Famed Relationship Therapist Esther Perel Gives Advice on Intimacy, Careers, and Self-Improvement

Famed Relationship Therapist Esther Perel Gives Advice on Intimacy, Careers, and Self-Improvement

In this fascinating session from Summit LA18, famed relationship therapist and bestselling author Esther Perel digs into the three hidden dynamics governing every relationship, explores the self-imprisoning paradox of social media, and lays out why certainty is always the enemy of change.

About the Presenter

Esther Perel, Psychotherapist

Esther Perel: Navigating relationships and cultivating relational intelligence is key in all parts of our lives, personal and professional. I would also say that at this moment becoming fluent in the language of relationships is essential to the world that we're going to live in. We are wired for connections, but how can we do it better? May I ask for a moment, how many of you are new to me? Of chunk. How many of you are familiar with me? More.

For those of you who are new to me, I'm a psychotherapist for the past 30 something years. I have primarily done couples and family therapy which means that I am quite familiar with polarized systems, with conflictual relational systems. As you know, couples therapy is a drop off center. I bring you my partner, I tell you what's wrong with him or her and I ask you to fix it. What's happening in the world at this moment is something that as a clinician I sit with every hour thousands of people in conversation around the globe with whom I grapple with the complexities of modern relationships. I believe that the burns and the connections that we have with other people provide us with a greater sense of meaning and happiness and well-being than any other human experience, which is to say that it is the quality of your relationships which ultimately will determine the quality of your lives. There's a big difference the way that David Brooks was talking about it between a glorious CV and the eulogy you will get. You understand what I'm saying.

Even the Harvard longitudinal studies, that's eight decades long, that has followed men, at the end, of all what these men had accomplished and have accomplished, it was the relationships that they have that was the most important marker for their health, their mental health, their sense of well-being and their sense of meaning in their lives. This is true for everybody. I don't think we can glorify the relational importance just for women. Now, let me ask you something, how many of you are currently in a relationship? How many of you would like to be in a relationship? How many of you would at least on occasion like to be out of the relationship you're in?

Honesty is good. How many of you would say that you have ever had a hard relationship issue let's say at work? Good, the normal people. How many of you thought the problem is with the other? Now, I do want to ask, how many of you thought maybe the issue is with me? Okay, and how many of you thought both because that's probably the truth of the relationship. The relationship isn't what happened that what each person is but what happens between the two people.

It's that dynamic that I want us to explore together. I think that there's a few important things happening at this moment. Relationship laws are changing rapidly. They're shifting under our feet. I've done a lot of work talking about them in the personal space but what is really important is to see what is happening at work and how much of my work on relationships in the last year or two has brought me to work with co-founders, with executive teams, with companies, and at corporate conferences. Why? Which would never have happened by the way.

The relationship intelligence until recently was the scourge of the workplace and do you hear this? I've been hacked. Somebody's talking to me [laughs] and everything about relationship stuff would have been called soft skills. Soft skills would have been considered feminine skills, and feminine skills is something that you idealize in principle but don't want much to do in reality. This idea that the language of emotion is entering the workplace and has literally become the new business buzzwords is very telling about something that is happening at this moment.

There's a lot of restlessness in the world about relationships, about how we handle disagreements, breaches, violations of trusts, and it makes us very anxious. When we get anxious we tend to react because the first thing we want to do is do away with the anxiety rather than sit, think, process, listen, and then figure out what we want to do. Part of what we will do here as well is to slow down a little bit. I think that for me if I was to look at it I would say this, there's been two relationship revolutions. One is happening at home and one is now happening at work. The relationship revolutions have two things in common and it's this, it wasn't too long ago that our sense of identity was something that was basically given to us. It still is like that in many other parts of the world. You knew who you were, you knew you had a clear sense of belonging, you had a good sense of rootedness and you had a sense of continuity. Your rules were clear so you knew what was expected.

Parents knew how to talk to their kids, husbands knew how to talk to their wives, wives knew what not to say to their husbands. It was rules, it was duty, it was obligation, it was clarity, it was certainty, and all the big decisions were made for us. Which meant that you were rarely alone but you also were barely free. We live now in our world here in which we have more freedom or supposed freedom than we have ever thought we had.

