Stripping away the plastic love of romantic fiction
and fairy tales to find the genuine article
In a survey of young people, the majority agreed that “Love is an addiction, like any other drug.” They were describing a powerful, universal phenomenon that is commonly called love, but is actually the exciting, roller-coaster ride to heartache that results when we let our lusts go unchecked. It is only an elusive shadow of the real thing. I’m not being cynical. Like a two stage rocket, many wonderful relationships were launched this way, before being fired to true love. Much pain, however, has tragically resulted from a failure to distinguish between these two distinct phenomena.
True love is not an addiction; it’s a virtue. It brings with it not just temporary pleasure but eternal reward.
When lovers utter the magic words, “I love you,” rarely do they mean, “I am committed to doing all I can to please you, no matter what it costs me.” The words usually mean, “I am infatuated with you. I long to use you to maximize my pleasure. I am so drunk on chemicals released into my brain that I lust for more.” It is not impossible that in time the relationship might transform into true love, but at that heady moment, the couple are far from it.
Marriages crash because love soon loses power if allowed to coast along. Like a supersonic jet, true love requires constant course correction and energy input to keep it from crashing.
If love were genuine, it would be effortless, whispers the Deceiver. On the contrary, it’s by the expenditure of effort that love is proved. The constant effort can seem irksome but it is the effort that turns love into something exquisitely meaningful, rather than a mere robotic response. It is the effort that produces the virtue, the honor and the eternal reward.
(The amount of time and effort God expects to be expended in a marriage is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 7:33-34.)
A husband’s eyes will regularly be drawn to other women. The world and the enemy of our souls will see to that. But true love rises up in the power of Christ and moves a husband to laboriously reprogram his mind as to what genuine beauty really is.
It would seem that as a woman ages, her husband will have an increasingly difficult task to only have eyes for her. As every middle-aged man is painfully aware, gaining wrinkles himself does not suddenly cause a man to find wrinkles attractive. However, if a devoted husband has been faithfully using the passing years in daily discipline and deliberate growing in love, shouldn’t his affection be able to keep pace with his partner’s age? Singles need to do all they can to instill into their lives habits that will support marital faithfulness, such as avoiding lust and “admiring” sexually attractive people.
Marrieds have a spiritual and marital obligation to minimize their own and their partner’s temptation. Once hit by temptation, however, they must fight it with the determination of a hero; if necessary enduring indescribable torment year after year, not merely as if their life depended upon it, but as if all eternity depended upon it. Should, for whatever reason, their partner not be giving them what they want, they are hardly in an unusual situation.
There are sure to be times when one partner is unable to be intimate with the other. This is just another opportunity to grow in that virtue that will outlast the planet.
Mary had a breakdown. Having no interest in sex was just one of the trials hitting her and impacting her husband Rex. He confided to me:
Upon rededicating my life to Christ I experienced a new infusion of Christ’s love. No longer did I focus on Mary’s weaknesses (caused by her sickness); they merely highlighted her strengths. She may have been backed into a corner but by God’s grace she was fighting for all her worth for the glory of God. Mary even admits to doubts and fears, but in the warfare of the mind she continues to trust God.
True love is never lazy. It is forever seeking new things to admire in the beloved.
Is it true that parents are usually far better at loving their children than they are at loving each other? Children are seldom well behaved for long. They so often disappoint. They cause an enormous amount of work and pain. Yet people come to parenthood with a mindset that empowers them to persist. After a few rude shocks, their expectations of children tend to be much closer to reality than their continued expectations of a marriage partner. And where their initial hopes prove wrong, parents seldom see the answer to be in swapping children.
Western expectations of marriage partners are so far from reality that the arranged marriages of pagans are often more successful than the marriages of Western born again Christians. Put another way, we place unrealistically high demands on a marriage partner, the most ridiculous of which is that we think it’s our partner’s duty to keep us on a perpetual emotional high.
Most of us expect to be on the receiving end far more often than on the giving end. We think it’s more blessed to receive than to give. And unless we earnestly seek Christ for the renewal of our minds, Christians can be amongst the world’s worst for expecting perfection in their partners. We expect so much more from a Christian than from a non-Christian. And we naïvely expect Christians, especially if they belong to our own church, to think exactly as we do about a myriad of matters.
