If there is one thing we all need help with as entrepreneurs, it’s not growing businesses or marketing for success. It’s managing our personal lives with others.
If our generation’s infamous hookup culture and worst Tinder fails are any indication, we don’t need business advice, we desperately need advice on dating, relationships, and sex- especially for those of us in the startup scene.
That’s where world renowned sex therapist, author, and speaker Esther Perel comes in. Off the bat, she makes one thing clear.
“I have no business background and have never had a business plan.”
And yet business leaders around the world clamor for her advice on all of the above when it comes to relationships. Why? Because as we all know, great relationships mean success in your personal life which radiates into other spheres, like business.
In 2006 she published Mating in Captivity which became an international bestseller. She has 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist in her New York City-based practice and also has valuable experience as a trainer and consultant in the non-profit world as well as with Fortune 500 companies.
She is a woman who has seemingly mastered the field of relationships when business, sex, porn, and cheating and adultery are involved- especially all the problems Gen-Y has with them. But don’t take our word for it; she explained her job to us in one definitive sentence.
“My mission is to bring a psychological wisdom to the topic of relationships in all sectors of society, to probe the intricacies of love and desire in modern love and to elevate the conversation about sexuality away from the smut and sanctimony that typically surrounds the subject of sex.”
She unleashed her wealth of advice to us when we asked about entrepreneurs and relationships. Contrary to what many business and startup advisors might tell you, being in a relationship while growing a company is actually a great thing. As she explains,
“Entrepreneurs must learn to straddle the commitment, the passion, and the focus they bring to the personal and the professional dimensions of life. It always amazes me how much energy and attention they invest in their start up, and how often they bring the leftovers home. Treat your partners as well as you treat your customers, I say.”
If Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen’s recent scandal or the sexual exploits of the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggest, it’s that people (read men) with any type of power especially need help with handling relationships successfully. According to a popular belief, financial and personal power are almost synonymous with adultery and infidelity. Perel actually suggests the opposite:
“When men with disposable income “cheat” as you write, and they resort to paid sex, let us not be naïve and think it is because they by definition feel so great… This is to say that sometimes money and power lead to cheating, but other times it is the exact opposite, and it is powerlessness that fuels the infidelity.”
And when we questioned Esther on the problems 20-year-olds have with relationships and sex, she had much to share. When it comes to guys and sex, she outlined an all too true problem:
“Girls continue to do what women have always done- they take what they get, they don’t know what they want or how to ask for it. Boys think they should know, and they’ll spend hours researching an app, but will not research how to become better lovers or partners.”
Along with her many other titles, Esther is also a mother; she has two sons. What’s it like having a sex therapist as a mother? Pretty awesome it seems, and her advice on relationships and sex certainly extends to them. “No need to hide it, let’s talk,” she says. Advice ranges from:
“When sex in a relationship goes well, it takes up 15%, but when it is a problem, is takes up 75%.”
And of course:
“Make sure to respect the girl, never to push, check in with her the next day, I want to know the name of the girl who stays here and meet her at the breakfast table.“
We had the opportunity to be enlightened by Esther over email where she discussed the most common misconceptions about sex in our society today, how finding that perfect relationship isn’t actually about finding the perfect partner, but about being the right person, and all the things our generation has to change about dating, relationships, and sex.
Read our full interview with Esther Perel below.
Many startup advisors warn against being in a relationship when growing a company. Are you for or against young entrepreneurs committed to relationships while building their startups?
“My colleague Tony Robbins often says that the quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships. I agree. Work and love are two pillars of our life and both depend on how well we manage our relationships with others. Entrepreneurs must learn to straddle the commitment, the passion, and the focus they bring to the personal and the professional dimensions of life. It always amazes me how much energy and attention they invest in their start up, and how often they bring the leftovers home. Treat your partners as well as you treat your customers, I say. You will do better at work if your home life is stronger and your business will benefit from the resilience of your relationship.”
MSNBC conducted a study between men who made $35,000 a year versus men who made over $300,000 a year; 21% of the men who made less money reported cheating on their partner while 32% of the wealthier men reported cheating.
Do you agree that an increase in income means an increase in adultery?
“When it comes to adultery, there is a historical and universal double standard. Men have always been granted the social sanction to stray. But please note that statistics about infidelity are notoriously unreliable. Men exaggerate and women under represent. That said, men have always derived their sense of confidence from their achievements, measured by their financial success. This applies just as much to their sexual prowess and performance. Power and sex often go together. Clearly if you have more power and more resources, you have more opportunities. You are more confident, and you may feel more entitled. You’re also more attractive to women who are socialized with the same mother’s milk. But men (like women) seek attention and confirmation from their dalliances and their affairs, so one could ask, if they are really so confident, why do they need constant reassurance?
It isn’t only that a man who struggles financially may not feel that he has the power to seduce in the same way as his rich fellow can, but he may be too worried about his next paycheck to think about distractions.
It is important to know that contrary to the idea that men are biological creatures always in perpetual motion looking for a sexual outlet, men too experience their sexual mojo in direct proportion with how they feel about themselves. Man’s sexual desire is driven by his sense of himself, his feeling of self worth, his degree of anxiety, his depression.
There are so many versions of adultery. Most surveys don’t go beyond the simple question of “Have you had sex with anyone but your spouse/girlfriend in the last 12 months?” What exactly does this tell us? Have we even agreed on what sex is between two people?
When men with disposable income “cheat” as you write, and they resort to paid sex, let us not be naïve and think it is because they by definition feel so great. The very act of paying frees them of some of the deepest sexual vulnerabilities men feel. You pay and you need not fear rejection, you need not fear inadequacy, you need not doubt if she is faking. This is to say that sometimes money and power lead to cheating, but other times it is the exact opposite, and it is powerlessness that fuels the infidelity.”
