It tells you how to have the security, stability, comfort, etc that are requirements for a healthy a LT relationship while at the same time creating the uncertainty, mystery, and risk that are requirements for passion. The author is a therapist in NY and draws on cases to illustrate her points. And "cap-tiv-i-ty? In the pages that follow, a cast of stereotypical characters her clients is rolled out for the reader while the soothsayer herself dispenses meaning to truth. The writing is airy, and even at times elegant, but sadly only rarely achieves the intensity that the topic deserves. My own sensibilities would have preferred the author to engage in a more rigorous analysis of both the psychology and the anthropology attendant in the complexity of sexual relations within semi permanent relationships-in other words more Barthes, de Beauvoir, and Fisher-and less emphasis on the self-selected and voyeurized accounts of Alan, Adele, Zoe, Naomi, and Jed, among others.

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Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. One chief reason we flounder in this supreme human aspiration is our unwillingness to accept the paradoxes of love — paradoxes like the necessity of frustration in romantic satisfaction and the seemingly irreconcilable notion that while love longs for closeness, desire thrives on distance.

How to live with those paradoxes, rather than succumbing to the self-defeating urge to treat them as problems to be solved, is what Belgian psychotherapist and writer Esther Perel explores in Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence public library.

Drawing on decades of her own work with couples and a vast body of psychological literature, Perel offers an illuminating and consolatory perspective on intimate relationships and our conflicting needs for security and freedom, warmth and wildness. Esther Perel Perel writes: Love is at once an affirmation and a transcendence of who we are. Beginnings are always ripe with possibilities, for they hold the promise of completion. Through love we imagine a new way of being.

In this imaginative act, we project ourselves into a fantasy of who we can be to and with the other. But as the encounter evolves from the fantasy of an idealized romance to the reality of an actual relationship, the projection begins to dim. It waits for the high to subside so it can patiently insert itself into the relationship. The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again, and so create a community of two. So begins the paradox of intimacy and desire: As a couple grows emotionally intimate through this repetition, which furnishes the building blocks of trust and security, desire begins to diminish.

Noting that sex is not a function of emotional intimacy but a separate state of being, Perel counters a misconception central to our cultural narrative: There is a complex relationship between love and desire, and it is not a cause-and-effect, linear arrangement. But … perhaps the way we construct closeness reduces the sense of freedom and autonomy needed for sexual pleasure.

When intimacy collapses into fusion, it is not a lack of closeness but too much closeness that impedes desire. Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. With too much distance, there can be no connection.

But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen.

There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex. At this early stage merging and surrendering are relatively safe, because the boundaries between the two people are still externally defined. Otherness is a fact. You aim to overcome that separateness. But as we bridge the separateness, we shorten and eventually annihilate the distance between two selves that makes one desirable to the other, for the springs of desire are in the very possibility of a leap across the abyss of otherness.

She sketches the common dynamic: The caring, protective elements that nurture home life can go against the rebellious spirit of carnal love. We long to create closeness in our relationships, to bridge the space between our partner and ourselves, but, ironically, it is this very space between self and other that is the erotic synapse. In order to bring lust home, we need to re-create the distance that we worked so hard to bridge.

Erotic intelligence is about creating distance, then bringing that space to life. Creating psychological distance within the comfort of closeness, Perel argues, is essential for sustaining desire in a loving relationship. We seek intimacy to protect ourselves from feeling alone; and yet creating the distance essential to eroticism means stepping back from the comfort of our partner and feeling more alone…Our ability to tolerate our separateness — and the fundamental insecurity it engenders — is a precondition for maintaining interest and desire in a relationship.

In our mutual intimacy we make love, we have children, and we share physical space and interests. Indeed, we blend the essential parts of our lives. It is a space — physical, emotional, and intellectual — that belongs only to me.

Not everything needs to be revealed. Everyone should cultivate a secret garden. This, perhaps, is why great artists work like gardeners. Its acquisition begins in treating love and desire not as a dissonant opposition but as a symphonic composition of counterpoints: Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it.

If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire.

They forget that fire needs air. In the remainder of Mating in Captivity — one of the most lucid and liberating perspectives on love written in the past century — Perel goes on to explore how to integrate these paradoxical needs into the wholeness of a fully satisfying love. It takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and compose, and thousands of dollars to sustain.

If you find any joy and solace in this labor of love, please consider becoming a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good lunch. Your support really matters. Monthly donation.


Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic



Esther Perel


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