Love in the Age of Cuba

Esther Perel

I have just returned from a trip to Cuba with my family. It was partly vacation and partly work. As Cuba reinvents itself after 60 years of socialism and teeters on a precipice about to plunge headlong into capitalism, I noticed some interesting contrasts between their culture and the US. 
I don’t want to sentimentalize the Castro regime and all that has happened in the past but much of what I saw spoke directly to my work with relationships.
Here are a few observations about Cuba that we can learn from:
Instant Gratification vs. Emotional Depth
I live in New York City where the corner deli, Amazon Prime Now, Uber Eats, etc. can deliver every desire, at any hour of the day. The consumer culture of the West is intensely focused on immediate gratification, on achieving, on owning things.
In our atomized and digitalized society, when we want something (or someone) it appears before us in an instant – often for purchase on a screen.
But Cuban society has existed for over half a century without advertisements, internet connectivity, and without instant gratification, which has created an environment in which people develop sophisticated social and emotional intelligence.
Cultivating Inner Joy
When you watch Cubans move down the street, you can see they have cultivated what Chen Lizra eloquently describes as “sabrosura” – an inner joy. In the US we are constantly bombarded with ads while Cubans, on the other hand, were bombarded with indoctrination. No signs of Apple, Gap, or Pepsi, instead, endless slogans about the revolution, and pictures of Che and Fidel.
It’s interesting to note that we think of the messages Cubans received as propaganda and our blinking billboards as the glorious free market. This lack of advertising in Cuba has changed the way people move and interact. Women in particular, in Cuba, have not had to measure themselves by exacting standards of beauty – so when they sashay down the street, it’s not the size of their backside that matters but their inner radiance.
Human Connection is Powerful and Unavoidable
I went to a party with over 300 people in Cuba – as we moved through the energetic crowd, the people around us were looking at each other, talking to each other, dancing with each other.
My son and his friend who are in their 20s immediately turned to me and commented that – unlike their friends at a party – no one was tethered to their phones. It struck me that even though we live in a digitalized world where our screens are glued to our hands, human connection is all-powerful: at some essential level, we still need to meet someone, to talk to them, to interact, especially in order to seduce them. And the fact that dating is not a second job, but a game of intrigue, surprise, and playfulness – swiping has turned the intrigue of meeting people into bored shopping for humans.
In Cuba, they are doing this the way we were 15 years ago – as they gather in the streets and stroll the malecón – and because of that, they have more finely tuned social skills.
If we see Cuba as a representation of our essential human need for connection, it’s clear that loving and leaving someone still happens in person.
Sexuality is Self-Expression
In a totalitarian regime like Cuba, where historically the state controlled people’s lives, partners, sex, and marriage have become major areas of individual expression and autonomy.
That is why I found that discussions around sexual infidelity were far less taboo on the latin island. Infidelity is one of the few areas of individual freedom; transgressing in this way is not controversial.
Notably, Cuba also has one of the highest divorce rates in Latin America. Why is that so? It’s simple to get married, and equally simple to divorce. In a society where no one accrues wealth or owns property or things, it’s much easier to separate – there is no division of belongings.
In a similar system, in the Soviet Union, women initiated 97% of divorces.
In Cuba, marital relationships emphasize emotional fulfillment and there is barely any economic reliance. “If one is not met emotionally, why be married?” explained one of the local female psychologist. Without the need for another’s economic support, why stay and continue doing their dirty laundry?
Have you traveled to Cuba? Or do you have thoughts about what relationships were like before social media and smartphones? Let me know your thoughts via social media by tagging me with your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook

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