Sunday’s Wisdom #117: Romantic Foundations

“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears. Add to that the effects of physical desire – and the excitement you spoke of – and all good sense and judgment fall away. But love founded only on loneliness and desire will die out before long. A shared history, tradition, and values will link two people more thoroughly than any physical act.”
– Rabbi Avram Meyer, The Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker

As it is Valentine’s Day in two days, I thought this appropriate. 🙂

At this point in this book, which I had the pleasure of reading quite recently, an elderly rabbi is speaking with the female golem he has taken in, Chava. She knows very little of the world, but she is intelligent, curious, and quick to grasp at least parts of the truths she is searching for. Right at this moment, she is speaking to her mentor concerning men, women, affection, and the more intimate acts a couple may engage in.

In particular, Chava is learning about the dire situation of a woman who finds herself pregnant while yet unmarried, back in 1900. The man has a much easier escape from the situation. Though his reputation might rightfully be smeared if he is unable to remain publicly anonymous for his deeds, he is still fully capable of walking away with minimal consequences. The woman, on the other hand, cannot avoid being publicly shamed, and her prospects for employment back in 1900 were somewhere between minimal and nonexistent. A terrible injustice, that.

What Chava is wondering about is why humans would take such a risk. She understands, academically, the excitement that comes with risk, but there is much more to it than that. The rabbi explains, with the above quote. People can feel lonely, and that loneliness can get the better of them the moment they meet someone who makes that feeling fall away for awhile. They desire companionship, they feel excited, they are with someone attractive… and every self-restraint is broken. They feel “warm,” so to speak, after a great deal of time in the “cold.” So they let their passions burn them all up.

But, as the rabbi says, such love has an unstable foundation. The pressures of everyday life, the ultimate of which is the prospect of raising a family together, will weight them down and smother that affection they once had for each other, and that’s if such feeling was ever genuine in the first place, which… it isn’t always. But whether the source of their intimacy be true or false, it ends up burning them.

Love is about so much more than just one physical act. Love is more than a single physical act. It’s even more than a single choice. A relationship of this nature needs a foundation which is strong, broad, and deep. It needs time. It needs proper communication. It needs true friendship. It needs so many things, and among them: shared values, priorities, and goals.

That is what Rabbi Meyer is speaking of when he talks about shared history, tradition, and values.

To work together for the rest of their lives, they must know what they are working towards and why.

So, to all of you couples out there who have made it work, and continue to do so, I salute you all.

To all of you who are looking for someone to love, or who are falling in love as we speak, I wish you the best of luck, and advise you to be wise.

To all of you who have suffered terrible heartbreak, for any reason, you have my most profound sympathies and encouragement. Remember: you are strong.

And to all of you who are just starting out, or who have yet to find that special someone, I am rooting for you. Be bold, but also be careful, and please, treat every act of love with the true sincerity it deserves.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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