What do we really know about Adam and Eve? There’s betrayal! And nudity! And sex! And a snake!
But was this a love story — or just a biblical fable that set the tone for gender roles for thousands of years?
Author Bruce Feiler’s new book, “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us,” aims to clear up any doubts. Adam and Eve were definitely in love, Feiler says.
“Every great artist and creative thinker has wrestled with the story,” Feiler, a New York Times columnist and PBS host, said in an interview. “So as someone who spends a lot of time studying the ancient worlds, I thought, ‘Is there any timeless wisdom to bear here?’ ”
Feiler traveled to six countries across four continents to meet leading experts on Adam and Eve, questioning how they relate to modern religion, gender and sexuality. What might singles learn from the world’s most famous couple? According to Feiler, there’s a lot in their story that is relevant to present day.
1. It’s normal not to want to be alone.
In the Bible, before Adam and Eve grace the Earth, God proclaims: “It’s not good for the Man to be alone.” Whether or not you believe in the Judeo-Christian God, it’s human nature to crave companionship — and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. “Modern psychology has said that the biggest threat to well-being is isolation and disconnection,” Feiler said. “It’s a special part of being alive, to be connected to another person.
2. Expect love to challenge you, and don’t be surprised when it does.
People often misinterpret the romance between Adam and Eve, because their story is widely considered to be over after they’re kicked out of Eden. But it’s not until the latter portions of Genesis that we learn the couple’s problems are bigger than some forbidden fruit. Yet they persevere — together. “We don’t often think Adam and Eve are in love because we tend to mis-define love. We think of love as courtship and as it’s defined in movies, but then we’re surprised when it goes away,” Feiler explains. “Love is a long-term process of readjusting and getting over challenges. A big lesson if you’re a single person looking for love who wants to be successful in the long term is: Define what you’re trying to succeed at — set up the expectation that when you’re in [love] and it’s a struggle, that’s what it’s supposed to be like.”
3. Meet-cutes can happen, but sometimes they require perspective first.
“They were the first meet-cute,” Feiler says with a laugh. “Adam falls asleep, he’s lonely, then God takes a part of his body and makes Eve. He took one look at Eve and says, ‘This is the one.’ ” He also notes that as cute as a first meeting might be, the “when you know, you know” principle didn’t immediately apply to Eve, even when Adam was the only other man on Earth.
4. Heteronormative gender roles have been complicating expectations forever.
Feiler cites social scientists who say men and women fall in love differently — and that extends to the tale of our friends in the garden of Eden. Even though Adam was lonely and longing, Eve didn’t reciprocate just because she literally had no other options. “Adam was driven by impulse, but for women like Eve, it takes longer. That’s something the Bible gets right,” Feiler says.
5. Healthy relationships can survive doubt.
The Cliff Notes version of Adam and Eve: “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” But what drives Eve to initiate the downfall of man? “Each person [in a relationship] needs to feel like themselves; it’s a balance of dependence and interdependence,” Feiler explains. “When [Eve] realizes she’s not happy, [it’s] because she doesn’t want to be a subset of Adam. That prompts her going into the garden alone, and eating the fruit. She thinks, ‘If I am just an appendage of him, this relationship is not going to work. I need to have a voice and knowledge.’ I think that’s a powerful lesson to anyone who is eager to make a relationship work by minimizing their own identity.”
6. Don’t mistake codependency for compromise.
On the flip side, the beauty of Adam and Eve’s long-standing relationship (they remained together until Adam died at the ripe age of 930), is their chosen interdependence, Feiler says. After Eve gets the fruit, “she could be like, ‘I can keep it all to myself,’ but she doesn’t want to be entirely alone. Instead she goes back to Adam,” Feiler explains. “And Adam knows it’s wrong [to eat the fruit], but he asks himself, ‘Do I choose obligation and duty? Or do I choose companionship?’ For me, that’s the most romantic moment of the story, when Adam eats the fruit, too.”
7. Love stories are written by two people, together.
Not only does Feiler call Adam and Eve the first love story, he dubs them the “first joint byline.” “The number one thing I learned myself is that love is storytelling, but particularly love is a story that we tell with another person,” Feiler says. “I call it co-creation through co-narration. It has happy moments and unhappy moments, but we weave them together into one narrative that we tell jointly.” While we see Adam and Eve through the perspective of the scriptures, the dual characters set a standard for relationship equality. Unfortunately for Eve, Adam’s point of view tends to undercut her own in popular culture, which brings us to the next point …
8. Adam and Eve shouldn’t be defined by their genders.
A common issue with Adam and Eve is their gender tropes — particularly the one that says women can’t be trusted. Eve’s midnight snack gets the couple kicked out of Eden, but Feiler says we shouldn’t read too much into gender in this story. “Eve is victim to the greatest character assassination the world has ever known,” Feiler says with a laugh. “She’s not inferior; they’re created equal. I think now that [we see] man and woman stand equally before God after 3,000 years of history, we’re open to the lessons in the story.”
9. Taking a break doesn’t always lead to a breakup.
After they leave Eden, Adam and Eve have kids who become the poster children for sin. (Cain then kills Abel.) So what did Adam and Eve do? They separate for a bit but come back together to have another son, Seth. Feiler says that their “stick-to-itiveness” is the backbone of their relationship. “A crisis, a pain point, a rupture, can be the end of a story, but that’s not what love is,” he says. “Love isn’t stopping when you hit a problem, it’s writing the problem into the story of a relationship. It’s about figuring out how to forgive and overcome.”
10. Imagine starting from a blank slate.
“I wish I saw some nicknames and inside jokes and the other vernacular of being in a long-term relationship,” Feiler admits. “They love each other, but do they like each other? That sort of thing wasn’t emphasized when the story was written down.” They also don’t have any models for what love looks like or what it should look like. Adam and Eve “don’t have antecedents who’ve been in love before, so they can’t mimic the experience of anyone else,” Feiler writes. “They can’t steal someone else’s pickup lines or dance to anyone else’s love songs. They must write their own story. They must invent what it means to be in a relationship.”