In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

One Night With You

Is this a Request Worth Considering?

One night with you

"One night with you
Is what I'm now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true

Just call my name
And I'll be right by your side
I want your sweet helping hand
My love's too strong to hide." Elvis Presley

 One night of sin

"One night of sin
Is what I'm now paying for
The things I did and I saw
Would make the earth stand still

Don't call my name
It makes me feel so ashamed
I lost my sweet helping hand
I got myself to blame." Smiley Lewis


The question "would you spend the night with me?" can be taken to be offensive and rude, suggesting a superficial pleasurable night of sin. However, the question can also express profound love, suggesting a profoundly satisfied night of tender love. When this question was put to them, many people (especially men) accept the offer. Should you do the same?

Elvis's song was originally written and recorded under the title "One night of sin," and had been a hit for Smiley Lewis. Elvis Presley's manager had reservations about the suggestive lyrics, so Elvis himself revised the lyrics and the title became "One night with you."

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 Would you go to bed with me tonight?

In a well-known study by Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield, young students approached opposite-sex subjects of similar age and stated "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you very attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?" Men's acceptance rate was 71% while women's acceptance rate was 0%; not a single woman accepted the offer. Some of the refusing men and women (more so men) reacted apologetically by referring to their current relationship. This implies that they might have accepted the offer if they were not in another relationship.

Over a decade later, Kurt Molzer, a nice-looking 28-year old Austrian journalist, approached 100 women between the ages of 16 and 50 and asked them: "Doyou want to sleep with me?" Six women accepted his offer. Unlike the academic study, in this case a woman's affirmative reaction to the offer was actually verified, as the journalist subsequently had sex with each woman who accepted. It is interesting to note that ten of the refusing women were inclined to pursue the acquaintance by having a date or a drink with him. In addition, three women offered him their phone numbers for future contact; eight women provided apologetic responses by pointing to their relationship status (partnered or married); and five other women explained their refusal by referring to current time pressure (see here).

Like Mr. Molzer's proposals, Presley's song also expresses the desire to spend a night with a woman; however, this is not a one-night stand with a stranger, but a night with a woman with whom he is profoundly in love although he knows that he may not be able to get more than one night with her. In both cases, these involve a brief sexual experience, one sparked by profound love and the other by pure passion. In the case of profound love, the main criticism  is that tasting paradise once and then being unable to enter it again is so frustrating that it might be better not to taste it in the first place. The main criticism against the brief sexual experience that is fuelled by pure passion relates to the problem of engaging in such an intimate experience when the partners do not share any real emotional closeness.

One night with you

Various romantic circumstances can prevent lovers from being together. They yearn to spend a whole night together but cannot do so because, for example, they are both married to other people. Their togetherness is limited and their yearning is intense, almost painful, when they are not together. Elvis's song  expresses such circumstances—spending one night with his beloved is what he is praying for (unlike Smiley Lewis, who is paying for this night).

This night, if granted, could be paradise at its best, but it might exact a price that will be paid over many years to come when the lover painfully yearns for the paradise he cannot re-enter. Should you pursue the dream of spending one night with your beloved if you know that miserable nights without her will follow?

A negative reply, thus advocating giving up the night, might stem from the assumption that profound love is essentially a long-term ongoing experience; instead of requesting one night, you should ask to spend all your nights (and days) with her.

A positive reply to this question might be based on the notion that human desires always go beyond what we can realistically obtain in our lives. There is a Jewish saying that "No man gets to the time of his death with even half of what he wanted." We should be aware of our limitations and not expect to get everything we want. Accordingly, being satisfied with our limited lot is essential for our happiness.

There are, however, cases in which partial satisfaction is worse than no satisfaction at all. The disappointment of not having complete access to one's lover all the time may be greater than the satisfaction of having only partial access. As the 6th century Japanese poet Otomo No Yakamochi writes:

"Better never to have met you 

In my dream

Than to wake and reach 

For hands that are not there."

