Hey Friends,

The great humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm once wrote :

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love,” 

One of the chief reasons responsible for the failure of this supreme human aspiration is our unwillingness to accept the paradoxes of love. Paradoxes like the necessity of frustration in romantic satisfaction and the seemingly irreconcilable notion that while love longs for closeness, desire thrives on distance.

How to live with those paradoxes,

I was exploring the work of Esther Perel in her work  Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Esther Perel offers an illuminating and consolatory perspective on intimate relationships and our conflicting needs for security and freedom, warmth and wildness. One thing which pops up quite evidently is that rather than succumbing to the self-defeating urge to treat them as problems to be solved, treat them as a glue essential for higher emotional satisfaction.

Love is at once an affirmation and a transcendence of who we are. Beginnings are always ripe with possibilities, for they hold the promise of completion. Through love we imagine a new way of being.

Esther Perel

In this imaginative act, we project ourselves into a fantasy of who we can be to and with the other. But as the encounter evolves from the fantasy of an idealized romance to the reality of an actual relationship, the projection begins to dim. The trouble for many couples or partners in love is in sustaining the desire fueled by the initial fantasy while settling into the comfortable intimacy of a real relationship.

If love is an act of imagination, then intimacy is an act of fruition. It waits for the high to subside so it can patiently insert itself into the relationship. The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again, and so create a community of two.

How the paradox of intimacy and desire begins

As couples or partners grows emotionally intimate through this repetition, which furnishes the building blocks of trust and security, desire begins to diminish. There is a complex relationship between love and desire, and it is not a cause-and-effect, linear arrangement. A couple’s emotional life together and their physical life together each have their ebbs and flows, their ups and downs, but these don’t always correspond. what is to be kept in mind is that they intersect, they influence each other, but they’re also distinct.

Echoing l that the most satisfying relationships are between two people who have made spaces in their togetherness, she adds:

It is too easily assumed that problems with physical intimacy are the result of a lack of closeness. But … perhaps the way we construct closeness reduces the sense of freedom and autonomy needed for biological pleasure. When intimacy collapses into fusion, it is not a lack of closeness but too much closeness that impedes desire.

Kahlil Gibran

Love rests on two pillars

It’s Surrender and Autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. One does not exist without the other. The inevitable dichotomy is that with too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, and no other internal world to enter. When people become fused or when two become one sadly connection may no longer happen. There is no one to connect with in your world of curiosity. Thus providing space in form of separateness is a precondition for connection. This is the essential paradox of intimacy and biological pleasures.

Just to quote a snippet from the work of Esther Perel. She says:

The intense physical and emotional fusion [for new lovers or partners] experience is possible only with someone we don’t yet know. At this early stage merging and surrendering are relatively safe, because the boundaries between the two people are still externally defined. The partners and lovers are new to each other. And while they are migrating into each other’s respective worlds, they have not yet taken full residence; they are still two distinct entities. It is all the space between them that allows them to imagine no space at all…

In the beginning, you can focus on the connection because the psychological distance is already there; it’s a part of the structure. Otherness is a fact. You don’t need to cultivate separateness in the early stages of falling in love; you still are separate. You aim to overcome that separateness. But as we bridge the separateness, we shorten and eventually annihilate the distance between two selves that makes one desireable to the other.

The caring, protective elements that nurture home life can go against the rebellious spirit of carnal love. We often choose a partner who makes us feel cherished but after the initial romance, we find its intensity fades away. We long to create closeness in our relationships, to bridge the space between our partner and ourselves, but, ironically, it is this very space between self and other that is the erotic synapse (essential for neurotransmission in the brain). In order to bring lust home, we need to re-create the distance that we worked so hard to bridge.

Erotic intelligence is about creating distance sensibly and then bringing that space to life.

Creating psychological distance within the comfort of closeness is essential for sustaining desire in a loving relationship. In our efforts to establish intimacy, we often seek to eliminate otherness, thereby precluding the space necessary for the desire to flourish. In our mutual intimacy, we make love, we have children, and we share physical space and interests. Indeed, we blend the essential parts of our lives. But “essential” does not mean “all.”

Personal intimacy demarcates a private zone and it requires tolerance and respect. It is a space which is physical, emotional and intellectual that belongs to us individually. Not everything needs to be revealed. Everyone should cultivate a secret garden. It is an art of acquired skill which begins in treating love and desire not as a dissonant opposition but as a symphonic composition of counterpoints:

Art by Emily Hughes from The Little Gardener
Love enjoys knowing everything about you whereas desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between two people whereas desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, biological excitements dies by mere repetition. Desire thrives on the mysteriousness, the nove and the unexpectedness.

Love is about having desire is about wanting. An expression of longing or desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.

Take good care & enjoy reading your dose of cerebral happiness.


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Main Image Credit: Photo by Azrul Aziz on Unsplash

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