This Is What's Wrong With Modern Relationships — Esther Perel Explains

Psychotherapist & Author By Esther Perel
Psychotherapist & Author
Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel is the New York Times bestselling author of The State of Affairs and Mating in Captivity. Her celebrated TED talks have garnered more than 20 million views and she is also the host of the popular podcast Where Should We Begin?
This Is What's Wrong With Modern Relationships — Esther Perel Explains
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

We live in an era of on-demand dating. You want someone now, you don't want them in two hours, or vice versa. Our lack of accountability, one might argue, is what's standing in the way of successful, lasting relationships for the younger generation.

Esther Perel, relationship expert (you might've seen one of her viral TED Talks on desire or infidelity, or heard about her book, Mating In Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence) has a few choice words about this era of ghosting and back-burner dating. Check out her perspective on the epidemic of non-confrontational rejection, and learn how to stop the cycle.

“I’ve been dating a woman for three weeks, but after we had sex for the first time, she’s stopped texting me back. WTF?” – Edward, 36

Rejection has always been a part of the relationship landscape. But is the new trend of ghosting increasing our acceptance of ambiguous ends?

It’s time to bring back relationship accountability.

Last month, I spoke about love at a conference with 2,500 millennials. There, I was introduced to these new norms of intimate relationships and the corresponding vocabulary. These tactics of maintaining unclear relationships and prolonging breakups all produce what I call stable ambiguity. This means you're afraid to be alone but unwilling to fully engage in intimacy building — a holding pattern that affirms the undefined nature of the relationship, which has a mix of comforting consistency AND the freedom of blurred lines.

We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to have someone available to cozy up with when it’s snowing, but if something better comes along, we want the freedom to explore.

In this relationship culture, expectations and trust are in constant question. The state of stable ambiguity inevitably creates an atmosphere in which at least one person feels lingering uncertainty, and neither person feels truly appreciated or nurtured. We do this at the expense of our emotional health, and the emotional health of others.

It’s time to bring back relationship accountability.

In situations like Edward’s, the ghostee hopes the ghosted will just “get the hint,” as opposed to having to communicate that he/she is no longer interested. However, inaction has causality. At first, Edward runs the gamut of reasons he hasn’t heard back: She must be having a really busy work week. She lost her phone. She doesn’t want to seem too eager.

At first, relaxed and patient, Edward tries to be understanding, but his attempts at insight soon morph into uncertainty and self-doubt. Am I bad in bed? Did I say something to offend her? Am I unlovable? In the absence of information, he will fill the gaps, and what he imagines is most likely worse than reality.

Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences to others. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.

I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This allows both people to enter into their next relationships with more experience and a clear head rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.

Here are a few ideas the other person would appreciate you addressing in a final conversation:

  • Thank you for what I’ve experienced with you.
  • This is what I take with me, from you.
  • This is what I want you to take with you, from me.
  • This is what I wish for you, hence forward.

Of course, duos dancing in the stable ambiguity zone don’t always end in breakup. Sometimes this state is the training wheels period needed for one or both parties to realize they want something more. This is normal for a brief, beginning phase but not as the defining mode of a relationship.

Have you been ghosted? How did it feel? Do you wish you could redo a breakup? Leave your comments below: I would love for you to be part of this conversation.

Related Reads:

Esther Perel
Esther Perel
Psychotherapist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices...
Read More
More from the author:
The Essential Guide To Effective Communication in Your Relationship
Check out The Essential Guide To Effective Communication in Your Relationship
View the class
Esther Perel
Esther Perel
Psychotherapist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most...
Read More

More On This Topic

A Meditation Expert's 14-Day Guide
More Relationships

Popular Stories


Latest Articles

Latest Articles

Sites We Love

Your article and new folder have been saved!