Anat Gopstein’s piece in the Shabbat weekly Gilui Da’at (in honor of Tu B’Av):
Thou Whom My Soul Loveth
(From the diary of a counselor/caretaker)
By Anat Gopstein
Love is the whole story.
“No one will love me like that man does”, she told me. “What is love?” I asked, in order to know what she was feeling, what she means when she speaks about love. As she began to speak, I understood that there was physical and emotional abuse going on there, obsession, objectification, and mainly control, but she interpreted all that as love and she took all that as concern.
She was so broken, that he treated her like a little girl. He claimed she doesn’t do enough for him, belittled her and claimed she doesn’t deserve him. It was hard for her to leave him. She understood that this relationship was not good for her, that it was a harmful and dangerous connection. And truthfully, the gaps between them can’t be bridged. He’s an Arab, she’s a Jew.
She doesn’t know how to explain to herself how she rolled into this relationship, She was in a state of weakness. At home there were a lot of quarrels between the parents, and she felt her home was falling apart, and that so was her life, too. She so much wanted to be part of a couple, she thirsted for some kind of connection, so his pursuit of her suited her. “You’re mine”, he told her. He was jealous of her, and he would check up on her all the time. He checked her phone. She was afraid of him but she loved him, too, and she depended on him. He beat her and accused her of causing him to get angry at her, and she would blame herself.
When I met her, I was really impressed with her. She was a nice young lady, educated and successful. But the heart and the brain don’t say the same things. She hid the relationship from her family, she knew they wouldn’t accept the connection, and she knew she was hiding something from them. Afterwards he would threaten to tell her family. She invested a whole lot of effort to hide this connection. He bled her dry, financially and emotionally.
She’s talking to me about love. Together we discussed the questions of what love is, what a healthy relationship is and what mutual respect is. For a relationship between a Jew and a goy, a relationship of assimilation, there is no blessing from Heaven and the connection usually does not last. It is harmful and condemned to fail.
“Any love that is dependent on something (conditional love), that something is cancelled out, the love is cancelled out. And when it is not dependent on anything (unconditional), is never cancelled out.” Love that is not pure love, is love that depends on whether or not the other party is pleased, and on effacing one’s self. On the other hand, love that is not dependent on something is true love and can never be cancelled out. When a person constantly gives up himself/herself, the direction goes just one way. When one person constantly tries to please, that’s not a relationship.
When there is no self-love, there is only love that is dependent upon something. A person has to love him/herself before he/she loves somebody else. “And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”: The Torah commands us to show others the same kind of love that we feel towards ourselves. Someone who loves his/her friend wants to do good for them.
We started counseling. We went on a journey of self-discovery so that she could discover herself, the strengths buried within her and what resources she had to cope with pain and separation. She got physically and emotionally stronger, and she tried with all her might to overcome the harmful relationship. She started seeing herself and her own needs first, she understood the gap between reality and fantasy in love, and she learned how to love and value herself. And at the end of the process, she also found love.
“As I lay on my bed, I sought him whom my soul loves. I sought him but I found him not. I resolved to arise then and roam through the city… I would seek him whom my soul loved. The watchmen found me… have you seen him whom my soul loves… Scarcely had I departed from them, when I found him who my soul loves… I grasped him, determined that my deeds would never again cause me to lose him.” (Song of Songs)