Hugh Hefner and the Wisdom of Solomon

Hugh Hefner discovered what King Solomon did thousands of years ago.

Newspapers have made much of the fact that Hugh Hefner, who died at age 91 after a life surrounded by beautiful women, never found the right woman:

"I never really found my soulmate": Hugh Hefner confessed he NEVER found true love despite three marriages and bedding a bevy of Playboy bunnies.

King Solomon would have sympathized.  For all his vast wisdom and riches, he wasn't able to do any better than Hef.

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.  Ecclesiastes 7:27-28

King Solomon was even richer than Hef; he supported his hundreds of wives out of petty cash.  His biggest problem in managing his kingdom was finding competent subordinates to put the vast tax monies he received to good use; governments suffer from the exact same shortage of competence down to this day.

Hef also had problems finding competent business associates.  Although he was by no means poor, Hef was never able to capitalize on his early successes with his magazine and build a real fortune.  His financial problems dropped off the financial pages long ago when his fortune dropped below the wealth he would have needed to be newsworthy.

Like Hef, Solomon found great frustration and heartache in his relations with women.  His lifestyle proves that he could find one competent subordinate in a thousand men, but if his own testimony means anything, he was never able to find a woman who would fill the empty hole in his soul.  When he said "all those," he really meant "all those."  I Kings 11:3 reports of Solomon that "he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines" - roughly in the same range as Hef claimed to have bedded.

Solomon's abundance of women didn't make him any happier than Hef's - neither of them could find "true love."

What Were They Seeking?

Many men find it difficult to understand how these two men felt so frustrated in spite of the abundance of women in their lives, to say nothing of their wealth and overall lifestyle.  Part of the problem is that there are many meanings which English-speakers pack into the one word "love."  This causes huge amounts of confusion because people use the same word for many very different feelings.

The ancient Greeks knew better: they had six different words for different kinds of love instead of overusing just one.

Eros is erotic love - the physical attraction between men and women.  The Greeks knew that this form of attraction need not be accompanied by any other feeling.  Men generally start with being physically attracted to a woman, but a relationship based on pure lust won't last very long.  Whether it develops from there depends mostly on the terms and conditions which she sets; we've pointed out how many if not most men are perfectly content to love and leave.  The lives of both Hugh Hefner and King Solomon were filled to overflowing with eros.  If eros was all they needed, they'd certainly have had no complaints; but it's not.

Ludus is playful love between children or young people who're engaging in non-serious flirting.  "Puupy love" youthful crushes which can't go anywhere are expressions of ludus.  Years later we look back on them with fondness, but they have no more weight than a sepia-toned memory.

Pragma, or longstanding love, comes from a mature relationship between long-married couples - this goes far beyond matters of mere sex.  It's about making compromises to help the relationship work over time and showing patience and tolerance when things don't go as planned.  Neither Mr. Hefner nor King Solomon ever experienced pragma, because they didn't stick to one wife long enough to get there; these days, few Americans do, so this word describes a phenomenon whcih is nearly unknown.

It's not entirely gone, though.  We should spend less time worrying about "falling in love" and work at "standing in love" if we want relationships to last: the Greek word pragma is where our word "pragmatic" originated.  When you consider the emotional and financial costs of divorce, working to stay tolerably married is pragmatic - practical - in the extreme.  To the American mentality, "pragmatism" is the exact opposite of "love," but the Greeks were wiser than we are.

Philia is filial love or brotherly love.  This describes a deep friendship which should develop between husband and wife over time; we get our word "filial" from philia.  At one time, this kind of love was recognized as a significant source of marriages, where "best friends" start a relationship which evolves towards wedding bells; today that seems to be much more rare, but marriages based on non-sexual friendship have a pretty good long-term track record.  As with ludus, philia was outside the experience of Hefner or Solomon, though from their descriptions, it seems like philia and pragma are what they most missed.

Philautia, or love of the self, can be either bad, as in extreme narcissism, or good as in feeling secure enough in yourself to feel love for someone else.  It is difficult to love someone else without a healthy appreciation of yourself.  It is hard to assume responsibility for caring for someone else without a realistic appreciation of your strengths and weaknesses, but it is equally tough to properly love someone else when you are so full of yourself there's no extra room.  We think of eros as being Hollywood love, but from the looks of things, philautia in the extreme is even more common.  This has to be a major reason why Hollywood marriages almost never work.  Both Hefner and Solomon had many problems, but it doesn't seem like a Hollywood-style philautia imbalance was one of them.

Agape is selfless, empathetic love for everyone, especially those close to you.  Agape translates into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word "charity."  Charity is based in treating other people better than they deserve.

Many older people believe that our modern narcissistic "selfie generation" is lacking in empathy which makes it hard for them to form resilient, charitable relationships that can stand the stresses of life.  Agape is not restricted to marital or sexual relationships, but it certainly adds to them.

This long list, then, covers the "love" that both Solomon and Hef longed for.  Neither of them could find a woman who cared deeply about making them happy, but even more importantly, they never found a woman that they cared enough about to work hard to make her happy.

A healthy relationship between man and woman generally starts with eros or sometimes philia, in that the couple is mutually attracted to each other. The eros route can happen very rapidly, as we see in "love at first sight" stories which might better be described as "lust at first sight."  For the relationship to last, however, it must progress to the point that the man has agape for the woman in that he wants to charitably sacrifice his interests to take care of her, and vice versa.

