We all share a fundamental need for security, which propels us toward committed relationships in the first place; but we have an equally strong need for adventure and excitement. Modern romance promises that it’s possible to meet these two distinct sets of needs in one place.
Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relations to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling…. Marriage used to be primarily a matter of economic sustenance, and it was a partnership for life. Matting today is a free choice enterprise, and commitments are built on love. Intimacy has shifted from being a by product of long-term relationships to being a mandate for one.
-Mating in Captivity pg. 39
I’ve always found the whole notion of soul mates to be an interesting topic. But let’s put aside all other divergent on this subject and just focus on the demand on communication for connection between two individuals.
If you take a trip down history lane, you’ll realize that initially, monogamy was an externally imposed system of control over women’s reproduction; fidelity was about lineage and property.* As far as the patriarchal society was considered, fidelity had nothing to do with love; but today it has everything to do with ‘love.’ Fidelity is not defined by sexual exclusivity, but by the strength of the emotional commitment.* In the west, emotional fidelity to your partner is a marker of respect, and respect is bound with honesty. Hiding the truth, lying, etc. all these are are indications of disrespect. The act of cheating isn’t as much the issue, but rather that fact that you chose to hide it from your beloved is considered empirically unethical.
Why? Why is ‘not telling me the truth’ such a devastating act of betrayal in a committed relationship?
Because modern intimacy has been redefined. Today, we think of intimacy as a discursive process, one that involves self-disclosures; the trustful sharing of our most personal and private materials- our feelings and we expect our sharing to be reciprocated.* Wow. Now isn’t that demanding: talk to me about your feelings…be vulnerable with me- yuhuh.. way easier said than done.
To be completely honest, women are quite responsible for the emergence of this modern intimacy, with its emphasis on speech.* As women became more economically independent, they were no longer financially bound to their husbands, nor socially obligated to endure an unhappy union, so, they began to expect more from marriage.* Much ink has been spilled to explain women’s superior verbal ability in the emotional arena, but for our purposes, suffice it to say that centuries of limited access to power has made us experts in relationship-building.*
But this “talk intimacy” take on connection leaves many men at a loss; they suffer from a chronic intimacy deficiency that needs ongoing repair.* If you think about it, much of masculine identity is predicated on self-control and invulnerability. Hmm.. so now what? Socially speaking, men really are at a disadvantage with this new intimacy model. So then I suppose it’s a really good thing that there are multiple love languages.
The key is in realizing that ‘talk intimacy’ is only one of the love language; nonverbal communication like doing nice things for each other, making attentive gestures, etc. are all avenues of intimacy and should be regarded with equal stature as ‘opening up’.
But do you know whats the real kicker? What makes for good intimacy doesn’t make for good sex.
Ok, love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy.* With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals… aka there is nothing novel left to uncover and explore about your partner. When people become fused -when two become one- connection can no longer happen. Separateness is a precondition for connection: this is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.*
Well where does this leave us? Right back were we started: we desire both familiarity and the thrill of the foreign. We want to know all the details of our lover, yet we want to be surprised and charmed by their uniqueness. So what’s the secret to an intimate yet erotically charged life with our loved one? Developing the ability to tolerate a little bit of separateness. This simple act is the precondition for maintaining interest and desire in a relationship.* Instead for always striving for closeness, learn to cultivate your own self.
And who knows, maybe in the process of establishing your self-hood and encouraging your lover to do the same, you both create a space where love always feels like a cosmic crescendo of two passionate souls.
My inspiration to synthesize this piece came from my reading of Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity
*Quotes from Mating in Captivity