Mating in Captivity, by Esther Perel|
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Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book repeatedly resonated with me, from the very first page to the very last. In addition to being a fascinating read, it was an insightful one that answered questions I have had for years. Many years.
Internationally recognized author and relationship expert Esther Perel takes us behind doors that are closed, exposes desires that are rarely talked about, and uncovers needs that are often unmet. She takes us beyond the boundaries of the known, showing how these self-imposed boundaries behave like water on the flame of erotic desire.
In her work with couples who have lost their passion, she asks the question, "Why could you find your partner so exciting in the beginning?" She opens people up to looking at what happened along the way, and how to get back. The journey back often requires a new mindset, which is a tough thing. And it makes for many interesting examples.
Part of the problem for American couples is our American culture. While this culture offers many benefits, it also exacts a price. Perel, who is an immigrant, brings a larger worldview to bear on the situation American couples tend to find themselves in. She also provides an approach that is markedly different from what has not worked for many people in couples therapy.
Whether you are heterosexual or gay, the insights of this book will help you in your relationship. While the book is targeted at committed couples, the insight is also helpful for people just entering a relationship. Understanding what turns you on vs. what gives you security will help anyone develop a healthier, more rewarding relationship.
This book doesn't provide new techniques of coitus or a 10-step program. Nothing so simple, nothing so formulaic. It's not a manual for robots to follow. In fact, the thinking behind such an approach is diametrically opposed to what Perel has seen actually work.
It's counterintuitive, but one approach she uses is to create distance to bring you closer. How exactly does that work? Perel explains this by looking at examples from her twenty years of counseling couples and listening to their feedback. What brings most couples together is the initial excitement of the unknown. Why does this "have to" disappear? We think we know each other, but is that really so? Perel looks at ways couples can re-introduce the intrigue and excitement that ignited the passion that they once felt.
The cleverness of the title became apparent to me once I had read the book.
Mating denotes an animalistic aspect, and that is where many people get hung up. At first, this aspect is very exciting to many couples. But as the relationship matures, it becomes repugnant. For example, one man finds it distasteful to think of the mother of his children as a sex object. Perel explores this dichotomy and shows us how this man overcame that obstacle to happiness and erotic pleasure. And not just his happiness and erotic pleasure, but that of his wife as well.
Captivity denotes a lack of freedom. That's exactly how many people--both male and female--feel in a committed relationship. That feeling causes a cascade of thoughts, feelings, and expectations that make it difficult to open up to your partner. Much of the book addresses this idea of captivity.
Perel's views on fidelity/infidelity bring into question beliefs that are, upon examination, in conflict with reality. And those beliefs are toxic to the relationship. Chapter Ten takes a fresh look at fidelity and how we can embrace human nature rather than fight it. No, she's not advising that men take on a mistress or that women feel free to open up the marriage bed to the UPS guy. There are other ways to embrace this. Rather than being destructive, those ways bring couples closer. Each couple will have to decide which ways work for them, and Perel gives real-world examples as well as theoretical explanations.
This book consists of eleven chapters. In the first one, Perel addresses how the security we all seek or need in our relationships undermines our erotic needs.
In Chapter Two, she looks at a paradox. Love seeks closeness, but desire needs distance. How can we thus have desire for someone we love? While the default in many relationships is mutual exclusivity, this need not be the case. Nor, as she points out in Chapter Three, is talk the only way for people to develop closeness. People say things like, "We're not close. We never talk." This ignores the fact that the body has many ways of expressing itself. By relegating the body to silence, we sacrifice the most effective ways of bringing us closer. We are more than words, and need to express ourselves with more than words.
The next three chapters take on cultural issues. Democracy isn't always fair in a relationship, because desire and egalitarianism operate by different rules. The Puritan perspective that makes s*e*x so "dirty" that we need to put asterisks in the word for getting past filters when writing online content is dysfunctional in many ways. Perel's awareness and understanding of its poisonous effects are pretty amazing.
Perel credits our Protestant work ethic as being the drive behind our brutal work schedules. Here, she's in error. We work insane hours because Americans have the highest tax burden of any people on earth. Government spending and taxes are the same thing, because money does not grow on trees and the excessive spending must therefore be funded by the taxpayers. Grossly unethical spending has resulted in an immense load for Americans to bear.
The USA spends more on its military than the next nine nations combined. The national debt is equal to twenty-five times the annual wage of the average taxpayer. This means if you are an average taxpayer, you'd have to pay every dime you make for the next quarter century toward your share of the tax burden before you were free and clear. And that doesn't count the unfunded obligations that are about seven times the current debt. An American pays 128 taxes on a single loaf of bread. But the single largest tax is inflation, which the Federal Reserve causes by creating more money out of thin air. During Alan Greenspan's tenure, the dollar lost half its value--in effect, Greenspan levied a tax of 50% on all of your possessions and all of your present and future income.
It's a lack of ethics, not a particular ethic, that is responsible for the 60 and 70 hour work weeks.
Chapter Seven helps us see the solution to bedroom boredom. The subtitle to it, "Tell me how you were loved, and I'll tell you how to make love" is descriptive of what you'll find there.
Chapter Eight takes a stark look at parenthood and how the couple's dynamics change. The change is usually not for the better, though it can be. Perel explains how.
Flashing back a bit to the chapter that discusses the Puritan outlook, we delve into the subject of erotic fantasies in Chapter Nine. Most of us view these fantasies as something bad, something to be ashamed of and lock away out of view. But the reality is they hold the power to heal and renew. The trick is in how you handle them.
I addressed Chapter Ten earlier, so let's glimpse Chapter Eleven now. This chapter ties everything together. It talks about how to have the eroticism you desire, without sacrificing the security you need. Some of it is counterintuitive. For example, you can know your partner better by introducing mystery. You can have more excitement with some planning rather than waiting for spontaneity to arise. Here in Chapter Eleven, you won't find descriptions of whacky exercises that you obviously won't try. Nor will you find flaky theories or grandiose visions of how you should change if you want happiness.
What you will find is how to make use of what you already know. Perel gives the example of one man who objected to the idea that planning out an erotic encounter was helpful. He felt it would destroy any chance of developing the mood. In her counseling, Perel gets to know much about people. She knew this man was passionate about his cooking. He would shop at specific places to get just the right ingredients. Putting on a meal was, for him, an elaborate endeavor with stunning results. All she asked him to do was take the same approach to his partner. Making a meal out of that partner, so to speak. It worked. With stunning results.
Something else that struck me about this book is Perel's own sensuality pervades it. By that, I don't mean something "dirty" about her, but I refer to her attitude toward the human body and the proper place of pleasure in a relationship. She has enjoyed a long marriage, and so it seems she takes her own advice. In the book, she comes across as smart, confident, and comfortable with who she is and what she thinks. Part of that may be the writing style, which she admits she had help with (English is not her native language).
But at least most of it reflects her own ability to connect physically. If you look on the back cover, you'll see she's what we men like to call a "babe" or a "hottie." I watched her on a YouTube video and can confirm the book photo isn't misleading. Then again, that's to be expected. Everything she said in her book took an honest look at love and lust, and how to integrate the two.
Rather than making a relationship less secure, this integration makes it more secure. Partly that's because it's more rewarding. And partly, that's because we get away from the perspective that is responsible for this nation's 50% divorce rate and replace it with one that is based on the very reasons we want a committed relationship to begin with.