The desire "to have it all" can limit us and may prevent us from engaging in many meaningful activities. Moreover, sometimes limited satisfaction, either in time or extent, may have a profound positive impact upon us. Consider the following poem by Leigh Hunt:

"Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,

Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,

Say I'm growing old, but add,

Jenny kiss'd me."

In somewhat similar circumstances, one isolated experience may have such a profound impact that it provides a life of meaning]. This is expressed in the saying, "See Naples and die," which implies that seeing Naples is such a profound experience that once you've seen it, there is nothing meaningful left for you to do in your life, as nothing could compare with it

Spending one night with someone may be a wonderful loving experience that is remembered and cherished, even more than Jenny's kiss.  But it can also be something that torments you for the rest of your life as you ruminate on how wonderful it would have been if you could have continued on that romantic road for many years afterwards.

 One night of "sin"

The major criticism against accepting the offer of "one night of sin" is that the proposed experience is superficial, limited, and tentative, whereas we should aspire to profound, comprehensive, and permanent love. The critic may further contend that it is more appropriate for a sexual experience to be part of the profound experience of love. Such an intimate experience with a stranger may also raise normative criticism.

Superficial, casual sex with a stranger may sometimes be more exciting than sex within profound love, but its value is briefer, as the phenomenon of “the morning after effect” clearly testifies. Casual sex does not offer deep emotional satisfaction; instead, it offers quick, physical pleasure, easily acquired and easily dismissed, which makes the agent more susceptible to becoming addicted to sex.

A major factor in examining the value of such a "night of sin" is whether the intentions and expectations of each person are known and are compatible. If they are, accepting the offer of one night with a stranger is usually legitimate. Two adults can decide what they want to do and when they know the intentions and expectations of the other, there is less chance of deception and self-deception.

The short reply to the above criticisms is twofold. First, there are circumstances in which one night is the most one can get. The choice here is between one night or none, not between one night or many. Second, sometimes the brief encounter has its own advantages. Not all our experiences need to be long-term and profound.

 How can we cope with the brief duration of paradise?

The difficulties in both types of experiences -- the profound and the superficial -- are mainly their brief duration. Both experiences are enjoyable but far too brief.

One useful strategy with which to cope with the brief duration of a loving experience (as well as of life) is to put aside the recognition that love (and life) will inevitably end and to exercise the policy of "business as usual." The realization that love is not everlasting should not mean that we cease to value love or stop investing efforts in our romantic relationship. Unlike God, we are of limited duration, and therefore if we invest only in the eternal we are denying the transience of human life. Accepting the uncertain nature of love does not mean giving up love. It may, however, involve a certain degree of positive illusions and contentment with what we have, in the spirit of "Let’s share the good times while we can." It avoids both the nihilism that senses that death is just around the corner and the illusion that everything will last forever (In the Name of Love).

The frequent presence of emotional ups and downs in life is not a sufficient reason to commit suicide or to stop loving. It is silly to end living and loving just because you are unable to have it all. The secret to happiness is moderation rather than the attempt to have everything. Sometimes the sad experience of losing something can even have a positive effect by enabling you to realize the value of what you have. Accordingly, in many cases people should behave as if their current romantic relationship will last forever; and indeed they should really hope and work for this. But they should not be devastated if it does not turn out that way. In such cases, most people look for another ideal love and some of them may even find the love of their life; however, this again may be for a limited time. Whatever the outcome, the agent’s optimism is likely to lead to a better and longer-lasting relationship.

 Conclusion

Is it reasonable to desire a relatively brief romantic experience that might torment us for the rest of our life? I believe the answer may be positive for some people and negative for others. Some romantic experiences are bound to be brief, but this does not mean that they were not genuine. In the beautiful words of Edna St. Vincent Millay:

"After all, my erstwhile dear,

My no longer cherished,

Need we say it was not love,

Just because it perished?"

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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