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Esther Perel Asks the Hard Questions about Intimacy and Infidelity

Esther Perel is the hottest therapist on the planet. Not only does she deal with sex, intimacy, and relationships, but she writes best-selling books that head straight to the heart of relationship issues.

Most recently, she released The State of Affairs which deals with, as you guessed, infidelity. It’s a loaded subject on which she draws the curtains back, revealing why people cheat and how they can recover — or not. Through this book, she says she wants to shape the cultural conversation by dismantling the surrounding fear and shame, leaving room for introspection on human dynamics.

“It’s a book about relationships through the lens of infidelity because infidelity encompasses the entire human drama,” she said. “The book looks beyond the outrage and the vilification and our immediate responses to those events, and asks ‘why did this happen’ and ‘what can we do?’”

To launch the book, Bumble co-hosted a panel with Women@Forbes which Perel moderated. She invited four panelists all at different points in their lives — single, gay, married and straight. To them, and to the audience, she posed a series of questions.

How do we transition from the sphere or work to the realm of home?

How is the current news cycle impacting your relationships?

“Staying when you can leave is the new shame.” Do you agree?

Can someone be loyal but not faithful?

The beauty in the conversation was that there is no correct answer or even an overwhelmingly common answer. The purpose of posing them was not to arrive in a finite place of agreement. Rather, she used the questions to allow everyone to discuss and consider deep-routed stigmas and how to break free of them. 

Perhaps the most impactful thing Perel said in light of the outpouring of sexual harassment allegations in the current news cycle was that “men need a place where men can be safely vulnerable and women can be safely angry.” Perel doesn’t claim that this can easily be done, but she does suggest it’s the only way for our society to compassionately heal and move forward. 

To start your own journey in asking the same kinds of questions around relationships and betrayal in particular, begin by free associating with the world “infidelity.” The words you choose my surprise you (think: “jealousy” and “betrayal’ or “love” and “truth”) and illuminate a lot about your personal experiences. To keep that growth going, don’t hesitate to pick up Esther’s latest book, read Women@Forbes’ recap of the event, and stay tuned for Bumble’s interview with her next week.