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?