So what comes first? Love or desire? I don’t know that I necessarily believe in the love at first sight concept. How can we know we love someone at first glance? We don’t know anything about them. We don’t know if we are even compatible with the other person. What I moreso believe in is lust at first sight, interest at first sight, attraction at first sight, and chemistry at first sight. So how do we know if we are experiencing love or desire with someone in the moment?
I recommend trying an exercise on this, and it’s something that relationship scholar Esther Perel recommends. Take out a piece of paper and draw two columns. In the first one, write the world “desire,” and in the second, write the word “love.” Now, in the first column, fill in the blanks for the following: “when I think of sex, I think of…” “when I desire, I feel…” and “when I think about sex with my partner, I feel…” In the next column, do the same exercise, but with the word “love” instead of “desire.” Are the results different? In my experience, they are: Most people typically associate the word “desire” with words like “hot,” “power,” “hungry,” and “excited,” and “love” with words like “comfort” and “grounding.”
Desire often feeds passion, lust, and physical intimacy. The amount of desire that shows up in relationships constantly ebbs and flows, and it’s never the same throughout time. Things like work, stress, children, responsibilities, sweatpants can drown out desire in partnerships, and so it’s important to continue to work on developing desire. It doesn’t mean that love is lost in these relationships, love is usually there, however that spark and excitement that comes with desire has a tendency to die in the day to day mundane. Perel also notes that desire fades when we disconnect from ourselves and when we become selfless, forgetting about our needs and wants. Desire then, isn’t about what our partner does, but about what we do and the connection we have with ourselves. It’s about a psychological space we go to during intimacy, where we are with another person but able to let go of responsibility for that person and engage completely with ourselves – our physical needs, our sexual needs, our fantasies. We show up completely. We’re fully available for ourselves and this is critical for desire to flourish. On the one hand, we need security, safety, and predictability from our partnership in order to feel secure. But we also need adventure, unpredictability, mystery and surprise. We need to feel safe and secure in a relationship – we can’t build intimacy and closeness without it. We need to feel as though the relationship has staying power and that the person, we love isn’t about to walk out the door. But we also have a need for adventure and excitement. As much as we need security and safety, we need adventure and risk.
The problem is that we are asking for all of this from one person. It’s a lot to ask one person for this. A tough truth that we must all swallow is that one partner is not going to fulfill all of our needs. We want a predictable, safe partner we can trust, and we want an exciting, passionate lover. We want to be in a relationship where we feel a sense of belonging, but we want to expand our own identity.
There is a difference between love and desire. To love is to have, to desire is to want. In love we feel the having, the closeness, the belonging. The wanting is fulfilled and there’s a security in knowing that it won’t leave – that it’s safe and stable. We want that from love. We want to feel that it’s safe to give ourselves over, that we will be received and not left exposed. We want to have the person we love. We want to feel comforted by their physical nearness.
But in desire, we want something else – something unpredictable and unfamiliar. We want the excitement that comes with the mystery, the uncertainty and the unpredictability of that.
Here are some ways to cultivate more desire:
1. Spend some time apart
This idea that distance makes the heart grow fonder has some truth, although I would replace heart with desire. Desire grows when we are in absence from what we want. How often do we experience a need to have something the moment it is no longer accessible to us?
2. Observe the one you love in their element
What Perel talks about is that the time when we find our partners most attractive is when they are in their element. In their most passionate and confident state.
3. Have an idea of what makes you feel more desire and what turns desire off
Ask yourself the question: When do you shut yourself off from desire? Is it when you feel exhausted? Old? When don’t you like the way you look? When you feel as though you can’t ask? When you’re tired of giving? When receiving pleasure feels wrong? When? Similarly, ask when you turn your desire on. When do YOU turn your desire on? This is a different question to asking what turns you on. One comes from the self; one comes from the other. Is it when you miss your partner? When you feel good about yourself?
4. Know who you are when you feel desire
When you feel desire, do you feel dangerous? Is it spiritual? Is it a naughtier space? As Perel explains, sex isn’t something that you do, it’s a place where you go. If the desire has faded, reigniting it might feel awkward at first and that’s completely normal. Don’t take this as a sign to stop. Take it as a sign to keep going. Desire and passion do often require effort. It’s a misnomer to believe that desire only comes from spontaneity. With the right elements, you can cultivate desire and still hold onto love within your relationship.View Page