Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author, Esther Perel is taking part in The Future of Relationships, an insightful talk at The Surf Lodge in Montauk on Saturday, July 28.
We recently caught up with Perel about technology and love, the evolution of marriage and monogamy, a taboo relationship topic, and more.
What’s the most significant shift in relationships you’ve noticed over the past couple of years?
EP: Marriage and monogamy are concepts that have changed over time and will continue to change. They’re shifting before our eyes today.
For example, it used to be that when you married, you had sex for the first time, now you marry and stop having sex with others. In the West, marriages used to end “when death do us apart”, but now they end when love dies. Monogamy used to be one person for life. Today it is one person at a time.
Plus on top of all of this we have new gender norms: as women have become more economically and socially empowered, we’ve become equal partners in love as we are in life. And there are so many more types of couples and people in committed relationships: you can be trans, gay, in your 60’s, a 40-year new parent and more.
When you take all of this together, you can see we are rewriting the relationship rulebook as we go. Right now we are outgrowing a one-size-fits-all conception of marriage, and we’re trying to create new definitions that fit our life needs.
This is why it’s important to decide, as a couple, what you and your partner want to build together and to independently define what it means to be in a thriving and committed relationship.
How has online dating/apps impacted finding love and relationships?
EP: Technology expands the possibilities; it helps people who they never would have met before. But it also flattens the human experience to one dimension. In real life, relationships are iterative, back and forth, and complex like a dance. Dating apps, text messaging and all the digital tools we have today are great for “staying in touch”, but they don’t actually allow us to “be in touch”. They sometimes generate a lot of AI: artificial intimacy. In relying on them too much, we risk losing much of what it means to be human and to understand others as humans. One of the top things I recommend to people seeking to enter and stay in relationships is to get out of the app as soon as they can. Pick up the phone– or better yet see each other in person. There’s no real replacement for human experience.
What’s the biggest mistake one can make when it comes to love?
EP: There is no one biggest mistake. But a very common mistake is to expect one person to give you what a whole village used to provide: identity, belonging, support, while also promising adventure, excitement and entertainment. That’s a tall order for a party of two.
We also live in the era of “The One”: romantic ideal, a suggestion that it’s possible to find a soulmate, a one and only. In this romantic union, we believe that we are also “The One” for our partner. We believe we are unique, irreplaceable and indispensable and we’re driven by a conviction that once we find our “soulmate” all our needs will be met and we will be forever satiated. I don’t want to be your dream-snatcher, but do you think that’s realistic?
Your latest book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, takes a provocative look at relationships through the lens of infidelity. Tell us a little bit about that.
EP: I wrote The State of Affairs because the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. And yet, one of the most traumatic things that can happen in our relationships, infidelity, remains a taboo and commonly misunderstood topic. I believe if we take a closer look at what goes wrong in relationships it can help us build better relationships, that infidelity can help us understand the meaning of trust and fidelity, and that if we talk about the oldest sin we can create new conversations that will help couples heal and grow.
The new season of your podcast, Where Should We Begin?, comes out this fall. What can we expect?
EP: Season 3 of Where Should We Begin? is also about creating new conversations that help couples heal and grow. Framed around the evolution of marriage, Season 3 follows six couples at different points in their relationships. Their stories range from a young couple whose immigration status has forced them to consider marriage to a couple born out of an affair that ended two marriages looking to build trust. I also speak with a step-mother trying to put the pieces back together for four children whose mother died by suicide and a wife trying to weigh her attraction to women against the loss of husband. In aggregate these sessions explore the full spectrum of human challenges and connection. It is my hope that this season will continue the public health campaign for relationships started by the previous two seasons.
Admission to The Future of Relationships, which is part of the Be Well series, is $100. The talk begins at 11 a.m.
The Surf Lodge is located at 183 Edgemere Street in Montauk. For more information, visit www.eventbrite.com.