Friday, July 5, 2013

Unknown Leads to Desire: Mating in Captivity

Esther Perel's book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence was suggested by My Dissolute Life.

I cannot read a book without writing in it (I never borrow books for this reason). I had an English Professor tell me that "books talk to us, talk back", and that seemed like as good as motivation to explain to people as ever. And yes, because most of my reading is done in the bath, I still read actual paperbound books (shocking, I know, but imagine how expensive an electronic book would suddenly become if I dropped it).

As I've been reading this book, I've been reflecting. This seems like a good place to share. I'm strictly going to speak from a military spouse, and generalize that most spouses are females to a military man.

Perel states that unknown factors increase excitement and desire, hence the giddy love-rush feelings at first. But unknown isn't synonymous with security, so we seek to make each other more known in a commitment: "to control the risks of passion, you have tamed it out of existence." (Perel, 10)

She suggests looking at your partner with a new perspective (ever seen someone appreciate something about your partner, and realize that you've been taking that very thing for granted in them?). For example, I go to the same local family business to buy my ball gowns. The seamstress met my husband, and commented on his slow mannerisms, his thoughtful consideration, his absolute respect, and his gorgeous body. By that point, I had taken some of these things for granted, and no longer saw them until she pointed them out. He does have a slower mannerism than say a person from California (who always seems rushed); I’d forgotten how I used to think that too.

Gorgeous, well I can’t forget that. For some reason, even after years, he still takes my breath away. When I told her one year that we were done having babies, she declared, “no baby, no. He is gorgeous and he needs to make gorgeous babies.” She’s right: he is gorgeous, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was not having any more babies. Now, we were all for practicing.

Now in the military, the odds for taking someone for granted aren’t as high as perhaps some other couples. For one: there’s deployments. Depending on what branch depends on how long they are gone. The fear of them being in harm’s way makes them that much more precious. And you are away from them – aware of the emptiness of the bed beside you, the lack of tripping over their boots, their interactions with the children. Communication is often short and random, words become that more important, preciseness to convey a message is hard but so importantly necessary. Their voice inflections travel from the ear and burrow deeply into the heart, to nourish until the next time. And when you finally see each other again, it is falling in love all over again. Often spouses have lost weight, change a hairstyle, become more independent, developed a new routine; kids have grown. Military personnel are often more muscular and defined, tired, perhaps have even changed emotionally and mentally from what they’ve experienced.

Trainings/schooling tend not to be as long, but it is still a breaking apart and coming together again. Also, spouses will often travel and visit family if they’ve moved far away for extended periods of time. There always seems to be a reason for parting and coming back together in the military lifestyle.

It is getting to know each other again; they are unknown to each other again depending on the length of time; and their unique and completely individual experiences. The fact that they are married changes nothing of the newness of each other, that is more based on the love and commitment to each other, not in the actual wanting of each other. "Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness." (Perel, 37) These couples are often elusive, and want to recommit to each other, to discover and delve into each other again, and desire tends to be very high at homecomings. A new lover delivered safely, an "oh yeah, I forgot how that feels" touch or caress, a new trick heard and now tried. Even old tried and try methods are made new and appreciated.

The up and down rollercoaster of the relationship in a military lifestyle isn’t all grand; it is downright challenging. At a recent marriage retreat that my husband and I went to, we heard from the chaplain that the divorce rate was currently 75%. There have a lot of studies debating if it is higher than the average national norm or not, I’ve read a lot of it and it seems pretty undecided as a whole. But it is challenging. Some couples become addicted to the partings and homecomings, and cannot handle their spouses for long periods of time - they've become stagnant and lose that desire. Some have lived apart for so long that when they finally come together, they discovered they didn’t want to be married anymore, the desire simply wasn't there at all and was perhaps more of an illusion sustained by distance.

I am going to suggest her book to many of my friends, especially if they are ready to transition to civilian life where separateness may be more challenging. Perel in no way suggests living separately to gain individuality, those are my own thoughts based on a military lifestyle. She discusses reawakening the newness when there has been no new element in a long time (which the military provides); of desiring each other again. When not forced apart, I can only hope that my spouse and I retain our individual selves and continue to view each other with desire from different perspectives.

*As a side note: even reading other bloggers really helps my own sex life. It has made me curious to try new things, to get out of my comfort zones, to point towards someone else’s words who have more effectively communicated wants that I’ve been trying to tell my husband. There are even some great videos that bloggers provide to offer how-to for so many numerous kinks.

With bringing in new ideas, or often being reminded of old favorites, I believe that we will keep our sex life and desire fresh just because we are so fluid with it.   
Something for the weekend


  1. Sounds like an interesting book. Growing up where my father was deployed 6-9 month stents on the carrier made it interesting when he got home. when her retired he quickly took work that would take him out of town for extended periods of time. it failed and eventually they went their own ways but it sounds like that book might be a good tool in preventing long as both parties are willing to work together for the greatest battle ever, the fight to live together in peace.

  2. A very interesting perspective ~ I don't have these experiences but what struck me was the fresh longing and parting and the desire to keep the relationship going despite the challenges of change and distance ~ Thanks for sharing your insights ~