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!

Real Food, Chef, and Stream of Consciousness Food Thoughts

I’m currently reading Larry Olmsted’s Real Food, Fake Food. It’s an eye-opening expose along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but with an emphasis on informing us of how much of the food we buy is actually fake. By that, I am not referring to the prepackaged, sugar-laden, man-made food that we all know is the antithesis of real, nutritious food.

No, Olmsted aims to reveal that a large percentage food we purchase at premium prices precisely because it is real food, is actually fake. Fake as in not at all what we think we’re buying. Grass fed beef that isn’t from cows which were grass fed. Maine lobster –most seafood, really- that isn’t, Kobe beef that can’t legally be that, and Parmesan cheese laced with wood pulp.

“All of the Kobe beef sold in this country, by chefs famous and anonymous, in ten-dollar sliders or three-hundred-dollar steaks, was fake, all of it, end of story. Every single restaurant and store purporting to sell Kobe beef—or any Japanese beef—was lying, including some of the country’s best-known chefs.”

Kobe beef isn’t a dish I have any particular interest in. In fact, a lot of the more high end food issues Olmsted delved into were less than riveting for me. Tuna, however, is a different animal; literally:

Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time. Your odds of getting served real white tuna in a restaurant are about the same as hitting zero/double zero on a Vegas roulette wheel, which is to say, not good.

I have a bit more to read before I finish the book, but seeing as my most diligent efforts still haven’t made me a bona fide book blogger, I’m following my instincts and writing about it now. It’s been so surprising in many respects that I am looking forward to doing some research of my own to validate Olmsted’s claims. I rarely take the findings of book authors at face value without corroboration.

Food and cooking is a huge part of our family dynamic. We cook a lot, and we take a lot of interest in cooking real food. Breakfast for us is as likely to contain kale or Brussels sprouts as eggs, as we make try to pack nutrition and real food into every meal. Quality ingredients are important when we cook, which is something we all do, from my husband to our youngest child. Reading that our food supply is more tainted than I already knew is a bit unnerving.

Nevertheless, we have to eat, and we all need to eat the best food we can afford. So we do what we can, give thanks for what is before us and trust that we’re getting what we need from the food we eat. Food is also an opportunity for feasts, fellowship, and fun, contrary to what some people would have us believe.

A few nights ago, I decided to watch the 2014 film Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I was in the mood for a movie, and I was in the mood to watch someone else cook. Since Chef is one of my favorite movies and I haven’t watched it in a couple of years, I gave it a re-watch. I can barely stay awake late to watch anything anymore. When I’m up late, it’s because I’m doing something other than sitting passively, so it took me two nights to watch it.

Sidebar: This is not a family friendly film. There is no sex and no violence, but there is rough language, which is the reason for its MPAA rating. I worked in a restaurant for four years of my young adult life and know that such language is common in a restaurant kitchen. When coupled with the fact that I am not sensitive enough to that kind of thing, it barely bothered me. However, not everyone is as jaded as I am, so consider this your cinematic content advisory.

There are lots of great food and cooking scenes in the film, but my favorite is the scene where the lead character makes his son a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches were my specialty when I was dating my husband, and I made them for him pretty regularly. The care and attention the chef gives to such a simple dish highlights how food feeds us in ways far beyond taste buds and physical sustenance.

Incidentally, neither my husband nor I have eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles!

Beauty Destroys the Beast

beauty destroys the beast

Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming. Published June 7, 2019; 208 pages.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll start this review by acknowledging that the author of Beauty Destroys the Beast is a personal friend, and I read this book in its earliest iteration, from the first draft. This review is offered after a second reading of the completed, fully edited version, which you can purchase at the link above. Nevertheless, this is an honest review as I know the authoress would expect nothing less.

Beauty Destroys the Beast is Amy’s earnest contribution to recapture what women in general, and Christian women in particular, have lost since we’ve ceded the ground related to feminine beauty and physical adornment. Her argument is that we’ve relegated beauty to the purveyors of glamour, with the result that our appreciation for true Beauty has been lost.

