What is the most damaging misconception about love?
This mandate of “the one and only.” Anybody who has lost someone knows that you can fall in love again. In the same way that we can love more than one child, we can love more than one person. After we mourn, and we grieve, there will be another person. And it will never be the same—it will be something else—but there isn’t one person only.
What about sex?
This kind of “swept away, suddenly I’m into it” spontaneity is an amazing myth. Committed sex is premeditated sex: It’s willful, it’s intentional, it’s highly planned. If you wait for it to just happen, it won’t. When you want to play tennis, you need to get your racket and ball, you need to reserve your court and you need to call somebody to play with. Nobody challenges the ritual of the preparation and the warm-up. Nobody suddenly just finds themselves on a court.
How do you reconcile differing sex drives in a relationship?
You don’t know if it’s biological, hormonal, if there’s a physiological component, if it’s the context of life (“I’m exhausted, I have three young children”), if it’s resentment (“You’re not helping me”), if you’re a selfish lover (“Last time you didn’t ask me what I liked, of course I’m not interested”), if it’s because they don’t like their body therefore they have negative anticipation. Or if there are issues around lack of entitlement and the ability to be given to, to feel worthy of receiving, to experience pleasure. Discrepancy of desire is a symptom and, like every symptom, to understand it you have to look at the chronic condition. The chronic condition is: How do I relate to myself, how do I relate to you and how do we relate to each other?
If a couple wants to share their erotic thoughts, how do they open that conversation?
A sexual fantasy articulates our deepest emotional needs that we bring to sex. That’s the most important thing to understand: They are emotional scripts played out in the language of sex. I want to be ravished, I want to be irresistible, I want somebody who never says no to me. Or I want somebody who says “No, no, no” and finally says “Yes,” meaning I am somebody who is able to change your mind, I am able to feel so powerful, so heroic. Every fantasy can pretty much be translated—it’s like an architecture of psychological details.
The erotic mind knows very well to detect censorship and judgment and if it feels misunderstood, it just will stay in hiding. It won’t say, “I like this,” because it knows you will say, “Ugh.” Some couples are able to share their erotic imaginations and erotic musings with each other. And with others, they don’t. They go through a set of motions but they don’t share an inner experience, which is the difference between sex and eroticism. The erotic is what gives meaning to sex; it’s the poetics of it.
Are there ways to maintain desire for your partner even as you’re going through all the demands of life together?
People need to understand that desire is not the only door through which you enter into a sexual interaction with your partner. Erotic couples understand that sometimes it’s maintenance, sometimes it’s beautiful high-production, sometimes it’s arousal, sometimes its willingness and sometimes it’s desire. You don’t always get turned on just because you’re looking at your partner; your own awakening takes place in multiple different things that have to do with your fantasy life and curiosity. And you remain responsive. This is very important—it’s why I say spontaneity is a myth. You get turned on by being responsive to someone who comes toward you. You don’t have to be turned on before they’ve even started. You basically experience a responsiveness and, through the responsiveness, your desire and your arousal follow.
That’s particularly important for women to understand because the idea is that if you don’t initiate, you’re not in the mood. Moods come. “I’m not hungry, but I saw you eat—and I’m sitting next to you and it smells really nice so I take a taste, but I’m not really hungry and I say I’m not hungry, but at the same time I’m tasting it, and then I take a little plate, and then I take a bigger piece.” It’s that willingness to enter into a much more ambiguous zone, rather than yea or nay, I’m in the mood or I’m not in the mood.
You’ve challenged the belief that only unhappy people cheat by suggesting that an affair can be about recapturing a lost part of ourselves. Can you tell me more?
Sometimes people realize that for the last 15 years all they’ve done is be parents and take care of the kids and they kind of just say, “This is the first time I can do something for myself and I don’t know how to do this in the context of my family.” These are not philanderers, these are not cheaters—these are people who are dealing with a sense of loss of who they once were, of what they once experienced, of what they hoped they could feel again. And they don’t see home as a place for that.
Sometimes they are looking for that thing because there is a person next to them who has been basically unresponsive. They stand next to them, and lie next to them, and that person is just not responding. How many more years do they live like this? They just want to be touched, loved, kissed, adored, made love to, you name it. We’re not talking about two months—we’re talking about decades. Decades of sexual deserts. I think we have to understand the loneliness that people experience. It’s not just that they’re horny, it’s way deeper. Erotic deadness is not just about not having sex. It’s the loss of a whole dimension of oneself.
Is it possible to have a rewarding relationship without sex?
For some people, sex is not really the place where they express themselves. It’s not interesting to them. As long as both people are okay with it, then they have a perfectly rich relationship. I do think touch matters, though. Physicality matters, physical intimacy matters, but it doesn’t always have to be sexual physical intimacy.