How to Be Happy Though Married

I was in Barnes and Noble this morning to pick up Mile Rowe’s The Way I Heard It for 50% off the sticker price. On my way to the cash register, I stopped at the bargain books table and found an interesting little volume for $2.99:

how to be happy though married

It’s a book of quotes taken from everyone from Aristotle to Ovid to Einstein about the pleasures and pains of married life. The artwork -including sketches, paintings, and photographs- add to the humor and thoughtfulness of the quotes. It was a fun way to spend my lunch break. I was able to read through the entire thing in about 30 minutes. Here are some of the quotes from different sections within the book.

Section I: The Pleasures of Marriage

Marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse-pond.~Thomas Love Peacock, Mellincourt, 1817

There were several quotes in this section that made me audibly chuckle, such as this one:

Five or six years of married life will often reduce a naturally irascible man to so angelic a condition that it would hardly be safe to trust him with a pair of wings ~ How to be Happy Though Married, 1895

My experience differs, but who wants a marriage to an angel, anyway? A saint? Sure! An angel, not so much. One last quote, and probably my favorite,  from this section:

There is nothing more admirable, than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.~ Homer, The Odyssey, c 8th Century B.C.

Section II: The Pains of Marriage

By all means, marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. ~ Socrates, 4th Century B.C.

That made me laugh. Another from the pains of marriage:

Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911.

Huh. Interesting book title, no? I suspect a lot of people probably agree with him. Of course, this is what happens when we forget that marriage, not courtship, is where love really blossoms.

Of all the actions of a man’s life, his marriage doth least concern other people; yet of all actions of our life, it is the most meddled with by other people. ~ John Selden, English Scholar (1584-1654)

Section III: Hints for Husbands

This first one is a riff on the barefoot and pregnant trope, I suppose:

According to the old custom, Egyptian women did not wear shoes; this was so that they should spend all day at home. With most women, if you take away their gilded shoes and bracelets and anklets, their purple dresses and their pearls, they too will stay at home. ~ Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom, 1st Century AD.

I don’t agree with that, seeing as all it takes to send me out for a jaunt around the block is a decent pair of sneakers. No gilding, bracelets, or anklets required, but I do appreciate the spirit of the quote.

Remember, if thou marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance will neither last nor please thee one year; and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all. ~ Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

The last hint for husbands underscored to me what I have always known to be true; namely that there is nothing new under the sun:

When our Mistriss commands us to do anything, nothing should hinder us from giving a blinde obedience. ~ The Art of Making Love, 1676

Section IV: Hints for Wives

Don’t sit up until he comes home from the club; better be in bed and pretend to be asleep. If you must be awake, seem to be glad he came home early. He will probably think you an idiot; but that’s inevitable anyway. ~ The Isle of Man Times, 1895.

That made me grateful for a man who, most of the time anyway, thinks far more highly of me than is warranted. This next one is interesting:

If our husbands are not what we wish- and very few are in every respect- we should try to help them become so…We are apt to expect too much of manhood even, and hence, instead of a pleasant surprise, experience a sad disappointment. ~ Wedlock, 1874

That’s a bit of a headscratcher, but I really liked this next one, which is needed even more in this era:

Don’t expect life to be all sunshine. Besides, if there are no clouds, you will lose the opportunity of showing your husband what a good chum you can be. ~ Don’ts for Husbands and Wives, 1913.

That this next one was offered towards brides is telling, although it is clearly a unisex admonition:

Don’t imagine that the perfect lover, whether male or female, will come along ready made. If they do, mistrust them, since this shows a certain amount of previous experience. ~How to be A Good Lover, 1936

Last, but certainly not least:

Be not arrogant and answer not back your husband that shall be, nor his words, nor contradict what he saith, above all before other people. Le Menagier de Paris, 1393.

Some husbands actually desire to hear their wife’s perspective, especially when it differs from his. However, I would never contradict mine in front of others unless it was a matter of imminent life and death.

Section V: The Marital Bed

I’ll only offer two from this section. The way some of these chauvinists view sex, I’ll tell you…

A man must hug, and dandle, and kittle, and play a hundred little tricks with his bed-fellow when he is disposed to make that use of her that nature designed her for. ~ The Praise of Folly, 1509.

