[Two Pronged] Can love and desire coexist?
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer:
My girlfriend "Shelly" and I have been together for 3 years. At first, the sex was good. Not fantastic, but good enough. But it got boring after a year. I love my girlfriend and she was very cooperative in trying to spice up our sex life by suggesting new positions, new places to make love, talking dirty during the act, but after the initial session incorporating these suggestions, the sex went back to ordinary.
They say even eating steak every day can be tiring. You have to have hamburger every once in a while to appreciate the steak you have at home even more.
I appreciate my girlfriend and love her so much. I do not want us to break up just because our sex life is boring. We have tried many things but the end result is still the same.
Marriage counselors keep saying that sex is not the most important thing in a relationship. We have had at least two counselors who have told us that when I explained how sex with my girlfriend is good but sometimes I look for something more. More in the sense of more excitement, more pleasure, more willingness to make the act longer. Not even better sex.
Shelly has no complaints about our sex life. She always says I am the best she ever had. Her boyfriend before me was the one who devirginized her, but they only had sex 3 times. I want to marry Shelly after I finish my MBA. I sometimes lose my erections when with her, even in the beginning. This has never happened before.
Shelly also says she does not want to have sex with anyone else after me. I do not feel that way about her. Is it okay to get married but sometimes (once or twice a year) I have sex with someone else? She will never know about it. I do not want to hurt her. I love her. Please guide me.
Thank you for your email.
I would initially like to refer to the views of the Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel who argues that this is the first time in our history that we are trying to experience sexuality in the long term not because we want 14 children and not because it is exclusively a woman's marital duty. This is the first time that we want sex over time for pleasure and connection that is rooted in desire.
What sustains desire? Sustaining desire in a committed relationship requires the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. But both men and women also have an equally strong need for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise.
Reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to give us all these things, and in addition to be best friend, trusted confidant, and passionate lover as well.
This current view of sexuality and marriage has of course to be seen in context. First of all, it is very much a Western view which differs starkly from, say, the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, other countries' traditions of men having several wives etc. Secondly, it has been fashionable for only a few decades while alternative views prevailed for millennia. Thirdly, it may turn out to be considered archaic by future generations just as we today consider some previous views of marriage to be, if not archaic, then imperfect.
Having said all this, it is the template for our culture right now and the one you seem to have adopted for yourself and Shelly. Your current situation demonstrates the difficulty of sustaining both desire and love in a committed relationship. The ingredients that nurture love – mutuality, reciprocity, protection, worry, responsibility for the other – are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire because desire comes with a host of feelings that are not always such favorites of love: jealousy, possessiveness, aggression, power, dominance, mischief.
Perel finds certain strategies help integrating love and desire. One, a lot of sexual privacy, an erotic space that belongs solely to them, where they stop being the good citizen who is taking care of things and being responsible. Two, foreplay is not something you do 5 minutes before the real thing but starts at the end of the previous orgasm.
The above guidance and advice is predicated upon the notion that you and Shelly are in fact truly compatible and determined to marry, a view which is of course entirely yours to reach. An alternative view however is that notwithstanding any efforts you may make to resolve your crisis of desire, you are simply not with the right woman, but with a woman who cannot meet both your love and desire needs. If this is the case, it is just as well to recognize it now, before marriage.
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter, which suggests to me that the second possibility Mr Baer brought up in the last paragraph – that you "are simply not with the right woman, but with a woman who cannot meet both your love and desire needs" – is the more accurate description of your situation.
This means it is neither your or her fault; it is simply that sexually, she does not seem to answer your desire needs. I say this because of your following statements:
"I sometimes lose my erections when with her, even in the beginning. This has never happened before." This implies that Shelly is the only woman with whom you have lost your sexual ardor while making love to her.
"Shelly… does not want to have sex with anyone else after me. I do not feel that way about her." I am happy that you recognize the difference between your commitment and hers regarding each other's view of fidelity.
"Is it okay to get married but sometimes (once or twice a year) I have sex with someone else? She will never know about it. I do not want to hurt her. I love her."
Also, in the general play of things, sexual desire is at its height in the first year of marriage, and then tapers off as familiarity and the ordinary demands of life (taking care of kids, buying a house, establishing a name, etc) take up your time more and more. There is also, as Mr Baer suggests, the ordinarily considered inevitable effect of familiarity, feeling of safety, etc. Take note of the phrase "ordinarily considered inevitable effect" since Dr Perel, Margarita Holmes, and Jeremy Baer (among several others) do not agree that it has to be inevitable.
However, I must admit that this is generally the case. My fear is that you have, even before your marriage, already considered sexual infidelity as the answer to your situation. This seems the only way you can satisfy your need both for love (answered by your fiancée or girlfriend) and your need for passion (answered by as yet nameless women you plan to have affairs with in the future.)
You are absolutely right: sex is not the most important thing in a relationship. But neither does it mean that the sex you have at the moment is such that being unfaithful is your only solution to make married sex palatable.
But I am speaking for people who view marriage as I do. It is possible that your fiancée feels as you do. But the only way to find out is to share your feelings and fears with her. You owe her at least that much.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.