Esther Perel is the author of Mating in Captivity and an exuberantly charming woman famous for her TedSalon presentation on The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship. I can not speak to her many years of research in the field, nor can I speak to the paradigms she endorses. After all, I am neither a social anthropologist nor a psychotherapist.
As a philosopher my thoughts have been occupied by issues surrounding the human predicament – some call this our primordial or fundamental experience of ourselves as inescapably free. The point is not “simply” that we are free to make our own choices, but that we must reckon with our experience of ourselves as utterly free. As we struggle with the determinants of “good” judgment anxiety builds. We look to ground judgment in something definitive, substantive, unerring, unconditional. We look to Reason, to Absolute Goodness, to God, to the essence of things. The ephemeral, the concrete, the mine and yours, the imaginary, the emotive all disappear from sight. The good life, the happy life, the just life, is a life of resignation, it is a life of abiding reverence for those enduring universal determinants that give life value, that make me worthy. The postmodern world we presently inhabit sits uncomfortably – for everything is about being uncomfortable now – on the fence and commonplace notions, albeit unencumbered by the complex jargon of philosophers, follow suit. The once rigid divide between definitive rules of judgment and the contextual complexities of the concrete human experience have faded. In its wake we are left feeling both dazzled and dizzy.
Perel does not speak of this, but she does evoke a set or paradoxically concomitant relations that are preemptive. Perel identifies love and desire as two primordial human needs which are at the heart of cultivating long lasting passionate and meaningful relations. Love and all its associate concepts of belonging, stability, security, commitment, dependability, and predictability are juxtaposed with desire and its associate terms for adventure, novelty, risk, the unknown, surprise, and change.
How can we possibly want both? Is it reasonable to expect to find both love and desire when predictability and the unknown collide, when security is eroded by risk, when stability negates change, when commitment fraternizes not with adventure?!
Perel reminds us of Proust who said ‘mystery is not about traveling to new places but seeing with new eyes’, and argues that sexuality is transformed by the human imagination. Her meaning seems to address not an orientation of mind as such, but a reorientation of being. “Human sexuality”, she says, “is not something you do, it is somewhere you go. It is a language and the poetic of that language is not just behavioural.”
The language of eternal love is laced in promise for unwavering attachment, unconditionality and uncompromising devotion and hence the certitude that the other is and shall always be mine. The conceptual apparatus that frames this form of relationality is rigid, and seemingly grounded in something equally eternal. Our looks vary, and eventually, unavoidably, decay; socio-economic status is vulnerable, health wanes, even our most admirable traits fade. What then grounds this unrelenting love? Strangely, some might say that loving someone means loving them for who they are throughout all change. I’m not sure what this substantive, so-called real and seemingly underlying self is, but I’m pretty sure the who of our being isn’t quite as solid as the suggestion here intimates. Indeed, the alternative reflected in what was described as the human predicament from the outset challenges this.
Love exists in the thrill of sight. Love is being transposed, moved, touched, realigned with or attuned to the object of adoration. When I am captivated by the arrangement of colours off in a distant “debris” lost on you, it is a form of adoration that arrests me.
I see, and in seeing I am drawn into the other; time arrested, it feels as if this love, this beauty, this fated encounter is eternal. The language speaks not to the actuality of the eternal but the felt eternity in the depth and heights of that moment when suddenly everything becomes transparent. Do not be mistaken. These moments do not reveal The Beautiful as it is. In these moments one marvels at existence through the ornate guises of all else, without which one would remain ever elusive, forever unseen by me.
Often the act of loving is a destructive act of disruption or rupture, if you will. Harmony, if I might allude to Heraclitus, is not inertia. It is not an unconditional coming together or union of parts permanently sealed. Unions, connections are bound by Logos, which concerns the structural ontology that bonds, but simultaneously morphs through the process of mutual encroachment.