The clarity and the rules and the duty and the obligations have been replaced by choice and by options. Uncertainty has been replaced by uncertainty and by massive self-doubt. It takes a lot to have to define who we are. That process of self definition that is part of our identity formation at this moment has created a situation where the burdens of the self have never been heavier. Many of you are spending your time wondering, who am I, what am I, am I what I want to be, am I where I want to be, is this good enough, can I be more, can I be better.

There's a reason the self-help movement is as powerful as it is because it feeds an entire frenzy of individual people who are longing for individual pursuits but ultimately also to connect with other people. This shift has also been met by something else. For a long time our relationships at home were basically for survival. Then we brought in romantic love and companionship and now we have gone up the Maslow ladder of needs and we want intimate relationships for self-actualization.

Meaning, I want you to help me become the best version of myself. Something very similar is also happening at work. We don't just leave because the factory closes when we have those options. We leave because we are not being properly promoted, because we are not being recognized, because we are not being seen, because our identity formation is being stunted. We expect our managers to be our coaches and to help us move up the Maslow ladder of needs.

If we used to leave our relationships because we were unhappy and now we leave them because we could be happier, the same thing is happening at work. We don't just leave because we are unhappy or because we are not getting the paycheck that we want but we leave for the quality of our life and our relationships and our self-development that we expect to meet in those work situations. For many of us, we will have a 10-year period where we will be often single or in nomadic relationships and primarily look to work to give us what once religion used to provide. What has fundamentally shifted is the loss of the social structures.

The church, the religion, the hierarchies, all of that, which gave a lot of grounding. Now, we have to create this thing all along. What has replaced rules? Conversations. For the first time at the heart of relationship is conversation. It's not clear what you should do. It's not clear how you should talk to each other.

It's not clear if a person reacts this way, you should do this, or you should do that. You should continue because you were told that if your parents had not continued, then they would never have been there together. Look how happy they are now because somebody insisted, or no, you should not insist because you should get a clear sign. If you don't get a clear sign, then it means you should stop.


You recognize that one. Okay. I had the most fascinating conversation here last night, until two o'clock in the morning, which completely changed the entire talk, by the way. It was an enactment of the moment that we live in, but we'll get to that. What is interesting to me is the parallel shifts. When you look at your romantic lives. When you look at what has happened, in the way that we have basically embraced romantic consumerism. We are looking for our soulmate on an app. We know that we have found the one when we can delete the app.


That is the new ritual of commitment. It's not a bunch of flowers. Look how special you are, FOMO gone. If you think for a second, what do we look for? Transcendence, mystery, awe, ecstasy, wholeness, meaning, all kinds of stuff that we used to look for in the sanctuary of the divine. This is a very interesting thing that is happening between religion or spirituality and relationality, is they have collapsed into each other. For most of history, the soulmate was God, not another person, with whom you were going to have to experience the multitude of needs. That's one thing.

The second thing that is happening is that we have brought market economy into our romantic life. Eva Illouz calls it emotional capitalism. I can tell you, 30 years ago, 20, 15 years ago, I wouldn't hear in my office people describe their relationships, this is not a good deal, this is not what I'd bargained for. I have to cut my losses. Where is my KPI. What is the hell? That is relationship language? Market economy has entered the romantic space. At the same time, the world of emotion has entered the business world. We talk about psychological safety in the same sentence that we're talking about performance reviews.

We're talking about authenticity, belonging, transparency and trust. It's unbelievable. We rarely define them, by the way. Longevity, career, loyalty, what do they mean today? They're being literally redefined both, by working people and by their managers, by the employers and the employees. That means that for the first time relational intelligence at work becomes foundational.

Now, it's difficult to talk about trust when you live in a nomadic economy where the Wall Street journalist is telling you that the quitters are the winners. If you move around a lot, you actually will get more promotion and higher positions. We still, on some level, have the idea that trust is something that gets cultivated over time through tests and experiences together with other people. Of course, this has changed because we have a share economy in which we are trusting total strangers with our home and our most precious belongings.