I’ll wind up the marital bed quotes with this one from the more modern era:

Legend speaks of the face that launched a thousand ships: maybe the one you select wouldn’t even launch a canoe, but don’t let that bother you.~ Looking Toward Marriage, 1944.

I enjoyed this little book. It’s funny, and I’m always up for a good laugh. It’s also interesting to read the perspectives of people who lived outside of the craziness of the postmodern world.

It does make one wonder though: Since there is so much literature out there -besides the Bible even- with practical marital advice from the wisdom of the ages- why are more being printed every day?

4 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars

 

 

Eggs are expensive. Sperm is cheap

eggs are expensive

Eggs Are expensive. Sperm is cheap: 50 Politically Incorrect Thoughts for Men, Kindle edition, by Greg Krehbiel. Published n 2014. 94 pages.

It just took me a grand total of one hour and 45 minutes to read this book, so it’s pretty short. I have heard the titular expression several times, but was unfamiliar with any book with this title. I learned of it after stumbling upon this article by Doug Wilson in which it was referenced. The book was far less expensive than eggs or sperm, and so I grabbed a cheap download and read it just a bit ago.

The basic premise, with which I fully agree, is that what our postmodern culture brands sexism is actually the recognition of human nature, common sense, and God-given sexual hard wiring for our survival and human flourishing. It’s a necessary good, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out that men and women are fundamentally different, thrive in different capacities, and are best served by the acknowledgment and acceptance of these realities.

There isn’t much more to it than that, broken down into 50 bullet point thoughts to organize the author’s points. The examples are worth considering; on everything from the privilege of male children in China to the “oppression” of women prior to 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. One example in particular that is worth considering is the ongoing fight for female equality in the armed forces:

Another example is warfare. If you understand the fundamental math (eggs are expensive and sperm is cheap) you understand why it makes perfect sense to have men fight the wars. Nature seems to understand that because it made the men physically equipped for the task. But somebody who is an absolute genius at spin has convinced us all that this very fact — that it’s the men who have to fight and die in war — is now seen as oppression of women. It’s almost hard to write something so transparently stupid, but that’s the way people think nowadays.

The modern lie has taken hold so completely that up to this moment you probably saw it that way. You probably saw the exclusion of women from various roles in the military as a left-over of pro-male prejudice. You may have thought, “Why can’t a woman go fight if she wants to?” And there you have the female imperative. “If she wants to.” The man might be drafted against his will and sent off to fight and die in a war a thousand miles away from everyone he loves for a cause he doesn’t believe in. But the woman gets to choose if she wants to fight, and the entire military structure has to be retooled and reorganized to accommodate her preference.

There is a lot to be said about the subject of this book, and unless any of us are willing to think critically, outside  the box, and consider another perspective if only as a thought experiment, no consensus will be reached. I didn’t agree with everything in the book. As is often the case when I read secular books on this subject, I like to see more credence given to the transcendent, even when I have no reason to expect such.

Krehbiel is far more right than wrong on all 50 of his counts, so it’s worth a read whether you’re male or female. The second half is mostly advice for men, but most of it -not all of it- was decent advice. I arrived at that conclusion from observing my own husband, not because of any inbred authority on the subject of manhood.

One thing is true, no matter what side of the argument you come down on. Mr Krehbiel is right absolutely about this:

The modern approach to sex doesn’t build a culture. It doesn’t harness the energy of the young man’s sex drive to make young men into responsible, useful members of society. It also fails to maximize women’s potential as wives and mothers. It is, in short, destroying civilized society. For the time being, our society is living off the borrowed capital of previous generations. A couple more generations of the modern way, and we’ll be in full-bore idiocracy.

This is a book that hits all the pertinent notes in a concise, no nonsense way and does it without being coarse or vulgar. Totally worth a read, even if all it does is make you think.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Mating in Captivity: Chapters 9-11

mating in captivity

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, by Esther Perel. Originally published in 2006. 272 pages.

This is the last post analyzing the Mating in Captivity since chapter 11 is the last chapter in the book. This trio of chapters also makes it very clear why Esther Perel is something of a lightning rod to those of us who marry fully committed to monogamy. She asks some pretty inflammatory questions and her answers are every bit as controversial. However, most of that is in chapter 10, and we need to touch on chapter 9 first.

