Letters from Esther #2 - Security and Freedom

Esther Perel

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Shall We Begin?

Recently, I landed at the Tel Aviv airport and went directly to the most integrated newsroom I have ever seen, the i24News station. Arabic, English, French, Spanish. In my interviews, I switched from French to English to Spanish, moving from one cultural norm to the next in a matter of minutes. Whereas some might feel overwhelmed in this kind of setting, in these moments, I felt all the parts of me come to life. This is me, I thought, and this is the world I would like to live in: a world of integration, diversity, and fluidity. A world in which we can soften our ideas of what should be, and allow ourselves to experience what is, and what can be.

The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman’s major 20th-century book, “Liquid Life,” describes this fluid way of being as an essential part of survival in our rapidly changing modern world. When I re-read Bauman’s book, I wonder: what could life be like if we relied less on social codification—the meaning of a lunch date versus a dinner date; what it means to introduce a romantic prospect to your friends—and allowed ourselves to let the narrative unfold. Nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning you give it. My question to you is: what if we resisted our impulse to prematurely assign meaning onto every little thing and allowed ourselves to go with the flow? 

This isn’t just a suggestion for a new mindset; I see it as a way to survive the times we’re living in, in which social and cultural norms are evolving so quickly that we can’t help but question the indemnity of relationships. 

From the moment we are born, we straddle two sets of contradicting needs: the need for security and the need for freedom. They spring from different sources and pull us in different directions. And the issue today is that we want to reconcile this tension in our romantic relationships and in many other facets of our lives. Maybe your lifestyle requires a 9-5 paycheck but corporate life feels restrictive to your creativity. Sometimes, you like to be nomadic; other times you just want to be home. Big groups of different types of people buzzing about can make us feel alive; other times it can make us feel out of control. 

Control, for many, means choosing one or the other: security or freedom. The fact is we need both. Because we desire the security of belonging—whether to a person, a job, or a community—and the freedom to explore other options, we often find ourselves acting out of our internal contradictions. Some of us come out of our childhood needing more protection; some of us come out needing more space. And these needs continue to fluctuate throughout our lives. Cultivating fluidity helps us navigate this tension. What I’ve observed is this: people want partnership and a deep lasting love, but they also want relationships that should also be revocable at any time. Are there areas in your life in which you are preserving a little exit door?

This topic of communities versus networks has me occupied. In the past, as Bauman explains, we lived with structures. We tied deep knots with people and the goal was to make it difficult to dismantle them. Today, we want fluid networks in which we can enter and exit with ease. The point is not which one is better. Both have costs and benefits. Some people can’t extricate themselves even if something feels wrong for them. Others complain about difficulty finding roots. And you may even identify with both of those feelings at the same time. 

Let’s Turn the Lens on You

So, let me ask you: at this very moment, do you crave a foundation or wings? Do your own checkup. Have you been hopping jobs, relationships, or residences? Do you have stuff in six different places? Maybe it’s time to regroup. Have you been in the same job for ten years, five of which you’ve been complaining you need to get out? Do you trail lackluster friendships that have become obligatory and devoid of joy and interest? Maybe it’s time to take action. 

  • If you desire freedom, go explore. Dare yourself. Take risks. Push yourself where you haven't allowed yourself to go. Take someone new with you into the places that you love. Ditch drinks and the stitled face-to-face interview, and go rock-climbing, if that’s your thing, or biking, or live music. Open your world to them and be open to exploring theirs.
  • If you're in need of stability, look for structure. Stand still and begin building vertically rather than horizontally. Create new rituals: a walk in the park, journaling, or meditation. Every weekend, try to call one long-distance friend.
  • In either case, remember that the goal is fluidity between the two.When we find that balance, our lives open up to new possibilities: new stories, relationships, cultures, people, and ways of life. 

More From Esther

5 Reasons Why Comprehensive Sex Education Makes a Difference/ A Recent Blog Article

In celebration of World Sexual Health Day, we’re looking at 5 ways comprehensive sexuality and relationship education lifts us as a society. 

The Sex Recession / YouTube Moments 

I interviewed Christina Pierpaoli Parker, PhD student and author of Psychology Today’s “Eng(aging)” column about what’s really happening—and not happening—in the bedrooms of millennials and boomers, and why. 

The Erotic as an Antidote to Death / “On Being”

A conversation with Krista Tippett on her podcast “On Being” about how people connect to their sense of aliveness, vibrancy, vitality, and renewal through eroticism.

Conversation Starters

A compendium of highly recommended sources of inspiration and information.

I’m Reading: 

I’m Watching: 

I’m Listening To: 

I hope these recommendations will inspire conversations with friends old and new.

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