‘Deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.’
By Alex P. Vidal
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A joke recently made the rounds that when women are eating banana, they must avoid eye to eye contact with the opposite sex. When men are eating oyster, will they also avoid looking at the pretty eyes of someone? Hmm. Man’s love for food — and his eye movements while eating — has now become the object of suspicion.
When he was still writing a column for the Chicago Daily News, Dr. Mortimer J. Adler, known as “anti-expert” and one of the most orderly, compendious, and yet adventurous minds in the world of letters, was asked what’s the difference between love and lust.
“To define love is difficult,” Adler, the first to advocate that free men should make their own decisions, admitted. “Freud, near the end of his long life confessed: ‘Up to the present I have not found the courage to make any broad statements on the essence of love and I think that our knowledge is not sufficient to do so…We really know vey little about love.'”
According to Adler, we can actually gain some insight by considering the views of various philosophers, poets and psychiatrists, all of whom have contributed to an understanding, if not a solution, of the problems–what is love?
“When a man and a woman fall in love they desire each other,” he suggested, “but not in the same way that they desire food or water.”
Human sexuality takes two directions: there is sex in the service of love, and there is sex divorced from love (i.e. lust). Adler said to desire a person as one desires food or drink is lust — a completely selfish desire. “But sexual love implies a fusion of soul and body,” he explained. “It seeks to realize itself in a union which involves knowing, understanding, compassion and self-sacrifice.”
We may never be able to tell which comes first — “liking” or “wanting.” Does love spring from desire, or desire from love?
Aristotle, he pointed out, felt that benevolence comes first; Freud felt that sexual love grows out of desire. While the question is perhaps insoluble, it does seem to make a practical difference which way love does happen.
“If sex comes first,” Adler stressed, “the union is likely to be short-lived; if love comes first, a more stable, fruitful union seems likely because, among other things, a more intelligent choice has been made.”
The observations of the poets and the clinical experience of the psychoanalysts and psychiatrists seem to confirm this point. “Love and sex often coincide,” wrote Theodore Reik, the well-known psychiatrist, “but coincidence is not evidence of identity…There is no doubt among psychoanalysts that there is sex without love, sex ‘straight.’ (But) they vehemently deny that there can be love without sex.”
Another psychiatrist, Erich Fromm, the author of The Art of Loving, warns us: “Since erotic love is the most deceptive form of love there is…it becomes important to distinguish sexual desire per se from love. If erotic love is not also brotherly love, the union is likely to be orgiastic, transitory.”
The great poets support these views. Indeed, fascinated by the subject, they long ago anticipated some of the findings of the psychologists. If they fail to come up with a precise definition, they do at least discern some of the attributes of human love.
Love implies passion, or as Milton put it in Paradise Lost:
…with new Wine intoxicated both
They swim in mirth, and fansie that they feel
Divinitie within them breeding wings
Wherewith to scorn the Earth.
Love implies constancy, or as Shakespeare declared:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds.
Above all, love implies union, a union of body and soul, or as John Donne expressed it:
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow
But yet the body is his book.
According to the ancient Greek myth, man was originally a composite being, half male and half female. A capricious god split him in two, with the result that the separated male and female have sought ever since to become reunited with the “other half.”
Modern psychologists make the same point in a somewhat different way when they say that “the deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.”