The great Western delusion is marrying for “love,” by which is meant something vastly different to what the Bible means by the term. If we marry for the glory of God, it’s logical to stick at marriage for the glory of God if the sweetness turns sour. Marry for “love,” however, (ie because we imagine we’ve found someone who can keep us on a perpetual emotional high) and the moment we fall out of “love” (when the fairy tale hits reality) we’ve lost our primary reason for marriage, so why continue?
The euphoria of being “in love” results from entering a world of make-believe, which our imagination gives the powerful illusion of being real. We are swept off our feet, not by a real person, but by a imaginary being who has some features identical to the person we think we love, but has other features superior to the real person.
Whenever we are getting to know someone, there are gaping holes in our knowledge. If we like the person we invariably smooth over the current gaps in our knowledge with assumptions that we don’t realize are significantly better than reality. We end up creating in our minds a part-real, part-fantasy hybrid and it is this, not the real person, that we fall “in love” with. What starry-eyed lover fantasizes about the man of her dreams burping, snoring and leaving his smelly socks in the bathroom? Who daydreams about that sexy voice being used to hurl abuse in a temper tantrum? Who guesses that the person who heartily agreed on every matter so far discussed would dogmatically disagree on matters not yet explored? Who focuses on the time when that gorgeous figure sags and that impressive body is smashed by crippling disease?
Reality gradually closes in. The fairy tale fizzles. Our dilemma, however, is that once we’ve had a whiff of that euphoric high mistakenly called “love,” we usually keep hankering for it. The temporary delusion that we have found Mr/Miss Perfect is perhaps the most addictive thing on earth. Merely imagining what it would be like to find this mythical being can create such ecstasy that we are in danger of panting after that elusive feeling for the rest of our lives; vainly imagining that the person who can permanently give us the unsustainable high actually exists somewhere in the real world. Once married, we continue our quest for the perfect partner by trying to manipulate our partner into this fanciful creature, and when we finally lose hope of this working, we consider looking further afield.
This delusion, fed by fantasy and inflamed by romantic fiction, particularly torments women. Men are more likely to be entranced by the sex goddess, the nymph who is not only eternally young and stunningly beautiful but has a body that regularly transmutes from one gorgeous form to another, feeding the man’s lust for endless variety. Of course, what romantic fiction is to a woman’s fantasy, pornography is to a man’s.
I can fully understand you thinking I’m being unduly negative about the possibility of a romantic high lasting for years. It flies in the face of a lot of wishful thinking current in our society. Nevertheless, after writing this webpage I discovered some fascinating scientific research indicating that we are biologically and mentally predisposed to be “in love” with a person for only 18 to 30 months. Medical tests and cross-cultural research indicate that the feeling then wears off and the chemical concentrations creating the “in love” feeling are unlikely to ever return with the same partner. For more information, see Scientific Confirmation.
In our desperation to have that aching hole in our hearts filled, we rarely stop to consider how unrealistic our expectations of a lover really are.
We pine for a lover who not only longs to meet our deepest needs, but is always able to. We yearn for someone who is constantly in a good mood, has no annoying habits, and isn’t argumentative. We want a lover whose beauty and powers will not wilt with the passing years; someone always able to be there when needed; someone who will never let us down or abandon us to icy loneliness by dying. We crave a partner who utterly understands us; someone who can slip inside our mind, making communication effortless. We long for someone who unfailingly brings the best out in us, inspiring us to reach our full potential, without being pushy. The person we ache for must be changeless, yet exciting; someone who fits our needs so exactly it feels we were made for each other; someone we will be forever proud of; someone whose love for us is so vast that it continually satisfies; someone so resistant to the ravages of aging, sickness and tragedy as to seem immortal. Of course, we’ll never find a human remotely like this and the times we caught a tantalizing sniff of it we were in a dream world. But unless we truly come to terms with the nature of reality, our marriages are in grave danger. Living, as we do, in a world in which fantasy is regularly portrayed as reality (television, movies, novels, and so on) makes discovering reality harder for us than perhaps for any other people group who have ever existed.
It seems no coincidence that in old-fashioned romance, young lovers, leaving reality behind and letting their emotions and dreams run wild, repeatedly used religious expressions like “she adores/idolizes him”, “you’re divine/heavenly”, “he worships the ground she walks on”, “a marriage made in heaven”. From another source comes the term “sex goddess”. Even Christians have a huge tendency to expect a marriage partner to successfully fill a superhuman role that only God was ever intended fill.
In the Ten Commandments, coveting someone’s material goods is treated as essentially the same sin as coveting someone’s spouse (Exodus 20:17). I therefore feel comfortable about seeing the attitude of contentment Scripture says we should have to material things as being very similar to the attitude we should have toward our marriage partner.
