Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Friendship, eros, charity

A New York sexologist by the name of Esther Perel has gratified us with a book, Mating in captivity, lavishing all her wisdom about sexual desire and how to keep it alive.

It seems that many couples after a while that they are together experiment a dreadful fall of their sexual desire. They want to stay together as a couple, but don't feel like making love anymore. Well, if they just accept it, it's no big trouble: there is no law that prescribes to do it. The trouble springs when desire is aroused by other people, and they follow their impulse. Then you have infidelity, and that's no good.

OK, Perel argues, we can't stand infidelity, it is dishonest; but there is a solution: to be utterly honest with each other. She envisions so negotiating couples, who come thus to agree on what one can accept from the other in violation of the exclusiveness of their sexual involvement. In this way, she suggests, even their mutual desire can gain in vitality.

I would suggest another kind of therapy: ama et fac ut vis (Saint Augustine). For those who don't know Latin: love, and do as you want.

The catchword here is ama. What does it prescribe?

C. S. Lewis wrote a marvelous little book, Four Loves, in answer to the question of what is "love". So much more marvelous, the less it claimed to any originality in the basic finding. It was enough for him to observe that we use the word in four different way: to mean "affection", "friendship", "eros", and "charity"; and analyze each one in turn.

Now, I leave aside the first, which is that we can prove toward our doggies, in general pets, or the things we are familiar with.

Eros is the one in question here: i.e. the attraction between a man and a woman that makes them engage in sexual games, which seems to falter after a while, so they are driven to look for novel experiences.

The alternative (to Perel's) therapy I suggest is to keep eros together with friendship and charity.

Friendship is the pleasure people draw from each other's company. Thus said, we can ask where such a pleasure comes from. Lewis' acute observation is that people are always friends in an idea, some shared likings. More: from Aristotle to Cicero it was stressed that only virtuous people can be friends, thanks to the appreciation of the good present in the other.

Charity is the readiness to give.

Now, back to the imperative ama. It doesn't prescribe a feeling, which would be absurd (how could you ever obey such a prescription?). What it prescribes is always a performance, the reciprocal giving of one's own life, in whatever ways one might willingly manifest it.

Here is also the idea in which lovers (in the current, erotic sense of the word) can be friends: that of a relationship in which one looks at the other as precious and uniquely good. Having something that only he or she can give: his or hers total self.

I assure you that in such a case, where friendship and charity are alive between lovers, eros cannot fail. Sexual desire stays alive too.


1 comment:

Redspect said...

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