Chapter 9: Of Flesh and Fantasy

This is basically a defense of sexual fantasy. The entire chapter is an exposition of various patients, most married, but not all, and one homosexual patient. There’s not a lot here worth delving into, so I’ll simply offer the chapter’s main idea, which is also its last paragraph:

Giving voice to our fantasies can liberate us from the many personal and social obstacles that stand in the way of pleasure. Understanding what our fantasies do for us will help us understand what it is we’re seeking, sexually and emotionally. In our erotic daydreams, we find the energy that keeps us passionately awake to our own sexuality p.174

The only other thing I will add about this chapter is that it underscored to me how a dangerous idea was suddenly very prevalent in this book. It was always there as a subtext, but it stood out more here, and the idea is that there is an inherent disconnect between sexual excitement and emotional intimacy and comfort. The overwhelming assertion seems to be that if a couple embraces and understands that these two seasons alternate back and forth while rarely overlapping, they can find a healthy sexual balance.

I vehemently disagree with this assertion, not only based on personal experience, but based on my understanding of marriage. Furthermore, accepting this premise as true undeniably sets the stage for what comes in chapter 10.

Chapter 10: The Shadow of the Third: Rethinking Fidelity

If I had to offer a one line synopsis it might be, You Americans might be able to save more of your families if you weren’t so dogmatic about fidelity.

Despite a 50 percent divorce rate for first marriages and 65 percent the second time around; despite the fact that monogamy is a ship sinking faster than anyone can bail it out, we continue to cling to its wreckage with absolute faith in its structural soundness. p.178

And this section, more than almost any other, flies in the face of the ideals of Christian marriage:

Fidelity, as a mainstay of patriarchal society, was about lineage and property; it had nothing to do with love. p.178

This may have some truth historically and biologically, but love is very much at the center of a Christian marriage, cementing everything from the mundane daily tasks to the sexual relationship. Our Bible makes it clear; we can be both sexually connected and spiritually connected. Perel propagates the idea that the two are different things, and again there may some truth to that but when you start from that premise, it’s a short leap from there to “rethinking fidelity”.

One thing that is crystal clear here is that Perel sees the strict adherence to fidelity as a condition of continuing the marriage as a uniquely American phenomena, including the notion that the only way forward is for the offending spouse to come clean:

In other cultures, respect is more likely to be expressed with gentle untruths that aim at preserving the partner’s honor. A protective opacity is preferable to telling truths that might result in humiliation. Hence concealment not only maintains marital harmony but is also a mark of respect. In formed by my own cultural influences, I defer to Doug’s decision to remain silent, and at the same time I encourage him to pursue other ways to reconnect with his wife. p.186

Perel tries to make the case that she isn’t promoting infidelity, rather attacking the ideal that marriage means the death of the individual self. However, the non-judgemental stand comes off as if she is an adultery apologist. She makes the case that we have set up a culture which is, in effect, disastrous to monogamy. There is a bit of wisdom tucked into all of this:

This isn’t a justification of infidelity, or an endorsement. Temptation has existed since Eve bit the apple, but so, too, have injunctions against it. The Catholic Church is expert at not only avoiding temptation but also meting out penance for those we couldn’t resist. What’s different today is not the desires themselves but the fact that we feel obligated to pursue them- at least until we tie the knot, when we’re suddenly expected to renounce all we’ve been encouraged to want. Monogamy, like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to hold back a flood of unbridled licentiousness.

There is again, a grain of truth here, but the answer to the dilemma is the exact opposite of what she has promoted in several other chapters. Rather than release and indulge our erotic imaginations, we should harness, restrain and control them, saving them for monogamy where they can be explored within a legitimate context. Of course, we are living in a culture awash in the flood of unbridled licentiousness.

Chapter 11: Putting the X Back in Sex- Bringing the Erotic Home

This final chapter of the book is one with which I agree in part, and disagree in part. The overarching thesis is that people indulge in all kinds of sexual imagination and shenanigans pre-marriage and extra-marital (pornography, cybersex, affairs, etc), while being tamed and “puritanical” in their intimate relationship with their spouse.

She is in no way condemning any of the stuff I outlined above; the cybersex, pornography, or feverish daydreams.  I would, but she’s not. She is saying they should indulge these things in the context of their marriages to keep the home fires burning, so to speak.

