(If you'd prefer to watch the video, it's at the bottom of this post.)
Esther Perel, in her book, talks to us about affairs. This is a quote:
“So for modern love’s idealists, the very act of explicitly addressing monogamy seems to call into question the assumption of specialness that is at the heart of the romantic dream. Once we have found the one, we believe there should be no need for, no desire for and no attraction to any other.”
Me: So what do you think about that?
He: I agree.
Me: So you buy into the idealist notion that if you have found the right one, that you are never going to have any attraction to another person?
He: You shouldn’t go looking for anybody else.
Me: But that’s different, right.
Me: You know, making a choice to go looking for someone else is a different thing.
Me: But, do you feel like you’d never have any attraction for another person?
He: I hadn’t thought about it.
Me: So, in all the almost 23 years we have been married, you have never had any attraction towards anybody else, never thought, wow, she’s beautiful or anything like that?
He: She may be pretty but I don’t think that I would be trying to pursue.
Me: Right. Thank you……(laughing). But, did you think that the fact that you found someone else attractive was evidence that I wasn’t the one for you.
Me: Okay, so you think it’s a normal thing for people to see other people and think that they are attractive and things like that and it’s not evidence that your relationship isn’t right or anything like that.
Me: I think the point that she makes throughout the book is our modern notion of love is that one person is sufficient to meet all of our needs and historically that has not been the way that marriage was.
Me: We had extended communities and different people who filled different needs for us. The way that modern society has evolved, we now put all that burden on our romantic partner usually. It’s kind of a big burden to bear.
He: We’ve got it all now. …everything.
Me: You’re responsible for everything. So she challenges the way we think about love currently. We think if our thoughts or feelings stray it’s significant. The belief that one person is enough to satisfy us and all of our needs is a very recent evolution in our relationship stances. What do you think about that?
He: I think if you want the relationship to work, honestly want it to work, then you need to make it work that way. Both sides need to adjust so that they understand it needs to work for both of us.
Me: Right. And that also can look like a lot of different things because you are assuming then that we have an agreement. I don’t know that we’ve ever spoken our agreement, but I think that our expectation of each other is that we are monogamous….
Me:….and that we are not going to pursue any attraction that we might feel towards someone else.
Me: But, you know there are a variety of relationships. There are open relationships and polyamorous relationships where more than two people are involved. And people who have those sorts of agreements can have a fully functioning relationship as well but those are probably more explicit agreements than just a garden variety.
Me: But I don’t think I could ever be secure enough to be in a polyamorous relationship or an open relationship. What do you think? (laughing)
He: I don’t think I am either.
Me: I would always feel too threatened or fearful. Maybe that’s my own hang-up but…..
He: You don’t have to worry about that.
Me: Okay. (laughing) Now we have an explicit agreement.
Me: Well there you go. That was the first segment of our conversation about the book, The State of Affairs by Esther Perel.
You could probably tell that we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit and got a kick out doing this kind of conversation with each other.
I did want to bring up a couple of points about what we talked about in the video. The first thing is when I first read the passage from the book about how our idealist notion of what romantic relationships are now and how that has really evolved over time. We go into that a little bit more and it becomes a little more clear. It is hard to think of everything in the moment when you are having an organic conversation the way that we did.
But, there are lots of different kinds of relationships in this world and all of them have validity if they work for the people that are in the relationships. We talked about having strictly a monogamous relationship and that’s what works for us. I said I’m way to insecure to be involved in a relationship where there is what I might perceive as competition. Now that doesn’t mean that there is not always risk of competition, but it is just an agreement, and now explicit, that we are in a monogamous relationship. We both have that expectation of each other. It doesn’t mean that I’m never going to see someone that I think is attractive and it doesn’t mean that if that happens that it means my relationship is worthless.
The biggest point is you can want or need things that your partner can’t necessarily provide to you and that is not an indictment of them as a poor partner. It is not a judgement about the validity of your relationship because that is a lot of burden to place on another person, that they would be responsible to meet every one of your needs. I think that we all are our own independent beings while being in a relationship with someone else. I don’t want to negate any other relationship structure because I’ve known people who have had other types of relationships that have worked for them. I have also had people in other types of relationships where their relationship failed. I’ve also had people who have been in very traditional, monogamous relationships that have failed. I don’t know even if there is any statistic out there about what type of relationships are most successful.
I think the most successful relationships are one where both partners feel secure and that they have a level of trust that their expectations for each other are going to be met. But for my husband and I, we have been married for a long time. We’ve never explicitly stated what we expected from our partner in terms of monogamy. Maybe we’ve done that with some other things, but most agreements (for everybody in most relationship agreements) contracts are made. They are implied. They are not explicit. If you have something that you believe, “That’s the way it should be in a relationship”, it might be especially worthwhile to talk to your partner.
I’m interested to know if you’ve been in a relationship where your expectation might have been different from your partner’s around monogamy? Have you ever been in a non-traditional relationship that you felt was healthy? Has there ever been a relationship where you explicitly discussed with your partner what some of your expectations were? Have you ever talked about that in your current relationship?
Just curious to see where everyone is on that because it was something that we had never discussed prior to this day that we did this discussion. So let me know your thoughts and I hope that you enjoyed the conversation
Have a great day!