The whole definition of trust is shifting. It's difficult to have a feeling of belonging when you don't stay long enough, or to have a feeling of belonging when you're hired by the day and by the hour because it suits the numbers of the company. Every book these days about relationships is going to talk about belonging or the lack thereof and about loneliness, or the isolation and the lack of connection. This is the two main subjects that everybody is talking about.

Partly, because when you dismantle a system like the one that we had and you introduce a new social system, you can become evangelical about it, you can be very happy about all the changes, but you have to deal with the consequences of the changes. One of the things that Dan Siegel was talking about so beautifully, yesterday, is that an individual, a body, a society, a relationship, needs to regulate itself.

One of the main thing we regulate ourselves on is between stability and change, between chaos and rigidity, between the past and the future. When we have too much change going on all at once, we become ontologically anxious or anguished because we can't catch up, which is partly what is happening now, and what has been propelled in the last year, by the new president of this country and by the new presidents of a bunch of other countries and by the Me Too movement. It's a unique educational opportunity, but it makes a lot of people very nervous. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Audience: Yes.

Esther: Okay. It's nine o'clock in the morning and I am deluging you with my nightly ruminations. I was up the whole time thinking about this. You've been sleeping and dealing with the time. One of the consequences that I think is really essential is that how many of you would say you have 1,000 virtual friends, 500 virtual friends, 200 virtual friends? How many of you have had to wonder who can you ask to feed your cat? Who's going to actually bring the birthday cake? Not because you don't have friends, but because they're spread all over the globe and they're not near you.

A text is going to let you know that they're around, but they're not around to celebrate with you. It's not the same. This is one of the big shifts. Here's another thing that I think is really essential and that mirrors what happens at home and at work. Home used to be, basically, a pragmatic institution in a production economy for a long time. We needed children because we needed to be more productive. They were an economic asset. Today, they're an economic drain. We needed to have 10 of them because 6 only would survive. There was a lot of different precariousness about production. Sex was for production. It was in order to make babies, basically. We have today a sexual model in our committed relationship that is for desire and connection, for pleasure and connection. That's a service model. That's not a production model. The shift at home from the production economy to the service economy, in which I want a quality of experience with you. What is the value of having well-behaved kids, a good income and a stable household, if I'm bored?

This is where we're going. I want a qualitative experience with you. I want that endless experience to elevate me. That's the whole self-actualization thing. The same thing is happening at work. In our world of brand promiscuity, it's all about the quality of experience, because otherwise, literally, all shoes are the same, the cars and everything else.

This idea that what you're going to capture is the quality of my experience. What does it mean that quality of experience? It needs to be transformative.

It needs to be inspiring. It needs to elicit my curiosity. It needs to be meaningful. It's a lot of things that we want in this qualitative experiences, both at work and at home.

Let me ask you a second. Stand up if you have ever censored yourself in a situation where you wished you had spoken up but you said nothing because you just thought it wasn't worth it or the consequences could be not pleasant, stand up. Wow. Okay.

Now, just look around. This is something I have learned from Priya, who some of you may have seen on the first day, Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering. When you think about this for a minute, just account with yourself, your own personal relation accountability, "I wish I had said or done what? Then, can I still do it?" In line of that, sit down, stand up if in your work, you are responsible for the lives of others. Stand up if in your home or personal life, you are responsible for the lives of others.

You see, that doesn't just mean children. Millions of people at this point are caretakers or caregivers. It's a stress we rarely talk about. May I ask just another one of this, how many of you, stay standing if you send a portion of your paycheck or your income to members of your family.

