An interviewed with Esther Perel by Kate Green Tripp, Managing Editor for 1440 Multiversity.
1440: You say “we need a new conversation” about modern relationships. What does that conversation look like?
Esther Perel: Well, I think the interesting thing is maybe why a conversation? For most of history, relationships were pretty much dictated by rules and by duty and by obligation. You knew who would be the breadwinner, who would wake up to feed the baby, who could demand sex, and who could stray with tacit social approval. Parents had the authority to tell their children to go to bed and they didn’t need ten minutes to explain why it was important. Husbands knew exactly what to say to their wives and wives knew exactly what not to say to their husbands. Things were structured. Once we shift from rules to freedom and choice, relationships become framed by conversation. It’s the only thing we have. In a modern relationship, the decisions are made through conversation, through dialogue, through negotiation, and these are complex relational transactions made up of multiple parts.
So, it’s not even that we need a new conversation. It’s the simple fact that conversation has become the central tool for being in a relationship rather than preset modes of conduct.
At this very moment, the conversation that is changing—the latest one in an installment of so many—is that the oldest power exchange system is being negotiated. For all of history, men traded social power for sex, and women often had to resort to trading their sexual power, their youth and beauty, for access to social power that was denied to them. This power structure is now under intense scrutiny, it is being reexamined and challenged.
When I say we need a new conversation about modern relationships, one is about the power structure, but the other one is about authenticity.
That is another fundamental new conversation because we are no longer in the economic, pragmatic model of marriage. We’re no longer even in just the romantic model of relationship—we now want to be met in our authenticity, we want to be driven to become the best self we can be.
So power, authenticity, and accountability (which has to do with trust and transparency in taking responsibility for the relationship we create)—these are the three pillars of relationship that are currently being reevaluated.
1440: A great deal of your work examines the expectations we place upon partnership—and the parallel draw so many people feel towards infidelity. Let’s talk about what we expect of our partners.
Esther Perel: I think we are struggling in our relationships. Many of us are struggling in our relationships both at home and at work. Relationship expectations are at an all-time high, the norms are shifting under our feet, and we are basically writing the new rule book as we go.
Part of my work is to help people manage these changes.
I think one way to look at how expectations have changed is to see that we came from many, many centuries of a model of contentment and now we are in a model of optimization. That is a whole different set of expectations.
We have created a model of one person for everything. When you lived in the village, you had belonging and you had certainty and you had identity and you had roots, but you had not much freedom. Now, we live in an era of unprecedented freedom, but we also have massive uncertainty and self-doubt constantly because we have to figure it all out ourselves.
And our expectations encompass it all—I want what we have always wanted from partnership, but I also want a best friend and I want a trusted confidant, and I want a passionate lover, and I want the person who’s going to make me become the best I can be. And I want to be happy. And how do I know I’m happy? Could I be happier? Perhaps I divorce not necessarily because I am unhappy, but because I could be happier.
We have never before called our partner our soul mate. Our soul mate used to be God. As Jungian analyst Robert Johnson writes, “We turn today to our partner to basically give us what we once looked for in the realm of the divine: ecstasy, meaning, transcendence.”
It’s beyond romanticism.
1440: You’re teaching a weekend program at 1440, along with a consortium of scientists, authors, and teachers, called Radiant Intimacy. What is this notion of radiant intimacy? What sits at the root of our need for intimacy?
Esther Perel: At the root lies the need to connect and to soar. One of our fundamental needs is to connect, it is at once protective and generative and a big plus is if we enjoy ourselves as we do it.
Thriving—or radiant—intimacy is a relationship that manages to reconcile the two fundamental sets of human needs: stability and change, security and adventure, separateness and togetherness.
It knows how to anchor itself in something that is solid, reliable, steady, and it knows how to make room for change, for innovation, for the unpredictable, for newness, for edge, for risk taking.
It knows how to play between trust and risk taking. That’s really it. It’s an active, dynamic, constantly moving interdependence of parts, and the peak experience is not some optimum point that you reach. The peak is actually in the flexibility of being able to constantly adjust and flow and change.
Esther Perel is one of today’s most insightful and original voices on modern relationships. Her celebrated TED talks have garnered nearly 20 million views, and her international best seller Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence is a global phenomenon translated into 24 languages. Her newest book is The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity.
Esther Perel will be teaching Radiant Intimacy at 1440 Multiversity from May 25 – 28, 2018 with co-faculty including Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo, Justin Garcia, PhD, Sasha Cobra, Michaela Boehm, Steve James, Lorin Roche, PhD, and Camille Maurine.
This excerpt from the The Strange and Necessary Case for Hope is rare medicine for our dark times.
Performing at the opening night of the 2019 SAND gathering in Italy, Parvathy Baul sings and dances
Yoga does not bring us to truth, truth expresses itself through yoga.
SAND co-founder Zaya Benazzo interviews Turiya Hanover, co-founder of The Path of Love
Fear is raging, systems and structures are crumbling, much is being undone.
Lama Tsomo teaches us the ancient Tibetan compassion practice of Tonglen, one of the Four Boundless Qualities
Jun 26–28, 2020
Delight Yoga, Prinseneiland studio, Amsterdam
Silent awareness is mostly drawn to light, sound, color, beauty, movement, patterns and contrast.
Sometimes I wonder if Mary breastfed Jesus. if she cried out when he bit her
Discover the esoteric relationship between form and formlessness embedded within the Shema
Cognition, or mind, is the very process of life itself, which requires neither a brain nor a nervous system
What may or may not be appropriate behavior for a spiritual teacher?
Being fully human requires the awakening of the deep Heart as well as the full embrace of the vulnerable human heart.
Is it possible to live a life of activity while holding the perception of unity and fulfillment?
How we can uncover the traumas embedded in our social body and work together to heal these wounds
Sally Kempton combines the wisdom of the tradition of Kashmir Shaiva Tantra with the practical understandings of contemporary psychology
The Yamabushi in northern Japan practice a once forbidden ancient religion. While their tradition is at risk of disappearing, it offers a way for those seeking a different path in Japan‘s society.
Seeking is an expression of truth, it’s not a way. Yoga does not bring us to truth, truth expresses itself through yoga.
From the dualistic thinking of the first half of life into the contemplative mind of the integrated self
Please enter your email and we’ll send you instructions to reset your password