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That question hit her as a revelation. She began to wonder if boys, too, suffered a psychic disconnect, and found that it happened around the age of 5, as parents pulled away so that their sons would be less dependent, more "male." Talking with the fathers of preschoolers in the late nineties, she noticed the sadness of men remembering the joy they had muffled in themselves. And in her work with couples in therapy, she saw both men and women pushing away love, repeating the old tragic story as if that were their destiny.

What she was seeing, Gilligan realized, was a landscape of human unhappiness—a desert of the spirit where people were losing their way. "My wanting to write this book was partly wanting to give them a map," she tells me. "If we know when this [closing off] happens, then we can say, 'Does it have to happen?' And the answer is no." In the story of Psyche and Cupid—presented as "an old wife's tale" by Apuleius, from Northern Africa—a girl breaks a taboo by looking at the god of love, then pursuing him until he comes back to her. That story, Gilligan explains, maps the escape route from tragedy to joy: the refusal to give up on yourself and your heart's desire. "The crucial thing in any relationship is the ability to repair the inevitable breaks," Gilligan says. "That's the rhythm of relationship—finding, losing, and then finding again."

To go more deeply into what she had learned, Gilligan took a personal journey through her own past. In The Birth of Pleasure, she breaks her academic silence to speak to the reader in a different voice—intimate, brave, and brimming with love.

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