About 2,000 folks living, working and studying in Santa Barbara County opened up their ears and hearts Wednesday night to a lecture about modern relationships. World renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel was speaking at the Granada Theatre for a UCSB Arts and Lectures event.
Ms. Perel compared two models of society. In one community, homes are not built with thick walls and residents can hear each others’ “every fight and every reconciliation,” according to Ms. Perel.
This lack of what most would call privacy reminds community members to “know that you are not alone” with problems, said Ms. Perel.
“But today, you have no idea, and then couple that with the fact that people are lying left and right and presenting this beautifully curated … manufactured life on social to the point where their identity’s not what determines the social narrative, but the social narrative creates their identity,” said Ms. Perel. “Literally, fake news is not just in politics. Let’s put it like that.”
Ms. Perel, however, said she doesn’t have alll the answers for relationship questions.
“I’ve been a student of relationships my whole life. I’m going to be talking to you sometimes with great confidence, but I have to tell you one thing: I’m absolutely sure of nothing,” said Ms. Perel. She said she ponders these topics continuously.
“Your questions make me think, which then become a part of the next talk,” said Ms. Perel. “That’s how this evolves so that we are all grappling with the same existential quandaries about what gives us meaning, what gives us joy, how we deal with our pain, what we do with heartbreak, and what we do with cruelty.”
Ms. Perel highlighted the important role relationships play.
“My belief is that it is the quality of our relationships that determines the quality of our lives,” she said. “The bonds and the connections that we make with other people are among the human experiences that give us the most joy, meaning … purpose … fulfilment and all of that, when they’re good. When they’re not good, all hell breaks loose.”
There has been a major shift in how relationships form in society, Ms. Perel said. In the past, folks lived in communal structures.
“Structure meant that there were tight knots that were difficult to undo so that you knew exactly where you belong, but it was very hard to leave,” Ms. Perel said. “In that structure, decisions were made for you. Most of the big decisions used to be made for us and so there were few little things we got to choose.”
Changes began to occur as more and more communities urbanized.
“We moved to urban life and to a place where we dismantled those traditional structures, and we replaced them with networks,” said Ms. Perel. “These networks are loose ties that you can easily do and undo from which you can go in and out, from which commitment can be revoked at any moment. We still want the commitment, but we don’t want it too binding.”
In the network lifestyle, according to Ms. perel, there is unprecedented freedom, but there’s also a new level of burden.
“We’ve never had more choice than we have today, and we’ve never had more uncertainty about our choices than we have today, and more self doubt. And we are plagued with the notion of having to find the right answers for the questions,” said Ms. Perel.
She underscored that if one likes the freedom that the network lifestyle offers, it is important “to understand why we are creating rampant anxiety sometimes in isolation and where all these things are coming from.”
Although Ms. Perel’s New York City private practice is not accepting new patients at this time, her website, estherperel.com, provides resources for couples and individuals, including her blog articles, her TED talks and the two books that have garnered international intention: “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs.”