A reflection on the ideal of “true love” and vulnerability in romance.
By Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega, Staff Writer
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his lips
For thy love is better than wine.
– The Song of Solomon, KJV
Among the famous stories of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament is the tragic love story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was the scourge of the Philistines, who controlled the region of ancient Palestine. Unable to defeat him, the Philistines approached Delilah, offering her great wealth in exchange for discovering the source of her lover’s strength.
It is a cautionary tale, which one could take as a warning of the inevitable risks of vulnerability in love. Unyielding to her demands, it is only after accusing Samson of not truly loving her that Delilah learns the secret of his strength—for what could be greater proof of love than to reveal your weaknesses to your lover, not only as a show of trust, but as a way to be truly known?
Samson reveals that it is his hair, which has never been cut, that binds him to God as a Nazarite, and that if he were to be shaved, he would lose his strength. Later in the night, when he fell asleep on his lover’s lap, he was betrayed—his hair was cut; the Philistines captured him and blinded him.
What should Samson have done? The Bible uses the word “love” to describe Samson’s feelings for Delilah. Should he not have attempted to prove his love to his beloved? Should he have been more cautious, that is to say, more guarded about his trust, or about his belief in love, or in the relationship he had with Delilah? Is love blind, or is one blinded by love? Therein lies the problem.
Many of us have heard stories which end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Such stories represent the idealized romance from which “true love” emerges. But there are no rules which tell us when true love has been achieved between lovers. If we could know true love as a quantifiable certainty, then there would be no heartbreak, except in the case of irretrievable separation such as death.
We hold on to these ideals. We cherish those stories, songs, and poems which speak of love and of the beloved. One has only to think of the story of Pygmalion to be reminded of our role in the creation of our ideals. The sculptor falls in love with his own sculpture. But unlike in the case of Pygmalion, Aphrodite will not grant us the idealized lover we’ve constructed in our heads, nor can we outwardly manifest them into the world.
Human fallibility and the unpredictability of life often shatter our illusions and expectations. If there is no certainty, and if this story of love is nothing but a meaningless pursuit, then why make oneself vulnerable to heartbreak or to betrayal? There is perhaps in all of us a longing to be seen wholly, in all our flaws and shortcomings, and to be loved. The risk is significant, and yet proportional to the reward, as Khalil Gibran, the 20th-century Lebanese poet, writes:
“…if in your heart you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”
The 20th-century Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, wrote of love as a story told throughout humanity that is endlessly repeated between lovers. It may well only be a story, and like every story, has a beginning and an end. But we write this story together, as lover and beloved, and live it each day through our acts and our words of devotion. Tagore writes:
“Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
Even the enduring love which lasts a lifetime must end in separation—for time will come to claim what we believe it has no right to take from us. This separation is inevitable, but without it, the moments that we share wouldn’t be so precious. It may be that the story of one’s heart is never fully told. The inexorability of time and the inevitability of separation leaves us vulnerable to an unpredictable tomorrow. But today, both words and acts of love can be realized with the burning passion of “the last time.”
The final story I want to share comes from La Bohème, Puccini’s famous opera about the tragic love between a seamstress and a poet. At the end of the opera, Mimi returns to her lover after a long separation—she is deathly ill. She feigns sleep so that she can be left alone with her beloved, and with the last of her strength, she sings these final words:
“...There are so many things I want to say to you,
or only one but as wide as the sea…“