Psychotherapist, award-winning podcast host and bestselling author Esther Perel recently gave a virtual talk to the CU Boulder community. She was a guest of the Distinguished Speakers Board, a CU Boulder student-led organization.
After her talk, she chatted with CU Boulder Today offering her advice and opinions on topics ranging from relationships in the pandemic era to tips for entering a first serious relationship.
Relationships in the pandemic
The first thing to do is to validate the challenge. In a crisis like this, the cracks in a relationship will become much more apparent, and the light that shines through the cracks will also become more apparent. Often people don’t see the crack. Make an effort to really show your partner appreciation when you have it. Saying thanks for bringing the coffee is not the same as saying thanks for being thoughtful. One basically says thank you for doing this, and the other one says I see you.
And because you are in lockdown and you don’t have other people around to give you feedback, you are completely relying on one person to be your reflector. So that one person needs to be attentive in ways that we don’t always have to be when we have 20 or 30 other people that we interact with in a day.
For some people, this will lead them to want more physical connection, but for others it’s a total shutdown. This has gone on for so long that even if it was one way in the beginning, it could be something else now. So talk about it.
Make sure you have time to go off alone, and have time to recharge. If you have a date night, make sure you get dressed up, or turn your living room into a beach. Use your imagination to play with the space.
First relationship advice
Falling in love. Liking someone. It’s a big moment when you allow for the first time someone to come into your world, and you enter theirs. It’s an amazing experience.
My advice is surround yourself with other people too. And know that when your heart aches or hurts, it means that things are good.
Don’t try not to feel...feel. Some feelings will not be comfortable, and that’s normal. And at times you’ll feel excited and anxious at the same time, and not always know how to differentiate between the two. Those butterflies are normal.
If you have someone in your family that you can talk to about it, or in your friend group, that’s great. It helps to have people who are five years or more ahead of you with whom you can talk to about matters of love and the heart. Don’t think that you have to stick to people your own age, because a lot of times they may know less than you.
I think every relationship negotiates around how much time to spend together. Every couple is going to negotiate..are we going to go out tonight, or am I going to see my friends alone? Can I continue to see my friends alone, or are they now our friends? And if you don’t like my friends, do I continue to have them as my friends?
Negotiating these boundaries for togetherness and independence in a relationship is a great first step. Every relationship is different; there is no set format. How you approach your relationship depends on your vulnerabilities and inclinations.
If you’re in a relationship, stop looking at the person on social media. It’s not a good thing to do. Where are they now, who are they with? Life takes place in 3D. I say meet people on social media, and then after that, your relationship is not a performance. Send a picture when you want to share, but don’t start doing fake news and pretending that everything is always great. If you keep to your truth, you will feel less ashamed if things don’t go well.
The end of a relationship
If a relationship ends and you’re heartbroken, make sure that you surround yourself with people who can support you. When you are heartbroken from a relationship ending, there is a drop in self-esteem, because you are replaced, or because you have been shown that you are replaceable. That affects our sense of self-worth. These are all normal feelings.
So you want to be around people who lift you up, who remind you that you’re more than just a person who has been left. You want people to remind you of all of the positive things about you.
About Esther Perel
Perel has had a therapy practice in New York City for more than 35 years. A New York Times bestselling author of The State of Affairs and Mating in Captivity, Perel is recognized as one of today’s most insightful and original voices on modern relationships.
Fluent in nine languages, Perel's celebrated TED Talks have garnered more than 30 million views and her best-selling books have been translated into nearly 30 languages. Perel is an executive producer and host of the award-winning podcast Where Should We Begin? She serves as an organizational consultant for Fortune 500 companies around the world.