Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fairy Tale Romance - Real Life

Part 4 of 5

Now we come to the heart of the matter. And while I might be very good at skipping across the theoretical, here in the grit of reality, my naiveté will likely become apparent. But I will write, even though I am not sure the following is true. I am attempting to build up a true idea like a tower. Perhaps what I build here will be torn down for errors that others find in it. But even then, I hope that it will give some hint at what a solid idea on this subject would be. But enough philosophizing! It is time for brass tacks!

I’ve recounted the story of Jacob and Rachel to several female friends, and asked them to interpret it in light of their own experiences. It seems that Genesis 29 is in the same category as Jonah and the fish: some sort of wonderful, miraculous event that perhaps happened, but not one that is practical. They fawn over Jacob’s romance, but then tell me stories of how they themselves have utterly rejected every guy who expressed love like his. What ought to be the beginning of a wonderful romance turns out to be the end of one.

Guys, especially “good” guys, apparently don’t know this. They have strong Jacob-ian feelings of love for women which compel them to make promises, give compliments and, in general, be romantic. Woe unto them! How do girls respond? With feelings put up to defend against another broken heart: “He just wants my body,” “He doesn’t know me,” “I have commitment issues,” “It just turns me off” (these are direct quotes from girls I’ve recently talked to on this subject). And it is the same with my male friends. They won’t let themselves fall for a girl because, “It’s too risky”; it’s much more prudent to, “Keep options open.” Men and women have both hardened their hearts, or probably more accurately, their hearts have become calloused from repeated injury. 

But every girl grows up believing in fairy tales. No matter how much social conditioning or porn or pessimism have ruined sexuality, little girls love stories of romance. Disney princesses still sell, no matter how non-PC gender roles are. Women still love Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. They still, even as grown-ups, want to hear fairy tales of Twilight’s Edward. Yet I don’t know of any of my women peers who still want to hear professions of love or promises from men. Men must be doing enormous damage to so utterly displace this deep and universal hope in nearly every modern woman. And the men now are equally cautious. How many of them would ever make such professions? Women seem to have developed an urge to vomit or flee (usually both) when hearing them, so why bother? And even if it were romantic, such constriction of options would be dangerous.

I think one of the problems is that we still have the passion of Eros but we lack the integrity of Jacob. We are driven by our Eros to make promises, but then we don’t actually have to keep them. And so we break them, and with them, the heart of their object. In the West, we allow a category of relationship, “dating” or “boy/girlfriend,” to go with implicit promises that will almost certainly be broken. And so today, it seems that nearly every woman has been lied to, implicitly or explicitly, by a man, and vice-versa. There are a precious few survivors who, out of nerdiness, ugliness, or dumb luck, have made it through this onslaught. For everyone else, when another promise is made, instead of romantic excitement, it brings memories of pain, or reflexes to avoid the pain. A conviction builds, starting from our first high school sweetheart and gaining strength with every broken heart, that fairy tales are for children, after all. Marriage isn’t a wonderful thing for princes and princesses, but an increasingly irrelevant contract of convenience.

I think CS Lewis in the Four Loves exactly describes our predicament:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
We have locked away our still-beating heart in a black coffin. The passions of the living heart seep out of the coffin like a vapor and drive Twilight sales into the millions, while the thick lid prevents any real corporeal Romance in. Perhaps it is irony that Edward, the great romantic hero of our age, is dead. Mr. Darcy has been replaced with a pale, cold, lifeless, blood-sucking, sun-fearing creature of the night (with really sexy hair).

So we are left with a deep philosophical question: are the romantic fairy tales real? Certainly when we disbelieve in them, we make them unreal. But what if we really believed in them? What if this desire for men to promise ridiculous things a short time after meeting women, and women’s urge to believe them, are truly God-given? What if all that love-activated dopaminergic brain circuitry was for something (besides making drugs fun)? What if Thomas Aquinas was right when he said, “No natural desire is in vain”? Is that even a possible world?


  1. Edward, not Edgar. Besides that. I think you make some amazing points that really needed to be said.

  2. Ha! It tells you how much Twilight I've read. It has definitely made it to my to-read list. Thanks for the correction and the encouragement!

  3. david, this is beautifully thought-provoking (with much truth, as well)! thank you for posting this!