Because, she asserts, passion is destined to be short-lived, couples have to open to one another and be more experimental and honest about what they want. She distinguishes eroticism from sex, asserting that fun, playful, erotic intimacy leaves most marriages “after the housewarming”. I’ll leave her to her assumptions, being the expert and all, but the very idea of almost worshiping a vaguely described idea of eroticism -one which includes perversion- leaves me cold.

The sum total of this book was informative, and the case studies in the form of patient stories was interesting. There were even a few philosophical gems tucked here and there. Overall, however, I don’t think help the average Joe and Jane do anything other than play act at eroticism, entertain infidelity, and believe they are doomed to enter a sexual desert unless they take her advice to heart, and not all of it is good advice.

For informational purposes and the ability to hold my attention, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mating in Captivity: Chapters 6-8

mating in captivity

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, by Esther Perel. Originally published in 2006. 272 pages.

Chapter 6- Sex is Dirty: Save It for Someone You Love

The subtitle of this chapter is “When Puritanism and Hedonism Collide”, which bugs me because it continues the myth of the Puritans as a repressed people who hated sex and all things sexual. While it’s absolutely true that they shunned and condemned extra-marital sex and fornication) as the illicit acts that they are, the Puritans had a much healthier and robust attitude towards marital relations than most Americans do today, if the studies and interviews that spawned this book are any indication. Boston Magazine debunks Puritan myths in this interesting article.

This chapter is the first since beginning the book where I was nearly completely diametrically opposed to Perel’s positions from its beginning to its end. I say nearly because the chapter’s title takes a very insightful turn at what happens in the minds of many religious wives when it comes to marital intimacy, especially after children arrive, which is covered in chapter eight.

The politics and economics of sex and the diametrically opposed attitudes we witness daily penetrate the American bedroom and insinuate themselves into the creases of our intimacy. The couples I see live at the intersection of this ambivalence, and must negotiate amid these competing value systems. The legacy of Puritanism, which locates family at the center of society, expects marriage to be reasonable, sober, and productive. But alongside this very American notion of individual responsibility and moderation is the equally apple- pie notion of individual freedom. p.90

There’s a layer of truth in that, but the rest of the chapter felt like one long exercise in cognitive dissonance. There was a repeated insinuation (and even insistence) that any external restraints on sexual activity for anyone teenaged or older is repressive. The European standard, along with the dichotomy of their later age of first sex and lower teen preganacy rates, were offered as evidence of their superior sexual attitudes and  practices.

That this approach inherently undermines the ability of married couples to fully embrace and engage with one another erotically seems completely lost on Mrs. Perel, but I knew what I’d be getting going into this one.

Chapter 7- Erotic Blueprints: Tell Me How You Were Loved, and I’ll Tell You How You Make Love

This chapter is all about the connection between how people received love, affection, freedom and pleasure in childhood and the way it crosses over into how they navigate their adult relationships; in this context, their marital relationships.

I was slightly concerned that we were heading into Freudian territory but was relieved  that this was not the case. There are connections between childhood relationship patterns and  adult relationships. I also believe, having lived it, that when partnered with a spouse who makes you feel you can safely be vulnerable, a lot of relational challenges can be overcome. This is particularly so in the area of marital intimacy. To her credit, Perel doesn’t counsel her patients that they are stuck in their patterns.

Those of us who were raised with a strong sense of duty, hard work, and self-deprivation, Perel argues, often have trouble with the duality of marital intimacy. Specifically, she helps her clients see that you can be physically attuned to your mate without completely denying your own desire for satisfaction. Conversely, she asserts that one can be aware of and open to your own desire, acutely so (she used the wording ruthlessly so) without being unloving towards your mate.

We are socialized to control ourselves, to restrain our impulses, to tame the animal within. So as dutiful citizens and spouses we edit ourselves and mask our ravenous appetites and conceal our fleeting need to objectify the one we love. p.122

According to Perel, in a loving marital relationship, the self-absorption inherent in sexual excitement collides with our ideal of emotional intimacy. I believe openness and vulnerability frees us and reconciles that tension. But we’re taught to be invulnerable and look for ourselves because no one else will, so Perel’s patient list and popularity are set to continue to grow unabated.

Chapter 8- Parenthood: When Three Threatens Two

This is a topic that has been discussed, written about, and debated ad nauseum, so I won’t spend a lot of virtual ink telling you what you already know is in the book. That many women absorb themselves into motherhood and have nothing to give their husbands. Also, that some men (albeit significantly fewer) find it hard to connect intimately with their wife once she has become a mother.

