Members and Allies of The Millennial Marriage Movement,
Jack here. This week, I’m being honest as hell. You’ll learn some things about me today that I’ve never been public about, so buckle up. Make sure you don’t have any small children with you and prepare yourself for the darker side of #ANNIEGOESJACK.
I’ll start off by saying that I find it really ironic that as the co-founder of a millennial marriage blog, I haven’t always truly believed in marriage. I always knew that marriage was something that I’d inevitably do, but mostly because it was a status symbol that I needed for my own personal security. If I’m really being honest with you, I didn’t (and to some extent, still don’t) quite understand how lifelong partnership works. How can two people stay together forever? When I think about my favorite foods, movies, music, [insert anything I really love], it’s tough to picture myself doing those things forever without getting bored.
Anyone who knows me is very familiar with the fact that before I met Annie, I was a serial dater who really struggled to stay with someone for longer than a year. It didn’t matter how beautiful they were, how deep our love was, or how compatible we were. Somehow, I’d always get restless or unhappy. Infidelity at times would be an issue for me. Even more so than that, I’d struggle to stay away from the fantasy world online. Despite being very happy in my relationships, I always felt like I needed variety.
Monogamy, while comforting and joyful, was fueling my FOMO more than I could bear.
As a now married man, it’s gotten better but not easier. I love Annie more than anyone or anything in this entire world. I would die for her. Even saying all of that, somehow lifelong monogamy feels like a nearly impossible challenge. This realization has always driven me to serious guilt and shame. How could I love someone so much yet somehow still feel the need to wander? I had to do better. Annie needed me to be better.
So I set out to really understand what was happening inside of me. I read books, saw a therapist, and really explored my past to see why I’m the man I am today. One day, I was on a solo road trip listening to the TED Radio Hour. On the show, Esther Perel (author of Mating in Captivity) spoke about how intimacy can kill desire. Here’s a quote from that talk that really opened my eyes:
“Reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship (or what we today like to call a 'passionate marriage') used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children, social status, succession, and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us those things but in addition, ‘I want you to be my best friend, my trusted confidant, and my passionate lover to boot and we live twice as long!’ So we come to this one person and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide.”
As I heard this, my jaw dropped.
It rang so true! All of my life, I was letting the intimacy that I had for my partner sabotage the desire that I needed to sustain the relationship. At first, my partners and I could be both lovey-dovey and sexy, all at once. But over time, my desire would fade because intimacy and desire require outcomes that directly oppose one another. Intimacy relies on security, mutuality, reciprocity, and a deep capacity for selflessness. While desire requires adventure, jealousy, mischief, and freedom through selfishness. Is it even possible to sustain one without letting the other dwindle?
I had to learn more. Shortly after listening, I bought Mating in Captivity and read it cover to cover. The more I learned about intimacy and desire, the more it became clear what I needed to do to sustain a passionate marriage.
More importantly, I finally had hope that I could be in a relationship that wasn’t doomed to fail.
After coming to this profound realization, I sat down with Annie and expressed to her all that I’d been going through. I won’t lie, it wasn’t pretty. It was tough for Annie to hear these doubts from someone she was investing so much into, but ultimately we reached an understanding. Even better, she started reading Mating in Captivity. Now, we have tools, we have a plan, and we have a common language.
Even though we’ve only been married a year, knowing ways we can actively cultivate a healthy balance between intimacy and desire gives us confidence for the future.
Of course we’re not experts, but here are some ways we’ve worked to keep desire in our relationship:
1. We give each other space.
When people get married, it’s easy to let intimacy suffocate the relationship, entirely. You want to do everything together, know each other’s every thought, and worst of all, you expect your spouse to be your everything. I love Annie more than anyone or anything in the entire world, but she’s not my everything. She’s just a main part of the bigger picture. Focusing on my own life, health, dreams, spiritual vitality, and passions allow for me to be the best spouse that I can be. Annie and I don’t get that from obsessing about each other. When you create a space where intimacy doesn’t dominate the whole, your imagination fills in the remaining space with desire. Mystery and surprise keeps things fresh, novel, and spicy (the key ingredients for passion).
2. We encourage each other to be our best selves.
Nothing injects desire into a relationship like putting your partner in a position where you can admire them. According to Perel, couples indicated that they were most attracted to their spouses when seeing them thrive. When we see our spouses showcasing their talents or passions, we get a window into their most confident and radiant self. Hot, right?? I love seeing Annie present her stories at readings. I’m really good at bragging about how often her work has been published. When we embolden our spouses to be their best self and succeed at their highest level, we give ourselves more reasons to be infatuated and find attraction in ways that surprise us.
3. We respect each other’s turn-ons and turn-offs.
Historically when I’m with someone, not only do I unapologetically showcase my imperfections, but I almost demand that my partners love me for it. I poop with the door open, say immature jokes, and live as if there’s nothing I can do that could drive my partner away. DUMB. This is entirely unhelpful in sustaining desire in a relationship. I can’t expect to turn my wife on in the bedroom when I’m doing such a fantastic job turning her off outside of it. Couples need to have regular conversations about how to keep each other turned on. This way, by the time we get to the bedroom, we won’t have to make up some excuse about why we’re not feeling it. We’ll already be primed and ready, which leads me to my next point...
4. We cultivate a healthy erotic space.
In desire, our biological instinct will always be to go to a place where we haven’t been. I imagine this is a natural means to diversify the gene pool. Now that we’re mated for life and the emphasis has become more on romance than utility, Perel insists that there becomes “a crisis of desire.” The main traits of romantic monogamy (security, reciprocity, responsibility for the other--just to name a few) are not sexy. Let’s be real: we’re turned on by things that aren’t depicted in cheesy rom-coms. Selfishness, jealousy, power, aggression, being naughty...these are the traits of desire. So how do we create an erotic space where desire flourishes within the confines of respect, consent, and lifelong security? I can’t answer that for you, it’ll depend on who you’re with what they’re ok with (always ask). But let me just say that if you and your spouse can be thoughtful, creative, and above all, open--you may discover a serious fount of erotic desire waiting to be tapped into.
I’m sure you might still be asking yourself, “So...does intimacy actually kill desire?” The short answer is yes. The long answer is that it’s more complex than that. Marriages are at their best when they reject traditional boxes and recognize that great love couldn’t possibly be so simple. We must seek nuance and personal truth in our pursuit towards a sustainably passionate marriage. My favorite Esther Perel quote is: “The balance of intimacy and desire isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s a paradox to be managed.” Both intimacy and desire wax and wane like the moon, this has and always will be true. We break the chains that bind us when we recognize that desire will always return if we work to resurrect it. We find freedom when we explore these topics with curiosity and intentionality. Best of all, we find peace in knowing that the art of finding balance between intimacy and desire has enough work to last a married couple for a lifetime.
And that’s how two people can stay together forever.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.