Last weekend I attended Summit at Sea, a conference/retreat/adventure hybrid for entrepreneurs, creatives and artists that was filled with thought-provoking programming, from Edward Snowden live-streaming in to discuss privacy and security, to Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes discussing impact and social change.
Out of all the big-name headliners, the one that really stuck out was a talk by Esther Perel, a relationship therapist who has dedicated her life’s work to researching relationships, desire and infidelity.
In her talk, she offered insight on how to keep desire alive and long-term relationships. Clearly, she hit a sensitive topic, as her talk was the most popular of them all. Thousands of people lined up to hear her speak, thirsty to learn about the one thing that drives us all — love and sex. Here is a summary of some key quotes from her talk and an interpretation of her points:
“There’s a lot of people you can love. There’s not that many people you can build a life with.”
In a world of infinite choice, connecting with another is no longer a quantity issue, it’s now a quality issue. With the swipe of a finger, we can literally right swipe our way into love wherever, whenever. Perel acknowledges that we can fall for many people in a lifetime and it’s perfectly normal to feel attraction, chemistry and even love for others — but that lust doesn’t necessarily translate into a good life partner.
“We see love as a state of enthusiasm versus a verb.”
Perel points out that humans don’t live in a state of passion. Instead, that intensity is something that is cultivated. This perspective is powerful, as it puts the accountability and responsibility in creating desire, lust and sexual excitement in our hands. It’s an active approach to desire versus a passive one.
“If you want to change the other, change yourself.”
Hostile dependency is a term Perel uses to describe a common relationship issue observed in couples who are perpetually dissatisfied in their relationships. It’s the notion of blaming your own misery on someone else. This way of approaching relationships creates a lose-lose situation. Even if one partners adjust to the demands made, sooner or later, whatever unhappiness buried inside bubble again, and so the cycle goes of finding yet another excuse to the put the blame on.
“We try to find that person versus choose that person.”
Many people are constantly in search of ‘the one’. We date and date and for some reason, nobody quite fits the bill. Or, perhaps we meet someone and for the first while the “inner rumblings” of doubt, cynicism and triggers are not there. But then after a few months, that inner noise comes back, you conclude that this person can’t be the one, and off you go to find the next. But this vicious cycle never ends, because no one will quiet those inner rumblings for good. The reality is, the one person who will forever cure your inner demons, calm all your insecurities and anxieties and make you feel happy all the time, well, that person doesn’t exist. There comes a point where you choose a person, and end the perpetual hunt to find the unicorn that doesn’t exist.
The audience silenced when Perel contrasted the way we approach our work and professional lives to our intimate lives. At work, we show up 100%, are on time, are responsible, are proactive and intentional. Then, when we get home, we bring what Perel calls, “the leftovers”. We’re exhausted, we’re on autopilot and even flat out lazy. No wonder desire and intimacy is dwindling with this way of showing up. She asked the crowd to imagine how much healthier our relationships would be if we approached our romantic relationships with the same energy and presence as we do with our businesses. Mic drop.
Photo by R. Amal Serena