone. Earlier Ms Perel says “responsibility and eroticism really butt heads”. There’s no discussing the family finances, children’s school problems, or any of that nonsense.

Who on earth is capable of this? If I had to guess, I’d say that at a deep level such a couple regard themselves as co-conspirators against a crazy world, that both of them can achieve orgasm fairly readily, and that it is a pleasant but not crazy-intense experience for either of them.

How many people does that leave out? Every couple where she settled for a good provider after a few flings with Exciting Boys. Every couple where one of them can’t trust, or for whom orgasm is difficult or over-intense. It leaves out at least eighty per cent of the population: forty percent who get divorced and therefore never were trusting co-conspirators, and another forty per cent who aren’t either but prefer the awfulness of a “settling” marriage to what they think is the awfulness of living alone.

But that’s what all those erotic exotic words are for: to tease you and hide the realities. There are some thinkers, Heidegger for one, where the language, the way its used to look at the world, is as much part of the philosophy as the insights, if not more so. There are others, J L Austin for example, who use a plain and simple language as a rhetorical trick, as if to dare us to believe that complicated metaphysics could hide behind ordinary English. And there are some who use exotic words to hide the realities that, if stated baldly, would dampen the applause, reduce the book sales and reduce the consultancy gigs by half, as people realised they had no chance from the start. For all her obvious sincerity, and for all the truth of her insights, that’s what Ms Perel is doing. She’s not going to be the one to break the news to you.

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