Desire and Marriage: A Paradox?

800px-Small_Red_RoseMy friend sent me a text at midnight: I need therapy. She’d just had dinner with a couple that have been dating for three months. She’s been married for twenty-five years.

My husband doesn’t look at me like that. We have to discuss this. Why doesn’t my husband look at me like that?

Laughing so hard I thought my stitches would pop, I wrote: I just sent my husband to buy me stool softener. Maybe that’s why.

(In thirty years of marriage I’ve never asked this of my husband but post-surgery...)

Anyway, isn’t that the point? When you live with someone, share a life with someone, a real life, can there be mystery?

My final text before going to sleep was, You can’t compare three months of dating to twenty-five years of marriage.

But I woke thinking about this.

According to Ester Perel, a NYC therapist and best-selling author of Mating in Captivity, “Desire needs distance, freedom, dream, mystery. It is that very freedom that allows us to maintain desire that also has the risk to separate us. The freedom posits risks but without freedom we don’t maintain the intensity of desire.”

It seems impossible to have distance, freedom and mystery in an intimate long-term relationship. But Perel writes, “Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem we can solve; it is a paradox we manage.”

There is a well-known cartoon by Sam Gross that was printed in the New Yorker. Two snails are talking. They are staring at a scotch tape dispenser and one snail says to the other, “ I don’t care if she is a scotch tape dispenser. I love her.”

The shapes of these things appear the same but what else is known? This is what we do in the beginning of a relationship. We see some things and we conjure up the rest; part fantasy, part denial. And the distance and mystery stokes yearning.

Ester Perel asks an important question in regards to her work on desire.

Can we want what we already have?