If I marry, I expect my wife to be one screwed up and damaged individual as a result of her sinning and being sinned against. I anticipate dealing with her baggage and problems and fears and shortcomings for a lifetime, because I’ll bring those things into our relationship myself. In other words, I expect a needy and flawed human just like me.
In a much-needed word to singles and married people alike, what I’m getting at is this: The romantic idealism celebrated in our time and often coddled in our imaginations is not love; it’s a paralyzing selfishness that destroys love.
In the fine arts, “idealism” is the treatment of subject matter in a work of art in which a mental conception of beauty or form is stressed, characterized usually by the selection of particular features of various models and their combination into a whole according to a standard of perfection.
The Anatomy of Romantic Idealism
Romantic idealism Insta-filters reality and Photoshops love. It airbrushes away the demanding neediness, ugly blemishes, and inconvenient vices from a relational prospect, presenting a custom-crafted companion that meets all of your unrealistic expectations and fulfills all of your self-centered desires. This ideal offers you the giving of itself without the needing in return, a self-satisfaction without self-sacrifice.
Romantic idealism preaches that your relationship pursuits are personal quests for one-way consumeristic fulfillment and transforms precious souls into priced-out commodities. It depersonalizes the image-bearer right in front of you. The end product is something that resembles more of a build-your-own fantasy android than a flaws-and-all human person.
It’s all very ideal because he or she then satisfies your preferences and checks your boxes. It’s all very easy because the object of your affection consequently exists to please and serve you. It’s all very “what I’m gonna get from you out of this relationship” and little to none of “what I’m going to give as an act of committed love.” Tim Keller wrote about how this pernicious thinking has become so widespread today:
“If your desire is for a spouse who will not demand a lot of change from you, then you are also looking for a spouse who is almost completely pulled together, someone very ‘low maintenance’ without much in the way of personal problems. You are looking for someone who will not require or demand significant change. You are searching, therefore, for an ideal person–happy, healthy, interesting, content with life. Never before in history has there been a society filled with people so idealistic in what they are seeking in a spouse.”
But a genuine romance that leaves an enduring legacy in this world of sin is not easy and it’s not ideal. It’s not perpetual bliss. It’s not low maintenance. It’s not a one-way street to personal gratification. It doesn’t always “just click” with your significant other. It’s not carefree and your relationship doesn’t always cue rom-com musical montages resounding in the background of your cinema-worthy lives.
No, genuine love is demanding and draining and idol-dismantling. It’s a stewardship issued with a clarion call for hard work and death to self and clinging to the other no matter what.
So I should expect an iron-sharpening-iron marriage set off with burning flames and flashing sparks, not just from lovey-dovey romance, but from two imperfect people ruggedly colliding in the grind of day-to-day existence. I shouldn’t expect constant ease and comfort and self-gratification and stress-free bliss. Of course, there’s intense joy to be had and the difficulty of marriage shouldn’t cause me to selfishly flee from it. But in a world that worships the god of false love it’s necessary to be sobered by the call of gospel love.
An integral part of mature manhood is being willing and prepared to love and commit myself to an actual woman, especially when she doesn’t fit my preconceived notions of what an ideal woman is (pro-tip: she doesn’t exist). After all, I’m far from an ideal man. That’s one of the reasons why the motif of Christlike self-sacrifice serves as a paradigmatic example for husbands in Ephesians 5, because men are so tempted to be self-serving and self-concerned and self-focused, just as women are.
With God’s help, I must crush the idol of romantic idealism under the weighty reality of a cross-bearing romance. I must expect a marriage relationship to press me and test me and stretch me in agonizing ways that I have yet to experience as a single man. I should anticipate life with a flawed person just like me, who has layered feelings and needs and anxieties just like me, and desperately needs grace every single day just like me.
And in the end, if we cling to Christ, even through intense pain, there will be a lasting, persevering love sweetened with an experiential knowledge that marriage to the other was designed to produce humble holiness and godly joy and a Spirit-wrought weight of glory beyond measure. We’ll learn, through our far-less-than-ideal circumstances, to love as God designed us to love, in a self-giving covenant that reflects the self-giving love of Christ in the gospel.
Copyright © 2017 Van Michael Komatsu. All Rights Reserved.