The State of Affairs by Esther Perel

The State of Affairs by Esther Perel

Author:Esther Perel
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2017-10-10T04:00:00+00:00

The Lure of Unlived Lives

The quest for the unexplored self is a powerful theme of the adulterous narrative. Priya’s parallel universe transported her to the teenager she never was. Others find themselves drawn by the memory of the person they once were. And then there are those whose reveries take them back to the missed opportunities, the ones that got away, and the person they could have been. As the eminent sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes, in modern life, “there is always a suspicion . . . that one is living a lie or a mistake; that something crucially important has been overlooked, missed, neglected, left untried, and unexplored; that a vital obligation to one’s own authentic self has not been met or that some chances of unknown happiness completely different from any happiness experienced before have not been taken up in time and are bound to be lost forever if they continue to be neglected.”8 He speaks directly to our nostalgia for unlived lives, unexplored identities, and roads not taken.

As children we have the opportunity to play at other roles; as adults we often find ourselves confined by the ones we’ve been assigned or the ones we have chosen. When we select a partner, we commit to a story. Yet we remain forever curious: What other stories could we have been part of? Affairs offer us a window into those other lives, a peek at the stranger within. Adultery is often the revenge of the deserted possibilities.

Dwayne had always cherished memories of his college sweetheart, Keisha. She was the best sex he’d ever had, and she still featured prominently in his fantasy life. They’d both known they were too young to commit, and parted reluctantly. Over the years, he has often asked himself what would have happened had their timing been different.

Enter Facebook. The digital universe offers unprecedented opportunities to reconnect with people who exited our lives long ago. Never before have we had so much access to our exes and so much fodder for our curiosity. “Whatever happened to so-and-so? I wonder if she ever got married?” “I heard he was having difficulties in his relationship.” “Is she still as cute as I remember?” The answers are a click away. One day Dwayne searched for Keisha’s profile. Lo and behold, they were both in Austin. She, still hot, was divorced. He, on the other hand, was happily married, but his curiosity got the better of him and “add friend” soon turned into secret girlfriend.

In the past decade, it seems to me that affairs with exes have proliferated, thanks to social media. These retrospective encounters occupy a place somewhere between the known and the unknown—bringing together the familiarity of someone you once knew with the freshness created by the passage of time. The flicker with an old flame offers a unique combination of built-in trust, risk-taking, and vulnerability. In addition, it is a magnet for our lingering nostalgia. The person I once was, but lost, is the person you once knew.


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