This cartoon from Stephan Pastis made me both laugh and think over the weekend. Click it to be taken to a larger version at the comic’s Web site.
It’s amusing, yes . . . but it’s also sadly true of what a lot of people look for in a relationship these days. People seem to have lost sight of the fact that a romantic or courtship relationship (the latter not necessarily romantic) is for two people to come together to make one family; two parts of a whole; two faces of a single coin. It’s not just about feelings, or sex, or whatever.
As a pastor, offering relationship and pre-marital counseling, I was constantly taken aback by how little people thought about that aspect, about complementing each other so that each contributed to a relationship that was bigger, and better, and more “whole” than either individual within it. I don’t suppose things have improved now that the Internet, social media and dating apps have replaced most of the traditional framework of relationships in which I grew up. Swiping left or right to select a potential – and usually very temporary – partner, based almost exclusively on his or her physical appearance, seems insane to me. Physical appearance matters very little when it comes to truly loving someone and committing oneself to another person.
I can’t help but recall my first fiancée, many years ago, in South Africa. I was at a party one night, and she walked in the door. Our eyes met . . . and that was it, right there. I felt as if I had champagne fizzing in my veins. I knew, right then and there, that this was the one for me. She later told me that she knew, at the same instant, that I was the one for her. She wasn’t very attractive physically – in fact, she might be described as a little dumpy – but that never even entered into my thoughts. It was the person inside the body that mattered, and that person was beautiful to me. If she hadn’t been killed, some time later, in South Africa’s perennial violence during that period, I’ve no doubt we would have married and made a life together. Looks didn’t matter. The person within and above and beyond the looks was all that counted.
Something very similar happened with Miss D., many years later. We lived thousands of miles apart, but were introduced online by a mutual friend, and corresponded via e-mail and talked by phone for three to four weeks. By that time both of us were pretty sure about each other, even though we’d never met, and seen each other only in photographs. When I flew up to meet her for the first time, I took a ring with me, with her full knowledge and permission – and when I left, she was wearing it. Fast work? Sure . . . but we’ve had nine happy years together so far, and look forward to many more. We’ve had to help each other adjust to having someone else always around, and given up or adjusted many things that we cherished individually, in order to accommodate a two-person relationship; but neither of us would have it any other way.
The cartoon above illustrates the modern, soulless approach to relationships. “What am I getting out of this?” The reality, in any good relationship, has to be, “What am I putting into this?” That’s the Biblical pattern, after all. “Whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap.” “Give, and it will be given to you.” The Golden Rule appears in every major religion, not just Christianity; “Do to others as you want them to do to you.” In every application of these principles, one has to make the investment of effort, time, love, goodwill, whatever, in order to receive those things in return. If, instead, one sets out to demand what one wants before being willing to reciprocate . . . that’s exactly the wrong way to get it. There’s no two-way street there, no acknowledgment that one is as dependent on the other as they are on you.
In particular, sex can never substitute for all the other elements that make up a successful relationship. Our organs of sexuality take up less than five percent of our body by mass and/or size. Over time, particularly when one’s learned to love rather than to lust, that’s a pretty good indicator of how much of a good relationship depends on the physical, rather than on everything else. Sex is not intimacy, despite what the world would have you believe. Sex is, instead – or should be – the physical expression of a mental and spiritual intimacy, a union, that ultimately transcends the physical. Ask any long-term, happily married couple.
Bowling ball relationships. Perhaps that’s not a bad metaphor for those trapped in the hookup culture . . . God help them (and I mean that quite literally).