Unlike her first book, Wardrobe Communication, which focuses more on how to maximize the colors, fabrics, and styles which most accentuate us individually, Beauty Destroys the Beast is a letter specifically to the Christian woman. As such, it necessarily begins with reminding us of the importance of cultivating beauty from the inside. If we don’t, all of our outward efforts are tantamount to following the world’s pattern of chasing glamour. But glamour isn’t beauty, Amy asserts, and there is nothing at all wrong with displaying beauty in our person as we represent our Savior to the world:

Right now, Beauty is wearing chains. She’s sitting behind enemy lines, watching Glamour take her place, and weeping. But every story begins with the heroine in distress, doesn’t it?

After a wonderfully presented analysis about the battle between Glamour and Beauty which we can see in our favorite fairy tales, the challenge is issued:

As Christian women, we’ve been so frightened of becoming like the evil queen that we’re afraid to poke our noses out of the basement. But that fear is just another way the enemy keeps us off the battle lines. He doesn’t want us out there, being lights for Christ- we’re dangerous. Delight? Joy? Love? Glamour doesn’t use any of those things, only Beauty does. When we use the gifts of the Spirit we’re safe from the temptations of the flesh. Look outside- the world is dark. We need every bit of light that can shine, shining. No more bushel baskets, please.

This is not the first time a woman of God has been asked to use beauty as a weapon. Do you remember Esther? What did she have that was different from all the other girls who were taken for the king’s harem? She had the touch of God.

Laying out her argument with Scriptural truth, practical admonitions, and homework at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to think -and pray!- deeply, Amy makes a powerful argument in favor of each of us presenting ourselves with as much beauty -and dignity- as we can, remembering that our ultimate aim is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to draw others to us so that we might have the opportunity to introduce them to our Heavenly Father.

Because Amy and I have been bantering about this particular topic off and on for the better part of a decade, I didn’t expect to find any new information or challenging admonitions. I was wrong. This book challenged me in new ways to remember that the compliments I receive should not be about me, but rather, should be seen as opportunities to shine for God in every area of my life, including the way I care for myself.

There is a some practical information in the book as well, so for those looking for concrete information about clothes, color, self-care and other health and fashion tips, there is both advice offered and direction to more comprehensive resources. But make no mistake: that’s not at the heart of what this book is about. It’s a challenge, and one that is sorely needed in a church where women are torn between two opinions; frump masquerading as modesty or beauty reproved as immodesty. This leaves many women feeling the best option is to ignore the physical and focus on being super spiritual, which defaults to something near slovenliness.  Beauty Destroys the Beast asks us to take a stand for Beauty because it is good.

Although I enjoyed the book, there were sections where the writing felt abrupt, places where I felt like a little more expounding would have smoothed an edge here or there, but the message connects nonetheless. Amy’s natural voice is very matter of fact, so I was able to decipher those parts, but a new reader will find that the best portions are those where her passion and excitement shined through. This is most evident in two areas. The first is when she’s explaining how we find our best colors. The second and most potent is when she implores us to be as beautiful as we can without feeling the pressure to be, have or do the things which may be assigned to our sister, but not necessarily to us:

No one woman can be all things beautiful. What we can be is ourselves, trusting God to use us for his purposes. Stop seeing your individuality as a flaw. You might be a rose, you might be a peony. One way or the other you’re offering beauty to the world. It’s the rose pretending to be a peony that looks ridiculous. Be who God made you to be.

Excellent advice, but you need to read the book to appreciate the full weight of this exhortation.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

The Two-Income Trap

two income trap

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers are Going Broke, by Elizabeth Waren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 272 pages.

Even though we began a discussion of this book in a recent Coming Attractions post, there is a lot more to unpack about this book than we covered a few weeks ago.

Despite my general disagreement with its conclusions, I liked that The Two-Income Trap was honest about a critical cause of the family economic crisis that was introduced when families switched from the one-income model to the two-income model. The authors struck a key note by undercutting the falsehood turned “truism” which was made popular by Betty Friedan. Namely, that a houswife’s job could by capably handled by a competent 8-year-old.

Warren and her daughter, working mothers and committed feminists, openly acknowledging that the two-income trap burdens families in ways other than just economics was an intellectually honest, cross-partisan, breath of fresh air that we won’t hear anyone utter today except religious or conservative commentators. They note that the at home wife and mother was a family’s safety net, and here’s why. When hard times hit a family whose entire economic structure is based on two incomes, the family begins to sink almost immediately because its income and resources are all accounted for. Conversely, if the wife has to get a job temporarily to help things stay afloat while her husband looks for a new job or recovers from an injury, her income is an actual boost to help cover existing expenses.

