Having anything, means that one risks losing it. That is true of possessions, of life, and of course of love. But because one risks losing something, surely that does not mean one should never try to achieve it. As Lord Tennyson said (yes, Lord Tennyson and not Shakespeare), “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Indeed, it was Shakespeare who said, “For violent fires soon burn out themselves” (Richard II).
This does not seem to deter us from falling or trying to fall in passionate love. What is remarkable about the loss of love is that it can be particularly debilitating and difficult to overcome. It often remains within one’s psyche as a bleeding wound even when a new love has replaced it. Some people never recover.
Losing one’s health, death, the collapse or deterioration of material possessions–these are either inevitable or beyond one’s control. They are not necessarily personal insults. They are not a statement about how lovable, desirable, or attractive one is or not. And that is why the pain of lost love is so intense. One is negated, rejected, rubbished. And even the old excuse, “It is me not you”, does not seem to help.
Yet the fact is that powerful and passionate as love is, it is still an emotion. Very often another part of our brain countermands the emotion and counsels logic, opportunism, or simply concession to other people or other demands. (Not to mention the other parts that press the claims for lust and excitement). Most of our lives are led trying to find a balance between the logical and the emotional–what we want and what is appropriate to the given circumstances. Still, we humans tend to want everything. We either strive for possession or perfection.
Even God started out as an idealist. He wanted unconditional love and obedience. He only gave Adam one command, but that was enough to highlight the fault line. Any statement “you can’t” seems to invite betrayal. Love is not control. Control, domination, exploitation is a denial of genuine love. Having created humanity with the capacity for choice, God was in a way forced by the very willfulness of man to set him free from his Garden of Eden. If you love someone you must let him go.
The prophet Hoseah describes the relationship between God and Man. “When the Lord spoke through Hosea, He said to ‘Go, take a wife who is a whore and will have children of infidelity, for the people (land) has committed adultery in departing from the Lord'” (Hosea 1:2).
Hoshea asks us to imagine the awful pain that a betrayed lover feels, even when he knew from the start what the outcome would be. In this case it is God. It is the nature of love, spiritual and physical, to yearn for a perfect merging of two souls. The ideal is a marriage based on love, not just contractual obligation. “And it shall be on that day, says the Lord, that you shall call me my “Man” (“Ishi”); and no longer my “Master” (“Baali”)” (Hosea 2.18). The relationship of “Ish Ve Isha”, a man for a woman and of course vice versa, is a relationship of total commitment. The relationship of a husband as a master “Baal” is just a contract. So if God can aspire to a passionate devoted relationship, of course that must be what He wants for us too!
Yet most of us fail in our relationships to some degree. I was selfish and self-centered as a young man. What I thought was “love” was really “desire.” I had an agenda for my life and that was going determine my choice of partner. Later I came to understand that love is a very different, much more profound phenomenon because it is based on “give” rather than “want.” It is something very few people are privileged to experience. In most cases, marriage is either the mistaken next step from desire and passion or, on the other hand, an arrangement between families or individuals.
If in either case it succeeds it is because both parties want it to. And wanting it to succeed, requires a degree of agreement, shared values, and aspirations as well as the decision to remain faithful. Not unlike the decision to be religious, interestingly. The amazing thing is that to the Western mind it seems inconceivable that an arrangement can actually lead to as much love and as deep a passion as falling madly in love at first sight.
I have met people who have been scared of love simply for the fear of losing it and being hurt. Just as some fear being completely honest about themselves for it leads to vulnerability. And just as some shy away from marriage because they think a successful marriage must be founded on ‘love at first sight.’
The fact is that love and marriage do not always “go together like a horse and carriage”. If they do, it is a blessing. But they are two very different processes. There is sexual attraction and there is compatibility. That’s why a couple having lived and slept together for several years, then get married, may still break up.
And that leads me to the next installment. If marriage is an arrangement, does the pain of infidelity inevitably mean it is all over, forever?