Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Shmuley Says

Shmuley who? First, I can't even believe there is someone named Shmuley, but there is.

Not only is he real, he's smart. Who is he, you ask?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, that's who. This is something I got in an email years ago, that he was credited as writing, and I've decided to post it here because I recently re-read it and it's just wonderful.

Commitment Before Love

The great secret, says the Rabbi, is that if you decide to fall in love, your heart will follow.

Love isn't something discovered and sealed in an instant; rather, it's something that develops, deepens, and strengthens through a couples shared experiences. The more time you spend together, the more openness you share; the more conversations you have and events you experience as a couple, the deeper in love you’ll fall. In addition to becoming one flesh through lovemaking and one spirit through shared spiritual goals, you must also become one mind through shared memories and one heart through shared joys and pain. Hence, a long life of shared experience is the very fabric of love, weaving its intertwined threads into a single brilliant pattern. Love may have a qualitative aspect, but it also has a quantitative dimension. Look at your time together as an investment: The more you deposit, the greater the returns. See it as an occasion for nurturing love from genesis to fruition and beyond. Shared experience fosters the loves.
Adam and Eve didn’t date for forty years before they fell in love and married. They didn’t even date for forty days and forty nights. No, their commitment came first; their love followed. When first they met, they saw that all the fundamental components were there. And because of that they committed to each other, and then fell in love. This is the counterintuitive, especially these days, but it’s crucial. It is commitment that makes us fall in love: commitment to daily and mundane shared experiences, domestic chores, the breakfast drill, casually holding hands in the park, advising each other about problems at work, coming to depend on each other, building a life together, raising kids together, and jointly navigating the vicissitudes of life. Like the hooks and eyes of a woman’s dress, it’s the tiny, seemingly insignificant details of everyday life that serve to fasten a man and a woman together until they begin to feel inseparable.

This is what all the lonely singles today, who date and date searching for perfection, ultimately don’t understand. Love can’t precede commitment. Sure, you can be strongly attracted before commitment. You can be “in like.” But you aren’t yet in love. Think of it: if one of your friend told you, “I just love my job; I start next week,” wouldn’t you think it absurd? Rather, you fall in love with your job over time. As you and the job grow together and define your experience, you come to love what it has become. The same is true of sharing a life. You choose a person who seems worthy and likely, and then the two of you grow together, ever more deeply in love.

If you, as a single person, are merely biding your time, waiting to fall in love before you feel ready to commit, I’d counsel you that love won’t happen until you commit. We’re so cautious today, unprepared to take a leap of faith until we have certainty. Yet as we’ve seen, certainty—monotony, predictability, sameness—can often be a recipe for disaster. It’s a husbands certainty that his wife would never leave him, that she’s a mountain he’s already conquered, that leads him to believe he can have an affair and get away with it. Well, my wife is totally won over, he thinks. My work is done here. But that stranger over there, gee, I wonder if I could get her. That constant gap of difference, that little bit of uncertainty, is what keeps us from taking each other for granted. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s true: In the move successful relationships, uncertainty actually contributes to the security of the partners’ commitment, by pushing each to strengthen the partnership.

The great secret of falling in love, I believe, is that it can be summoned. You can actually decide to fall in love with someone, and your heart will follow. We must learn to be active in governing our passions, rather than being governed by them. Husbands come to me all the time, complaining, “I fell out of love with my wife. I am no longer interested in my wife. She doesn’t turn me on. That’s why I’m having an affair.” I tell them, “With all due respect, Sir, you’re being lazy. You can fall back in love with your wife if you want to, if you direct your heart to do so. But you don’t want to.” What if an employee told you, “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer interested in working today.” What would you tell your children if they came home from school, propped themselves up in front of the TV for six hours, and said, “Homework just isn’t turning me on tonight. I don’t feel like it.” I presume you’d tell them, “Well, make yourself feel like it. Have some respect for yourself and make yourself put a little effort into it. Nothing good comes easily.”

We have it in our own power to nurture love in our hearts, if only we set our minds to it. Those who fail to see this, I believe, have lost faith in their own basic ability to grow as human beings, to change and improve. They take the easy way out, looking only for signs that their new lover echoes the old things they already know about themselves. But when the two find they’re not interested in growing together, and the magic wears off, they end up parting and wondering why love always seems to fail them. The answer? Because they failed to build it together. This is why I always say I don’t believe in love at first sight. Would you believe in the young person who, when presented with a flesh wound, decides to become a doctor at first sight?

In the Talmud, it is observed that an olive releases its oil only when pressed. In the same manner, lovers release their richest love after they’ve been pressed, once life’s challenging times have put them through the wringer.

Adam and Eve, it’s safe to say, had rather a life changing experience together. When they fell from the Garden, it was as if their company were downsized, their house foreclosed, their furniture repossessed, their SUV stolen, all in the same fateful week. And yet, they survived and thrived. The adversity strengthened them. Adam and Eve lived to the ripe old age of 930. I would speculate that it was after being expelled from Eden that they truly fell in love.

Love is an amazing blessing, but it takes work. As M. Scott Peck wrote in the Road Less Traveled, “If an act is not one of work or courage, then it is not an act of love. There are no exceptions. The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another, we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth.”


Anonymous said...

Wow. Those are terrific insights. I especially like the idea about the olive oil!

Good luck in school. Play nicely with the other students!

Real Live Lesbian said...

What a lovely post and a wise man. I am fortunate that I get to live another day and have the hope of true love in my life.

Thanks for posting it. It really brightened my day.