Now, let me precise that, not your immediate family, not your spouses and children, but still look at this, this is communal structures that never gets talked about. Now, may I ask something? How many of the people who do this are either immigrants or first-generation? Stay standing. Okay, that's also a story we don't talk about. We talk about a whole different story of migration. Nice, thank you. [applause]

I can fill a bucket with bad news but it's not true. It doesn't necessarily reflect the entire story. It has truth to it but there's a lot of other aspects. How many of you would say that you have let other people take the credit for your accomplishment and said nothing to avoid conflict or repercussions? Wow, look around, don't look at me people. These are communal responses. Here is the question now, for the women, how often do you think you've done this more when it was in relationship with men? Men look around. Let me ask the men, do you think that you have done this more in your relationship with women? This is a very important answer which I've just discovered. I don't know if it's true but I know that it's experienced as truth that very few men will stand up and say that, but a lot of women experienced that that's what they have done. Think about it, and what needs to change for that. This is not a blame question, this is an attribution question. The actor may be as responsible, but it's happening in a context, and in a certain context we think we are supposed to behave in a certain way. Stand up if you've ever been rejected. [laughter]

Now imagine people that instead of your first question being what do you do, and what's your IPO? You actually said to somebody, “Did you ever experience a heartbreak?” And you know what would follow is a story because our relationships are stories, and the story would be the novel you wished you had read but didn't. How many of you would say that you have been the primary person that rejects? Stay standing.

Let me ask you the following one, how many of you would say you are the one who rejects because you prefer to leave first in order to defend yourselves against the fear of being rejected? Do you follow what I said? Good, thank you. Oh, that's a nice one [laughs]. Stand up if you have ever been in a lousy sexual encounter that was also unsatisfying but you went along with it anyway. [laughter]

This is a gender-neutral question, people. I do know that often there's a surprise by women to see that this is actually a general experience rather than a gendered answer. Just pay attention to that. Of course, what it was, why, and all of that is what I'm going to come back to in a second. May I ask a question to the men or the people who identify as men in the room, stand up if you have ever felt less of a man in the presence of other men. Thank you.

Now, wait [laughs], because this is a question and an answer that not enough people know, not enough people know the fragility of masculine identity or male identity, how difficult it is to develop and how easy it is to lose it, how it constantly needs to defend itself, prove itself, reaffirm itself. There is been a tremendous amount of focus on the privilege and the aggression, and there is not enough of an inquiry, and a curiosity, on the challenges.

There used to be a statement made in France by Elizabeth Vedanta that said, “One is born a woman and one becomes a man”, and that needing to prove itself all the time. There is no feminine female version of the man up or the real men or the show me what you got, and all of that, and all of you who say what you need to know is that the male code is primarily a function of social control from one man to another, not just from men to women. Thank you.


Stand up if you have been blessed by having a mentor in the realm of relationships. Wow, nice. I don't want to ask if you've had mentors in your business lives because everybody will be standing. This inequity between having models for how you do business but not having enough models for how you live your relationships needs to change. It really is foundational. Some of you it may be your parents, and some of you it may be the neighbor, and some of you it may be somebody that you actually had never even met, but it is absolutely clear that having a mentor in the realm of relationship is essential for people to have something that they can aspire to and emulate.

Take a moment for those of you who stand and thank them, and then make also mental note if you actually have ever told them, and if you haven't, it's a good idea. Don't wait till they're on their deathbed. If you don't, then, just ask yourself who could you reach out to? Who would be someone to whom you could talk about that part of your life? It is not okay that therapists like me are often the only people to hear the stories and the truth.

Especially now with fake news on social media where everybody has to parade their joyous happy lives, nobody has any idea of what's happening in the lives of others. Your best friends can come and break up and you didn't even see it coming. Do you know what I'm saying? Okay, thank you. [applause]

Oh, yes let me ask you that, stand up, wait, if the last thing you do before going to bed is stroke your phone. Reticent but standing, and stand up if the first thing you do when you wake up is stroke your phone, and stand up if you're doing this where there's actually someone lying in bed next to you. That's fucked up.


That has to change. People, think for a second, where have we come? I am not like the person who hasn't been in those situations. that's why I know to ask the questions [laughs]. This is not okay because what it creates is a very interesting situation in relationships at this moment and it's a term that I borrow from Pauline Boss which is called 'ambiguous loss'. Ambiguous loss used to be used when people would talk about somebody who is physically present but psychologically absent.

