We don't have to look very far to come upon a captivating tale about disappointment—it is among our oldest and most familiar stories, the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Where else among the world's cultures does one find a creation myth in which human history begins not with magic animals or demigods or occult forces but with newlyweds engaged in doing what so many other married couples since have done: making bad judgments together and then blaming each other for the difficulties that they bring down on themselves.
Despite the best real estate on the planet, peace everywhere, no competition for mates, and all their needs gratified, Adam and Eve cannot leave well enough alone. Once they find something they can't have, they hardly seem interested in anything else. The forbidden apple is too fascinating to resist. Eve at least has the intellectual curiosity and rebelliousness to take the initiative. Adam is too busy being a good boy. When God shows up and demands an explanation, Adam declares that it was the woman's fault. Adam is the first in a long line of passive-aggressive males.
The famous pair wrapped themselves in fig leaves and took to the bushes after the apple made them aware that they were naked. Centuries of theologians have informed us that this discovery signified the first sexual shame. Maybe so, but I have a slightly different take. Adam and Eve had always been naked in Eden. What made the difference?
In the Garden of Eden, nothing changed, nothing grew, nothing died. Time never passed until Adam and Eve learned that the Fall meant that they would eventually die. It's mortality that starts the meter running. And nakedness under the regime of time is significantly different from nakedness before time exists. No more perfect youthful bodies forever. From now on, the hint of a potbelly here, the possibility of a sagging breast there.
In other words, I suspect that when Adam and Eve looked at each other through the filter of time, they were more disappointed than ashamed. "You are not who I thought you were," they might have been the first to say to each other after the revelation that nobody is perfect. But to love is to become aware of loss with further losses to come. I believe that this is among the major reasons that love makes us so anxious.
Falling in love leads to such monumental expectations of happiness that it can feel like the discovery of paradise. But falling out of paradise with regularity also seems to be our lot. What happened to Adam and Eve happens to all of us—over and over again. There's nothing like thinking that you have failed at love to sharpen your knowledge that life is uncertain and the clock is relentlessly ticking. One tends to ask oneself, If this relationship won't work, will I ever find one that does? Disappointment measures the passing of time as a fall. It is one of our harsh reminders of solitude and aging and mortality.
We Hear You!