Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mating in Captivity ~ Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know 
how to replenish its source. - Anaïs Nin 

I have just read a riveting page turner, Mating in Captivity - Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Written by couples and family therapist Esther Perel, I’d say its underlying question is (in the words of Dan Fogelberg), How do we make love stay? 

“Monogamy easily slides downward into celibacy,” Perel asserts, and relational celibacy is seldom, mutually acceptable. Perel examines long-term relationships beneath an uncommon lens, dissects common pitfalls, and builds bridges back to love, sex, and eros where sex and eroticism are not equivalents. 
Many marriages simmer in resignation, enduring versus endearing. Entrenched behaviors and disempowering forms of communication create callous combatants versus convivial compadres. “I’m often amazed at how couples can be up on the minute details of each other’s lives, but haven’t had a meaningful conversation in years.”

Over time, we build barriers in lieu of bridges and our relational dance floor becomes  increasingly cordoned by the taboo. We point to our boundaries, training others to avoid  the out-of-bounds. We don’t address drunkeness or acerbity that reopen festering wounds. We waltz around sensitive topics and the elephant in the room. 
Bridge-building occurs in dialogue - dialoguing through the minefield of fantasy and fear - getting nakeder than naked.

What Perel lacks is access to ontology - the nature of being and relational technology that allows partners to see the impact of their being-ness and behavior on the other, the ability to step outside oneself and become what Eckhart Tolle labeled the watcher.  Without that, partners can stay very, very stuck, entrenched in the rightness of positions and perspectives. You wanna be right or you wanna be happy? So while I agree with bridge-building, from a Landmark perspective, her methods lack trusses and bolts. 
Nonetheless, it is a powerful book and in its reading I gained appreciation for the difficulties of relationship and the capacities, or lack thereof, of its constituents.

“Your friends, don’t understand how you could let your life devolve to a state where you have no partner and aren’t interested in one,” she said.
“We were put here to be in relationship,” he said. “What about you Lorin; when are you going to be in relationship?”
“When I meet someone who inspires me to it,” I defended.

I defend myself weekly and weakly against the onslaught asserting that I should be dating or in partnership or seeking partnership.
I hear their concern and... I have gobs of relationships. If there is one thing growing-up in a large, extended, Asian family teaches - it is to be in relationship. But that is not what my friends point to and against which I defend.
To some degree, I agree with them. Should you have told me that seven years later I would have no real appetite for an intimate, romantic relationship, I would have disagreed. Nonetheless, there it is. I have no explanation other than I have no heart for it. And that, my friends, cannot be conjured ... so I defend. 

Dating to placate my friends or to meet some mythical deadline seems pure folly. I am not lonely or lacking. I am whole without a man. It is what it is.

“I’m a happening guy, I’m cool, I read,” one gentleman asserted while lamenting he lacked “Yummy Man” status. And he is cool ... but he lacks tools and is unwilling to acquire them. Pouting and defending one’s unwillingness to have conversations for workability and alignment is certainly one way ...

“You don’t have a TV?” he looked surprised. “You mean we can’t have a TV in our bedroom? That’s a deal-breaker.” Whew! Was my sigh of relief audible?

“My wife can’t have conversations like that. She can’t hear them and she can’t be with them.”
“C’mon!” my voice rose, “You can’t set things up? Frame them and have conversations for alignment and workability?”
“No,” his head shook. “No,” he reiterated more forcefully when I my jaw gaped and eyes popped. “And pointing out where communication doesn’t work is perceived as nagging. There’s all the make wrong and ... baggage,” he gave me a pained, pinched look.
“That SUCKS Cameron.”
“Uh-huh,” he nodded with an expression that unequivocally said, Yeah, so what?

If life is indeed created in language, then I seek someone who can language an intention to create and recreate love on-goingly, one who can generate conversations for workability and stay with them through breakdown to breakthrough.

Why is it okay with you to be treated that way?
Such a question can look like a nudge toward the door rather than the mine shaft it is. Mine shafts are for mining. They are dark and scary - to which we can bring light and discover treasure. My friend Paki would say, “There IS cheese down that tunnel.”

