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Esther Perel poses for a portrait in a 3-piece suit on a beige background
Pleased as punch to chat with the inimitable Esther Perel for a second consecutive Valentine’s Day
Zenith Richards

Esther Perel’s Three Rules for Romance

Spoiler: One of the best things to give your partner is something that costs nothing at all

Neil Patrick Harris is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Wondercade. In his spare time he also acts — fairly well, too, as his Tony and Emmy Awards can attest.

February 15, 2024 10:04 am

Esther Perel has become one of planet Earth’s most sought-after resources on love, relationships and sex…so, naturally, I’m absolutely giddy that she’s in Wondercade. Again! Good timing, too — not only because it’s Valentine’s week, but also because version two of her hit card game, Where Should We Begin? A Game of Stories, just came out (with dozens of new prompts), and her new speaking tour-slash-immersive event (she’ll engage in gameplay with the audience and basically blow — and CHANGE — your mind about your relationships) is about to kick off in Philadelphia on April 4th. Before all that, though? Three nuggets of romantic wisdom, just for you. Enjoy them. And heed them! -NPH

Esther Perel stand kneels down to speak to front row audience
Esther’s got a new speaking tour, and a new version of her game, but the same A+ advice
Michelle Donnelly

Rule #1: Give your partner simple, deep, single-focused attention

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can provide at this moment in time, when so many people are often sitting at home next to each other, watching TV and scrolling through their phones. Maybe they’re giving each other partial compliments, but it’s fractured attention: One person may tell the other something very important, but the other one just goes, “Uh huh.” So, putting everything away, and really being with each other — giving focused attention — is the most important thing to fight against loneliness. Not the type of loneliness that’s “I have no one around me,” but the loneliness that people in a relationship often feel because they’re experiencing a fractured connection.

I think it’s really important not to think of Valentine’s Day as this big production. Instead, put the focus and attention on your partner. It doesn’t have to be a night out. It doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant. It doesn’t have to be a big bouquet of flowers. It can be much more simple. It can be something like remembering that your partner said they really like a certain bench in the park, and then you go and sit on that bench. Paying attention is a very simple thing, and it’s free.

Being seen is a powerful aphrodisiac.

Rule #2: Surprise your partner with something playful they told you about earlier

One of my top rules is to ask your partner something — maybe something they want or like or have mentioned in the past — and then at a totally different time, surprise them with that very thing. For example, ask them, “What’s a text message you fantasize receiving?” and then send them that text on Valentine’s Day. For your partner, it’ll be about so much more than the text; it will send the message: “Here’s this thing I told you about, you listened, you remembered and you took me in.” There’s something very beautiful about that.

It can also be other things. For example, so much of Valentine’s Day is about giving cards — but you can write something so much better than what’s in a greeting card. Writing notes is something that is extremely beautiful that people should do in relationships all the time, whether it’s a note on a pillow, on the fridge, on the mirror, in various places. It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s low cost, low risk and low investment, but high returns. For example, you could ask your partner, “What’s a compliment you’ve loved receiving?” Then later, you actually write down the compliment and give it to them. There’s a bunch of prompts in Where Should We Begin? that were designed with this in mind: to surprise the person with the thing that they told you earlier, in a completely different context.

You can use these prompts on a date — even a first date. Don’t take the full box with you, just a few cards, and say, “Should we have a different sort of conversation, rather than the usual job interview?” Or, if you’re in a long-term relationship, you might be in a routine and perhaps have kind of forgotten to be more curious, alert and imaginative. This is a low-cost, low-investment way to be playful that helps keep a relationship alive. That’s what people really want to feel on Valentine’s Day — they don’t want to just go to a fancy restaurant, sit next to each other and wonder why they don’t have more to talk about. So I give them playful, easy tools. This is why kids have toys.

Margaritas and a card game on a paint spill style table top
An unnamed member of the Wondercade team did as Esther suggests, and played the Where Should We Begin? cards on a date. It paired beautifully with margaritas.

Rule #3: Experience the unexpected, together. Try new things that shift your perspective as a couple.

We are so isolated today as individuals and as couples. When was the last time you saw a bunch of people come with their partners or friends into a public square to have a conversation about relationships? Maybe you go to therapy, which is wonderful, but therapy is something you don’t talk about. You don’t describe what happens in the session — it’s confidential. And hardly anyone would call it play. What if we could create public, playful venues to explore and discuss the challenges of modern love?

Go out and try something new that puts you in close contact with other people who might shift your perspective.

I know of three people who bought tickets to bring their partners to my live U.S. tour of “An Evening with Esther Perel” as a Valentine’s gift. My initial thought was “That’s really nice.” But beyond that, there is a message implied: “We’re together. We talk about our relationship, but let’s go to this immersive event where we’re surrounded by thousands of other people who are also curious about relationships and the intricacies of modern love — and see what happens.”

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