All of the aforementioned economic considerations are only part of the equation, and astonishingly, Warren also acknowledges the importance of wives as cregivers to aging parents as well as children, and the boon this is to not only families but community life. Before you get too excited, Warren is in no way suggesting that women return home en masse from the work force. Instead, she explores what she thinks is the key econimic impetus behind the exponential rise in two-income families: the urgent need for parents to raise their children in the safest envirnonment with the best schools they can obtain.

With this as her foundation, she asserts that this urgent need for the best educational outcomes for kids effectively caused the parents to engage in a bidding war for homes in the best school districts, driving up suburban housing costs. Because a greater family income translates into approval for a bigger mortgage, Warren argues, the income produced by mothers is going directly toward monthly expenses rather than toward savings. Additionally, she goes to great pains to destroy the argument that middle-class families are over leveraged and hanging on due to overconsumption, but that they are in trouble because their already precarious situation offers little to no financial margin to handle the inevitable challenges of life such as deaths, illnesses, or income reductions that come in a volatile economic climate.

After laying the case for her proposed solutions using real families as examples, Warren begins to lay the groundwork for what she believes government can do to help solve the problem. She writes at length about predatory lending and regulating the banking and credit card industries. In fact, she spends a lot of time on those two issues, sounding a lot like the Elizabeth Warren we have known and loved (or loathed) in the years since she entered the political arena. There was one particular solution she proposed that no one could have convinced me she ever believed; the issue of school choice. The biggest shocker was a pretty strong advocation of vouchers, with emphasis on parental choice:

Short of buying a new home, parents currently have only one way to escape a failing public school: Send the kids to private school. But there is another alternative, one that would keep much-needed tax dollars inside the public school system while still reaping the advantages offered by a voucher program. Local governments could enact meaningful reform by enabling parents to choose from among all the public schools in a locale, with no presumptive assignment based on neighborhood. Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers.

Obviously, her proposed voucher program wouldn’t support private or religious schools, but it still opens public schools up to the forces of competition and the related accountability. The far left and teacher’s unions hate that idea. So in the wake of her increasingly high ambitions for public office, Warren decided that parental choice isn’t the be all end all anymore, but in 2003 when she wrote her book, she said:

any policy [which] loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home just because it happened to lie within the boundaries of a desirable school district.

Gotta love politics.

Overall, this book is a mixed bag. It’s better than most  progressive manifestos you’ll read because whatever it’s failings, it at least parks alongside the truth sometimes. The title alone is shocking from the likes of Warren.

At the end of the day, it’s mostly a treatise on how government can save us from ourselves and what policies can be enacted so that the two-income family becomes as viable an entity as the one-income family once was. Without the sacrifices to Mom’s autonomy.

When I didn’t hate it, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Attractions: Beauty Destroys the Beast

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to click over to Hearthrose’s Ramblings to find out how to get your copy of Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming.  I haven’t read it yet, but I will be reading it soon, and can hardly wait to give it a proper review!

Hearthie is a dear friend of mine with a deep passion for helping women be all that we can be, not just for ourselves or our families, but ultimately so that we can fulfill our eternal purpose:

Are you like me? Like most women? Do you have an aching hole where the pain and confusion about physical beauty and its place in your spiritual life have eaten into your heart? Does that pain stop you from grabbing your sword and getting into battle – does it keep you from doing the things that you know you’re called to do in this life?

Do you want to address the hard questions about how to deal with this body you wear? Do you need some encouragement to be who God made you to be? I wrote this book for you, Christian sister. I wrote this book for those of us who are walking wounded, but ready to take back all that belongs to our King. For those of us who are tired of listen to fear and lies. It’s meant to change your life, and by changing your life, enabling you to change the lives of others around you.

Beauty can destroy the beast of lies – it’s time to set her free.

Seriously, click here to find out how you can get this book in your hands. It would be so great to be able to have a robust discussion of it with those of you who read here.

Hope you’re having a great weekend.