We know one another through language - and language can be sorely limiting. That limitation gives rise to music, poetry, and prose... the arts. Nonetheless, language is what we have and our reticence with our “outside voice” is very often the cause of our suffering: our unwillingness to have difficult conversations, to express how things are for us, to create alignment, and jointly forge new paths. We weren’t trained in this and there are painfully few examples that it works. 

Perel points to deliberate, parental orchestration of our children’s lives and the channeling of eros from partner into children. The birth of the first child often leaves parents (particularly fathers) surviving in an emotional desert. “I do believe that sex matters for you and your partner. How did it come to be that, on the extensive list of things your children need, parents who have sex isn’t one of them?”
Take home message? Orchestrate for ourselves, for and despite our children.

The cornerstone to the entire structure of marriage is a promise to love, honor, and cherish. Loving with our hearts, our souls, and our bodies. I assert the real work of marriage is an intention to restore and re-presence love on-goingly - with our hearts, our souls, and our bodies. We lose sight of this, we don’t speak it into existence, we don’t point to its starts and stops and pull for it  in the moment it wanders. Often, we do not row together but drift, oars up.
Further our focus on till death do us part is flawed and stigma prevails, albeit dissipating, in divorce. We have our eye on the wrong ball. If we had our eye on love, honor, and cherish - till death do us part would be a forgone conclusion. How do we do that; keep our eye on love, honor, and cherish?

When is pointing to love’s starts and stops like nagging? When one feels at fault. Its all in the delivery; is it not? We can hear anything if we are not made wrong. I think the cornerstone is an intention bigger than marriage itself, bigger than staying together till death do us part or the habit of it or inertia or fear or to preserve public persona and looking good or for the kids or because its the right thing to do or from a commitment to it or a bigger commitment to honor one’s word. 
Consider a marital commitment as old news unless that commitment gives rise to an intention to nurture the nature of its constituents. What? Nurture the nature of its constituents? What would that look like? It would look like knowing and providing that which makes your partner feel loved, honored, and cherished without regard for oneself.  What is today’s intention for my beloved? A relationship from a commitment might look very different from a relationship rooted in a commitment that inspires created and re-created intention.

Some years ago, a bleader (blog reader) said, “You’re not in relationship; you don’t know.” I let that silence me for many months. ...I was married longer than most. Without the distractions of children, I had years to cogitate and ruminate. When I expound on marriages of resignation and unwilling partners - I know from whence I came and daresay, it lends a particular perspective.
Writing brings my life and thoughts into focus. I often write when I am troubled or seeking clarity. Writing helps distill my seemingly random and disconnected thoughts into something orderly and meaningful. T’was the case here. I feel like a big chunk dropped into place. ... I can see the barrier and the opening.

I am primarily unattached to whether couples stay together. I am committed that they find peace, joy, and love versus suffering and struggle. More than love, what people seek in relationship is to be heard, known, and accepted for who they truly are.
This year, I am being trained by Landmark to “listen.” My hope is that people find themselves in my listening and discover the soft landing and sweet spot where who they are can unfold and express. That’s good relationship material in anyone’s book!

Mahalo for your bleadership, ongoing dialogue, and email threads - stirring the reduction of blog. 


  1. Listening: a trait worth cultivating, a skill worth developing. Listeners--true listeners--(IMHO)are a rare breed. People who talk too much often have no one to listen.

    Goes hand in hand with speaking your heart. Because, if I talk to you, I need to know you will listen until the end, non-judgementally, without trying to fix me.

    I'm surrounded by people, adults and children, whose psyche scream "hear me." Oh, and it's good to ask, "Do you want my opinion?" before offering it.

    You are fine just as you are, my friend. Completeness (is that a word?) doesn't depend on a man in your life. It's about having God in your life. The word Shalom, comes to mind. Not just peace, but wholeness. Let the shalom of God rule in your heart. Col. 3:15.