I recently saw this wonderful message (“Love is rare, Lust is medium rare”) in the window of Whole Foods Market in Greenwich with a picture of a deliciously prepared “rare” steak in the background.
The message is particularly timely as spring has arrived and as Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously said in his classic poem “Locksley Hall,” this is the time of year when “a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
The words of this poem are lovely and timeless. However, I would offer a word of warning. The poem is more about lust than love since the remainder of Tennyson’s famous poem goes on to speak of the pain of a romantic love that never lasted.
While romantic love is tasty and delicious – to return to the steak in the window – it is only medium rare since so frequently lust is not durable.
Whether people are meeting in person or on a dating site, the question which needs to be asked is which sort of love are you looking for? Is it lust which is exciting though so often ephemeral, or is it durable love which is so rare?
As a psychiatrist, I have spent the last year during the Covid pandemic getting to know and treat many patients on Zoom rather than in person. If you are looking for that which is rare, I have a suggestion.
Many of my colleagues are debating whether Zoom has the authenticity of an in-person encounter. Having conducted entire psychotherapies on Zoom during the past year, my conclusion is that Zoom can be an extremely effective means of really getting to know another person. Initially very skeptical, I have become a believer. Zoom can be a remarkably effective way of getting to know not merely the surface but the soul of another.
Let me put this subject in a philosophical/spiritual as well as a psychological perspective. When talking of love, we frequently hear the term “soulmate.” But what does that really mean?
I feel the challenge is not merely in finding a “soulmate” but in developing the understanding, the insight and the perspective needed to sustain both the emotions of love and the passion of sexual intimacy.
Let me begin by paraphrasing some wisdom I have drawn from my studies of the mystical Kabbalah with Rabbi Feldman of Chabad in Greenwich.
Every action we take in the world has the potential to be self-oriented, other oriented (i.e., transcendent) or some combination of the two. Spirituality is usually thought of as any thought or action or feeling that goes beyond oneself and involves thinking about the needs of another person or connecting with them for their benefit, rather than for our own. If we connect with them purely for our own benefit this is neither spiritual, holy nor selfless.
Usually, the things we do are in one domain (selfish) or in the other (transcendent, holy, spiritual-oriented). Some things are a mixture of selfish and transcendent and, indeed, must be for the activity to be fulfilling and sustainable. One such activity is sexuality. Perhaps this is one reason why sexuality is so complex.
For a marriage or a sexual relationship to be fulfilling and durable for both parties it must have elements of both selfishness and transcendence. We must recognize and honor our own needs as well as the needs of our partner.
The closest we can get to another person emotionally and physically is through the sexual act. However, this is true only when this sexuality occurs with the proper attitude. There is an enormous potential for transcendence in the act of sexuality. Conversely, sexuality has the potential to be the most selfish, insensitive, exploitative human act.
One observation that I have made over many years of clinical psychiatric practice is that if one engages in the act of sexuality purely for one’s physical and self-oriented pleasure, ironically the pleasure will not last. When there is no deep human connection people will invariably lose interest, the initial stimulation and excitement will disappear, and the mind will wander and begin to think of someone else new, different and exciting.
For passion to last there must be compassion, a deep feeling of connectedness, profound respect and meaningful verbal communication. One’s goal must be to get closer to the other person spiritually and emotionally as well as physically.
Love, romantic feelings and sexual arousal very often happen instantaneously without any effort on our part. However, it would be a serious mistake to assume that these emotions, feelings and desires will last for an extended period. Most likely they will diminish and then disappear. The fact is that it will often take considerable thought and effort to recreate those feelings and emotions.
To sustain loving intimacy the relationship must have borders and boundaries. One essential boundary is to ensure that we limit seemingly endless sexual stimuli from entering our lives. This is not easy in a world constantly bombarded by sexual stimulation and this requires effort and self-discipline.
One way we can work towards accomplishing a sense of exclusivity is by sharing certain feelings and information only with one person and with no one else. This exclusivity is the beginning of creating “sacred space” emotionally and intellectually which also protects and enhances the concept of sacred and exclusive sexual space which is necessary to sustain love, romance and passion.
I have planted some seeds this spring which I hope will bloom for you this summer.