Esther Perel is a brilliant sex therapist who writes ground breaking stuff about sex, relationships and desire.
And although common knowledge seems to be that more intimacy means a better relationship, Perel believes that this can also spell disaster for our desire.
Perel’s view is that at the heart of human need are two opposite factors:
The need for security, predictability, safety, dependability, reliability, grounding, permanence.
And the need for adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, danger, the unknown, the unexpected, surprise.
These opposing forces govern our lives, and one of the hardest tasks within a relationship is to balance the two.
They embody themselves within the emotional states of love and desire.
Love is all about security, caring, responsibility, dependability, closeness- aka “having”.
And it’s contradiction- desire– needs mystery, distance, intrigue and space to thrive- aka “wanting”.
The more we “have” (love) someone, the less we “want” (desire) them.
Because how can we want what we already have?
What nurtures love isn’t what fuels desire.
So it makes sense that over time, the more we perceive to “have” our partner, the less we “want” (desire) them.
Which is why often in long term relationships our sex drives can dip.
Perel often asks live audience to shout out when they felt most drawn/attracted to their partners.
Most comments fall into four categories:
- when we see them in their element/competent
- as different from how we usually see them- there is a sense of mystery or the unknown
- when jealous or through the gaze of a 3rd
- when absent or there is a sense of longing (e.g. the threat of a breakup)
These four factors create want because you don’t feel like you have.
This is why we often desire our partners more when they’re public speaking or with mates or tending to an emergency.
Or why things feel so intense and your chest hurts and you just want them in a heated argument where you’ve tentatively considered “the end”.
Or why when they mention an overly friendly co-worker your face gets all red and sweaty and you get mardy or hold them a bit tighter that evening at the thought of letting them go.
It’s the distance- the space between us and our issue- that fans the embers of desire.
Not sexy lingerie, dirty weekends away or that bottle of lambrini at the back of the booze cabinet.
How to create separateness and closeness at the same time?
This is the holy grail of the sex world…. How to marry up a long term stable relationship with kinky, hot, passionate sex.
Because they’re the antithesis of each other.
How, in one partner and one relationship, can we achieve both?
Or, in other words (and I’m going to massively lower the tone here), how can we continue to want to shag someone when you’ve seen/smelt their poo and feel like the particles are now in your toothbrush and you couldn’t possibly be any closer if you tried?
This is the core issue here, isn’t it people?!
Perel states that the secret is (*drum roll*) to learn to live with otherness.
To live like you never own each other.
To not take each other for granted.
To never assume you “have”- instead always prepare to “want”.
I’ll leave you with a question from Perel herself to consider.
“Fire needs air…. are you smothering the sizzle?”.