Like a parent who has Alzheimer, or someone who is physically absent but is psychologically present like someone who has disappeared. Do you understand? At this moment when I do this and I'm busy, and I'm lying or sitting next to you, you are experiencing ambiguous loss. I am physically present but I am psychologically gone. Everybody knows that when you talk to somebody and there is that lag between your talking and their answering is because they are media multitasking.

That leaves you feeling like you don't really matter and if you don't really matter, you start to have a crisis of meaning and you start to have longings and you start to wonder where can I feel that I'm really important and seen et cetera, et cetera. An alarm clock, the person here who's going to do a startup for new alarm clocks that just do that I actually think you could kill it.

Stand up if you have found that too often you bring the best parts of yourself to work. Meaning at work you feel erotic. Erotic in the full sense of the word, alive, present, attentive, focused, curious, playful, creative, imaginative, have I forgotten anything? You understand erotic in that full sense? That you are thriving and you bring that thriving part of you to work and you bring the leftovers to your personal life.

Let me ask for those who are standing, stay standing if you wish that you were actually putting more effort, more engagement, more investment into your personal life. If you stay standing, nobody even sat down so nobody really likes it, a few of you. A few of you think it's okay as is or it's what I need to do right now. For those of you who want this to change you make a quick note to yourself, what's one thing that you need to do at least before you see me again. Meaning you have a year.

It's a long time, my patients they have a week or they have to tell me by 36 hours I did X or I did Y. What is one thing that you could do concretely that doesn't have to be qualified and excused and defended and explained the way that would bring a different balance to where you put the best parts of you? Now, the person on your right turn to them for one minute and just share with them what stood out for you in what we just talked about? It's about two sentences each.

Okay. If you like this conversation then make sure when you leave here that you tell this person let's continue and you don't know where it will take you. It could take you into this whole different vista of things that you have never talked about. Everybody has a relationship history. Everybody grew up with people that were either there for you or less there for you or not there for you at all. Everybody either wished they had gotten more attention or less attention. You understand? Some of us got a little too much of something and some of us got too much neglect and absence of something.

Everybody here has narratives about relationships. Meaning, you can all ask yourself the questions. Did you grow up in a family that talked about relationship as something central in your life and saw it as important? It was a relational orientation to life versus a task orientation to life. It was one in which you were told people are there for you, you can trust them. If you have a problem, go and talk to them or were you told, "This is you. You have your own legs to stand on. Nobody is going to come in and solve your problems." Does that influence the way you actually either collaborate or compete because you think that people are there for you or because you don't think so. Basically, were you raised for autonomy or were you raised for loyalty? It's not an either/or, it's an emphasis. Were you raised for interdependence or were you raised for self-reliance? Given that many of you are entrepreneurs the answers are very interesting about that. Where you got your messages and what are the narratives and the beliefs that you have created about that. Here's the most important thing, don't ever think for a minute that your relationship diary doesn't come with you to work. It doesn't stop at the door of the building where you go to work.

When you talk about relationship accountability, when you talk about trust and all of those things go back and find your story so that you can see how you can edit it and write new pages to it. Now, let's talk together. There are mics in the room and we're going to have a chat. I'm not going to do a traditional Q&A but I'm going to take a bunch of questions all at once and people a question is a question. If your question becomes a false statement or a story, I will be the editor. Yes, let's go. They're coming.

Audience member: You did an exquisite job of describing the consequences of our hyper individuality and destroying conventional structures that we've lived in religiously or communally and also the rules and morals and ethics that sort of govern things and gave us identity and comfort. I observe on that a lot because I think it's the--

Esther: Your question?

Audience member: The question is--

Esther: Sorry.

Audience member: No, it's perfect. The question is do you think all that we've destroyed and disrupted and the amount of suffering it's caused for individuals has been worth it and what do you think will replace it?

Esther: That is an incredible question. Good. Next. Don't worry. You say just your first name.

Eric: Eric.

Esther: Yes. Hello, Eric.

Eric: My business partner and I are at a place where there's an impasse in communication, in transparency and we're both raising our hands saying this is at least 50% me and it's at least partly yours. We're both really there so I'm looking for advice.

