For Passion’s Sake Separating Self from the Other–Esther Perel on “Mating in Captivity”

Esther Perel, rooting out the cause of sexual boredom in marrieds in her essay entitled “Mating in Captivity”(http://www.powells.com/essays/perel.html) directs married couples to rebel, to actively challenge fear in order to balance desire against love and thus recharge their sex lives. She challenges each to see the “other” in their partners.

She begins her article defining the problem, “the dilemmas of desire”, long term married couples experience, when passion, and thus sex, is murdered by the inherent contradictory needs and conceptions of love versus desire. She says, “couples around the world are chasing the desire dragon” trying to keep desire alive, which takes reconciling the need for security and familiarity with the need for newness and separateness. She affirms, “To sustain desire toward the other, there must be an element of separateness,” a creation of space that requires each of the couple to let go of, or at least suspend, fear. It takes foregoing the security of familiarity and sameness and the conception of love as sweetness and intimacy, and allowing the “mystery” in the other to flourish by seeing his or her otherness. The recognition and appreciation of otherness incites eroticism. That takes distance–scary.

Most people’s conceptions about love are based on “reciprocity” while desire is more “selfish”, and passion, in long term marriage, is traded for security, leading to boredom, both of which–passion and security–Perel says, are illusions. Of course, she advocates in the end devoted time for sex, even planned, and invites fantasy and rebellion as a mindset for charging up the mental loins. She ends with a cleverly conceived concluding conception: “Like the child who jumps off a mother’s comfortable lap, running off to discover and explore, before returning to the safety of home base, we adults continuously seek to balance our contradictory needs for connection and freedom, comfort and fear, the grown-up version of hide and seek.”

The draw of this essay is not so much the novelty of the information or advocacy to give up the illusion of the oneness of couples and to be brave enough to realize that we are all essentially, in the words of Brian Doyle in “Joyas Voladares”, “alone in the house of the heart”, but in the writing of the essay. She has an ease in her prose that comforts the reader, creating lovely imagistic analogies to convey the essence of her message, one like her last simile of the child running from the mother’s lap. She uses discreet bits of well-turned phrases to illuminate the more poignant points. I especially enjoyed this passage:

These elements we seek, the ones that combined, light the flame of eroticism, exist and thrive in a space I think of as otherness. The best intimacy is the one that respects this otherness. Individuality and difference are accentuated, and you actually see the other person as a separate being. As expressed by the great narrator, Proust, ‘The true voyage of discovery is not about discovering new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.’ In those moments we stand on opposite ends of this space we see each other with new eyes. Our separateness is what allows for risk, vulnerability, and erotic charge of the unknown.

Standing on opposite ends of a space and “the erotic charge of the unknown” are two notions and phrasing that made me sigh in contentment upon concluding this piece. She takes what could be cliche’d psychological dicta–give each other space–and infuses a phenomenological dimension to the psychological.

The general patterns of behavior are underscored in this essay–we tend to meld into and conflate our spouses with ourselves–but individual perception is put in relief, something I call the gaze, in a more general and not historical-theoretical context.

Walking through daily life, people depend upon their anonymity and interior-absorbed space. They walk through streets in the anonymity of a crowd, invisible, thinking of where they have to go and what they have to do. It is only when someone recognizes the walker/thinker and calls her name or looks in her eyes with an i-know-you look that the comfort of the invisible world of thought and “self” is shattered. The reverie is interrupted and the self is pulled from her space into the world of another, into the community.

We forget about this general condition and comfort of lone self when we dive into marriage or any relationship to escape what some mistake for loneliness, most probably due to the fear of that conception–loneliness–or an angst about one’s own self worth. Am I doomed to be trapped in my mind, with my thoughts? Me? To zoom in, when the lover is in the gaze of her other, this separateness is capitalized. It is a nanosecond recognition that she is an object–of desire–a body, a repository of fantasy and fluid, a separateness, as Perel serenely states. She is seen. Maybe not as she “truly” is but as a strangeness that comes from not being a part of the self, like seeing one’s hand floating in space, disconnected from its arm. That space allows for possibility–what can I do to or with this other?–because this other is not me, doesn’t think like me, or fear like me. What does she want/like? The gaze turns the trite plea for space, I just need some space, to the reality: we are each alone in this world, and that is fucking hot!

Two Johns

Sex as mystifying exploration, conquest, delight and wonderment in the body, and women (mistresses, Mayer’s room-getting lover, presumably female?) as the object of desire, objectified, as displayed in these two writings, one from the 16th Century and one from the 21st, displays the fascination and abnegation of the object of the gaze, at once giving the object presence (Donne’s specific articles of clothing that immortalize his mistress in the words of his poem) and absence, woman/desire as concept, the object of desire without face, language or representation, just catalyst for desire, erection and egocentric absorption (Mayer’s “one thing left to do, discover me discovering you.”

To His Mistress Going to Bed
BY JOHN DONNE
Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

Your Body is a Wonderland by John Mayer

We got the afternoon
You got this room for two
One thing I’ve left to do
Discover me
Discovering you

One mile to every inch of
Your skin like porcelain
One pair of candy lips and
Your bubblegum tongue

And if you want love
We’ll make it
Swim in a deep sea
Of blankets
Take all your big plans
And break ’em
This is bound to be a while

Your body is a wonderland
Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonderland

Something ’bout the way the hair falls in your face
I love the shape you take when crawling towards the pillowcase
You tell me where to go and though I might leave to find it
I’ll never let your head hit the bed without my hand behind it

you want love?
We’ll make it
Swim in a deep sea
Of blankets
Take all your big plans
And break ’em
This is bound to be a while

Your body is a wonderland
Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonderland
(I’ll never speak again… I’ll use my hands)

Damn baby
You frustrate me
I know you’re mine, all mine, all mine
But you look so good it hurts sometimes

Your body is a wonderland
(I’ll never speak again… I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonderland
(I’ll never speak again… I’ll use my hands)
Your body is a wonderland

Mecoptera Marxist Mistress (Sex as Commerce)

image

“Food items such as caterpillars, bugs, and flies are offered to be eaten during copulation. The female is first attracted by a pheromone emitted by one or more vesicles or pouches at the end of the male’s abdomen. When the female is near, the vesicles are retracted. The female examines the offering while the male searches for her genitalia with his own. If the gift is rejected, the female flies away. If the gift is accepted, the genitalia of the male couples with that of the female, who lowers herself until she is hanging upside down. She consumes the offering during copulation. The male supports the female by holding her legs or the prey. Field observations show that both sexes mate several times per day. Small or unacceptable offerings result in no or a very short copulation time. Duration depends on the size of the gift. It has been observed that prey 3 to 14 mm long will provide 1 to 17 minutes of copulation in Hylobittacus apicalis. Larger H. apicalis give prey the size of houseflies in return for 20 to 29 minutes of copulation. This results in a maximum sperm transfer, increased oviposition, and a refractory period.” en.m.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Mecoptera

Three and Four

There are three who see me one who has not.
Four lovelorn in glee and sorrow share my lot.
One eyes me in the morning when I awaken.
Another looks to me for lunch time after ten.
Then there is high tea time tender one at four.
But one who meets me in darkness sees more.

Four who wonder where I have been stay true.
Three high limbs of the tree to share the view.
All have always been there prying at the door.
While none stay they sail from bay to shore.
Though two have left for lands far to the north.
Only one dims the light house and sees more.

There are three who bring me corpses to eat.
Four gallant greys who dance me complete.
No others can stand in none take their place.
For there are three to widen my arms’ embrace.
False lovers true friends there are three not four.
Yet one in blind reflective eyes I see me more.