Lovers: It’s Hard For Cultures to Put It All Together

This piece will be appearing in newspaper in late winter of 2020, after the impeachment drama has wound down.


Contrasting the movies of a couple of generations ago with more recent movies – in how they depict the relationships between men and women — has led me to think about how it’s difficult to put it all together.

Life-Serving Wholeness

More than a year ago, I described what I called “The Sacred Space of Lovers” as a “‘space’ that lovers can create to inhabit together … that, ideally, is one of open-hearted intimacy of body and soul, of romantic passion, deep love and attachment.….” It’s a space that our deepest human nature directs us humans to seek to create with our beloved.

Our nature strives in that direction because it is a source of profound fulfillment. And that fulfillment, in turn, is a signpost that the path into that sacred place is life-serving. For our nature has been crafted – by a process that continually chooses life over death — to find fulfilling those experiences that – over the ages — have contributed to the perpetuation of our form of life.

Obviously, central to how humankind has perpetuated itself through the generations has been what happens between men and women.

Although all life-forms have to perpetuate themselves, for humans specifically, that takes much more than “mating” to achieve: it involves the creation of families that can nurture our young (young who take so long to mature, and whose success in life requires them to learn so much that “culture” teaches).

All of which has led me to believe that “the sacred space of lovers” is so deeply fulfilling because that space between the parents lays the ideal foundation for engendering a family that will thrive and make it into the future.

It’s a picture that shows that these several categories – Life, Fulfillment,Wholeness, the Sacred — are different windows into the same fundamental spiritual truth. The “sacred space of lovers,” which brings so many dimensions of our being together in a positive way, shows how what is life-serving is Whole. And that the experience of Wholeness touches us so deeply we regard it as “sacred” – meaning “of value to a most profound degree” — shows how our fulfillment provides a measure of life’s deep value.

But in a broken world, it’s hard to put it all together. Hard to achieve Wholeness.

Two Eras, Two Less-Than-Whole Depictions

Which brings us back to the differences in how the movies of two eras depict the relationships between men and women.

In the movies that were made from the early 1930s up until the mid-1960s, the relationships between lovers – especially those who were married, or heading toward marriage – generally depicted their connecting strongly at the level of heart and spirit. But those films conveyed rather less of the basic bodily connection that has been indispensable to the creation of the human family. (One thinks of Ozzie and Harriet, where the married couple must be represented as having two twin beds. We are not encouraged to imagine such a connection.)

Beauty of spirit and character are shown, but also a suggestion of historic cultural barriers that have blocked the achievement of that “sacred space” in all its Wholeness, bringing together body and heart and soul.

Indeed, I see those movie-depictions – influenced though they were by the industry’s “code” — as indicative of something real about the state of lover-relationships, of marriage, in the real-life American culture of that era (in which I grew up).

It’s a big generalization, I realize, but there’s a lot of evidence from history – American specifically, but of the world’s civilizations generally – showing that our civilization has long tended to prefer a focus on the human spirit and to reject, or at least suppress, the human animal. (Civilizations have often looked at the body as a source of evil, as a place from which come desires that must be denied. St. Augustine came to the position – influential in the history of our civilization — that it was OK for couples to engage in sex, in order to beget a child, but only so long as they derived no pleasure from it.)

Indeed, in many traditional cultures, the force of prudishness and of hostility toward much involving our animal bodies was more intense than in that America of the post-War era. By then, there already had been a loosening of the repressions of the sexual aspect of our humanity— i.e. of the physical intimacy that lies at the root of why humankind is divided into male and female to begin with.

Whatever loosening there had already been, the movies of more recent times have gone much further in releasing the sexual element from its cage. But at the same time, something important – something the men and women in the old movies often had together – has been weakened.

Those recent movies — even as they now give powerful expression to sexual desire — seem more rarely to depict the kind of spiritual, moral, and heartful connections between lovers that the earlier films enacted.

(And meanwhile, that frequent separation in the movies of the sexual from a couple’s task of building a family together seems to correspond with the huge real-life increase in the percentage of births born to women without any man committed to taking care of that family.)

One-sidedness in the one era followed by a different one-sidedness in the later era.

Hard for a culture to put it all together.

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