Love With a Capital LMay 6th, 2012 by Sean
We are all familiar with the romantic storybook ending. We grew up with it. We read it in literature. After pages upon pages of trial and tribulation, a restless and vengeful Edmond Dantès, turned Count of Monte Cristo, finds solace in the arms of his Haydee, as they depart for unknown lands, and unknown future.
The saga of their love told and found only in the context of a rather dramatized adventure, the remainder of their relationship fades slowly into the background of the settled boredom of everyday existence. One can only imagine the bitter differences between the two lovers becoming exposed upon the absence of external pressure; differences in bathroom etiquette overlooked during the trials of political intrigue surely reared its head in the waning twilight of “happily ever after.”
External pressure on a relationship can have a galvanizing effect, as two lovers assaulted by an external situation unite against their common foe and the bond between them becomes stronger. Conversely, it is the internal pressure — financial difficulties, disagreements about future plans, disparaging in-laws, raising children, the very realities of marriage itself — that renders the relationship rote and trite, sometimes making the relationship more of a burden than a blessing. It is this perceived boredom, this lack of novelty, that smothers the great fire, the feeling, that was once such a feature of their emotional landscape down to an ashen coal.
This is a malady of society. We have been trained thoroughly to demand the good life, the exciting life, the adventurous life. The effects of these demands are seen in the demographic trends of modern western countries. Having lost any semblance of meaning to the onslaught of modernity, marriage or raising a family have become secondary priorities, as the youth seek to “find themselves” before they can make any commitment to anything.
The result of this outlook is that death rates in many European countries are outpacing the birth rates, causing a population decline, and a general societal decline. In this new cultural working, marriage has become a final and culminating experience, something to be put off to the last, making sure that every single blemish is checked, accounted for, remedied or discarded.
I once asked a Hasidic Rabbi, who had only met his wife a few times before marrying her, and now has 7 children with her, how he was able to make such a lasting commitment to this woman he barely knew. As Rabbi’s tend to do, he skirted the directness of the question, and told me a story.
Modern expectations aside, life is hard, and love is harder. I once asked a Hasidic Rabbi, who had only met his wife a few times before marrying her, and now has 7 children with her, how he was able to make such a lasting commitment to this woman he barely knew. As Rabbi’s tend to do, he skirted the directness of the question, and told me a story.
This Rabbi was once asked to oversee the marriage ceremony of a young couple. He did not know them well, so he wanted to be sure that these two were serious, and so he asked for a few meetings with them that would give him a glimpse into who they were.
The young couple came into his office giddy with excitement, holding hands, swooning over each other. After many hours of talking and getting to know them, the Rabbi agreed to marry them under one condition: he said he would marry them only if they admitted that they truly did not know if they were in love with each other.
The room went silent, then all hell broke lose. Arguments fell like dominoes. They were adamant that they knew, for certain, that they were in love with each other.
“Ah yes”, examined the Rabbi, “you know of love now, but will you know of Love (capital L) when?”
The question appeared truncated, “When what? And what is capital “L” love?” the couple demanded.
“When the going gets tough, when you despair, when you disagree, when you argue, when your child misbehaves, when the perfection that you see in the other now, becomes then, less apparent. When the novelty of a shared life gives way and encroaches on your personal sovereignty, will you feel love?”
“Well of course!” The couple exclaimed. “Isn’t that what love is? To be committed to the other person no matter what. What’s your point, rabbi?”
He continued, “Will you have a commitment to the other that transcends love, is greater than love, a knowledge that is barely perceptible now but will, in time, become as apparent as the rising sun? Beings feel love, but will love be your being? The purpose of the plural you and the plural I, will you have it? Will you be a plural I, or two singular “Is” bonded merely by commitment?”
These are not considerations that readily jump into the mind of the average person on the street. I just put them to print and I am not even sure of the full depth of their meaning.
The young couple were hesitant to admit their ignorance at first, as these rabbinical musings were counter to the idea that the love they felt was the apex of a steady emotional crescendo which had its melodious beginnings in the playfulness of youth.
This was their entire worldview, and the rabbi had just questioned its validity. The rabbi further explained that he wasn’t discounting their feelings, but that the story of them has yet to be written, and this should be cause for great joy.
If love is a feeling then capital “L” love is state of being. And this state of being only comes with time.
He assured them that capital “L” love comes with time, it emerges out of the depths of triviality, discomfort, despair, that it is the strongest form of love because it is precisely the love that isn’t hinged on mere feelings, but the entire “I” of the person becomes plural, their bodies and souls are extended and meet each other. If love is a feeling then capital “L” love is state of being. And this state of being only comes with time.
What appeared at first to be an assault on the young couple was steadily realized to be a great and insightful gift. The couple told the rabbi that this is a sentiment that they had felt before but could not articulate. They humbly submitted to his wisdom. Acknowledging that even after marriage there is a goal, and that marriage marks but the first step in a continual walk.
And thus the Rabbi married them.
After telling me this, the Rabbi explained to me that he makes a lasting commitment to his wife every day, every hour, every minute, during every triumph and tragedy. The wedding was a mere formality; the actual wedding takes place everyday. Every experience with her is a restatement of that pivotal question, and with every experience he silently declares, “I do.”
This is different than anything I had ever heard before. If some of us hopeless romantics are guilty of anything it is attempting to superimpose the modern template — love at first sight, tribulation, culminating and ending in the triumph that is marriage, and a “happily ever after”— on our very psyche, making it an almost expected science, when all the ages of human experience tell us otherwise. Though we may take issue with the cultural phenomenon of Hasidic Judaism’s adherence to a tradition of arrangement, the sentiments of the Rabbi should not be wholly dismissed.
It is my humble opinion that the reason many marriages end in divorce today is because we have the equation reversed: marriage as the ending rather than the beginning. That the storybook ending, and the storybook wedding, are actually the beginning of a great adventure filled with trials and errors, mistakes, hardships, sadness, and joy, anger and, most importantly, forgiveness, should be a great comfort to those who are waiting. For it gives an explicit philosophic outlook to something that we already tacitly knew, making marriage that much more meaningful.