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Love: The Secret to Sparking Desire

Love: The Secret to Sparking Desire

Hand holding heart-shaped object against sunlight

The more I see, the less I know for sure.
-- John Lennon

A Hasid traveling with a friend suddenly turns to him and inquires, “Do you love me?” to which the friend replies, “Of course, I love you.” The Hasid then asks: “Do you know what gives me pain? Do you know what brings me joy?” When the bewildered friend admits he doesn’t really know what gives him pain or joy, the Hasid says: “If you don’t know what causes me pain or brings me joy, how can you say that you love me?”

The Hasid in this cryptic tale is teaching us about the intimate connection that exists between love and knowledge. For love to be real, it must be informed by knowledge. When we truly love others, we strive to know and understand them. We long to enter their inner world, to know their needs and feelings, dreams, and desires. And as our knowledge deepens, so do our feelings of love.

The connection between knowledge and love is reflected in the Bible’s use of the word daat to describe the intimate bonding of lovers, as it says in Genesis, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived (Genesis 4:10).  While translated as “knowledge,” daat is not ordinary conceptual knowledge. Rather, it signifies the kind of embodied knowing we experience when we become one with our beloved.

Another force that operates in intimate relationships is mystery. No matter how much we strive to know those whom we love, we can never fully plumb the depths of their innermost being, for, at our core, each of us is an unfathomable mystery.

Just as Ein Sof (Kabbalistic term meaning boundless divinity) is unknowable, every being, made in the divine image, is an infinite and inscrutable mystery, not only to one another but to ourselves as well. Love is one of the primary ways we begin to discover who we are and who we might become. Relationships provide us with a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly.

The interplay of knowledge and mystery has special significance in romantic love. Even as we yearn to experience the safety and security that comes with intimate knowledge of our partner, to feel erotic desire, we also need to experience our partner’s mysterious otherness. Eros (romantic love) flourishes where there is room for imagination and fantasy. It requires a gap over which the spark of desire can leap.

Humans share two fundamental needs: the safety and security of a home in the world where we are known and feel accepted for who we are, and a need for adventure, for the novelty and surprise we experience when we go forth on a journey. While one leads us to seek permanence and dependability in our intimate relationships, the other leads us into unknown and uncertain spaces.

In a sense, we are walking contradictions. Yearning for emotional intimacy and closeness, we also need space to fulfill our erotic desires. Therefore, eros is strongest during the early stages of romantic love, when unknowns outweigh the knowns, and can fade as lovers become overly familiar.

Lovers who practice seeing one another with fresh eyes are more likely to preserve their romantic feelings over time, as they discover or rediscover aspects of their partner that delight them. Even the familiar and mundane routines of daily life can surprise and delight them when they pay close attention.

Paying attention is an integral part of love. Esther Perel writes about those moments when one suddenly sees a partner from a comfortable distance and remembers their mysterious otherness – the ways they are unique and distinctly different from others. We may experience such moments watching them passionately engaged in something they love or upon noticing something new and previously unknown about them. When we truly see a partner with fresh eyes, desire is potentially reawakened.

Succeeding in love means learning to accept the ebb and flow of intimacy with its alternating moments of knowing and not knowing, of familiarity and strangeness, understanding and not understanding. Only then is it possible to forge a fully dimensional love relationship.

Estelle Frankel is a practicing psychotherapist, spiritual advisor, storyteller, and teacher of Jewish mysticism. This article is adapted from her book, The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty, © 2017, and reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boulder, CO.

Estelle Frankel
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