What are the greatest common misconceptions that you feel society has about sex?
“Where to begin? The myth of spontaneity- that sex should be unprompted, it just happens; the focus on frequency, performance, genitals and orgasm; that foreplay is five minutes before the real thing; that sexual problems are always the result of relationship problems and that when you fix the relationship, the sex automatically follows; that intimacy always begets sexuality, that men are roamers and women are domestic creatures.”
What do you think are the biggest problems that young people in their twenties have when it comes to dating and sex?
“I see most of the 20-something people in workshops, at curated events, at entrepreneurial gatherings, and some in my therapy practice.
20-year-olds may seek love and they may not. When it comes to intimate relationships, a feature of the times is that you are chosen on the basis solely of who you are, your looks, your smarts, your authenticity, (versus your class, dowry, religion, education, etc. as it used to be) so when you are chosen (be it Tinder, FB, dating) you feel special, affirmed, seen for who you are and recognized. But when you are not responded to, deleted or rejected, it is an acute sense of failure. There is no social buffer. It’s all about you, who you are, and what you are not. Romantic pain has always existed, but I agree with the sociologist Eva Illouz that the romantic misery of today is unfiltered, it is more complete. Gen-Y gets to date dozens of people in a few months, be rejected by dozens, try on for size, discard- it gets to be cold, hard, and alienating. Applying a consumer ethos to dating is one of the more painful aspects of relationships today. Commodifying sex is almost passé, but commodifying people the way we tend to do now? Ouch! That hurts!
Another point is that the sexual promiscuity of many 20-year-olds does not reflect knowledge. So many have received bad, little or no sexual sex education. Porn may be exciting but it is poor sex-ed. Girls continue to do what women have always done- they take what they get, they don’t know what they want or how to ask for it. Boys think they should know, and they’ll spend hours researching an app, but will not research how to become better lovers or partners.
I have had many amazing conversations with 20-something men who I see are much more open than the boomers generation I am a part of. I wonder if that may be partly related to the fact that many boys have grown up with single mothers, and they are more sensitized. There are many great changes in our society that have benefited men. The greatest victory of feminism is how much more men/fathers spend time with their kids. Not disciplining time, [but] relatedness time.[20-something] women have worked hard to build themselves up, and they often fear that relationships threaten them with a loss of self. ‘How to connect to him and not lose me,’ they ask. They learned from their mothers. The 20-year-olds [of today] are the children of the divorced and the disillusioned. They would like to do better. And one thing they are certainly doing, that is postpone marriage or commitment by a decade. Theirs is the capstone marriage.
They are more intransigent toward infidelity than their parents were, but also more open towards consensual non-monogamy and polyamory. They are the children of the age of transparency and they value radical honesty. When they are ready for commitment, they want the stability of committed relationship but not at the cost of personal fulfillment.
Meeting 20-year-old gays and lesbians reminds me how much things have changed, at least in NYC. So much more freer and “out” in comparison to the LGBTQ of my generation. Growing up gay knowing you can marry, have a family, and if you choose too- now that is a whole new world view.”
You are also a mother, you have two sons. What are the greatest values you personally feel that you must communicate to them?
“Now I respond as a mother, and that is not the same voice as the cultural observer. I get to put my bias into the mix.
1. I have always insisted on a contract of trust with my sons. I know you smoke, drink, have sex. No need to hide it, let’s talk.
2. Have sex with a plot, the story matters. When love and sex are together, it’s magic.
3. Make sure to respect the girl, never to push, check in with her the next day, I want to know the name of the girl who stays here and meet her at the breakfast table.
4. I have 30 years [of experience] with your father, what would you like to know?
5. When sex in a relationship goes well, it takes up 15%, but when it is a problem, is takes up 75%.”
What kind of advice would you give to younger business professionals for finding a great partner that can help balance their work and personal lives?
“Know that building a good relationship demands lots of psychological intelligence. Use any opportunity to learn, like you are when building your startup; you listen to countless webinars, attend mastermind groups, and read success biographies. The same applies to intimate relationships- why do people not see that? We learn to be in relationship and we learn to cultivate the erotic.
Doing for the other just because it matters to them is huge. Think less about “finding the right person” and more about being the “right person.” Watch out for applying market economy to relationships. We’re not products. Watch out for the FOMO [fear of missing out] mentality.”
Along with giving excellent relationship advice, Esther stays a very busy woman.
She is currently writing her new book, The State of Affairs: Cheating In The Age Of Transparency, which is due in 2016 under HarperCollins Publishers. She also writes a monthly column for Psychologies UK.
Esther also serves as a consultant on the upcoming Showtime series “The Affair,” created by Sara Treem and Hagai Levy, the same team behind “In Treatment” and “House of Cards.”
Riding off the great success of her online relationship workshop called Love Sex and Power this summer, she will be leading another workshop in October.
Unsurprisingly, she shares her relationship advice all over the world.
Later this month she will be talking in Delhi, India where she will be traveling with her husband Jack, then it’s on to Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Austin, and more.\
She also plans to be speaking at The Feast in New York City in October, at Success 3.0 in Boulder, Colorado with Arianna Huffington, Alanis Morissette, Tony Hsieh, and Richard Branson and Co., as well as leading an event with Dan Savage in November on Infidelity: The Truth About Love, Lust, and Loyalty.
Check out Esther’s upcoming webinar on reclaiming curiosity, connection, and passion in your relationship.