Nothing new about that, or even about the advice she gives the couple she uses as the object lesson for most of the chapter, whom she refers to as “Warren” and “Stephanie”.

I did find this bit insightful, worth sharing and pondering, as it speaks to a large part of why so many couples find the bridge between parenting and a return to marital intimacy such a long one:

Her intense focus on her kids is not a mere idiosyncrasy–not simply her own personal style. In fact, this kind of overzealous parenting is a fairly recent trend that has, one hopes, reached the apex of its folly. Childhood is indeed a pivotal stage of life that will inevitably shape the child’s future. But the last few decades have ushered in an emphasis on children’s happiness that would make our grandparents shudder. p. 133

Amen to that, and this was also a good bit of advice to the couple she focused on. It stood out to me not because it was revolutionary. It’s as natural to us as breathing and always has been, but I’d never really stopped to consider what it indicates:

With him and through him, she potentially can begin to disentangle from the bond with the children and redirect some of her energy back to herself and her relationship with Warren. When the father reaches out to the mother, and the mother acknowledges him, redirecting her attention, this serves to rebalance the entire family. Boundaries get drawn, and new zoning regulations are get put into place delineating areas that are adults only. p. 135

That is sound counsel. Kids need to know and understand that Mommy and Daddy have a relationship that is not about them.

Until next time…

Related:

Preview of Coming Attractions: Mating in Captivity

Mating in Captivity: Intro-Chapter 2

Mating in Captivity: Chapters 3-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mating in Captivity: Chapters 3-5

mating in captivity

The analysis of the introduction through chapter two can be read here.

Chapter 3- The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy: Talk Is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness

Of the three chapters outlined in this post, Chapter 3 is the one in which I find the most valuable insights. By valuable, I mean I agreed. It basically expands on what its title implies; that talking is not the only way to cultivate marital intimacy.

Given the topic of the book, it’s obvious that Perel is making the case that sexual communication is a valid avenue to close connection. And that for some people, most notably men, it is the primary route to emotional connection within marriage. I agree with her that we both talk to much and prioritize talking too much:

Interestingly, while our need for intimacy has become paramount, the way we conceive of it has narrowed. We no longer plow land together; today we talk. We have come to glorify verbal communication. I speak; therefore I am [els: I laughed]. We naively believe that the essence of who we are is most accurately conveyed through words. Many of my own patients whole heartedly embrace this assumption when they complain, “We’re not close. We never talk.” p. 41

In an insightful turn, she notes that despite their happy union, her own parents (Perel is 61), would struggle to find the relevance in questions about emotional intimacy. She continues to explore what she describes as the “feminization of intimacy” being as harmful to women as it is men. She’s staunchly feminist in outlook but it doesn’t make this any less true:

If one consequence of the supremacy of talk is that it leaves men at a disadvantage, another is that it leaves women trapped in a repressed sexuality. It denies the expressive capacity of the female body, and this idea troubles me.

In so much as my dear fellow Christians have almost completely obliterated any notion of sexual pleasure in marriage as something women need and desire as well as (if not quite as much as) men, it troubles me, too.  When a secular, feminist psychotherapist hits on a truism that the church has denied (more accurately abandoned), something is amiss. The freedom of a wife to express amorousness towards her husband is important, because not every woman is wired to bridge the gap to intimacy through verbal chatter.

Chapter 4- Democracy vs. Hot Sex: Desire and Egalitarianism Don’t Play by the Same Rules

This chapter is most accurately summed up as “Americans are politically correct prudes who don’t appreciate that some women enjoy being a submissive in the bedroom as a counterbalance to relief from the dominant roles women now occupy in almost every other sphere of public life.”

It’s basically a passionate defense of S &M and the role it can play in some relationships as the only escape from reality the parties might employ. Apparently, her American clients and colleagues see such behavior in the intimate realm as demeaning to the women involved. She disagrees, as do I, but that’s not to say I agree completely with her conclusions either.

She tried to balance it with male and female and examples, but I stand by my aforementioned summation of the chapter. Although re-assessing realities one feels a need to escape is probably the first order of business, I don’t have the mental space to wrestle with what another married couple does in their boudoir.

Chapter 5: Can Do! The Protestant Work Ethic Takes on the Degradation of Desire.

