I’ve written a few posts on romance and what it should look like (here, here, and here are three examples), and a common theme in these posts has been a criticism of the fact that modern romance has replaced love and virtue with lust as its central defining foundation. Well, a few days ago a friend of mine posted this on facebook and I thought that it would make a good example of what we should be seeing. This is something that her uncle said about his parents (and if you read this I’ll let you decide if you want to identify yourself): “Now, I admit I like a good rom-com as much as the next guy…errr, um gal…even like sweeping epochal romances like Pride & Predjudice. However, last night I watched my mom, feet twisted by bunions, failed surgeries and arthritis walk from one side of the room to another to find the salve she had packed. Then watched as she applied it gently to my dad’s lower back, hip, and leg lovingly trying soothe his pain while ignoring her own. Then she curled up next to him with her arms around him tight, gently raised up and kissed him lightly on the cheek or forehead. In her kindness I saw more passion than movies can muster. The care, the respect, the dignity she showed in those minutes to her husband of 56 years…without soft lights, air brushed bodies, or a sweaty soundtrack. Hollywood just doesn’t understand. Thanks to God for parents who have taught, but more importantly shown me a living example of love. May I live/love worthy of this gift.”
The vast majority of 20th and 21st century romance (even back to movies like Hello Dolly) has displayed and encouraged an increasingly selfish notion of love. This version of love is centered around two aspects of a single concept. This concept is that ‘love is about me’. Modern romance presents an idea of love that says ‘I want, I need, I deserve’. It presents these concepts in the focus on passion and need.
Modern romance adds to these the belief that love and romance are based in emotion, a fickle foundation at best. Thus, what we see is an idea of romance that says, “Love is all about me, my feelings, my needs, and my wants. You have to fill the hole in my heart, and as soon as you fail, I’m moving on.” It creates an idea of love that is akin to a match: it blazes bright with momentary passion, and then disappears. Unfortunately, this idea does represent the concept of romance among much of the American populace. I am always hesitant to blame cultural norms on media, but in this case media has (at best) created a descending spiral in which media reflects the worst aspects of the culture, and the culture then moves to make those aspects the norm.
The kind of love shown in the above quote does not exist in the vast, vast majority of modern media. It is selfless, focused on what it can give instead of what it can get. It is passionate, but not the burning, reckless, heedless passion that fills our romance novels and movie screens. Instead of a match the love shown in the quote above is a gentle fire filled with lasting embers. It is the kind of love that has been built over a lifetime of mutual respect and devotion. It is commitment, admiration, and concern not for oneself, but for the other. It is hard, and it is often painful, but it is lasting, exalted, honorable, and far more intense than any momentary passion could ever be.
I use the example of a match for a reason. Try this sometime: light a match and run your hand through the flame, even hold your hand in the flame for a while. There’s instant heat, but it’s minimal and doesn’t last long. Now try this: build a fire and keep it burning all night long. Build up a heap of red hot coals, and then try putting your hand into the coals. This is the difference between the kind of romance that we see in the media, and the kind of romance that we see displayed in the quote above. One is immediate, but ultimately brief and unsatisfying. The other is hard, it takes time to build, and it takes commitment through trials, but it will keep you warm through the long, dark night.
Another friend of mine pointed out some time ago that true love isn’t blind to a person’s flaws. True love sees a person clearly, and loves them regardless. It doesn’t say ‘I love you because of what you can do for me’, or even ‘I love you for who you are’. Instead it says, ‘I love you. In spite of your flaws, and regardless of what you can do for me, I love you.’ So, I leave you with this, the definition of love: Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in doing what is wrong, but instead it rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.
If this sounds frightening to you, it should. Love, actual love, is a terrifying thing. It means putting another person before yourself. It means letting them hurt you, and forgiving them when they do. It means committing to someone, even when they aren’t committed to you. So, stop letting fear run your life. Grow a pair and love someone. And let’s start writing some real love into our fiction.