Love & Sex
Does absence really make the heart grow fonder?
I’ve been without my lover for days and it hurts. I actually feel an ache because he is gone. The bed is empty. The house is larger. My hours feel incomplete. He is on the other side of the world, and he won’t be back for moons to come.
Will our relationship be better or worse for this trial called separation?
Psychotherapist Esther Perel argues good and committed sexual relationships draw on two conflicting needs: our need for security – predictability, reliability, safety - and our need for surprise – the unknown, unexpected and astonishing.
I appreciate her point.
New romances blush with a rush of wonder and joy inspired by their happy marriage of these twin human desires.
There’s nothing quite like that moment when you’re in love, you’re sure of it, they love you, you’re sure of it, but who are they, where are you going, what will happen next and how will it all end up?
It’s thrilling, it’s intoxicating, it’s a height we all attain, but the lofty bliss doesn’t seem to last.
Time marches in. Familiarity washes over the little love boat you’ve built. Turgid seas of discovery are replaced with the calmer, stiller waters of comfort.
This is a nice transition. You come to know and understand this person you’ve chosen to be with. Together you’ve drawn up a plan for the future, shone light on the aspects you disagree on, agree to disagree or compromise, and accept that you’ve got it figured out.
Some people think this figuration comes with the wedding – the big ceremony to mark the fact you’ve signed on for the big commitment called marriage.
A commitment you only make when all things are certain. A commitment you make when you’re sure of everything, and you’re ready to navigate the same course, together, forever.
Other people think this point comes with time. A few years on from when you first met, and you’ve docked at the harbour of happy ever after. Success and happiness henceforth!
But we all know about the doldrums. When the winds cease, but everything blows.
Indeed, most people who have ever linked their life with someone will know what it’s like to sail into the stillness after the storm.
A relief at first, but the safety and surety sure can get boring. You start to want the skies to darken again.
So some of us manufacture drama, calling up rage and waves of indignation to rock the boat again and rediscover the passionate pleasure fear can bring.
This is not particularly healthy. Others will lob a life-raft overboard for a reconnaissance mission. Perhaps something – or someone else – can ameliorate the dullness of predictability.
This may be a smarter strategy providing the lines of communication with the mother ship remain open and honest.
Others still will pull the plug, sink the boat and be done with it all. This may be the smarted thing to do if the journey really was ill-fated from the beginning.
But what if it wasn’t?
This is a question many people in long-term relationships struggle with. The sails are slack, but are they down and out? Is it a sign that we weren’t really meant for each other – that our hopes were sunk long before we cast off?
Maybe it wasn’t love after all. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe. But it felt so right...
This is where it can be helpful to recall the beginning. To go back to before you got to where everything seemed certain. To recall what it was like to sit opposite a stranger.
It can be helpful, even if it’s scary, because it takes us closer to the truth.
Though we want to, and though it is right to aim for it, knowing someone absolutely and utterly is impossible.
We grow and change and evolve all the time.
It’s wonderful to realise this, and discover how much mystery abounds even in the most familiar places.Even with the most familiar people.
Sometimes a bit of distance makes the mystery all the more apparent.
As Dr Perel would say, “eroticism requires distance”. There’s nothing quite like wanting something and not being able to have it.
It certainly does wonders for the libido.
But, as ever, it all depends on your circumstance. It all depends on your relationship.
For some people, distance is less trial, more tyranny.
Separation leads to insurmountable complication.
Absence makes the heart weaker, not stronger.
What’s been your experience?
- Sydney Morning Herald