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Self-deception, love, and grace

A couple of months ago, Esther Perel was part of a discussion panel hosted by the interintellect.

They shared a short clip of Esther talking about the importance of self-deception in a relationship, which caught my attention:


I do think that the experience of love comes with a very good dose of self-deception. It’s useful. I mean, if you really had to know the truth of your partner in its nakedness, it’d be unbearable half the time. You know, you want just a bit of self-delusion, actually. You don’t want denial, but you do want to hold on to something imaginative. That is what allows you to step outside of the situations that we get into and kind of say it’s not that important because there’s a bigger plot. There’s a massive narrative here that is more important, and it is called a relationship.

I find this very thought-provoking! I think there are maybe a few reasons I find this interesting:

First, at least to me, “self-deception” carries some baggage. I suspect most people probably have at least an initial negative reaction to the idea of self-deception. We’d like to think we’re “better than that” – we see things the way they really are, rather than through a homemade prism of lies.

I think that’s silly. I think most (all?) people, myself included, deceive themselves every day about a myriad of things. And that’s ok! This can be a healthy way of dealing with what can often be the difficult realities of life. All things in moderation, of course1.

My interpretation of what Esther said is that sometimes it’s necessary to deceive ourselves in for the greater good of the relationship (“there’s a massive narrative here that is more important, and it is called a relationship”).2

After pondering this for a while, I think my stance looks something like this:

That self-deception is important and useful in a young relationship. Amanda and I met when we were just eighteen. As it turns out, eighteen year olds are at least slightly imperfect!3 But, helpfully, eighteen year olds are also capable of slight (enormous?) amounts of self-deception. As a result, we found it rather effortless to look past each others’ faults. Or rather, not to even see them at all.

And that’s great! We could just stop there, and probably be perfectly happy.

But I think there’s more. In fact, I know there is. I think ideally, that self-deception grows and matures into grace over time.

Amanda and I have been together for nearly twenty years now, and I feel quite certain she could catalog my faults, my weaknesses, my failings better than anyone else. After all, she is lucky enough to experience those things more often than anyone else.

My friend Visa has a great thread on this topic, starting here:

Despite all of that, we’re still married! We love each other, intensely. Fanatically.

Actually “despite” isn’t right at all. It’s more because of those faults, I think, in a way. Grace is powerful enough that we can see those faults – truly, deeply, see them – and say “yeah, that’s my person”. In a sense we’re choosing to adopt those faults as our own. To fully own them, and accept them, and love them.

So, I’m pretty sure that ideally, young self-deception grows into wise and chosen grace. Eyes wide open, fully seeing, and fully choosing grace4.


  1. Ok not literally. Not all things. “Some things in moderation” doesn’t quite have the same ring, though.

  2. I feel compelled to note that I’m not trying to disagree with/argue with/whatever Esther Perel. I think she’s very wise and has contributed an immense amount of good to relationship discourse. I’m really just trying to riff on what she said, and extend it.

  3. We’re perfect now, of course.

  4. Of course, grace alone isn’t enough for a healthy marriage (or any other relationship). That’s just what I’m writing about today.

Revisions fart