One of the most profound talks I have ever seen took place when JJ Abrams spoke at the TED Conference. If you are not yet familiar with TED, you really should be. It is a conference held each year on topics which relate to Technology, Entertainment and Design. Experts from all around the world are invited to speak about their field of study in 18 minutes or less. God himself would only be allotted 18 minutes to speak at TED. And while it costs about $6,000 to buy a ticket to the conference – if you can get one at all – you can watch the talks online for free.
Back in March 2007, JJ Abrams spoke on mystery. When he was a young boy, his grandfather was the instrumental person in his life that encouraged both his love of mysteries and as well as his exploration into how things work. One of his grandfather’s gifts to him was a box of magic tricks advertised to have $50 worth of magic for only $15. Abrams has carried that box around with him for years, never opening it, as a reminder of his grandfather and the wonder of what the box might actually hold. As long as he keeps it closed, there is mystery. Abrams contends that “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination” and “there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.”
If you want to watch his TED talk in its entire 18 minutes, click here – JJ Abrams – Magic Box .
The reason, he continues, that mystery trumps knowledge is that we crave “mystery boxes” in our stories. They are the lifeblood of entertainment. Take Star Wars for example:
You got the droids; they meet the mysterious woman. Who’s that? We don’t know. Mystery box! Then you meet Luke Skywalker. He gets the droids, you see the holographic image. You learn, Oh, it’s a message. She wants to, you know, find Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s her only hope. But who’s Obi Wan Kenobi? Mystery box! So he goes to Old Ben Kenobi and it turns out he is Obi Wan Kenobi and he knew Luke’s father. But who is Luke’s father? Mystery box!
It is these mystery boxes which draw us into the story. They stimulate our imagination. They are the great unknown. They bond us to the characters. They are the twists and turns which we do not expect but utterly delight us. That is our attitude…at least when they are happening on screen.
But what happens when we encounter mystery boxes in our own lives? Typically, we get very annoyed. They are inconvenient. They deter us from easy and fun things in our lives. They don’t fit into our neat and tidy version of a picture-perfect life.
However, if we were to translate our lives into a movie script, they would look like this:
- My 13 month old daughter was just diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness. We don’t know what is coming next. Mystery box.
- There is a world-wide economic downturn. How are we going to make it financially? Mystery box.
- My husband has just been put on anti-depressants which are killing his libido. How do we manage that? Mystery box.
In our personal lives, we want to – in fact we demand to – rip open the mystery box to see what is inside. The very circumstances that would make our life’s story a block-buster hit on screen are what we want to immediately eradicate. We want all the answers right here, right now. But the irony of the mystery box is that once you rip it open, all the possibilities are gone. Suddenly the anticipation of $50 worth of magic is replaced by the fact that you actually only got a bunch of cheap tricks.
And yet, if you are going to experience eroticism in your relationship, you are going to have to endure a bit of mystery.
How on earth do eroticism and mystery have anything to do with each other?
They have everything to do with each other. Think about it – when did you have the most passion and eroticism with your lover? I would put money on the earlier days of your relationship. Those were the days when we would kiss for hours; we would talk until 4 in the morning; we could not wait to get a phone call during the day from each other. To quote the band, The Police, it was the period in our relationship when “Every little thing she does is magic.”
Ironically, those were also the days when we knew very little about each other. Our hunger to become more knowledgeable of each other drove our passions. The very mystery of this new person sparked eroticism. But as we began to understand each other, as we began to grow deeper in love, and as we melded our worlds together, the eroticism faded.
In his book The Kosher Sutra, Shmuley Boteach describes it as such: “[Eroticism] is much like a secret that you long to hear. As soon as its contents are revealed, it has ceased to be a secret and in the process it has ceased to be interesting or erotic.”
If I had to wager a guess right now, I would bet that you have a lot of knowledge about your spouse but not a lot of mystery. I would further guess that you miss the passion that you once had in your relationship. Those two circumstances are intrinsically entwined.
So how do we nurture a relationship of intimacy over decades with our spouse and still experience mystery?
This is the topic I am going to be discussing over my next few blogs. Together, we will explore how the Age of Enlightenment and the accompanying deification of reason threatens to destroy the passion in our relationships. We will look at the annoyances of dealing with ambiguity and the importance of seeing our lovers through fresh eyes. We will brainstorm about ways to increase the erotic in our marriages. And somewhere, in the midst of all of this, I hope that we will begin once again feel the flames of passion. Perhaps we will even want to rip the clothes off of our lovers once again. Stay tuned.