What we moderns forget is that, unlike eros, agape is not an emotion that just strikes like lightning from out of the blue.  It's a conscious choice that must be made every day until it becomes a habit and a way of life.  Looking out for someone else is an act of will that people must choose to do - or not.

Hef the Erotic

Both Hef and Solomon reveled in experiencing eros, that is, erotic appreciation for the female form.  Mr. Hefner bought his first Chicago Playboy mansion in 1959.  When he lived there, a brass plate on the door read "Si Non Oscillas, Noli Tintinnare," or, "If you don't swing, don't ring."

Knowing what that sign meant, why would so many women ring Hef's bell?  A good part of the answer lies in simple economics.  Women can make a great deal of money based on their appearance, but they encounter so many beautiful competitors that it's helpful to get in the good graces of a someone powerful enough to jumpstart their careers.  Women who went to Hef had a good idea what would be required of them and rang his bell hoping to get more out of him than he cost them.

This may or may not require total immersion in the swinging culture of Hef's mansion.  Supermodel Lauren Hutton got her start as a Playboy bunny which taught her a lot, but she found better employment after just three months.  Regardless of career opportunities, Hef was wealthy enough to be attractive for his wealth alone.  The phrase, "It's a business doing pleasure with you" pretty well sums up the atmosphere.

So what went wrong?  Men and women have exploited each other financially for so long that nobody should be surprised.  Hef's problem was that there was no way for him to tell whether a woman was hanging around him for what she could get from him or because she loved him for his own sake - or even if his girlfriends were capable of caring for him or anyone given their damaging experiences of life.  Although he claimed to be faithful during his three marriages, his wives were assuredly aware of the number of attractive women to whom he had access.  That wouldn't make them want to involve their emotions in him for fear of being hurt, leading to a vicious cycle that eventually ended each marriage save the one he was in when he died.

Men know that while a happy woman is heavenly, an unhappy woman can give him a taste of the punishments of hell.  A man's emotions are as powerful as a woman's, but men engage their emotions more slowly.  A man who's inclined to center his emotions on a single woman will try not to let himself love a woman unless he's confident of making her happy.  Hugh Hefner wasn't of monogamous inclination, and neither was Solomon.

Solomon's Solution

It's unlikely that the libertine Mr. Hefner had much use for the Bible so he may not have known why he couldn't find true love in the sense of a woman wanting to take care of him and dedicate her life to making him happy.  Solomon had no such excuse - he had written the Song of Songs to explain how husbands and wives should interact.  It was preserved by meticulous hand-copying over the centuries because it so well captures the principles of maintaining a happy marriage, but he forgot what he'd written.

This work of literary art has survived for thousands of years, and will still be read when Playboy magazine and Hugh Hefner have ben long forgotten.  It's easy to read the whole thing; it's short.

1) It starts with the wife praising her husband, right from the beginning.  Men don't seem to understand women very well; having a wife praise her husband teaches him how to praise her in a way that is meaningful to her.  Feeling appreciated by his wife makes a man more inclined to appreciate her enough to take care of her.

2) There is no criticism at all in the Song, only praise in mind-numbing detail.  The man and wife are constantly looking for little things about each other to praise and appreciate.  The way it's put sounds odd to us, but you can easily re-word it to make sense in modern terms.  The main thing to learn is that married people need constant praise, support, and affirmation from each other many times per day.

3) The husband is totally involved with his wife.  He tells everyone that he believes she's uniquely perfect for him:

My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.  Song 6:9

He's so focused on her that he doesn't see other women as women, only as people.  Both Hef and Solomon flatly ignored this part of the formula and constantly sought new outlets for eros.

4) The wife has the security of knowing that her husband belongs to her:

My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.  Song 2:16

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.  Song 6:3

What convinces a woman that a man belongs to her?  If he opens his heart to her whenever she needs the encouragement of seeing his love for her.

5) The wife recognizes and encourages her husband's desire for her so that he will want to take care of her:

I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.  Song 7:10

The specific way she encourages him and convinces him that she belongs to him is explained in the next few verses.  It's simple, but few modern wives are willing to do it.

Solomon found his heart as empty as Hef did; the difference is that Solomon himself had documented the solution - a woman can't find joy in belonging to a man unless he chooses to belong to her.  A man belongs to a woman only insofar as he continually opens his heart to her at least as often as he wants her to open herself to him.

There is no joy this side of heaven for a man that compares with belonging to a woman who likes belonging to him.  It's sad indeed that neither Hef nor Solomon realized this.

Hef recognized that something was missing in his life, but he'd probably never had it; in the Hollywood circles in which he moved, he'd probably never even seen it.  It was far worse for Solomon: he'd had the joy of receiving a woman's sincere love in his youth because he appreciated her and belonged to her.  This takes so much time that a man can't do it with more than one woman; Solomon lost it when he collected so many other women.

In his old age, he didn't know how to get it back.  How very, very sad!

Both Hef and Solomon tried an approach to happiness that, history shows, doesn't work.  But on the face of things, it seems like it ought to; we'll look into their rationale in the next article in this series.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
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