I discovered Esther Perel a few years ago through a TED Talk.
She spoke about relationships and examined why people cheat. But it wasn’t just any TED Talk—it was more like an awakening. Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist and author, has left her mark on me. I ended up reading her books, saving her podcasts, and coming back to them every now and then.
I started reading The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity about three years ago, and I still haven’t finished it—only because I don’t want to. Every single page holds insurmountable wisdom and information. I would spend many days and nights reflecting on an idea or a particular discovery.
Perel has revisited modern relationships and given them a new meaning. She discusses marriage, infidelity, love, and monogamy like nobody else. Her ideas are new, rational, and sometimes shocking. To read and accept them, one must be brave.
Perel was the first to tell us that having an affair doesn’t mean the end of a relationship. And having an affair doesn’t always mean there’s something missing in the relationship—it means there’s something missing within us. She puts it like this:
“We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.”
In a world that associates cheating with endings, Perel shatters our inherited perceptions and tells us that cheating could serve as a window to something totally different and new.
After years of reading and watching Perel, I wholeheartedly believe that we need a certain level of openness and readiness to welcome her ideas.
Here’s a glimpse of what Perel has in store for everyone who has ever been in a relationship:
“Divorce happens now not because we are unhappy, but because we could be happier.”
“Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it isn’t our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves.”
“There is never ‘the one.’ There is a one that you choose and with whom you decide that you want to build something. But in my opinion, there could also have been others.”
“The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours. In truth, their separateness is unassailable, and their mystery is forever ungraspable. As soon as we can begin to acknowledge this, sustained desire becomes a real possibility.”
“However authentic the feelings of love, the dalliance was only ever meant to be a beautiful fiction.”
“When we select a partner, we commit to a story, yet we remain forever curious. What other stories could we have been part of? Affairs offer us a window into those other lives, a peek at the stranger within. Adultery is often the revenge of the deserted possibilities.”
“Until now monogamy has been the default setting, and it sits on the premise (however unrealistic) that if you truly love, you should no longer be attracted to others.”
“Sex is about where you can take me, not what you can do to me.”
“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 relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
“But one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity. For these seekers, infidelity is less likely to be a symptom of a problem, and is more often described as an expansive experience that involves growth, exploration, and transformation.”
“Monogamy used to mean one person for life. Now monogamy means one person at a time.”
“Our partners do not belong to us; they are only on loan, with an option to renew—or not. Knowing that we can lose them does not have to undermine commitment; rather, it mandates an active engagement that long-term couples often lose. The realization that our loved ones are forever elusive should jolt us out of complacency, in the most positive sense.”
“It’s hard to experience desire when you’re weighted down by concern.”
“If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.”
“Acceptance doesn’t mean predictability. Sex isn’t always for 11 at night—it’s also ‘meet at a hotel room at noon.’ What you feel during dating can exist at home, if you don’t suffocate it.”