  4. Thank you for the kind words! I would be grateful if you shared some of the thoughts it provoked :)

  5. I recently met someone who declared that he loved me and wanted to marry me. Yes, I was quite perplexed since we had only talked for a month.

    At first, I was both excited and confused. Many friends recommended against getting involved quickly. Two words proceeded from almost everyone's mouth I talked with: Be careful!

    As regards to hasty or "Jacab-ian" declarations of love and commitment, I would give the guy a chance to prove his love. Jacob had over seven years to demonstrate that his love was patient and true. Many times women do not require men to demonstrate the purity of their love. Someone once told me, "Everything is done out of love." I responded, "The importance is not whether or not something is done out of love, but out of love for whom." He laughed.

    I believe eros exists, and still believe that fairy tale romances can happen. Although if eros is not coupled with agape- Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not easily angered. Love is not self-seeking. Love... (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), then eros will fade and fail. Eros is the rapids of a rushing river, and agape is the ocean. Without the depth, power and consistancy of agape, romantic love is like going through a rushing river without ever making it to the ocean. It's fun for a time, but can leave much hurt a long the way.

  6. For Christian men, I don't think it takes very long to see that a woman truly loves her Savior and will strive to do anything God asks of her all her life. In addition to that, I don't think it takes very long to find out if you both have similar passions for ministry and thus direction in life. Beyond that, and physical attraction, there isn't anything else that needs to be known to make the decision for marriage. I told my current wife that after one month of dating. I knew I wanted to marry her before we started dating. My current theory is that dating which is not with the full intention of ending in marriage is selfish. You're forming a romantic bond with someone when you date and if you have no idea if that person will end up your spouse, then you are gambling with some pretty powerful emotional and spiritual territory. Why? Just because you like spending time with them? That's the same short sighted logic that leads dieters to choose the donut over personal health. But that's just my theory. I can't prove it's correct.

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  8. David, I love this journal/blog.... I have been meaning to tell you for some time how much I enjoy your thoughtful and thought provoking musings (so here is a single long response to make up for the other ones I always meant to leave).

    I completely agree with the CS Lewis quote- that to love at all is vulnerable, probably as vulnerable as you can get. So while the rush of romance is beautiful and thrilling, I think if everyone stopped to think, they might also realize how absolutely terrifying it is. And perhaps that fear of vulnerability is what prohibits the course of our natural “opioid” romance.

    I always thought I was funny because my initial response to the "good" guy bestowing his romantic ways upon me was discomfort, or more accurately guilt. I did not feel able or ready to return the fullness of their feeling, nor comfortable even simply miming their actions; therefore, I didn't want them to make a big show as it would only bring on the guilt. If they did too much, I would begin to feel claustrophobic, overwhelmed by my inability to respond, and I would just then want them to go away so I didn't have to feel or face that anymore. It makes me laugh now, but years back a "gentleman" left a dozen roses on my car and upon seeing them, my first thought wasn't how sweet or how beautiful, etc, etc the flowers were, but rather complete dread at the thought that they were left out in the open and thinking that others surely had seen them and knew they were for me since they would recognize my car!
    HOWEVER, eventually I was won over then and by other gentlemen. I just needed patience, and maybe a little room to process (complete side note- I am also one who believes that a little bit of challenge in the initial stage of dating is a good thing). I don't think my heart was hardened by previous injury. I think I just was aware of the required vulnerability it took to respond to such strong romantic gestures, and that alone scared me. I was scared of needing someone.

    I like the idea of faithful, persistent love- it is beautiful to me that Jacob waited 7 years! Time tests the depth or quality of that romance.
    Now, in my marriage, I am a complete sucker for romance. I. cannot. get. enough!! But as someone above commented, that romance is also grounded in deep (agape) love, respect and commitment, the perfect soil for romance to truly flourish. I still think that romance outside of agape love is a terrifyingly vulnerable thing (or even within in, as we are still humans trying to mimic agape love), but at some point in dating that first step has to be taken, and must continue to be taken each and every day for love to grow.

