Love or desire: what’s more important?

A week or so ago, my bestie sent me an email with the subject heading, “cool relationship Ted Talk” and the respective link. It took me a while to open it because, quite frankly, D and I weren’t having any problems at the moment and truth be told, that’s the only time I like to read stuff on relationships, when there’s a problem. But after butting heads with my beloved the other night–he wanted to watch Game of Thrones in bed while I was trying to read Mrs. Fletcher, and so I told him to at least put headphone in. He got out of bed, exasperated, and said he was going in the other room where he could watch in peace. Fine. I huffed, threw down my book, and clicked the link, The secret to desire in a long-term relationship.

It was Esther Perel who was talking about the stuff I’ve been yammering about for years–the strange dichotomy between love and desire and how demanding we humans are of both. From the same person. For forever. She said that while we wish for the stability, safety, comfort and reassurance of love, we also wish for equal amounts of desire, adventure, passion, transgression, longing and the forbidden. The two don’t seem to go hand and hand, and yet, we expect them from the same person.

But how does this apply to love addicts? When I think of “us” and what we say we want versus the actions we actually take and the people we actually end up in relationships with, it does seem we’re stuck between the two–love and desire–but rather, clearly preferring desire over love. What? How can that be? We’re not called desire addicts, after all. But, here me out. On the one hand we say we want love, stability, permanence, safety and security. On the other, our actions scream out that our main goal is desire. We date the bad boy who brings us to a world of the forbidden. We get locked into relationships with avoidants who drive us crazy with longing. We settle for sex more often than not. And we become obsessed with desire for partners who are unavailable and/or incapable of loving of us. We don’t want love, after all. In fact, it became quite clear to me that we are settling for the cheaper of the two (desire), by placing it higher on our wish list, relegating love to the back burner.  If given a choice between want (desire) and need (love) we may say we want love, but we clearly go after the other. Right or wrong, it’s simply a matter of how we prioritize the two.

At any rate, that video led me to her website, which ultimately led to a lot of great articles on relationships, one of which was “relationship accountability” and how people tend to try and exit relationships. I read through the ways in which we do this: ghosting, icing, simmering and, the ideal, power parting. But then I noticed the responses to each form of break up. I was fascinated!

If you take a look at the boxes, Ghosting, for example, and then follow down to “What it is for you” (You cannot face the pain you will inflict, so you make it invisible to yourself by disappearing), then “Typical Text” (**crickets**) and then “What it does for/to the recipient” (short term emotional chaos, mid-term confusion and doubt, long term resentment) you will notice that the farther right on the chart the healthier the response. AND YET, love addicts fail under all these scenarios. Even when you have a partner who can end a relationship very clearly in “language that cannot be misinterpreted” a love addict tends not to have clarity and resolution. In fact the same applies across the board to love addicts. Any form of break up elicits the same response: short term emotional chaos, mid-term confusion and doubt, long term resentment.

That got me thinking. Perhaps if we know the response we’re suppose to give, based on the type of rejection we get (based on this handy ‘lil chart) we can direct our emotions and our actions in a healthier direction. If I know that my partner is breaking up with me in a healthy way, I know that I should and must try to have a healthy response to that. If my partner “power parts” with me, I know it’s over. And, if my partner ghosts me, I also know it’s over, but I know that I have a right to be confused and angry. Whereas if I am  the recipient of a very clear break up, spoken to me in language I cannot misinterpret, then I know I have a right to be hurt, but that my partner was kind enough not to leave me in a state of ambiguity. Make sense?

So, this blog is a plug for Ms. Perel. Read her stuff. Watch her Ted Talk. And dear Lord, listen to her podcast Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel which delves into actual couples’ therapy sessions.  And, by all means, comment here and share your own experience.

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