The importance of desire

The importance of desire

Whatever happened to love? It does not seem to work that well these days.

People fall in love and expect to be happy, but find themselves a little while later not as excited and not as engaged. We all aspire to fall in love and stay in love. Yet we struggle to find examples of people who have actually found the happiness they – we – seek.

Sure, many married couples seem stable and comfortable. But they are not necessarily that excited.

Why? Because love never was meant to serve as the glue that keeps couples together romantically. Love is not strong enough to do that. Essentially, we were lied to about relationships. Every time we saw a couple in a movie fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after, we were misled – not because that couple could not live happily ever after, which they could, but because we were not shown them gradually losing the passionate adhesive that kept them longing for each other.

Interestingly, whereas Christianity believes that marriages should be based on love and friendship, Judaism believes they should be based on lust and desire. Seriously. That is why the Ten Commandments say we should not covet our neighbor’s wife. By direct implication, that means each of us men sure as heck ought to be coveting our own wife. Covetousness in marriage is a divine commandment. Likewise, Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, which the Talmud says is the holiest book of the Bible, the Tanach, on the surface at least is about the erotic desire of a man for a woman, something that is celebrated in Judaism.

So how did we get it so wrong? How did love come to trump lust? Why have we, for centuries, based marriages on the weaker link of love instead of the nuclear bond of erotic desire?

To many, this would seem a crazy question. Love is everything, right? Even God is love?

Really? Who said these things? Why do we just take them for granted as truths?

Christianity is the source for God being love and for marriages being based on love rather than lust. Its source is not the Tanach, but Christian sacred literature: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). This sentiment is repeated again a few verses later: “And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

In Judaism, God is not so monolithic as to be described as “love.” In a world of Nazis and al Qaida terrorists and ethnic cleansing and the like, do we really want a God who is all love? Or do we want a God who is part justice?

God is not love. God is utterly beyond emotion; God defies description. At times, God is loving and at times God is jealous or punitive. God needs a rainbow in the heavens to keep His anger from getting out of control.

It was Paul of Tarsus who famously said in the Christian text 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind…. Love never fails.”

What an excellent description of the virtue of love – and its limitations! If anyone wants to have a romantic relationship based on these warm and cuddly attributes, that is fine. But while love is warm, lust is passionate. While love seeks to share, lust seeks to acquire. While love can be satiated, lust never can be.

The average wife today feels loved, but what she really wants is to feel desired, which explains why women are reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” in their millions.

While Christianity posits love as the foundation of a relationship, Judaism always emphasized desire.

Marriages and relationships in modern times are built on love, not lust, and I believe this is the principal reason for their breakdown.

Several times a week, I counsel couples in crisis. They come with the usual panoply of issues that surround broken marriages – absence of communication, lack of intimacy, fighting below the belt, financial pressures, child-rearing responsibilities that have overtaken their lives.

Underlying all these problems, however, is the elephant in the room: loss of desire. They love each other, but they no longer long for each other. Their marriages are now built on the softer, more comfortable emotion of love, rather than the passionate, more explosive nuclear bond of lust.

Why is lust disappearing? There are many reasons. First, we are such a physical and material generation that we do not understand lust. So we denigrate it as something sleazy. Lust, we think, is something pornographic. Lust is what a man feels for a colleague at work while love is what he feels for his wife. Lust is what a wife experiences for a stranger with whom she flirts while love is what she feels when she has dinner with her husband at a restaurant.

Lust has been lost from our lives because we think it as something of the body, not of the soul; something generated by hormones, not spiritual energy. Lust, we erroneously believe, is a visceral animal emotion rather than a uniquely human one.

Because we do not understand lust, we have never focused on understanding its rules and the conditions through which it is maintained.

Also, we believe love to be eternal, while lust is so utterly ephemeral. We de-emphasize lust in relationships because we believe it is bound to disappoint us, to let us down. We do not believe that lust can be sustained. Rather, we consider it to be a flimsy foundation upon which to build a relationship; it should not take precedence over the solid firmament of love.

Excuse me. Who said that love and lust cannot be maintained simultaneously? Are we really so monolithic as to be incapable of sustaining two emotions at once? Can husbands and wives really not be both lovers (lust) and best friends (love) at the same time? Is not the confluence of both what men and women most aspire to in their relationships?