10/30/2006 04:23 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Pleasure Of Distance

My boyfriend, Nik, and I will celebrate our seventh anniversary this year. Or more accurately, we won't. You see, we've never been much for the traditional trappings of romantic relationships. He's never bought me flowers. We don't exchange those daily phone calls updating one another on what we ate for dinner. I'm not interested in a wedding ring and he's not interested in putting one on my finger.

Some people find our lack of "closeness" alarming. "But when are you going to move in together? Get married? Get serious?" friends and family members wonder, some more urgently than others. But what they don't seem to understand is that it is not only our aversion to a discriminatory and traditionally sexist institution--marriage that is--that keeps us from taking these steps. It is also our aversion to obliteration.

We don't want to blur the lines of where one of us begins and the other ends. It is at these soluble borders that we find the intrigue that keeps our relationship interesting, keeps each of us just foreign enough to the other to be fascinating and still comfortable. Rather than finding a home in him, I find a retreat of sorts, a place where I suspend my individuality for a few hours or a few days, and then happily return to myself when he walks out the door.

Psychotherapist and sex expert, Esther Perel, explores these ideas in her fascinating new book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. In it, she argues that the conditions necessary to create security and love are diametrically opposed to those necessary for eroticism. She writes, "The challenge for modern couples lies in reconciling the need for what's safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what's exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring."

Reading Mating in Captivity was like finding the manual for my relationship that I never knew existed. "Passion in a relationship is commensurate with the amount of uncertainty you can tolerate," she writes, reminding me why I thrive on the anticipation of when I might see Nik next, not on the assurance that he will be snoring away in my bed every morning.

Of course none of this is to say that couples whom share the daily intimacies--the updates, the snuggling in front of the TV, the dishes--that Nik and I are averse to can't create the "gentle imbalance" Perel advocates. She believes it is possible to infuse more individuality and distance within even the most traditionally-structured and committed relationships, just more difficult. It requires taking a hard look at your patterns and breaking them. Dropping the flannel nightgown. Trying on a few erotic nicknames. Sharing the housework so one of you isn't too stressed to get sexy. Going on solo vacations and then coming back into one another's arms refreshed.

She also encourages those of us seeking a delicate balance between the domestic and the erotic to do something entirely radical: shut up! In a self-help crazy society where you are being encouraged to bare all to your partner or count yourself unenlightened, Perel argues the opposite. Keeping a few fantasies to yourself is healthy, she argues. Creating your own sensual and separate personality is key, as is prioritizing the body. She writes, "I would like to restore the body to its rightful prominent place in discussions about couples and eroticism." In other words, we need to stop analyzing ourselves to death and feel something.

Next time an aunt or a supervisor raises his or her eyebrows when I explain that I'm not keen on a big, white wedding, I'm going to refer them to Perel's book. As she writes, "Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy." I for one wouldn't give up the pleasure of inviting my boyfriend to sleep over for even the biggest diamond ring.