Falling in love- it’s the ultimate of fantasies. I think it’s nearly at the top of everyone’s “to do” list. Do you remember the feeling of falling in love? I do - on my second date with my husband, we were watching a brainless movie, and suddenly, we looked at each other, and BAM! Something clicked in my head, and I was in love. From that moment, I decided that this would be the man I would spend the rest of my life with.
Boy, was I crazy.
It’s nothing short of a never-ending string of miracles that my husband and I are married and progressing on the same spiritual path at the same time. What are the chances that it would have worked out? We didn’t come from similar backgrounds. We didn’t have any Jewish upbringing that taught us about marriage and relationships in general. That one moment in my life 11 years ago, a split second shift, changed my entire destiny. Because of that one moment, I have four beautiful boys B”H, I’m living in Israel, and I’m writing this article.
The other day I chatted for a few moments with the wonderful Emuna Therapist, Dr. Zev Ballen. Trying to make small talk the only way a psychotherapist knows how, he asked me, “Why did you choose to marry your husband? What was it about him that made you love him more than anyone else you dated?”
I was dumbfounded. I was shocked into silence. Ever the idiot, I stammered, “Uh…ummm…well, he was nice….and….” Yes, this conversation was happening in front of my husband, who looked at me with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment. Was it possible I didn’t even know why I fell in love with him? Did I seriously make the biggest decision in my life - to marry him - without really taking the time to get to know him? To make sure he was the person I imagined him to be?
Looking back, I can’t even begin to understand how I was so impulsive. How could I have decided to commit the rest of my life to someone I barely knew? Because I fell in love in that one magical moment? And what was it that made me fall in love at all?
Back to my conversation with Dr. Ballen - I had no sufficient answer for him. He quickly moved on and had me do an exercise with my husband, which involved holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes.
Wow, was that awkward… It was extremely difficult to hold each other’s gaze. I wanted to look away. I tried not to stick out my tongue and make silly faces at him. Why was it so hard to look at him? Isn’t it a strange thing- I’ve noticed that our tendency is to look away when we (everyone) talk to others. Why is that? Could it be that we’re afraid of making a deep connection with another person? Or that they may see how vulnerable we are?
After a few moments, I did the typical female thing and started crying. I cried and I cried, while still looking into his eyes, and BAM! I fell in love with him all over again, like the first time 11 years ago! Dr. Ballen asked me what I was feeling at that moment, and I told him I was very comforted.
The rest of the day I was on a high. It was great, that feeling of being in love. I just couldn’t get that question out of my head, though: why did I fall in love with him? Why did I decide to marry him?
Let’s explore this concept of being in love. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence (married and not dating), I can share what I think about love in general. Let me begin by saying I was one of those hopeless romantic types during my single years. I longed for my Prince Charming to come and fill up that void that I pretended didn’t exist, so we could happily live out our dream romance together. We would travel the world in high style and never fall into the routine day-to-day reality. I didn’t have any unrealistic expectations, only that he should be 6’2”, blue eyes, perfect build, a millionaire, great father material, and totally agreeable 100% of the time. Luckily for me, I got the blue eyes and great father material. (Keep working on that perfect build, honey.)
Do you remember that moment you fell in love? Was it that BAM out of nowhere that just took you by surprise? Did it have you feeling like you were floating in the air as you were instantly transported to a parallel universe where everything is perfect? Where there were no stinky socks to wash?
Here’s my take on the whole “falling in love” thing. I think it’s a bunch of baloney. I know, you think I’ve completely lost it. But hear me out- first of all, after being married for 9 years, I can assure you that any couple that is not married doesn’t know what it means to love one another. Why? Well, for starters, getting married is the number one way you show someone you love them- you’re committing the rest of your life to them. How can a person say he loves you if he isn’t willing to spend his life with you? Second, you haven’t yet had any challenges to test your love and ultimately make it grow. Do you know how hard it is to love each other when the kids are driving you crazy and causing major stress in the household? Or when there’s severe financial pressure and you have to keep it together mentally and emotionally so you don’t damage your marriage and your family?
