Ok, my mind is so blown!
I went to see Esther Perel last night. She is a psychotherapist who has written several books about erotica, love, sex, cheating etc.
I jokingly refer to her as the person that ruined my marriage. She didn’t really - she just said something that made me see my marriage in a new light. A light that I could no longer accept. I saw that what I had thought was intimacy was really just covert surveillance. Intimacy being supplanted by the dynamic where I felt my interiority was intruded upon so much so that I could not grant further access. So we danced this dance. He would demand closeness and I would run away. That would make him back off so then I could move closer but then he would demand again and I would run away again. And so it went. Until I read her book and realized that I was with someone who experienced intimacy in a manner that was unhealthy for me. I saw what I needed and what he needed as being two competing forces that were never going to be able to right themselves. There were many reasons for this and I saw that I was married to someone, who I was not compatible with. In fairness to him, I also had some work to do on my own personal issues with sex, love and relationships and that work required that I not be married to him anymore.
So Esther liberated me. In her talk last night she talked about being raised in Antwerp Belgium in the post World War II Jewish community. She was raised among the Holocaust survivors. She talked about people that did not die and people that came back to life. She talked about this same dynamic in marriages and relationships. I so get that. I think most of us out there have just not died and the quality of our relationships demonstrates our fear, need to control and practical manner that sucks pretty much all the joy out of living and relating. Then there are those that came back to life. They are youthful, playful, interested, curious. They lack fear of injury or death because they have made this decision to return to life despite life’s hardships and pain. It made me think of who I have been in relationships.
She made the point that we all start off, in the beginning, doing things that are different from our usual pattern. We are curious, open and vibrant in our manner and in relation with these new people in our lives. But then we settle in and begin to behave in ways that are completely opposite to that. And then we wonder why the magic dies. The magic has to be kept alive in each of us to make the fun and interest in the relationships and other person to last.
She also talked about how people with abusive pasts need to regain control. connection and pleasure in relation to sex, She is so right. So long as one of these things is out of balance, the person cannot really be free to enjoy sex and in turn intimacy. Mind blown again!
She said so many things last night that I could write about for hours but I have to go to my day job so time does not permit an entire day of writing. The final thing she said about sustainability in relationships was about life stories and love stories. She says that we get them confused. There are many love stories to be had. Many people who we are compatible with to fall in love, enjoy sex and intimacy with. These types of relationships are all around us and not so hard to find. A life story can have a love story in it but the focus is different. There are many people with whom we can sexually connect. There are not so many people with whom we can build a life. Maybe for some, these two ideas will forever be separate. Who we can and will build a life with are not the same people we can enjoy a good love story with. Fascinating! Man, have I seen that played out in divorce court a million times.
In the end, it appears that we have gone as a society from an individual being one of a small knit community where our needs were met by many. To a largely individualized style of relating where we expect one person to meet the needs that an entire community used to meet. I haven’t really spent enough time thinking about this to endorse this idea but it seems like she is on to something - we seem to be placing all of our ability to get needs met onto one person. Be my friend, confidant, lover, sexual ideal, life partner, co-parent, support network, provider, other half and do it every day all the time. Seems like we are missing the fact that there is this other person who has a role in their own separate life that has now been largely occluded. The individual must die to satisfy all the many and varied needs of the relationship. She postulates that perhaps there is another way. A way where two individuals can and will live in a more honest and authentic relation to each other by providing each other space. It is in this space, that the love story and life story get their fuel to continue.
She furthers this thought by suggesting that all of us were raised to value autonomy or loyalty. Some of us blindly follow our rearing orientation. Others make a conscious decision to, despite our rearing, to select the other one. I know for me I was raised and have always selected autonomy over loyalty. I have always prided my self reliance over my ability to be loyal to another. When I was younger, I think that I likely did this to an almost abusive level. My need to be free to decide and do when married up against my commitments to other people, always left them the loser. I picked me by picking someone else that did not fit into my current relationship orientation. In other words, I cheated. When I entered recovery, I decided that it was no longer ok to do this. So I stopped the action but not the underlying feeling. If I am honest, I wanted to cheat while married for a very long time. The only real reason I didn’t is that I didn’t seek an opportunity and, probably more importantly, the universe did not provide me one.
I can see how my current life stage is still really locked in on the autonomy over loyalty issue. The way that she presented it last night made me want to do some work as to why I believe I need the one at the expense of the other. Why do I feel wrong or stupid or naive in orienting myself toward the loyalty end of the spectrum? I am going to unpack that and see what I find out about myself. Seems like a good counter balance to the way I have lived for 50 years.
It was a fantastic evening. It gave me some new ways to think about relationships, what I bring to them and what I take away. What I want and what I give.
I was excited about the dialogue. I love all of the ideas about how we relate to each other and with each other. That this idea that whether we value our lives and describe them as being fulfilling has, to a large degree, to do with how much satisfaction we have in these same relationships. The quality of our relationships as a precursor to contentment.
I have made it my life's work, relationships. I have been interested and intent on having and sustaining them for 50 years. I have been stymied a lot and had a hard time. I did them almost compulsively all the while trying to find myself inside them. Recently, stepping back from them has given me a vantage point to take a more accurate evaluation in what I was really doing versus what I liked to think I was doing. Last night, made me feel revitalized, energized and free to think about myself, my relationships, sexual desire and erotica in a new freer manner. I felt like I was able to drop a lot of old stories and be open to the new possibilities of my relationships where I am free from the compulsions of my past. I am not going to lie, it made me excited to be alive, less afraid and really pretty damn ok with my partnerless status. I felt renewed, understood while not having it all figured out. I felt a new freedom and openness with which to look upon myself and in turn others. I left the lecture, or really rather the conversation, excited to continue it with myself, with you and others. This resulted in me feeling hopeful and engaged with my life. Thank you Esther for your interesting and refreshing outlooks, curiosities and honesty. I do want to keep the dialog going!