The Sense of Merger and Transcendence

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Lovers may go beyond a sense of joint identity, may feel that they have in fact merged. Charles Williams said, "Love you? I am you," perhaps echoing Cathy's famous declaration, "Nelly, I am Heathcliff." Lovers play on merging their names as a symbol of soulful merging. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, in their love letters written before their marriage, referred to themselves as "WE," the W standing for Wallis and the E for Edward. I have friends who sign their correspondence "Georgellen."

The impulse to merge is often expressed by homely metaphors of bodily incorporation: "I could eat you up," "He inhaled her presence," "She drank him in with her eyes." The lover feels the Other to be so much a part of him that she has incorporated him, or he her. Each step of intimacy suggests the next: talking becomes like touching, touching like making love, making love a merging of souls. Sex does not simply serve lust, but the transcendent aims of merger. Through the compulsion to merge, the lovers become more aware of their bodies. Each lover lives in his body and is grateful for it, for it is the instrument of his desire for union. Not only does it allow him to make love to his beloved but it offers the possibility of making that love manifest in the form of a child. The body is both metaphor and instrument of the longing to merge. The body has become a tool for the soul.

Sex informed by love results in heightened sexuality. It is in love that one is granted the most compelling sexual experiences of one's life. Every sexual act is informed with wonder, tenderness, and awe. Other women, other men cease to interest the lover. In the phase of idyllic love, the lover is passionately monogamous—even if he in fact sleeps with someone else. (For some, "object constancy" depends on whom they think of when they make love, not whom they are with.)

In the act of making love, in the very act of pleasing both himself and his beloved, the lover comes to feel a unique intimacy with her; then the lovers often feel a sense of merging. Sex is a sacred rite in the religion of mutual love, and like all sacred rites, is an encounter with the mysteries.

At moments of spiritual union—transcendent moments as it were— whether the route to union is sexual or otherwise, time no longer exists. The moment is timeless, eternal, the boundaries of self dissolve though paradoxically the self is neither lost nor diminished. Quite the contrary, the self is affirmed and enriched. The sensory perceptions of that instant are heightened and its emotional resonance enshrined in memory. For such a moment, one will sacrifice the future and the past. The memory of it can be suppressed but never really obliterated; it may return unexpectedly and it can always be recalled at will.

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