Esther: Great, good. Next. Upstairs is there anybody? Hello. Where is that?

Allison: Up here, to your left.

Esther: My left. My left is there.

Allison: Your left is here but down. Down, here we go. Hi. I'm Alison, hello.

Esther: I'm going to solve that problem. Hold on one second because I don't see anybody.

Allison: Do you think part of the reason that we don't have more relationship mentors is because we don't know what a successful relationship looks like and because of social media we think certain people have great relationships when maybe they don't and certain people don't have great relationships if they're not in all of your Instagram photos?

Audience member: I have a question regarding your workplace evolution observations which is are there any hacks, quick fixes, recommendations, about how we can help employees get more of what they need in the workplace?

Carmina: This is Carmina. Do you think that how I am treating myself internally, I'm up here, is like my exterior world and how I'm treated in relationship is a reflection of how I treat myself internally?

Esther: Say that again, please.

Carmina: Do you think that my external relationships and how I'm treated is a reflection of how I'm treating myself internally?

Esther: Beautiful question.

Christopher: Hello, Christopher. I have a question around often times you here and experience your closest relationships you're actually causing the most conflict and you're the most difficult to deal with those relationships. On a personal note and on a business, your recommendations on dealing with those close relationships and creating more harmony.

Esther: Let me say a few things. These are thoughts, people. Don't start writing the seven key points of something, seriously. I am very confident when I talk but that doesn't mean I think I'm right. It's very important, because we cultivate this thing together and what we are dealing with now are adaptive challenges. This is to the question about what we have lost, but I'm going to start with a different one. I'm going to start with something that talks a little bit more about three of the fundamental ideas that accompany me when I think about relationships.

I think the first one, I'm going to give you a few. My mentor used to say, "Certainty is the enemy of change." Meaning that most people are capable of more than what they are and what they do but they don't always know it. That strength model, that resiliency model, accompanies me a lot. You can always be right, but it's not difficult to be right and alone. That's what happens in many relationships, you stick to your thing and you think you're right, but you're right and alone.

The second thing that is really fundamental for me in thinking about relationships is that it is not the content that matters nearly as much as the form. Do you understand that? Meaning, yesterday beautiful conversation we had at night, you could have thought that it was about this story versus that story, when in fact, it was about what was underlying and what was the form that was underlying.

What are the three main hidden issues that exist below a lot of relationship dynamics and relationship conflict? It's either about power and control, either about closeness and care, either about respect and recognition. It didn't matter what the stories were that people were telling, what matters is that each one wanted their story to be recognized and each one wanted the other one to do it first.

If you have a certain pattern, a certain model, you will find that you can talk about Greenpeace in South Korea or the next investment you're going to make and the tone will be the same. Get off the subject and watch what you're doing and use these three hidden dimensions to see where is the problem. Then the next one, if you want to change the other, change yourself. If relationships are made up of interdependent parts, if you change one part and consistently non-contingently hold on to it, sooner or later the other one has to adapt to something.

The same thing would be true, and this is something I do want to say particularly in light of the conversations we're having at this moment where people are saying, "Why should I help you? You go figure out your stuff. You men, you people." When you help the other person change or grow, it is enlightened self-interest. Don't think you're just doing this for them. If we are interdependent parts, if they change, so does your life. The lives of women will not change until the men come along. That means they need also a few decades to rethink what's going on. Those concepts accompany me.

When you have these communication issues with your partner, the first thing, of course, is to begin with, "What do you think is happening?" Not the facts, the meaning. That's another major shift; not the facts. Because the facts don't matter. It's the experience of the facts and the meaning we give to them and the experience we have of them and how we react to them that tells the story. Where is the man with the business partner? You were somewhere here.

Then you just basically say, "We will not solve any of the issues until we first address the relationship." Because the form will be the same, you'll have the same arguments in the form. Then you ask, "What do I trigger in you? What do I evoke in you? What happens to you when I start-?" The minute you begin and you start to tell about what happened-- Everybody their thing, and you just basically try to see if you can read through what the other person says when you fundamentally disagree with it, which we are capable of doing for 10 seconds.