This chapter takes on the Western idea of fixing whatever is broken by reducing it to the sum of its parts. The idea that something as existential as passion burning out can be fixed by scheduling, lingerie, more talking or even a prescription, is an idea that Perel finds counterintuitive at best:

But this can-do attitude encourages us to assume that dwindling desire is an operational problem that can be fixed. From magazine articles to self-help books, we are encouraged to view a lack of sex in our relationships as a scheduling issue that demands better prioritizing or time management, or as a consequence of poor communication. If the problem is testosterone deficiency, we can get a prescription- an excellent technical solution. For the sexual malaise that can’t be so easily medicalized, remedies abound: books, videos, and sexual accoutrements are there not only to assist you with the basics, but to bring you to unimagined levels of ecstasy. p.72

Perel isn’t intensely averse to some of these remedies, particularly if there is a clear medical reason for the dilemma. In general however, she sees our American predilection to stripping the problem into parts rather that acknowledging the complexity of desire and the unpredictability of eroticism in ways that will help couples reconnect.

Later in the chapter, after much questioning of the sexual performance industry, Perel returns to her original thesis of the importance of a level of separateness. Using one couple and a single male patient as her examples, she takes pains to invite the readers to understand how much of these issues are rooted in the mentality each marriage partner brings with them into the sexual relationship.

In general, I think she’s on to something, although our over sexualized culture places its own pressures onto couples to meet arbitrary standards set by the nebulous “they” as well as movies and other forms of entertainment media.

I also think that while she places far too much emphasis on eroticism as a gauge of relational health, she’s right that the ability keep that part of a marriage alive over time requires a level of surrender that many people find hard to achieve. More than ever, we are almost always on guard. The ability to drop those walls and *go there* with your spouse makes all the difference.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

Mating in Captivity: Introduction – Chapter 2

mating in captivity

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, by Esther Perel. Originally published in 2006. Hardcover; 272 pages.

I decided to break this review up into several posts because, as with The Feminine Mystique and Modern Romance, the scope of ideas in the book are so wide-ranging I wanted offer a clear picture of what you’ll find within the book’s pages. Rather than removing the possibility of ever reading the book, in my own reading life I have found that such analyses propel my resolve to read the books for myself to better draw my own conclusions. Because of that, I have no qualms about doing chapter by chapter analyses of nonfiction books.

When considering my analysis, a few stipulations:

  • This is a purely secular book written by a Belgian psychotherapist and relationship counselor.
  • My opinions in these analyses are offered from the perspective of my Christian faith.
  • My position on reading varieties of views and schools of thoughts can be found on my standards and quotes page.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can take a look at what this increasingly popular lady has to say about the “reconciling the erotic and the domestic”.

Introduction

The introduction of the book lays the groundwork for what lies ahead. It’s a short explanation of the problem Perel is going to describe and then aim to solve:

Psychologists, sex therapists, and social observers have long grappled with the Gordian knot of how to reconcile sexuality and domesticity. p.xiii

In essence, Perel sets out to figure out why long term married couples (in aggregate) report a sharp decrease in desire for one another over time. She explores this by offering different examples of real life couples she has counseled over the years and the suggestions and homework she gave them which helped to reignite some of what they felt for one another in the beginning.

Being almost completely unfamiliar with this particular marital malaise, I am finding the book somewhat fascinating, even as I disagree with many of her bedrock assertions.

Chapter 1: From Adventure to Captivity

At some point, we can thoroughly address the whole notion of this “captivity” thing, but not quite yet. Chapter 1 begins with Perel describing the scene at a party for authors she attended several years ago. Different writers were mingling about with each other, sharing what types of books they were writing. When she shared that she was writing about, she was suddenly the star attraction.

Everyone in her vicinity had strong opinions and wanted to weigh in, with two distinct, caricaturish camps emerging; the romantics and the realists. The romantics“refuse a life without passion”, squared off versus the realists for whom “maturity prevails. The initial excitement grows into something else-deep love…diminishing desire is inescapable. You tough it out and grow up”.

Perel makes the case that our modern expectations of marriage are wildly out of proportion to anything out ancestors would have expected, and I agree with her. The demise of religion, long held traditions and community institutions (not to mention distances between extended families) have caused the majority of people to expect their spouse to replace everything that these support systems used to provide. She conversely asserts, and I agree, that deep love and desire are not mutually exclusive; that these can be maintained in the same relationship over time.