  9. I think you hit it on the nose when you said,"we still have the passion of Eros but we lack the integrity of Jacob." This is the crux of the matter. But the blame falls on both sexes fully. Yes, guys do have a habit of breaking our hearts, making promises they explicitly break, and quoting true lovers of old in place of grappling with their own emotions to find out what love really means. And I won't begin to mention the extent to which popular culture and the media have corrupted and hijacked our perception of love and romance. But women are to blame too. As a Christian woman, I have done some of the heart damage to myself, by accepting the promises of men whose hearts were not centered on God. In this world we are so desperate to hear someone loves us that we fail to really look at the person who's saying all those pretty words. And we desperately repeat this charade time and time again until we are too callous to believe in the words when they come from the right person.
    I believe romance is a God-given gift like sex.
    I believe godly men and women stand out enough in our world today to take notice of each other when they focus on God and ignore the distractions bombarding them.
    I believe that when they do notice each other there is a moment of reckoning and then all bets are off and crazy promises are more than okay.
    But that's just my two-cents.

  10. Great comments! It seems that love is interesting!

    Anonymous II:
    "I would give the guy a chance to prove his love"
    I think you might be on to something. I heard a story of a father who would only allow a guy to go on a date with his daughter after cutting a cord of wood ( For EVERY date.

    I love your analogy of the river and the ocean. I might quote you on that. "Anonymous once said..." Thank you.

    "My current theory is that dating which is not with the full intention of ending in marriage is selfish. ...But that's just my theory. I can't prove it's correct."

    Dating is so perfectly bad, change in any direction would probably be toward the good. I'm not sure if that's the final answer, but we do need to start thinking about other ideas, even if they are just un-proven theories.

    Hey! Great to hear from you! I'm glad that this has provoked you (thought-wise :).

    Your story is intriguing! Thank you for sharing your past feelings. I'll have to re-evaluate my position in light of them. I assumed that most of the shame, guilt and fear was from past injury; in your case, it wasn't: "I was scared of needing someone." Do you think this feeling is common? I'll have to think more about this.

    "Time tests the depth or quality of that romance."
    So it seems. The 7 years of Jacob is a beautiful thing. Perhaps you and Anonymous are right: persistence or patience or longsuffering is an important indication of Agape sprouting from Eros.

    Great comments! I was especially moved by this one:
    "In this world we are so desperate to hear someone loves us that we fail to really look at the person who's saying all those pretty words."

  11. This is an incredibly well written, and very thought provoking series of posts (...maybe you should pitch it to a women's magazine as a freelance article??)

    But I digress.. =)

    It's pretty ironic that I am reading this today after having (over the last week) been going through some debate with my current boyfriend of nearly 2 years about marriage - he isn't sure he is ready for that commitment, and I questioned, what commitment would be so different than the one we already have implicitly taking place ? We are in a monogamous, committed relationship. Apparently, according to him, the title of being "married" makes it less in...he never wants to get a divorce, so long as he isn't married, he doesn't have to worry about that. But I wonder - I have been committed to him for 2 years now, and I love him deeply (and he says he loves me...I wonder now) and I am just really confused as to what it really means when a guy says that he isn't sure if he's ready for the commitment...after 2 years of commitment already. Hmm. I dropped the discussion because I didn't want to appear pushy and needy and know, all of those things men say they hate about women - except that I really do care about having a meaningful relationship with someone, and now I doubt this is the case with this guy - and I wonder how many guys out there have been socially instructed to feel the same way. So, maybe I am one of those girls who is trying so hard to hold on to optimism and belief in love - but I'll definitely say my belief is starting to wane...

    (P.S.: this has been incredibly therpeutic to get all of that off my chest! haha!)

    Thanks again for writing this post, and reading my ramblings!


  12. Hey David--Well, to be extremely unhelpful, I must say that I am not really sure how common my previous feelings are ("being scared of needing someone"). I have had friends mention that before, but am not sure how strong or driving of a force that was for them. I was raised to be quite independent, so perhaps it played a larger role for me.
    However, since it is human nature to assume that how you view the world is shared by everyone else, I will indulge myself and say that, while some men and women have never vocalized that specific concept, that it is, conscious or not, a motivating factor. Needing someone, or allotting a place in your heart, your life, for one particular person to fill with their attention, love, time, etc is an extremely vulnerable thing to me. If they do not fill that space, you are left with a frightening void. Of course, this gets into a whole other conversation about what really fills you and how romance/love here on earth points our hearts and minds upward....