That's three sentences before we no longer listen and we're busy with our rebuttal. That's not a good amount of time. It's really that practice, I just want to learn and hear and figure out what is happening without having to agree with anything. If you can separate listening from agreeing or acknowledging from reagreeing, you're already a good step. I could give a whole day on that one, but that's what I do.

To link to that about what happens in terms of what we can bring back to people, for me really, one of the most important things, and for all of these things, there are 10 different ways to answer just so we know. The question about what we can bring back to the employees, humanity. It is not conceivable that people should e-mail somebody who's sitting next to them. This is crazy.


It is not okay to do an onboarding with a virtual chat box, meet the person. Everything is in the nuance. Relational intelligence is this ability to deal with the complexities and the nuances and the ambiguities of relationships. They're iterative experiences, they're not algorithmically solved yet, at least. Their EQ and AI is not yet on par. I know that the people who are heavily into AI and are honest about it agree with it. Not because that means I'm right but because there is something in this way that we have evolved that allows us to have multiple senses and multiple ways of experiencing this new person that comes in.

The next thing I would say especially when people are not staying too long at this moment is have rituals that acknowledge when people have entered. Yesterday at the women's meeting it was very interesting. We were all there for summit women et cetera, and it occurred to me everybody was coming to talk to me. Not everybody, many people were coming to talk to me. Basically, I was the person that they knew. I'm sure some of you were in the room, and I thought, "That's not okay that I'm the only one that you know when in fact you need to--"

Everybody is talking about connecting and a connected community and all of that, but nobody basically said, "Who are the new people here? Welcome." Hospitality, the old way. "Would you like a cup of tea. Sit down. Welcome to my home," that kind of thing. Who are you? Identify yourself? People who have been here longer, show up. I once was an immigrant, I know what it's like to walk the street and have no idea where you're going. Then somebody says, "Let me show you." Then one day you show and you have become the local. Everybody here once was that newcomer and probably could have used the process that just makes it more human and welcoming. It's basic common sense.

What did we lose? Look, I think we don't know yet what we lose because we are still in the reaction to the loss itself. In the moment when you have massive social change, you always have. Like in a relationship, you have the people who pull towards stability and tradition and the past and how things used to be, and you have the people who pull towards the change and the fact that it's phenomenal and we should just do away with all of that stuff that doesn't work anyway and they become evangelists, zealots.

Of course, you can only have a zealot on one side because you have another person who's a zealot on the other side. They need each other. Those are interdependent parts and they are complementary. The day there is nothing to hold you, you can't just run because you need a border and a harbor to come back to. We all need those two things; security and change, stability, however you name it.

I think what we know that we are losing is that everybody feels that something in the quality of relatedness is going away. That said, people who grew up in communities where there is not much freedom don't romanticize them. They think that they are often real systems of oppression. What I do think is interesting, I just was in Romania a few weeks ago. This was one society where just about everybody spied on each other, phenomenal. The closer you were, the more they spied on you.

Then I thought last night in bed, "What is social media?" It's the new Securitate. It's such a phenomenal form of social control, and you don't even need to leave your house for people to know what you are doing and not doing. This to me is an interesting paradox. I don't know that we are really much freer, we have basically created our own panopticon in which we are being watched all the time by ourselves and by the others around us. This is a dangerous thing.


Then the question about, this is a very interesting one, do the people relate to me in a way that actually reflects the way I relate to myself? No, not necessarily. No, I actually think that you learn to treat yourself differently because of how people treat you. It's back and forth, it's multi-determined. We don't see ourselves the way other people see us. As I said, I've had every entry paper to this country that you can have. When I would get to JFK there were three lines. This is, to me, a beautiful metaphor of the issue of identity, how I see myself and how others see me.

There was the passport holder line. In the passport holder line you could just have been here for 24 hours but for the external definition of identity you are an American, nobody cares if you identify, if you relate, anything. That view sees me from the outside in.

Then you have the tourist line which I was for a long time. You can be here and you can have allegiances and you can have switch from soccer to football and the whole thing. The internal definition suits you very well once you are on the other side of the passport control but not at the passport control.

