The top question asked of Google last year was, “What is love?” That’s telling – perhaps people are a little confused about what love ought to be! I read a very interesting article on the BBC website called “Down with romantic love”. The author, who is not a Christian, speculates that our idealised notion of romantic love is actually the biggest enemy of long-lasting relationships. I think he has a point.
The romantic myth
“Romantic love is widely celebrated as the pinnacle of love. It is marketed as the peak experience without which you cannot say you have lived. The signs of its allure are everywhere, not just on Valentine’s Day”, the article says.
“Take the cost of the average wedding. It has rocketed in recent years, now easily topping R250 000 in the UK. It is as if couples make a direct link between romantic value and cash value.” Weddings cost more, but marriages end sooner.
The author continues, “Or think of the cinema, where romantic comedies are big box office. If you get the formula right, of star-crossed lovers finally falling into each other’s’ arms, you net hundreds of millions of dollars. Love is blind; the proverb goes, though it might be more accurate to say we are being blinded by a hyper version of romantic love. To cut to the chase, the romantic myth is one of the most harmful of our times. The myth is that there is someone out there with whom your life will be complete, and conversely, without whom your life would be only a half-life. This myth puts pressure on couples to find fulfillment in each other.”
Hollywood tells us that every morning married couples should be waking up to birds singing; every lunch time having lunch together at a designer restaurant in Paris; every afternoon running in a meadow full of dandelions; every sunset walking hand in hand on the beach; and every evening having (wild) intimate, passionate sex.
But in reality, you both wake up exhausted and want to kill the bird that woke you; lunch is a packed marmite sandwich if you’re lucky; afternoons are spent trying to stay awake; sunset is crazy hour with the children; and most evenings watching TV sounds much more doable than sex.
Here is the important part: there is a spiritual dimension to this romantic myth, says the author. He has this perceptive insight: “The philosopher Simon May has proposed that while many have given up on God in the West, we still long for the unconditional love that God used to offer. But godless, we seek instead unconditional love from our fellow humans (esp. our partners). We make them gods, and of course they fail us.”
Down with Cosmopolitan magazine!
To slightly expand on what the article says, the true art of loving is not keeping the romantic myth alive like what Cosmopolitan Magazine declares. If you follow Cosmo you’re forever trying to spice up your sex life, sprucing up your wardrobe to look alluring and working on your six-pack to be desirable. The article is correct when it says that the true art of loving is to navigate the shift from falling in love, to standing in love, to walking in love.
Falling in love
Falling in love is easy; it’s the stuff of romance. You experienced it when you first started dating. The first time you saw your wife your heart skipped a beat, your hands started sweating and if you didn’t meet her for a coffee soon you could probably die. Slowly and eagerly you got to know each other a bit better. You spent late nights chatting, early mornings jogging, you organized and schemed anything and everything to be together. But this is unsustainable. It’s too exhausting, too tiring and if we live like this for an extended period of time we would not function properly – even with the help of Red Bull. We have to move to next step.
Standing in love
Literally this means standing in before God, your spouse and some friends and getting married. You commit yourself to your future wife or husband. You realise that for love to be secure, rewarding and real, it needs loyalty, faithfulness and dependability.
The marriage service in our church’s prayer book has some great promises that couples make to each other:
“I take you to my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to care for, till death parts us, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn pledge to you.”
Love requires commitment. It’s not temporary, a one-night stand or a holiday fling. It must be strong, dependable, faithful and loyal. Then the next step.
Walk in love
The danger is that when we don’t feel the intense romantic, passionate, obsessive love we first did when we fell in love, we think that we no longer love this person. Walking in love allows more subtle, but stronger qualities to come to the fore, qualities such as commitment, generosity, honesty and openness. These qualities are the stuff of real love, of Godlike love. Romans 5:8 is perhaps one of the most famous verses about God’s love in the Bible:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God’s love was not just a temporary emotional high, but a steadfast, persevering and loyal love for his people that resulted in action – the sending of God the Son to bear God’s own anger at our sin.
Walking in love is not devoid of romance, but it does not make passionate romantic feelings the basis for our marriage. The basis and foundation for our marriage is an unconditional, persevering love for our spouse. Like the article alluded to, we can only give that kind of love truly after we have experienced it ourselves. Don’t try to find your fulfillment, security and self-worth in your spouse – only God can give you that.
Here is a short video clip that excellently demonstrates walking in love.