Love. We want it more than anything else in the world. From the time that our infantile search for assurance is assuaged by the warmth of skin-to-skin contact, our quest for connection and bonding does not end until the day we die, and even the moment of death is sweetened by the presence of those dear to us.
We pursue love endlessly. We spend our lives communicating its value through every human means of self-expression. We are afraid of its power and often choose not to love rather than to be vulnerable to the pain of frustration, or worse still, rejection.
I still remember the yearning and the fear activated on Valentine's Day: "Whom shall I give my valentine to? Do they want it? Will they send one to me?"
As we grow older the words we lacked as children enter our inner dialogue. "Will anyone ever really love me? Can I trust myself enough to love anyone sincerely?"
Our landscape is littered by words that disguise betrayal.
Our society has failed us. Our landscape is littered by words that disguise betrayal. We victimize ourselves ceaselessly. We want to be loved and to give love, but don't know how to do it without destroying what we want most in the process.
Let us examine the source of our ambiguity toward love -- from the source of life itself.
THE SOURCE OF AMBIGUITY
The Torah tells us that Adam, the first human, was created in the image of God. Adam could have seen himself as completely whole and without any need to search for connection or meaning. But the text continues and says that it was "not good for Adam to be alone." We then learn about the separation of Adam into two beings -- Man (Ish) and Woman (Isha).
What Adam lacked as an unencumbered single individual was the opportunity to give and receive in a meaningful way. After the division, Adam is described by the Talmud as being like a person who lost something and can't stop searching for it.
But the Torah is unwilling to allow the search to disintegrate into a quest that has a single goal -- just being beloved. There must be an additional goal that prevents the process from becoming the cannibalistic feast that it sometimes is.
So the Torah instructs: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife."
Since the first man obviously had no human parents, this directive is puzzling. Who exactly should he leave? The answer the Sages give is that he must leave the child-parent relationship.
The normal relationship between parents and children is that parents give and children receive.
The normal relationship between parents and children is that parents give and children receive. The love that grows between them is surprisingly unbalanced. Parents love their children far more than most children love their parents. There is a flaw inherent in the relationship that causes this misbalance. Love is never the result of taking. It is the result of giving. The more we give, the more we love. The more we love, the more we are beloved.
A MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIP
In order for the relationship between man and woman to work, it must first be defined meaningfully. When either partner yearns to be someone's "baby love," the relationship is doomed.
Which takes us to Cupid himself. The arrows he shoots are painful, but exquisite in the joy that only love brings. If grabbing and hunting doesn't do it, what does?
The only answer is a marriage in which both partners are willing to feel vulnerable enough to let themselves express love by giving of themselves freely. This ideal is difficult to live up to in a society where Judy Seifer, Ph.D., president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, cautions women: "Keep your expectations in check. Realize that this wonderful man had a very full life before he met you... you are only part of it... Show him that you're an independent person."
What is she saying? Don't count on anyone. Have low expectations. Don't humiliate yourself by loving anyone other than yourself.
We wear armor and protect ourselves from what we want the most. Make no mistake: the Torah recognizes that we are imperfect people, living in an imperfect world. While it tells us to love, it also teaches us how to preserve our emotional integrity. We are fragile. We are broken easily by selfishness and rejection.
So how does the Torah give us the balance we need?
THE TORAH ANSWER
When a man meets a woman with whom he would like to have a relationship, he must realize that he owes it to himself to find what he has lost, what he has been looking for all the time. The man is simultaneously restricted from what I shall call "hunting." Every woman must be treated as a human. Only on that basis can the relationship be one in which he genuinely cleaves to her and becomes one with her.
To make this work, women must also make a decision.
To make this work, women must also make a decision. They must decide to reject the societal notion that they can be loved honestly, while at the same time defining themselves as prey.
Women, as well as men, are required to be (of all things) modest. It must be their decision to project themselves as truly human, if they want to be seen as such.
Modesty is not a hang-up. It is a choice to be one's highest and most human self.
Wendy Shalit wrote in her landmark "A Return to Modesty" (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1999):
This is becoming our great modern divide, his commitment problem and her hang-up problem. These two problems have re-emerged together for a reason. A society, which sees her modesty or her "hang-ups" as a problem, is necessarily a society, which will not get him to commit.
The time has come for a new order in the world of love. We must realize that our vulnerability is the very point at which we break through the barriers separating us from one another.
We must embrace our vulnerability. For it is only then that we can live, and love, without fear and without thoughtlessness.