Imagination Creates Chemistry
“It is our imagination which is responsible for love, not the other person.”
- Marcel Proust
Kelly shared the story of her very first conversation with Jeff, her now husband. A mutual friend suggested the match, and Jeff was given Kelly’s number. One Friday afternoon, Jeff called. After they introduced themselves, Kelly casually excused herself, saying, “Well, I gotta go, thanks for calling, bye!” No explanation was given, and no apologies extended. The conversation lasted less than thirty seconds.
Jeff was left flabbergasted. All throughout high school and college, he was considered a ‘catch.’ Girls typically flocked to him, and he was never without a date or admirer. Most girls would try to extend a phone conversation with him, or make sure a date was set up. Someone like Kelly, so cavalier and nonchalant, seemed…exciting.
From Kelly’s vantage point, she simply had to go, and figured at some point he’d call again.
According to Jeff, “After that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The chase was on.”
The imagination plays a powerful role in romance, dating, and even marriage.
Esther Perel, a famous marriage therapist, is well known for her ability to rekindle love amongst even the most challenging of relationships.
Perel specializes in marriages that have faced devastating issues, like infidelity. She suggests that imagination is a strong tool that can repair and sustain relationships. She spent years exploring the tension between every person’s need for security and freedom, within the framework of a marriage.
Security and freedom are two desirable characteristics within a relationship that often clash. Security, although we crave it, squelches desire. Freedom, on the other hand, is the space to feel alive. She claims imagination bridges the gap between the two, and is where desire can grow and intimacy can rekindle.
In fact, Perel asked couples in twenty different countries the following question:
When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?
A few answers kept surfacing, irrespective of religion, culture, or gender.
The first group of answers shared a theme of distance. For example, “I am most drawn to my partner when she is away, when we are apart, and then when we reunite.”
When our partner is not physically present or available, a space is formed for imagination to flourish. When either spouse gets in touch with the ability to imagine him or herself with the partner, desire can rekindle.
Perel relayed in a recent TED Talk, “When imagination comes back in the picture, and a couple can root it in absence and in longing, the flames of desire can grow. Space, or distance, is the oxygen to that fire.”
The second most common answer had to do with self-sufficiency. Some answers participants shared:
“When my partner is radiant and self-sustaining.”
“When I’m looking at my partner from a comfortable distance.”
“Watching her doing something she is passionate about. Seeing her in her element and succeeding, like on stage or performing.”
Perel explains, “Here again, the partner seems somewhat elusive and distant in this space, and the imagination can spark.”
This group of answers emphasises self-sufficiency. There is no neediness, and the partner is capable, strong, and self-reliant. Perel explains that caretaking undermines romance, and is a powerful anti-aphrodisiac.
The third type of answer contained elements of surprise and novelty.
“When he surprises me.”
“When we laugh together.”
“When we share an experience that is new or exotic.”
When vacationing to a foreign destination, every part of the experience can become an adventure, and the senses, especially visually, are enticed. That same vacation, the fourth time around, won’t elicit the same pleasure.
The common thread amongst these answers is the power that imagination holds in our relationships. When we are apart from our spouse, when he or she seems confident and capable, and when there is novelty present, our imagination lights up, which enhances pleasure.
The Torah gives us the perfect formula for creating positive distance and cultivating imagination within the framework of marriage: the laws of family purity. Short term separation provides oxygen to the flame of intimacy, and allows for a renewed reunion every month.
We can bring this concept into dating, as well. I often share the following ‘painting’ example with my students.
Suppose a guy asks you out for Tuesday at 2:00pm. You look at your calendar, and realize the painter is coming to fix the cabinets at that time. You have been trying to nail the painter down for months, and this is the only time he is available.
Students ask me, “Should I cancel the painter?”
My firm answer every time is, “Absolutely not!”
Keeping to your schedule indicates lack of neediness and availability, both attractive to the other party. (It should be noted that if you are never available, you might consider restructuring your life to make dating a priority.)
How you explain your lack of availability is equally important, and that is where the power of imagination can come into play. You don’t have to share that you have a painter coming.
Imagine for a moment this text conversation:
You: Oh, Tuesday I can’t.
Him: Why, what’s going on?
You: Wouldn’t you like to know… 😉
You: I have plans…
If you tell the guy that painters are coming, his imagination shuts off. If you keep it vague, his curiosity is sparked, and you immediately become more interesting.
The Torah also provides an opportunity for building imagination within the dating realm. Shomer negia (a Torah law referring to refraining from touching the opposite sex before marriage) provides a healthy structure within which imagination can build.
This message of imagination is particularly poignant during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the largest problems we face is the ability for singles to meet safely during this time. Most have turned to Zoom meetings as a temporary bandage to this larger issue. Although it is in no way ideal, there are benefits to this mode of communication. Zoom creates natural distance, and invites an element of imagination.
Of course, a relationship built exclusively on imagination can turn the relationship into something it is not. However, a healthy imagination can spark desire, motivation, and become the energy to help bring a relationship to the next level.
Both Torah and secular authorities espouse the connection between imagination and intimacy.
This is a powerful tool that can be utilized to build closeness in any relationship.