  13. @Dani
    "maybe you should pitch it to a women's magazine as a freelance article"
    Ha! I'm flattered! But if this really was helpful or thought-provoking, I'd consider it (if I knew any women's magazines!). And why Women's magazines? You don't think GQ would bite? :P

    "what commitment would be so different than the one we already have implicitly taking place"
    There's a big difference between 'whatever happens, happens' and 'till death do us part'; marriage requires a man to reject 3.5 billion possible women and stay with just one for forever. That's really dangerous, because what if it doesn't work out? Further, the average Modern places some value on his integrity; not much, but probably more than zero. And we still maintain a vague notion that it's a bad idea to make oaths that will probably get broken.

    "I wonder how many guys out there have been socially instructed to feel the same way."
    Most of them. GK Chesterton, speaking on the socializers and their effect on the average man, said, "They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants."

    I don't think your boyfriend is unusual in any way. It sounds like he wants to be with you forever, and if he were a naive 16 year old, without a knowledge of divorce statistics, anecdotes from friends and family, and related 'realities', he probably would. It's likely that he's a practical man who's simply lost his belief in happy endings. And it seems like you are beginning to, too. And thus the cycle continues. Can Eros with his silly promises be called back? I don't know.

    "Well, to be extremely unhelpful..."
    I am seeking Truth, not just to confirm one theory or another. The data is the data. (But the statistics, on the other hand... >:D Your observations are helpful wherever they point.

    "Needing someone... extremely vulnerable thing"
    Yes. And I think I neglected that in this post. Also, I think you are particularly independent, but Americans as a people are extremely independent and individualistic. Needing another is an incredible sign of weakness for us. This could plausibly produce your feelings (perhaps to a lesser degree) in all of us. Perhaps it's so ubiquitous in this age that it is passes by without notice.

    "how romance/love here on earth points our hearts and minds upward...."
    Yes indeed! How wonderful it is!

  14. Without Christ, there really is no hope on this issue. If marriage is supposed to provide a picture of the relationship that Christ has with the church, the indeed it is with gravity that we enter into this covenant. Yet with so much joy! When we recognize how greatly Jesus has sacrificed so that we might be called Sons of God (much more than 7 years of labor), why wouldn't we want to pursue a relationship that is as sacrificially loving as marriage? Marriage is our way to show the world God's greater love. If there is any admirable aspect to our love, it must be used to point to the thing it reflects.

    In a similar way, our longing for romance and love is a faint glimpse of the way our hearts (when impacted by the Holy Spirit) long to be close to our Creator. I'm with Peter - there's a LOT of the way we date that completely disregards the purpose of romantic relationships, not to mention the way we are called relate to brothers and sisters in the faith. But we must bother with love. Because in it, we have the great wonder of both experiencing and showing off an aspect of our relationship with God that is displayed uniquely in the deep intimacy and commitment of marriage. Love is worthwhile because God first loved us. Jacob knew that love, was made complete by that love, and so with joy committed to sacrifice for his love, following the example set before him. You'll forgive my overabundance of marriage-theology talk. The point is this: we are SO loved by God. And we are truly freed to enjoy eros, agape, all of it when we reject selfishness, reject sin, and live in light of that reality. Sometimes I think this sounds so far out in left field that we are tempted to dismiss it as theory, idealism, etc. But it is both true and attainable in Christ.

    As a bit of a side note, I want to confirm a point you made - men and women are equally guilty culprits in the history of harm. Both of us sin, both of us tear the other sex down, both of us choose selfishly what is "best for me" and we all feel the fallout of that. But the great thing we have as Christians (and what has transformed me from quite the Bitter Barbara) is that God offers hope for changed hearts.

  15. @Meredith
    Were you waiting all that time until someone wrote "how romance/love here on earth points our hearts and minds upward..."? Good timing! Your marriage-theology talk couldn't have come at a better time.

    "Jacob...was made complete by that love"
    I really like how you put that. That's an excellent view of the matter. He did sell 7 (or 14) years of his life, but they were sold and not squandered.

    "But it is both true and attainable in Christ."
    Amen! On that note, here are some statistics to prove it (that church-attending Christians get divorced much less):

    Bitter Barbara? That sounds pretty bad (even with the consonance)! :P I'm glad for all of our sakes that "God offers hope for changed hearts"!