If anyone’s bullshit ever deserved to be fed through the patented Universal Bullshit Translator (or a chipper shredder… or left at the bottom of a radioactive well) it’s Esther “Affairs Make You Feel Alive!” Perel.
Perel, as you’ll recall, wrote “Mating in Captivity.” The title alone gives you an idea about Perel’s notions of marriage. Who mates in captivity? Zoo animals! Poor wild animals, caged, far away from their natural habitat. Forced into an unnatural domesticity, having to mate in strange, artificial surroundings, making the best of it. Really they would rather cavort across the veldt, eat a wildebeest, fuck, and have a nap. But no, alas, they’ve been captured, poor things.
Which is so very like marriage, which you enter into voluntarily, with full agency, and can escape at any time with a divorce decree.
But whatevers. The woman makes me want to scream.
So why would I get my bowels in an uproar and write yet another post about this barmy Belgian? Because she harshed my buzz. I was reading a really nice article on what makes a good marriage by Business Insider “Lasting Relationships Rely on 2 Traits” (kindness and generosity) — and tacked at the end was a video entitled “Why People Are Unfaithful” starring Esther Perel.
Talk about the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. Don’t dwell on what a happy relationship looks like, let’s switch the topic to INFIDELITY!
You’d think, quite naturally, the argument might be that people who cheat on you are neither kind nor generous partners.
Wrong answer, chumps!
Perel says — I shit you not! — that “affairs are a type of reconciliation between security and adventure.” Affairs are about “feeling alive.” “Most affairs are love stories of some sort.”
George Orwell wants 1984 back, Esther.
It’s the same old nonsense I’ve responded to before on this blog. Perel acts as if it’s some kind of huge revelation that people eat cake. Did you know that people in happy marriages cheat? She makes cake seem noble — why the poor sausages are having an existential crisis.
In an interview with Slate, Perel states:
Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.
What sort of person would that be, Esther? A caged animal? A domesticated drudge? How could we begrudge a person for wanting to cast off the shackles of monogamy and star in a love story? They just want to feel more ALIVE!
Which rather implies that their partner is, well, not as alive, not as sparkly as they could be. Cheaters are dreamers, over achievers, people who just aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Notice Perel speaks in “we” statements. Clearly she’s in the cool kid camp. You don’t hear her saying “we” when it comes to the chumped. Oh, the betrayed. They’re hurt. Chumps stand in contrast to the ALIVENESS and zest of people in affairs.
Perel: That’s the one word I hear, worldwide—alive! That’s why an affair is such an erotic experience. It’s not about sex, it’s about desire, about attention, about reconnecting with parts of oneself you lost or you never knew existed. It’s about longing and loss. But the American discourse is framed entirely around betrayal and trauma.
We’re such black and white thinkers in the States. So provincial. I guess it’s just North American backasswardness to get upset when your spouse is fucking other people. Yeah… that never happens in Europe.
Wonder why she doesn’t practice over there.
Oh, probably because you can’t swan about as one of the “world’s most original and insightful voices on personal and professional relationships” with a masters in art therapy from a third-tier teachers college. Europeans probably expect actual credentials.
Slate: Do most therapists understand this about affairs?
Perel: Therapists are the worst! They too think something must be wrong for a person to have an affair. Also most therapists in America will not work with secrets. Their attitude is, don’t tell me anything I can’t speak about with your partner. Either you end it or you tell your partner. So half of the time, people lie to the therapist and to the partner. And is it always the best thing to tell? Or can we examine that, rather than live with a blanket policy of which the therapist doesn’t have to live with the consequences.
Slate: So the cheating partner shouldn’t tell?
Perel: In America, lying can never be an act of caring. We find it hard to accept that lying would be protective, this is an unexamined idea. In some countries, not telling, or a certain opaqueness, is an act of respect. Also, maybe the opposite of transparency isn’t intimacy, it’s aggression. People sometimes tell for their own good, as an act of aggression.
Yeah, so let’s recap. Affairs make you feel alive. We shouldn’t talk about victims and perpetrators, or frame the discourse around betrayal and trauma. Cheaters are entitled to their secrets and privacy. But don’t accuse Esther of being in favor of infidelity! Heavens NO!
Slate: Do people see you as condoning cheating?
Perel: I make a distinction between cheating and non-monogamy. Cheating is about a violation of a contract. People misunderstand me because they think I’m saying affairs are OK. No! But I do think examining monogamy is our next frontier.
Cheating is about violation of a contract? This isn’t about subletting an apartment in violation of your lease — it’s about ABUSE. Yeah, I can’t believe people misunderstand you, Esther. You make cheating sound so terrible when you talk about how invigorating it is and it shouldn’t be demonized or seen as a reflection of a person’s character. Heck, cheaters shouldn’t have to talk about it at all! To their spouse OR their shrink!
No, no one could ever accuse Esther Perel of being a cheater apologist.
She’s just exploring a new frontier.
And you’ll be happy to know, she’s training shrinks to stop getting so hung up about infidelity too!
Watch Esther appropriate a line from Alexander Dumas (and fail to credit him). “The bonds of wedlock are so heavy it sometimes takes three to carry.” Hahahahha!
That wasn’t enough mindfuckery for you?
Here Esther addresses the same bunch of shrinks on secrets.
“There is no distinction or so between the concept of fidelity and sexual exclusiveness! As if they’re one and the same!”
Listen to the shrinks in the Amen corner there go “Right!”
Clearly Esther wasn’t an English major.
She goes on to bludgeon the meaning of privacy and secrecy as well. See if you can get through all five minutes without your head exploding.
The bullshit translator is tiring. So. Much. Crap. Shall we attack cheating as a feminist act of self actualization? Secrecy about affairs being a GOOD thing? The trivialization of intimacy? The offensive idea that people can be loyal to us (“fidelity”) but still fuck around on us? Silly chump, making a DISTINCTION!
I could spend WEEKS untangling Esther’s skein, putting every offensive notion through the bullshit translator and I seriously considered it. But why when I could be vacuuming my car floor mats, or cleaning up cat puke, or sending sparkly red shoes to orphans — doing most anything more improving than watching another Esther Perel video.
Besides, she’s no threat to chumps. Esther doesn’t think affairs are okay.
We misunderstand her.
* A huge shout out to The New Elizabeth for creating this graphic. So awesome!