Philippians 4:12 I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . . (13) I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Psalms 37:16 Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.
This inspires me to believe marrieds must learn to value and enjoy and delight in the partner God has blessed us with, instead of falling for the grass-is-greener-in-the-other-field deception. They should sooner place their hand in an open fire and see their flesh go up in smoke than daydream about how their partner could be “better.”
Our original ancestors, Adam and Eve, blamed each other, God, Satan – anyone they possibly could but themselves. Ever since, their descendants have had a strong tendency to push the blame on to others, rather than take responsibility for problems. I’m in constant danger of continuing this tradition. If, for instance, I were married and I didn’t love my wife it would not be because she is not sufficiently lovable, but because I don’t have sufficient love. It wouldn’t be because of the way God made me; it would be because of my laziness. It wouldn’t be because of Satan; it would be because I haven’t sufficiently sought the One who defeated Satan. The problem is not the inadequacies I see in my partner, the problem is my inadequacy – my shameful deficiency in Christlike love. If I were hankering after other women, it wouldn’t be because my wife isn’t sexy enough, it’s because I’m sexually dysfunctional. I would need to do all I can through effort and divine miracle to get myself back on track before I ruin my life. Fortunately, however, I’m not married, so I still have the chance to get my thinking right before I mess up a marriage.
We so much need the attitude of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life; loving his own until the end – including Judas the betraying thief, and Peter, the loudmouth denier (Mark 10:45; John 12:4-6; 13:1). And through Christ we can make it. We can be freed from an addiction to unreality. We can be empowered to take responsibility for our marriage and our feelings. We can indeed begin to love as Christ loves and begin to partake of the rewards of living the way God made us to live.
My friend Helen, a widow, says about romantic daydreams:
The person we are relating to in our fantasies, whether someone known to
us, or an entertainer, or someone we have made up, is never ordinary.
He doesn’t pick his nose, he doesn’t chew with his mouth open, he never
spills gravy on his shirt. And the more we fantasize about this totally
unreal person, the harder it will be for us to relate to a real man with
as many foibles as ourselves.
If God did give me the opportunity to remarry, and I were still
fantasizing, my poor husband would have to compete with an imaginary
Hardly a fair contest!
He doesn’t pick his nose, he doesn’t chew with his mouth open, he never spills gravy on his shirt. And the more we fantasize about this totally unreal person, the harder it will be for us to relate to a real man with as many foibles as ourselves.
If God did give me the opportunity to remarry, and I were still fantasizing, my poor husband would have to compete with an imaginary lover.
Hardly a fair contest!
Another friend shares some additional thoughts:
I agree with those who call being “in love” a “state of madness.” It is so intensely pleasurable in one way and so exquisitely painful in another.
Many books call “romantic love,” “infatuation.” I like that because it separates it a little from the concept of love in its purest and deepest sense. As well as it sending us temporarily “unbalanced” in our thinking and judgment, what bothers me about it is how selfish and all consuming it is. We are “in love” with a person because something about them makes us feel better in ourselves, and we want to be with them all the time to get more of this feeling.
Okay, most times we also give back to the other, in the sense that presumably we also make the other person feel good, but both parties are basically acting from selfish desires. And this is what makes people jealous, possessive and manipulative. They cannot bear the thought of losing the person who makes them feel so good.
Another thing that scares me about being “in love” is when people say things like, “I couldn’t live without him/her,” as if they really mean it – and maybe they really do mean it at the time. Not only is it pretty sure that if the worst ever happened they would be able to continue in this life, albeit perhaps less happily, but I would be quite scared if anyone said that to me. It tells me that they are too dependant and will probably not give me the space and respect we need to be our own selves. It is like someone wanting to completely subsume another person into themselves – take them over entirely – which I don’t think is healthy for either party.
When people say, “I love him/her to death,” I know they don’t mean they think their love might suffocate/kill the other person, but I wonder if there is not an element of truth in that thought.
I gained views about “romantic” love from life experience, long before I became a Christian. However, as with all things, it didn’t stop me falling prey to its beguilements several times!
You Can Find Love
What our Fantasies Reveal
Webpages for Singles
Love Sex God Orgasm: Christian Sex Secrets
Comments? Prayer? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1999.
For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net
No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph. No part may be sold.
In most cases, names have been changed. Occasionally, hypothetical examples have been used.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society
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