This post will start off sounding really cynical to some of you, but please hang out until the end, because this is an important idea to grasp if you want to succeed in romance. First let me tell you what I’m NOT trying to say. When I was fresh out of high-school, I experienced something very common for people fresh out of high-school: a breakup. I had moved far away from my girlfriend and the distance was killing it. Not only that, but all of the dramatic life changes that people experience at that stage were killing it. Many of you have been there.
I have a dear aunt who was newly divorced at the same time. We commiserated often. She listened to Sarah McGlachlin and we mourned our losses. It was foolish for me to consider that our pain was similar: she had three children and well over a dozen years from her ex-husband. I had teenage infatuation and a few months. But my aunt was gracious to me.
One day she commented something to this effect: “At least you still believe in true love.” To which I responded, “I’m not sure I do believe that.” It was a foolish thing to say, in retrospect. I had no idea what I was talking about. But my views on love have changed since then, and I’m glad to report that this post is NOT a polemic against romantic love or even a cynical rant against the saccharine emotion that Hollywood tries to pass off as love. Those are good things that are too-often understood in distorted ways.
Take Jerry Maguire, for instance. In the climactic scene typical of romance movies, Jerry confesses his feelings for Dorothy with the unforgettable line, “You complete me.” This is the downfall of popular beliefs on romance. The pressure that was placed on Dorothy at that moment was a burden too great for any mere mortal to bear. It is unfair. We aren’t made to complete each other or to find completion in any human relationship, not even marriage.
That’s why the myth of the “mail-order” soulmate needs to die. The idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match who will share all your interests, laugh at all your jokes and put up with all your baggage without any fuss is setting people up for failure. Soulmates like that are earned over a lifetime of heartbreaking compromise, sacrifice and plain old hard work. Not predestined in the stars. They are cultivated intentionally, not granted automatically.
I think this is one reason that so many long-term relationships never lead to marriage and so many marriages fail: Person “A” doesn’t “complete me” a-la Jerry Maguire, therefore, he/she must not be my soulmate. Time to look for my soulmate in Person “B”. Obviously that is a sweeping generalization, but one that I believe has real traction in our romance-infatuated culture.
There is an underlying spiritual dysfunction that is associated with the soulmate myth. In a world that has very little use for God, the impossible pressure to “complete me” has been taken off God and placed on human relationships, especially romantic relationships. This is idolatry, plain and simple. So not only are we setting ourselves up for failure by placing too much pressure on our romantic counterparts, we are robbing God of the deep, soul-adoring worship that He deserves. I may have just lost some of you who aren’t concerned with religious affection. (Dorothy from Jerry Maguire might say, “You lost me at idolatry.”) But I’ll stand by my claim: what human relationships can never attain in terms of emotional satisfaction, a “sacred romance” will.
That isn’t to say that romance isn’t a good thing. That isn’t to say that there is no place for romance in healthy marriages. To the contrary: without romance, intimacy and bedrock commitment, marriages will wither on the vine. Every time. But the elevation of romance to the end of all relational emotion is detrimental to our thinking. Here’s why: God designed the marriage relationship as an means to an end, not an end itself. In other words, He didn’t invent marriage just so we could get married, there is a purpose to it. Besides procreation. Besides sexual fulfillment. Besides companionship.
God designed the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the relationship he desires with us. In the New Testament, the church is called the “bride” of Christ. It’s brilliant, really. Sheer genius. God uses a universal human institution as a relational metaphor, so we will understand just what He is getting at. He wants an exclusive commitment. He wants adoration. He wants emotional closeness. He wants us to grow in our understanding of him over the long-term. He wants us to work hard to not offend Him! He wants our relationship to bear fruit. He wants to be our soulmate.
So if we kill the soulmate myth, where does that leave marriage? Does it lessen the emotional impact of romance? Just the opposite. What could be more romantic than realizing that your closest human relationship is modeled after an eternal, all-powerful being who literally died just so he could be with you? What could have a more powerful aphrodisiac effect than knowing that the person who stretched out the heavens and laid down the foundations of the earth wants–no, COMMANDS you to make love to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7.3-5)?
The effect of killing the soulmate myth DOES take the pressure off of your significant other to be and do for you what only God can be and do. Soulmates aren’t assembled on some conveyor belt, ready to go, right out of the box. I’m convinced that God isn’t waiting for you to find THE ONE, but one of potentially dozens. Although He does know which one you will choose–which poses several more questions about free will and God’s sovereignty, none of which bear addressing right now. All of that to say, when you and your romantic interest decide that you are in it for the long-haul, be prepared to do the work and build your own soulmate.