Americans, to the tune of some $15 billion, will exchange flowers, jewelry, candy, stuffed animals and cards this Valentine's Day as an expression of romance and love. But Valentine's Day is actually a double-edged sword. On the surface, we celebrate how committed, secure and passionately in love we are -- though I am not sure how big a deal it is to get our lover a gift when the whole society is telling us to do so every five minutes. But, the very fact that we need the holiday and that we feel so much pressure to demonstrate our romance and passion (four out of 10 couples break up between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14) shows a deeper more uncomfortable truth: our love for each other is always far more unstable, unpredictable and fragile than we are ready to admit.
On Valentine's Day we often hear talk about having found our soulmate. But, contrary to popular culture, we don't find our soulmate -- we co-create our soulmate. Soulmate is a verb hiding out as a noun, and over the course of our relationship we engage in soul-mating. It turns out that the initial reasons we fall in love are not the reasons we stay in love as the first phase of love is about self-affirmation -- narcissism in drag. But soon enough we discover each other's differences, flaws and weaknesses and that's when our love becomes intentional, intimacy begins, and we start to soul mate.
Only at the end of our relationship, after we have successfully helped each other seek the truth about ourselves to become the best people we can be do we actually know whether we have found our soulmate.
When we say "we found our soulmate," or our perfect match, we are not expressing a fact but an aspiration and a yearning. Because the uncertainty, vulnerability and fragility of love is too hot to handle, we create illusions of permanence and safety to mitigate the uncomfortable and destabilizing truths that love is insecure and unpredictable and that we can never fully know each other. We promise each other "until death do us part" (which is not said in a Jewish wedding) and imagine our lover as our soulmate, implying some grander plan. We give each other cards proclaiming, "You are Mine and I am Yours," imagining we possess each other. We even create a habit out of our love, e.g. sleeping on the same side of the bed, going to the same places, routinizing our love-making, all means by which we unconsciously defend against the lurking truth that love -- our love -- is always vulnerable and unstable.
The paradox is we want our love secure and stable, but the fantasy of permanence we create erodes the very passion, romanc, and love for which we yearn. It is precisely the reality of the impermanence and uncertainty of love that generates our longing and desire for greater intimacy. This insight is captured at the end of the Jewish wedding ceremony when a glass is shattered under the chuppa (the marriage canopy), inviting fragility and vulnerability right into the marriage.
Intimacy, passion, romance. Soul mating is learning the risky dance between closeness and distance, happiness and disappointment, gratitude and resentment, loyalty and betrayal, control and surrender, spontaneity and boredom, trust and doubt, tenderness and aggression -- between living inside and outside the Garden. Our romantic commitments require not a devotion to stability and security but a dedication to living together in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability.
If we want Valentine's Day to really work we have to do more than give our lover roses. We fearlessly have to hold the thorns: the insecurity of love. We need to embrace the sacred messiness of love.