Finding The One
“Never before have people invested so much in love, and never before [have they been] so disillusioned by it.” – Esther Perel
Passionate lover, best friend, intellectual equal, co-parent, with whom I will never feel alone again, in whose presence I will always feel cared for, beautiful, the person with whom I want to adventure, feel transcendent, and also feel safe and secure.
No one can give us all of this. It’s a setup for frustration and disappointment. And yet our expectations for romantic partners have evolved from pragmatic arrangements of security and procreation to asking one partner to meet all of our needs. This is the first time in human history that we want sex over time that is rooted in pleasure and desire. “A century ago people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood,” writes Aziz Ansari in his smart and hilarious book, Modern Romance. One third of couples married someone who lived within five blocks of them. “Today people spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.”
We are basically asking one person to give what an entire community used to provide. “Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence, and mystery, and awe, all in one,” says Esther Perel, who has dedicated her life’s work to studying desire. (Check out her fabulous TED Talk.)
We have conflicting needs in relationship – on the one hand we want security, stability and reliability. On the other, we want adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, the unexpected. How do we reconcile these into one relationship? Perel claims that this is at the heart of desire. “If there is a verb that comes with love for me, it is to have. And if there is a verb that comes with desire, it is to want.”
Keeping Good Sex
So why does good sex so often fade? We want to minimize distance in love, but in desire we tend to not want to go back to the places we’ve already gone. We want an “other” that we can go visit. We want risk and novelty, new discoveries.
Perel discovered some trends when interviewing people around the world for her book, Mating in Captivity.
We feel most drawn to our partner when they are away, when we’re apart, when we reunite. Absence and longing are major components of desire. We get back in touch with our ability to imagine our partner.
We also feel attracted when we see our partner in their element, working their craft, radiant and confident. This is a huge turn-on!
We’re drawn toward our person when we can see them from a comfortable distance, when they possess a bit of mystery once again. We love to watch them light up a room, to see others drawn to them.
It’s hard to see our person this way when they’re right in front of our face. Fire needs air. Desire needs space.
Also, there is no neediness and no caretaking in desire. Anything that brings up parenthood usually decreases erotic charge.
We like novelty and imagination. This doesn’t mean new positions or techniques, but rather what parts of ourselves do we bring out? “Sex isn’t something you do. Sex is a place where you go,” says Perel. It’s a space we enter inside ourselves and with another. What do you want to express there? Is it a place for transcendence, or perhaps for naughtiness, a place to be safely aggressive or finally surrender?
Turning Myself On
Rather than asking: what turns me on, or who turns me on, let’s think about how I turn myself on. Conversely, I turn myself off when I feel dead inside, I don’t like my body, I’m insecure, I feel old, I haven’t had time for myself. I shut myself down when I feel like I don’t have a right to want and to take pleasure.
I wake up my erotic energy when…fill in the blank. Often “we are turned on at night by the very same things we demonstrate against during the day,” says Perel. This can feel hard to bring to the person we love, because we have this idea that love comes with selflessness, when in fact desire comes with a certain kind of selfishness – the ability to stay connected to ourselves in the presence of another.
What Erotic Partners Do
Perel found that erotic partners understand the need for sexual privacy, so that each person has their own imaginative place they can visit. They know that foreplay is not something you do five minutes before the real thing, but actually begins at the end of the previous orgasm. They understand that creating erotic space does not mean the way you stroke each other, but rather entering a space where you leave responsibility, the duty to be good.
They also know that passion waxes and wanes, yet they know how to bring it back. They don’t rely on sexual energy to spontaneously erupt while doing household chores. They know that what is going to spontaneously happen in a long-term relationship already has, and committed sex is premeditated. It is willful and intentional, focused and present.
The One is a person with whom we can write our stories, and writing means constantly editing. We can grow and change together, having stability while also maintaining some sense of space, and here we foster erotic play and imagination.