HBO's 'The White Lotus': How to Explore Your Authentic Needs
Our sexual desires are often a big part of what draws us to relationships at first. However, these same desires can affect the quality of relationships if we don't recognize the impact of said lustful feelings.
Nowhere is this more on display than in the second season of HBO's popular TV series "The White Lotus," based on the town of Taormina on the southeast coast of the gorgeous Italian island of Sicily, which ties in with the show's main theme: sex.
What's great about the show is that the depicted desires say a lot about real-life relationships and the inevitable pitfalls of dysfunctional couplings.
One type of desire explicitly named by one character (Ethan) is mimetic desire, which he mentions as his friend Cameron flirts with his wife, Harper. Ethan believes Cameron is attracted to Harper only because he is married to her.
"Mimetic desire is the desire we feel toward someone or something that is sparked or enhanced because someone else values and wants that someone or something," said Rhian Kivits, a Relate-trained sex and relationship therapist based in Plymouth, England.
This phenomenon of mimetic desire can be present in many aspects of human life and is naturally problematic for relationships. French philosopher René Girard coined the term based on his own experiences.
Mimetic desire can have a negative impact on personal relationships because it can cause a "sense of disconnection and lack of fulfillment," said Niki Davis-Fainbloom, M.A., a sex educator at Practical Psychology in Brooklyn, New York.
"When we focus too much on trying to possess what others have or become like them, we can lose sight of our own unique qualities and values, leading to a sense of inadequacy," Davis-Fainbloom said.
To counter this, we need to look for our own values and desires instead of the "cautionary tale" shown in "The White Lotus," she added.
Our focus on looks
It's common for initial attraction to revolve around how someone looks. This is especially true when using dating apps, where research has shown that users swipe right on a match largely based on physical features. While all the characters in "The White Lotus" are physically attracted to one another, that doesn't mean they should all be in their respective pairings.
Looks alone are not enough to create a deep, meaningful, long-term connection between couples, Kivits explained. This is relevant to mimetic desire as people deal with what they are driven to want by external factors as opposed to authentic desire.
"There can be a facade element to these relationships that can quickly become a pattern as dating someone with good looks that other people desire can make partners feel relevant or deliver a significant ego boost," she added.
In "The White Lotus," both Daphne and Cam indulge in affairs outside their marriage, a complex dynamic since it's unclear how they have defined this outlet for their desire.
This may not be unusual as Avril Louise Clarke, M.A., a clinical sexologist and intimacy coordinator based in Barcelona, Spain, explained that open relationships can take many forms.
Couples such as Daphne and Cam may find that a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy works well.
"Especially when there are rules and boundaries created in the primary partnership when discussing the opening of the relationship," she added.
They are not alone, as one survey showed 1 in 5 people among 9,000 U.S. singles had been in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship. A Canadian survey of 2,000 people ages 18 to 94 found the same result.
Examine your identity and desires
When it comes to using your desire to find a connection that's right for you, two of the most important elements are your own sense of identity as well as the values you're looking for that complement your own.
Kivits explained that it's important to do the work to explore "true feeling, authentic attraction and identifying real desires." She recommended this strategy as being so essential that it's something you should investigate with a therapist, if necessary.
"Our personal identity is not some inherent quality inside of us," said Barbara Burt, Psy.D., program chair at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Phoenix, based in Sedona, Arizona. "It's created by us based on what we come to believe about ourselves, others and the world throughout our lives."
This creation is often based on our early experiences with caregivers who help shape our belief systems.
One way to examine whether a desire is real is to ask yourself whether you would spend joyful time with this person, without anyone else present. She called this the juxtaposition between the external locus of control (what other people have or do) and the internal locus of control (what I want to do).
It is this self-reflection, and the choices we make as a result of that self-reflection, that lays the foundation for positive relationships.
"As we chose to value another person and notice they value us in return, a genuine relationship develops," Burt explained.
This work can also mean that when a relationship ends, both yourself and the other person can feel better about what you shared, with fewer feelings of resentment, guilt or humiliation that can stem from an inauthentic connection.
Another bonus is that these bonds may last longer or even develop into true friendships over time. Once you look inside yourself to further examine your desires, the more successfully they will translate into finding a partner and the less likely you will be to see your relationship played out on a TV show like "The White Lotus."