There’s a ‘Consumerism of the Soulmate,’ Sex Therapist Says

Podcaster and New York Times best-selling author Esther Perel spoke about modern-day relationships at Skirball.

Esther Perel spoke at NYU Skirball today, April 22. (Staff Photo by Mansee Khurana)

Celebrated author and sex therapist Esther Perel spoke about how feelings of loneliness can increase dependence on one’s romantic partner at this season’s last edition of the Skirball Talks series.

Perel began the lecture by asking audience members to raise their hands if they ever wished that they were not in their current relationship.

“There is no perfect relationship,” Perel said. “That’s the honest truth. We can right away debunk that one myth. So whoever came here and thought they were going to get a picture of what the perfect relationship is like, I’m sorry.”

Perel said that despite an increased ability to connect to others through things like social media, more people are feeling lonely.

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“Loneliness is not just a sense of isolation,” Perel said. “It’s a loss of trust and social capital all while you are laying next to the person who actually should help you feel less lonely.”

As a relationship and sex therapist, Perel spoke about how the clients she sees have decided that romantic relationships are more important than the relationships with families and friends, and rely on them more.

“The more I expect from [my partner], the more my need for your fidelity rises,” Perel said. “When it does not exist, I will be completely crushed by it.”

Perel said that people often become overdependent on their partners and think that a relationship will cure their loneliness, even though they have the ability to change these feelings themselves.

“We have unprecedented freedom, but we have never been more alone,” Perel said.

Perel also wanted to demonstrate that people think that such feelings of loneliness are common. To do this, she had members of the audience stand up and look around at all the people who also agreed with statements she had yelled out about feeling inadequate.

NYU’s Senior Director of Global Spiritual Life Yael Shy asked about how consent plays a role in Perel’s understanding of healthy relationships, especially for young people who are learning about consent.

“The cure for a lack of consent seems to be talking more, and having more conversations,” Shy said. “At the same time, there seems to be a lot of discomfort within the way that it feels like it takes away from some of the excitement of sex.”

In response to Shy’s question, Perel made it clear that relationships are about reiterating boundaries and expressing what people are comfortable with it, but that consent is not the only factor that people should consider when having sex.

“I imagine a world where people can experience a sense of vitality and aliveness in their relationships because my creed is simply this,” Perel said. “It is ultimately the quality of our relationships that determine the quality of our life. You may have stellar CVs, but lousy eulogies.”

Email Mansee Khurana at [email protected].

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