She rounds out the first chapter with a look at two of the couples she has counseled in her practice as an example of one of the things (I presume) she is going to use as a basis of foundation for her solution to the problem. Each of the couples entered territory where they sacrificed or hid parts of who they are for the sake of the whole, new entity they were creating as they merged their lives together. Perel asserts, and again, I partly agree, that a large part of the excitement of a new relationship is the unknown factor. The unpredictability and instability of a new relationship is the accelerant for the fire that ignites the desire.

At the beginning, she mistakenly calls this phenomena love, asserting that “love is inherently unstable”.  I disagree. Love isn’t inherently unstable. Real love is the most stable thing you can build any life on, the only thing really, and plenty of people experience the fire and excitement of desire without ever getting to love. Later, she reworks her terminology, correcting this earlier misstep of interchanging love for desire. It made for a much clearer communication of her points going forward.

She’s wrong to dismiss the need of sacrificing parts of oneself for the greater whole, but she’s absolutely right that being able to see our spouse as an individual, separate and distinct from us goes a long way to fight off the malaise that diminishes desire over time. There’s a lot more to unpack there, but not without quoting the whole book.

Chapter 2: More Intimacy, Less Sex

In this chapter, Perel expands on her preceding intimation about the need for separateness as a prerequisite for desire, using the example of a unmarried couple she saved by counseling the woman to move out, and how the shift re-ignited their relationship. As if often the case when Big T truth isn’t the foundation of counsel, we skip around the edges of truth just enough to sound good, but miss the heart of the matter. The thesis, if you will, of Chapter 2 is that when we become too enmeshed, we lose the ability to see our mate’s “otherness” enough to want them:

With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. There is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused-when two become one-connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. p.25

Sigh. So much potential, so little Truth! Being a Christian, I am solidly and immovably in the camp of husband and wife being no longer two but one. Merging is a beautiful thing. Mrs. Perel got that part wrong. The intertwining of souls, however, doesn’t negate the reality that the differences between men and women, coupled with the reality of growth and change over time leaves us plenty of bridges to cross to one another as well as internal worlds to enter. The problem is that we often don’t want to do the work or experience the discomfort of crossing those bridges or even acknowledging the bridges.

Marriage as a destination rather than a journey is at the heart of a lack of desire is what Perel seems to be trying to get at, and she’s not wrong. That, and the tendency we have to set up our lives where we never have the opportunity to see our spouse’s otherness, to view them with new eyes, or outside of the context of very narrowly proscribed parameters.  Christians can be particularly susceptible to this tendency. When there are opportunities to see your mate within the context of the environments that intrigued and captivated you at the beginning of the relationship, desire can’t help but re-emerge.

This one has the makings of another one of those books that occasionally parks right alongside the curb of truth, but never makes it across the lawn to the front door.

We’ll see.

 

Preview of Coming Attractions: Mating in Captivity

Ever since reading a snippet of her writing in Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, I’ve been trying to get a read on what author and marriage therapist Esther Perel actually counsels. Her influence is increasing in the marriage and relationship industry, so regardless of whether I am personally affected by what she espouses, it interests me on a larger scale.

Just when I thought I had it figured out, and that she is extremely damaging, I’d hear or read something that made me think maybe she isn’t as bad a counselor as I thought.  I had ruled out reading any of her books because my reading queue is so full -and backed up- already. However, I changed my mind and decided to take the time to read Mating in Captivity, which I’ll start today over lunch. Soundbites and extemporaneous commentators are no substitute for reading her book for myself.

After I get underway with it, I’ll decide whether to write one comprehensive review at the end or if it is meaty enough to divide into several discussion posts.

Incidentally, this is a slow blog even by slow blog standards, but my posts on Modern Romance consistently report higher stats every week, from readers all over the world; even when little else is being read here. Two years since I first reviewed it, readers are still drawn to it.

Clearly, Ansari struck a chord with many people. Modern Romance is a very insightful, honest, and informative book. Surprisingly so, given that it’s written by a left-leaning American comic. It strikes at the heart of mating difficulties in our current culture, while stopping short of offering anything approaching a realistic solution. For those who haven’t read them:

Look forward to my review -or chapter summations- of Mating in Captivity sometime next week!