Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity

“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”

Reviewing Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity feels a little like reviewing anything written by Brené Brown. Alas, it will not be a perfect review, so I may as well confront it directly. It’s more than a little anxiety inducing but also too good to let the opportunity pass. Mating in Captivity is one of those books that I think have risen to popularity because they directly confront some of the biggest issues plaguing individuals and/or relationships. It is a marker or symptom of the psychological troubles of certain demographics since the 1990’s. We crave healthy relationships and good sex while bemoaning the fact that the divorce rates have spiked and all the good partners are taken. And, we really don’t do much about it individually and/or collectively to set into motion positive changes.

“Our partner’s sexuality does not belong to us. It isn’t just for and about us, and we should not assume that it rightfully falls within our jurisdiction.”

Mating in Captivity really does have some great insights into sexuality and relational psychology. But, when I read some of the online opinions of Perel being a “woman hater,” I admit the modern feminist in me cringed a little. Never one to take someone else’s opinion as my own that easily. I kept reading the book, made a ton of notes on it, and then gave it to a friend whom I thought could use some of the insight. I realized that my notes could have been helpful for some future dissertation work on a modern survey of genre-specific literature, so I got myself a second copy and made a ton of notes on that one. It’s never as good as the first time I tell you. I have yet to chase down my original copy and see if I can ever get it back.

“Woman hater” is definitely not the worst I’ve heard or read about a writer. Rumor had it that Lewis Carroll was a child molester, and we still adore Alice in Wonderland. To many people, it is the content that counts. It would have been nice to have this book available while discovering my own sexuality. I mean that in the normal sense that most women – and men – find what they like and don’t like, their opinions, and learn about this or that, good ways of negotiating conflict with a sexual or romantic partner. It not only took the time to highlight the actual issues with sexuality, especially in a country like the United States, but it also compared perspectives with other parts of the world.

“Everyone should cultivate a secret garden.”

Our sexuality is an aspect of ourselves to cultivate like any other part. We worry about our resumes and 401k accounts and shave our legs religiously, but many of us don’t bother to think of our sexuality as something that needs an equal, if not more, amount of attention. Mating in Captivity was also incredibly validating. It’s been a personal struggle to navigate relationships, both romantic and personal, when my opinion of a relationship does not match Hallmark’s Valentine’s Day marketing campaign. I enjoy a smutty, romance novel just like the next girl. But, whenever I have dated a guy that hit all the romantic notes hard and fast, my first instinct was to bolt. And, 99% of the time I did, and I still would to this day! Why? I smartened up and read some of the books and authors Perel cites. Guess what that may end up being? Love bombing. So, for the girl or guy who’s like me and is trying to avoid repeating abusive patterns present in their family or childhood, it pays to read books like this one and follow the trail of experts.


Work Cited

Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity, Harper Paperbacks, 2017.

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