The first time I met Esther Perel, four years and four boyfriends ago, she was scarcely known, says Nayeema Raza in The Cut. Now she’s America’s “go-to relationship expert”, having counselled, we’re told, the likes of disgraced Hollywood star Armie Hammer and his ex-wife Elizabeth Chambers. When we have lunch in New York, heads constantly turn our way. I ask her the questions that haunt me: why is there so much disappointment in modern relationships? Why does the grass always seem greener? The trouble, she says, is that nowadays nothing meets “the myth” of people’s romantic aspirations. We are always “dating, dating, dating, looking for something, and constantly saying: ‘I haven’t found the right person yet,’ ‘I didn’t get dazzled’.” But you can’t expect one person to give you everything. You need other relationships, too, not least “friends to bitch about your partner with”.
In other words, we ask too much. We try to find a “soulmate” on an app, and to look “in the realm of relationships for what people used to look for in the realm of the divine: transcendence and mystery and wholeness and meaning”. And while we’re obsessed with our feelings and whether they’re authentic, the relationships that last are those based on more practical things, like shared values and aspirations. They can provide an infrastructure, a scaffolding – and that enables us to pursue our own interests, giving us “access to a community, invitations to dinners… a sense of belonging”.