What the story of Adam and Eve tells us about love
When you first fall in love with somebody, it’s as if you are in paradise. Like Adam and Eve, everything is awesome.1 Falling in love puts you into a blissful fantasy state where you and another mutually luxuriate in a world seemingly free from the torments of the outside world.
But as you come to know your partner, as romantic idealization transitions into the intimacy of knowledge of the good and evil within one another, we fall from that grace period of euphoric passion and connection. Maybe it’s the first time you see him devour a Chipotle burrito. Or maybe it’s after she first mocks the fact that you still collect trading cards as a grown man. Regardless of how and when you come back to Earth and start realizing the unique imperfections that make each and every one of us human, that period of falling from paradise is going to happen just as surely as mankind was going to eat from the tree of knowledge. Some couples survive that fall — others do not. And understanding how we transition from the oblivious joy of paradise to the educated connection of truly knowing another2 is essential to our sense of how and why relationships work or fall apart. And what better example of a couple that handled this transition than Adam and Eve?
I’m not the first to point out that the nature of a relationship will change as you accumulate more knowledge about and experience with the other person. But I am surprised that, for as much as we talk about the utopia of falling in love and the subsequent banishment from that paradise as we learn more and more, nobody uses the story of Adam and Eve to help us schematize how we experience love and intimacy. Sure, the creation myth provides the scriptural basis for a whole host of psychologically damaging ideas about sexuality, gender roles, and original sin. We’ll gloss over those interpretations that may have set Western civilization back a couple millennia frivolities for now. And please keep in mind that the apex of my religious education came from teaching elementary schoolers the Golden Rule. In the meantime, here’s what the first couple of chapters from the Book of Genesis can teach us about love and relationships.
Falling in love is a lot like Adam waking up in the garden short one rib but all the sudden with a new partner nearby to partake in all the pleasures of Eden together with.3 Like Adam and Eve, when you first fall in love all of your mental and physical needs and desires seem satiated, you feel extraordinarily happy and content, you stop hanging out with a whole lot of other people, you can be blind to the faults of the world or one another, and you’re spending an exorbitant amount of time lounging around naked together.
Everything was new for Adam and Eve, from the names of the animals to the pickup line “is that the fruit from the tree of knowledge or are you just happy to see me?” Similarly, when you first dive into a relationship everything seems fresh and exciting, from his or her jokes and insights to their record collections and hair flips.
According to Simone de Beauvoir, “Eroticism is a movement toward the Other.” When you’re in Eden, everything is the unknown Other, and the experience of seemingly boundless discovery feels pretty great. The main joy of falling in love comes from breaking out of your own solipsism to connect with another, and just like Adam and Eve we connect with this person by wanting to share in the wondrous bounty that the world seems to provide for us.
Maybe it was Eve eating that apple, or maybe it was the first time he snored through the night after he couldn’t even get harder than Sociology 101, but with intimate knowledge of your partner comes expulsion from that initial blissful paradise. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does change your relationship with one another.
With knowledge comes awareness of yourself, awareness of who this person is that you’ve been spending so much time with, and awareness of how you relate to one another. This stage can lead to embarrassment or disgust, like Adam being ashamed of his nakedness or you starting to hide your extensive Playboy collection. But it can also lead to the discovery of who you both are in conjunction with one another as your blindness slips away and you begin to uncover the person behind the OK Cupid profile and you start to realize ‘hey, maybe Adam’s Father is kind of an overbearing dick sometimes.’
Often, the initial shock you experience as you gain knowledge and begin to see the contours of your fantastical paradise can trip you up. But it’s worth it. Blindly “knowing” somebody in the dark of night is totally awesome, but there’s an added layer of fulfillment in getting to know what somebody looks like the next morning. And below the physical surface, while a fight can cast you out of harmonious Eden and into the unbalanced real world, the gained knowledge of theirs and your mental interior can help us grow up and make our way through the world.
Sure, paradise is great and all, but life after that most unoriginal of sins seems a whole lot more interesting to me than sitting around and naming all the animals.
God kind of lost his shit when he found out about Adam and Eve’s transgression, flipping out much like any reasonable girlfriend would if she found out about what happened at Todd’s bachelor party last September. It’s never pretty to leave the garden of honeymoon-period bliss, but it’s not all bad either.
Just as Adam and Eve left paradise to suffer the divine pronouncement that they would toil for the rest of their days, it’s hard work cultivating our separate selves while continuing to forge ahead with one another through the world.4 But sharing the quotidian experiences of our lives with one another is what helps us find transcendence and fulfillment over the years.
The toil of Adam and Eve and ourselves is hard. Who knows, the labor and misfortune we work through can include everything from raising a kid who grows up to be a real jackass like Cain or an Eagles fan to repopulating the Earth, struggling to mutually realize career and life aspirations, or realizing that if God created you in his own image than why not endow us with a little more, you know, oomf down there. But for every Cain we beget or trespasses we make, there’s always the satisfaction that we’re going through life together contributing to a shared experience that is greater than the confines of our own minds or bodies.
I don’t know what Adam and Eve would have said about all of this, in part because the Bible’s a bit murky on the details about the
evolution creation of language, and in part because there are so many differences among us that it’s hard to have any one claim apply to the myriad of different ways in which we bond ourselves to our fellow men and women. But I do think that their story helps us understand the experience of falling in love with somebody and working with them to make our way through this world together if we so choose.