Truth in (modern) relationships?

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 fiancĂ©e, 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).



  1. it is emptiness.
    people who live amorally miss the richness God intended that they should have in life.
    maybe that is why the fools take illegal drugs?

  2. When my wife and I went for pre-marital counselling with my minister at the time, he never once asked me if we loved one another. He asked us if we WOULD love one another. Love is a decision.

    Or as a family friend put it back when I was a pre-teen: Love isn't just hugs and kisses and flowers. Love is also holding someone's head while they throw up when they have the flu.

  3. I knew I was in love when at a D&D game, late at night, this woman was complaining about her shoulders hurting. Being a gallant man, I offered to give her a backrub. It was like my fingers were on fire, or like I just shoved them into some sort of electrical feel. I swear I could feel her soul.

    She says she felt the same way, but since I was younger (by only a few years, but..) she didn't want me to settle. Tough nuggies.

    We bonded in that moment, maybe 5 hours after I met her. The rest was just courtship and getting her to say yes.

    We've been married coming up on 32 years this December. Rough patches? Is the North Atlantic during winter a tad bit choppy? But we both made the full, old school vows to love, honor and obey, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, richer and poorer, till death do us part. And death will only separate our physical bodies.

    Kids these days, don't want to put the work into a relationship. Don't want to grow into one. They want everything off-the-shelf, commercially made, same as everyone else's, while at the same time centering all the attention on themselves. Silly people. Love and an enduring relationship are custom, hand-built, one-of-a-kind and lovingly crafted to fit the couple, else everything falls apart.

    Sorry to hear about your first love. The loss of what might have been, unfulfilled, must have been shocking to the core. Glad you survived it and you found love twice. That is, in a sad but happy way, very inspirational. That's the type of story that young people these days need to hear.

  4. I think that before anyone considers marriage they should learn to be happy living by themselves. This is extremely important. I am not talking surviving on your own. I am talking about living a satisfied life on your own. I say this because the worst thing you can bring into a relationship is an unhealthy emotional need from your partner that eventually will tear you apart. Neediness in short, is bad.

    Beyond this, the other thing that people need to have and do is to understand that it will not always be fun and easy. There will be times where it will be beyond difficult. The vows of marriage are very accurate as to what you need to know about the future together and what you will need to do. You have to be willing to stick with it no matter what. Most people will say they are up for this but when it's crunch time they cannot take it or they will not deal with it.

    These days it is far to easy and common to run away from marriage. This can happen because people 'fall in love' only to find out that their personal definitions of marriage are quite different. If in your courtship you find that your prospective spouse believes in the same morals and ideals in life you stand a much better chance of finding happiness and a long marriage.

    Contrary to the Captain and Tenille lyrics: "Love. Love will keep us together" No. It will not most likely. A bad match of personalities will most likely result in a crash and burn relationship where at the end there is more resentment than anything else. You cannot fix anybody. You cannot ignore aspects of your partner that are incompatible to your own.

    Lastly, the love that keeps a couple together is not the same as the love that brings you to marriage. The first love is one of happiness born of expectation and hope. The long term love is one of appreciation and trust. They can resemble each other and can exist together but by and large, the couples I know who have made it for an adult lifetime have an entirely different kind of love and respect than the couple who just came down the aisle.

  5. But if two people monitor and care for each other, and oversee their children's growth, won't that conflict with government oversight? Who knows what they might be doing in there.

  6. You don't see shows like Ozzie and Harriet any more. And now you have pre-marital agreements where you decide who gets what before you even say "I do".

    Marriage is definitely a give and take. Hubby and I met in the Air Force and we just celebrated our 44th anniversary last month. We learned how to make it work.
    Four of my five brothers are on number two or three. They certainly didn't get that from our mom and dad.

    Your story is very inspiring. May God bless you and Miss D. with many happy years together.

  7. Beans has a point again. I met my wife (who introduces me as her first husband) through a letter to the editor in a Cleveland newspaper. I was in the RVN and she was a first-year teacher teaching 4th grade. She needed an addressee for their letter-writing lesson and so I got a fat envelope of kids' letters and one from the teacher. We continued to co-respond and met in person in September 1970. Our first date was September 21 (my 20th birthday) at the first Monday Night Football game (Browns over Jets, 31-21). We were married 5 days after I got back from my second tour in 'Nam and have sailed the seas of matrimony to the tune of 2 kids and 2 grandchildren ever since.
    Including the North Atlantic in winter. She claims that sometimes if somebody had come down the street selling divorces we'd each buy one – and she's right. We've logged 47 years so far and personally I'm looking forward to hitting 50. We'll see what's in store for us.

  8. Beans and The Old Man both bring up what I think of as the main aspects for success: the magic of chemistry, and lots of working together to build lives. I met my wife at a wedding; she caught the bouquet, I caught the garter. We didn't speak each other's language. Didn't matter. I went back to sea after the wedding. We didn't communicate with each other a bit while I was at sea. I came back 6 months later, she was in an English class, and I had taken a Rosetta Stone CD with me in her language. She asked the bride at the wedding to introduce us. Took me 4 dates to know that I wanted to marry her, but I waited a year, for her to experience me being away to sea. It's still hard for us both.

    Our son started high school last week. The honeymoon year has a reputation for being wonderful. I call BS. It's the years AFTER, when you have grown together and built something, a family, a life, whatever, those are the best. I bet each one of the people here who have been married a long time went through hell at one point to stay together, and came out far better on the other side.
    As Peter noted, when done right, we become together more than we once were when separate.

    Glenda's last paragraph is so true! My parents explained that to me, and as a newlywed, it sounded awful. I was afraid that it would happen. I had no idea that the maturing of love is such a good thing… until it happened.

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