Monday, August 29, 2005


The romance myth

Since it seems as though everyone's recovering from this or that, I suppose it's time for Yours Truly to join the crowd. Yes, the (In)Scrutable One is a recovering romantic. I'm not alone, either. In fact, I've gotten the impression that a large majority of older singles are either recovering romantics or remain caught in the grip of romantic fantasy. To these folks, real life and the people all around us are a dull and boring alternative to the inner life of Technicolor make-believe.

Believe me, I know whereof I speak, because I'm one of 'em. For many years, I spurned and despised many of the single gals whom I met, that is to say those whom I had a reasonable opportunity to get to know. On the other hand, I always had time to daydream about this or that gal who was out of my reach. Perhaps she'd change her mind about me someday. All I had to do was be patient, and the hugs and kisses of my romantic dream would all come true.

It's taken a long time, but I think at last I'm coming out of my romantic slumber. Even the great old Hollywood romantic comedies, despite their many charms, provoke in me this reaction: "That's a nice dream, but it's not reality. That may be some kind of lust, but it's certainly not love."

I see now that romance is a myth. The kind of love that produces wonderful euphoric emotional rapture isn't love at all. For one thing, it's notoriously fickle. It comes and goes like a passing shower of rain. How many times have we heard an actress say, "I don't think I'm in love you any more. I just don't feel they way I once felt." Just as a rapturous moment of bliss was all it took to begin the romance, a realization that the bliss is long gone is all it takes to chuck the whole thing and file for divorce.

So is this love? Nope. Whatever it might be, it surely isn't love, at least not the kind of love that God reveals to us in the Scriptures. In the Gospels, we learn that "greater love has no man than this: than that he lay down his life for his friends." Elsewhere, we read that "love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy...does not seek her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil." Moreover, we see that love is not something that comes and goes with the fluctuations of one's emotions, but is rather a duty, one that is expressly commanded: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives their husbands. As a Christian, I'm actually commanded to love my enemy, the very last person whom I'd feel like loving.

Given this stark contrast between the true and false versions of love, is it any wonder that those such as I who have given ourselves over to the counterfeit have at first glance found the real thing to be something of a drag? After all, sacrifice and self-denial isn't very likely to bring one emotional bliss, and it's certainly not the stuff that makes for a box-office smash. To learn that love isn't an emotional high but is nothing more or less than hard work is like being on the receiving end of a faceful of cold water.

But yet, even in light of the Bible's exceedingly clear teaching on love, the myth of romance endures in the hearts of so many, in particular the single Christian. How single guys and gals desire to find that special someone who will set off emotional sparks! How we long to enjoy that "chemistry" that we believe will no doubt accompany our meeting with Mr. or Miss Right? If I meet Jane Doe and no fireworks go off, I'm strongly inclined to look elsewhere.

On the other hand, much of the stuff that feeds the fire of romance isn't all bad. For instance, it's not necessarily wrong to prefer the blond or brunette or the chubby or the skinny, nor is it inherently wrong to desire a partner who shares your interest in books or ballroom dancing. Personal tastes and preferences are good and right in their place. Besides, it's not wrong to desire to have good and pleasant feelings towards your spouse.

OK, so worldly romance is a myth, but does this mean that there's no such thing as godly romance? Why, the very same Book that commands spouses to love one another literally tells the husband to enjoy physical intimacy with his wife, and an entire book (Song of Solomon) uses a strong metaphor of romantic love to illustrate the love of Christ towards His church.

Therein, I think, lies the key to understanding true romance: it is a blessed manifestation of the affection between a husband and wife who have entered into a self-sacrificing, self-denying, Christ-honoring covenant relationship. Their love begins and ends with God's commandments, but yet in the midst of their duty-love towards one another they enjoy the tender affection that Hollywood and Harlequin romances promises but can never deliver. Moreover, because God always gives grace to those who strive to obey His commandments, the true romance is available to all couples who make obeying God their highest priority. What a delightful state of affairs this is, because in this type of relationship, God so often grants the emotional fulfillment and pleasure that the world promises, but yet builds it upon the bedrock of duty and committment. It is this type of love that will truly endure until "by death do us part", by God's wonderful grace.

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