…or – What is the key to long-lasting love and desire vs. infatuation and being in love? The title question is one of the deep inquiries into human nature posed by the well-known Belgian psychotherapist, a very insightful lady specializing in sex and relationships, Esther Perel.
The thing is that partners for life (if you’re so inclined) are not to be found but chosen. We can love many different people, even those who are completely wrong for us or those who are completely right for us but we are not ready yet. Monogamy is a choice. Nature doesn’t care if you stay with a partner, as long as you reproduce. Continuation of a species is its primary concern. Once you’ve raised the kid enough so that it is not helpless, you’re free to go your separate ways. Monogamy is a lifelong practice and feelings of love are just one of its pillars. Sure love is a part of it but you don’t choose only who you love, but the one who you can build a life with. There might be someone better for you out there and there most certainly is but the situation is not viable for building together. You may feel drawn erotically towards someone with completely different values and visions of the world or none of your plans and desires align. Love doesn’t conquer everything. Blind infatuation conquers everything… for a while, until it fades holding space for the real deep love that may or may not take its place.
But how do we keep desire alive? How do we keep on wanting what we already “have”? Desire is predicated upon something completely opposite to love – on “want” while love satisfies the impulse to be close to somebody and to “have” them. Being too close all the time often kills the desire as our lover becomes too familiar and known. Desire is born in the balancing of closeness and space. Space is necessary, recognizing the distance and the need for separateness and alone time, for the other to follow their own passions that will not always include you. We desire our partners most, no matter how long we’ve been together, when we see them with fresh eyes – when we see them step out of “we” and be fully present in something they do well and enjoy themselves in, when we see them through the eyes of others which are taken by their charm, wit, beauty, skill… when we see them thrive in what is meaningful to them, even if we have absolutely no interest in the subject. We desire them when they don’t need us in that moment… but they want us. The “I want you” is born from recognizing your partner as separate from your fusion, as someone that offers the unfamiliar together with the comfortable familiarity and closeness, someone who shows you that there is always more to discover. This is excitement and novelty on the fundament of security and safety. So it is about the balance of the two. One is not more important than the other and the desire here is not only sexual and erotic. It is a deeper desire, being to the other as they radiate in the confidence of enjoying their life. There is no amount of makeup and games that can substitute the attraction of confidence, when you can be proud of having
each other. Not having as possessing, as we can never own another and they are free to leave, but to have a person complete in themselves as your partner. Desire has nothing to do with neediness but with curiosity. The moment we stop being curious about a partner, about wanting to know what they think of a subject, how they feel, what they want to accomplish, we start losing the spark. We may still love equally, but it becomes more of a platonic kind of thing or more loyalty than desire.
Being together is beautiful and you may find great joy in it but time apart is equally important. It gives us time to realign with ourselves as individuals outside of the pair bond. Absence allows us to recalibrate the meaning of another as we miss them and yearn for closeness. Being constantly velcroed together might lead to an unhealthy codependency. If your partner’s love has a condition that you’re always available to them, that should be a red flag. You are together but you are not the same, you need to be reminded who you are outside of the togetherness to be able to be a better you in the relationship.
Admit it – you are never as drawn to your partner as when they are thriving in something that has nothing to do with you. The space between closeness and separateness is the one perpetuating the desire and you already know this experientially. Love each other but understand that they are their own person with more layers to be discovered. That’s hot.