But most importantly, love is not: “This person fulfills my needs so I love him.” True love is, “What can I do for the love in my life? How can I make him/her happy?” Our whole modern take on love is backwards. That’s why I believe so many marriages end up in divorce. You have two people who enter a relationship, each expecting the other to make them happy. As soon as one person doesn’t live up to the other’s expectations, it’s all downhill…
I think that it’s one of the most genius tricks of the Yetzer (Evil Inclination)- falling in love. Why? Well, let me ask you this- how many times have you fallen in love, only to have the relationship end because the person was not who you thought they were? Maybe they weren’t kind enough, maybe their temper was worse than you thought, or maybe they were not as considerate as you originally thought. It could be any number of reasons. The yetzer makes us jump from relationship to relationship, without really understanding what we’re doing, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be lucky enough to stumble across The One. Hopefully we won’t mess it up with The One.
Herein lies the true genius of the yetzer- he makes everyone you fall in love with seem to be The One. Here’s another thing I realized: the phrase “falling in love” says something very revealing. When I fell in love, the love wasn’t inside of me. It was surrounding me, like being in a pool of water. Being “in love” is one of the most incredible feelings there is, but it’s not real love. It’s infatuation. The butterflies, the giddiness, the knot in your stomach when they call- that’s all infatuation. If it makes you feel better, you can call it puppy love. Real love is when the love is inside of you, when it becomes a part of you. That you can only have after you spend time growing together as a couple and overcoming your challenges with unity.
I remember something Rabbi Brody said once. A guy told him that he loved his wife as much 20 years later as the day he married her. Rabbi Brody responded, “You mean your love hasn’t grown in 20 years? After all the kindnesses she does for you every single day for the past 20 years- you don’t love her any more than you did on the day you married her?”
Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the opposite is true. After 20 years, many couples can’t even stand to look at each other, if they still managed to stay married. It is a rare couple that actually loves each other many years after they’re married. Life hands us tremendous stress from all directions- family, health, sustenance- and if we’re not equipped to handle the stress, we take it out on our families.
Going back to my moment of falling in love- after a day or so of wondering why I fell in love with my husband, I got my answer. When we finished watching the movie, we were sitting near each other, looking at each other. We were looking deeply into each other’s eyes, smiling at each other….BAM! It hit. I now understand what “it” was.
It was this indescribable sense of comfort, a sense of safety that I felt when I looked into his eyes. I felt like he was the one I needed- the one who would protect me and cherish me and do all those things that men are supposed to do. Now I understand that this was total foolishness, because how could I assume I was correct about him based on just one look? Wasn’t it totally crazy to base the rest of my life on this one look?
Yes, it was. I fell in love with what I thought he could give me. I needed love, security, adoration- and in him I saw that I could get it. That’s not love, people! That’s selfishness! The problem with our version of love is that it’s completely self-centered!
But not to worry, dear readers! If you’ve committed yourself to a life with someone who you once “loved”, but the “love” has faded away, don’t despair! You can get that feeling of falling in love back in just a few short moments! Here’s what you do, as per Dr. Ballen’s advice:
Sit facing each other on a couch. Look into each other’s eyes, and communicate your love for each other. You can tap with your fingertips on each side of your chest, just above heart level, while looking at each other. This opens up your emotional heart. (Have plenty of tissues handy.) If you find this too uncomfortable, just hold hands. The important thing is to look into each other’s eyes. Smile at each other. Tell each other with your eyes how much you love and appreciate each other.
I am confident that if you do this exercise, you will recapture that feeling of being in love. This time, though, it will be even better, because you have a life that you’ve built together- so you have plenty of real reasons to love each other!
Racheli we havent done that whole "sitting, holding hands and looking into each others eyes" thing for a while- thanks for the reminder and the lovely essay it came wrapped up in...