Then there is this third entity which is a phenomenal entity which is called the resident alien, the resident in our midst, the foreigner who lives with us, the gerotor chef as the Bible used to call it. That is the person that has a view that is phenomenal because it is the way that you treat the other that ultimately will tell you who you are. We have time for one or two more. Sorry. Yes, all of that. I will tell you all of that. I have two minutes. Where are you, the question that deserves the time?

Smay: Hi, my name is Smay. I have a question about in relationship where trust has been betrayed. When do you decide it's better to work on it or better to just leave?

Esther: My entire new book, The State of Affairs was about looking at modern relationships through the lens of betrayal, so are many of the episodes in the podcast Where Should We Begin which are life couples therapy sessions. You would actually hear the ad in live real unscripted raw conversations about this very question. Here's the one thing I want you to imagine. If you think that Trust is it will never happen again and until I know that it will never again I can't trust you, then you will never trust because trust, as Rachel Botsman says beautifully, is an active responsible engagement with the unknown, it's a leap of faith.

If you have to know before then you will never trust. The act of trust is the engagement with that which you can't know for sure. That's the definition. If you're to stay or to go is not dependent just on that because you may have been betrayed about certain things while a lot of other things were staying in place. It's very contextual. You think you have history with betrayals of before, is this the first time, what has happened. The most important thing when you have been hurt or harmed, this is what Tarana was talking about yesterday, is the fact that somebody comes and acknowledges that they have hurt you.

Nothing is more important to the healing than that, that they recognize it and that they acknowledge the remorse that they feel for having done it. Even if they thought they had good reasons to do it, that's another thing, even if they don't feel bad about what they did, they can still feel bad for what they did to you. That duality is really important.

If we will only know that they feel bad for us because we know that they feel bad for doing it, then you will constantly be then either or power struggle. Did you understand that? This is a chunk full in one minute. Let me tell you this--

Audience member: At the top side.

Esther: Where are you?

Audience member: At the top.

Esther: Top. Last one, yes.

Audience member: As an individual moves from scarcity to abundance through Maslow's hierarchy of needs, how does that impact relationships with others?

Esther: The good relationships of today, says Hillary Finkel, are better than the relationships of the past but very few people manage to climb the new Olympus. The main thing is this, thriving relationships are the ones that straddle contradictory needs. The contradictory needs may be the need for security and the need for adventure, the need for what emphasizes the togetherness versus what at this point may emphasize the separateness. It's that flexibility, it's the ability to hold on and be grounded in things and also have leaps into complete new territories.

It's the both end that for me really is the quality of a thriving relationship. Thriving relationships is what I would call the opposite of-- It's not about the Maslow ladder of needs, it's really there are relationships that are not dead, you all know them, and then there are relationships who are alive and you all know them too. Sometimes the question is how do you go from something that killed it, that created a death of sort and you bring it back to life. People, if you want to know specifically how this goes, really probably the podcast Where Should We Begin, is the most important thing because it's like a public health campaign on relationships.

It brings you into the backstage of other couples in a way that we don't know anymore because we no longer have porous walls. We could be dead for three days before the neighbor finds out. If you want to know about what I do and what I do with the work relationships and with the co-founder relationships just go to estherperel.com. As you can hear, I am deeply interested in the subject of men and that actually didn't start with Me Too.

At the mountain, the first time I came somebody said, "What would you want to talk about next?" I said, "Men." They said, "Nobody cares." I said, "That's not true." Because when a man talks, as many of you who were at a workshop last night know that then that he did so beautifully, when a man talks he's often hearing himself for the first time, let alone others.

I thought, "No, there needs to be an Oprah show of male version." Now, of course, everybody wants to talk about it. I decided that I would create the first conference that was called the Masculinity Paradox. It's for therapists, coaches, educators, and HR, primarily. I will bring eight of the people with me that I have learned from the most, about thinking around modern masculinity, the making of modern men, the cultural and the psychological concepts that surround that topic. It's called a Masculinity Paradox, and it's going live stream on November 10. I thank you. [applause]


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