Iconic psychotherapist and bestselling author Esther Perel deconstructs the complex system of relationships while following her one perennial truth: the quality of your relationships is what determines the quality of your life. Perel takes us on an anthropological exploration of the heart from the evolution of sexuality and dating to how listening to stories from others help us navigate our own relationships during her profound Interactive Keynote, "The Future of Love, Lust, and Listening," at the 2018 SXSW Conference.
Relationships are going through a complicated cultural shift. The norms are changing quickly and rules must be made as we go. Historically, the social hierarchy made the decisions for us surrounding relationship roles from defining the caretaker to the breadwinner. Now the monumental shifts in modern society are shredding the pages of these antiquated rulebooks and leaving an open, unwritten labyrinthine path for the future of relationships.
"At this moment, we have unraveled this system and created a world of options and choices and unprecedented freedom. But as a result we have to negotiate everything – it's all up for grabs."
Unpacking this conundrum, Perel puts it into context by exploring the history and evolution of relationships, identifying the key components in recent cultural shifts including sexuality and equality, and the balancing of two sets of fundamental human needs – change and stability. "Reconciling our need for security and adventure, and love and desire, in one relationship has become one of the great challenges."
During the keynote, Perel instructs the SXSW audience to look under their seats for a blindfold. By limiting the sense of sight with the blindfold, Perel tells the audience it will activate the sense of listening. "It is our first, most primal connective sense," says Perel. "When we listen deeply to other people we reach into their humanity, we also get to see ourselves, and we certainly get to understand otherness." Using audio clips from her podcast Where Should We Begin? – a "virtual village" for people to hear real conversations about relationships – the blindfolded audience tunes into an intimate conversation of a couple.
"Many of these things are not a problem that we have to solve but these are paradoxes we have to manage."
In this brave new world of curated Instagram lives and "swiping culture," searching for "the one" amidst thousands at your fingertips is daunting. With very few guidelines and a lot of options, the question Perel most often is asked is: How do I know that I have found the one? "For you my beloved, I will delete my apps - is the new ritual of commitment," Perel jests but not without some truth to this new social construct.
As these cultural and technological shifts pave the way for modern relationships, it also has placed one of the oldest power dynamics under the magnifying glass again – sex and power. This has allowed for, as Perel puts it, "the unique opportunity to finally open up the narrow boxes in which masculinity, femininity, male, and female have been locked up for way too long" and enter a world in which we can "experience our relationships with a sense of vitality, aliveness, and vibrancy."
Watch the entire 2018 SXSW Conference Interactive Keynote with Esther Perel followed by an audience Q&A and walk away with more insight on relationships – perhaps even heed her words to make a phone call to someone you simply owe a "checking in."
"Relationships are your story – write well and edit often."
Perel's newest book is the New York Times bestseller The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity following her previous bestseller Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Explore more bestsellers from 2018 SXSW Speakers to add to your reading list. If you fancy an aural over an ocular experience, Perel is also an executive producer and host of the popular Audible original podcast Where Should We Begin?
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2018 SXSW Keynote Esther Perel – Photo by Amy E. Price/Getty Images